Sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut. I already knew that, but knowing something and actually show behavior which is in accordance with that knowledge is something else. My latest mistake, in a steadily extending line, was when I somehow got involved in a discussion about vaccination. Like in many other countries, many people around here can get vaccinated against H1N1 (or: Mexican flu).
Our best medical experts, health scientists and epidemiologists have been debating this for weeks and decided: yes, for certain groups it is wise to get vaccinated and should they so desire, they should be given the opportunity to do so. As a parent of a five month old son I belong to one of those groups. I hav been informed that my son does not have an increased risk of actually dying of H1N1, however, there is a higher chance that he might need medical care in hospital. I think every parent would do anything to avoid that as well.
The wiser choice
What I also did was read up on the subject as I had also done when it came to all the other vaccinations that babies and infants receive in the Netherlands (like tuberculosis, polio et cetera). I was always a bit sceptical about the idea of injecting perfectly healthy people with all sorts of drugs, so I wanted to know more about it. As it turns out, all scientific evidence points clearly towards: getting vaccinated is the wiser choice. The diseases that are prevented by it are serious and horrific and the odds of side-effect are very small indeed.
I thought (stupid, stupid, stupid) I could have an intelligent and respectful debate about this with someone who was clearly an anti-vaccine crusader. No way. Within seconds I was treated to an extremely unpleasant mixture of conspiracy theories (our government wants to make us all ill because of the powerful and wealthy vaccination lobby), misinformation (I was informed that there is scientific evidence that vaccination causes autism. I know for a fact: there is no such evidence whatsoever), bad source-material (websites by -mostly- moms who makes claims they do not provide any relevant evidence for) and plain old gossip (our national top medical advisor has shares in pharmaceutical companies (true) which is why he is not to be trusted because vaccines make him rich (not true)). In short: I should have ignored all this. But I didn’t. I explained, calmly or so I thought, why all their theories are dubious, non-scientific and in fact: dangerous. Gullible people believe them. They do no get -their kids- vaccinated and people might end up in hospital (let’s not even talk about ‘dead’) because of it. And I am pretty sure that no one of those vaccination critics will take any responsibility for it. It will undoubtedly be the government’s fault yet again.
The anti vaccination lobby’s mantra seems to be: stay critical. Which, as mantras come and go, seems to be a clever one. Unfortunately these ‘critical lobbyists’ have something in common with conspiracy theorist’s; being critical only refers to ‘them’ and never to ‘us’. The anti-vaccination crusaders use unscientific source material, myths and nonsense as arguments, while at the same time spreading lies and gossip about scientists, researchers, policy makers and politicians who have to work by ethical and scientific rules and laws. Perhaps there are good arguments why there is a better alternative to vaccination, but they will come, in time, from the latter group, not the misinformed cynical mob. And in the mean time, all these bad arguments and poorly informed ‘worried parents’ are taking up a lot of research time that could also be used for advancing medical knowledge. Not to mention all the victims of unnecessary diseases.