This debate about childhood vaccines has been going on for at least the last 15 years, but probably longer than that. Those who haven’t yet heard about the debate: Anti-vaxx parents believe that vaccines are harmful and/or unnecessary, so they refuse to vaccinate their children against anything. Polio, measles, smallpox… anything. They rely on “herd immunization” to ensure their kids stay healthy. The anti-vaxx issue has recently gotten more spotlight because – surprise! – children are now becoming infected and dying of preventable diseases because they haven’t been vaccinated.
If it sounds like I’m biased, that’s because I am. There are people who are immunocompromised, meaning that their immune systems are suboptimal, and cannot be vaccinated. These are the ones who benefit from herd immunization. When some of that herd is not immunized, well… We all know what happened in 1340’s Europe.
Plot twist – I was not fully vaccinated as a child, myself, and had no idea until I was 18. This wasn’t because my parents felt it unnecessary to vaccinate me against the measles, or because they thought I’d develop vaccine-induced Autism or ADHD, or anything of that sort. When I was born, the gamut of vaccines recommended for children was different than it was even two years later. My younger sister got a full run of vaccines, and they certainly don’t love her less than they did me! Parents trust doctors, though, and there is a fine line between not doing enough and overmedicating, which is why recommendations exist. I’m sure going through medical school gives them a hell of a lot more expertise on the subject of human health than scrolling through a Reddit post one time in 2002, but who am I?
I’m sure any anti-vaxxers who have stumbled upon this post have written a slew of death threats in my comment section by now, because that is what typically happens whenever I spew my opinion about the matter on the internet. I’m obviously not going to stop you, so knock yourselves out.
What on earth does any of this have to do with the fine people of the Phillippines? We aren’t halfway done with 2019, and the country has already experienced its worst measles outbreak in history. No surprises here, but the degree of this epidemic was largely due to the fact that parents were not vaccinating their children. But why not? The answer dates back only to 2016.
The Phillippines, being a tropical island nation, has more than its share of mosquito-borne illnesses. One of these is a disease known as dengue. Worldwide, about a million people contract this disease each year, and the death toll for children alone is 20,000 annually. There are 5 types of dengue strains known to us right now, and only 1 strain provides immunity after infection, and only for its own strain. The more times a person gets dengue, the worse it becomes. Symptoms can last for weeks and include fever, rash, and joint inflammation, but it can be deadly in that severe cases of the disease cause hemorrhaging. Naturally, with mosquitoes abound in a tropical, humid area, people will want to get some protection against this and other diseases.
A vaccine for dengue was developed for children (and only children) and showed some promise. In 2016, Filipin@ parents lined up to get their children vaccinated for dengue in hopes that they would become immune and not ever have to worry about, you know, internally bleeding to death.
Sadly, that is exactly what happened to a number of children who were given the vaccine. A side-effect caused blood vessels to leak, effectively causing these children to bleed out internally. The children otherwise appeared normal and healthy, and death followed very shortly after the leakages, so no one thought to seek medical attention. And even if they had, the chances of being saved from what is essentially your circulatory system failing were pretty slim.
So what happened? First of all, there was a lot of misinformation being perpetuated about this vaccine. Secondly, probably profit. But let’s start with the misinformation.
The dengue vaccine was only approved for children of certain ages AND these children should have already had one prior dengue infection before getting the vaccination dose. The vaccine was NOT approved for children who had never had dengue before. Any child who had been vaccinated without prior dengue infection either died from the side-effect of the plasma leakage or will face the risk of sudden death from plasma leakage for the rest of their lives. Why would parents get their kids vaccinated if they didn’t meet the criteria for safe vaccination? Because Sanofi Pasteur, the manufacturer, never mentioned this little detail. In fact, once children started dying, they continued to deny that this was even an issue! For an entire year, children were continuing to get vaccinated without this warning. In 2017, the Filipino government suspended the vaccination campaign. By then, 800,000 children had received the vaccine.
Let’s say that you are a new parent in 2017 whose infant is due for vaccines. You’re probably not going to be first in line this time. You’ve seen what happened when children were dying from an injection that was supposed to save them. Fast forward to 2019, and we have measles everywhere.
Not only that, but this devastating situation is being used as evidence by the court of public opinion that their side of the vaccination debate is correct. Foolish parents refusing to vaccinate their kids? Of course, they’re going to get sick! See what happens when we trust drug companies to keep our kids safe? Of course, they’re going to get sick!
But everyone needs to shut the fuck up and stop using the Philippines for your own personal gain. Filipin@ parents are not here to prove your point, whatever it is. THREE years ago, they trusted a manufacturer to keep their kids healthy, and that manufacturer essentially profited off the deaths of their children. (To clarify: The vaccine is perfectly safe as long as it’s given to the correct population of people. Filipin@ children died because they were not part of said correct population.) The parents who are now rushing to get their children vaccinated against the measles had not held out because they didn’t want Autistic children or whatever; they were scared of being misled again, but upon seeing the effects of mass non-vaccination on their communities, are making decisions. They aren’t doing this for the same reasons that the privileged Western world are doing it. These were largely poor, brown people without the same resources you’ve got. No political agenda. No cute Instagram posts to share about the issue. Don’t compare them to your situation or your community, Brenda.