About Vaccine Hesitancy: Having a Conversation

 

Several months ago, I blogged on Veracity about vaccines, encouraging Christians to consider that one of the best ways that we can express the love of Christ to our non-believing neighbor is by encouraging the use of vaccines, particularly with children. Though I received no comments directly to that post, I have since received some pushback offline. So, I feel obligated to address it, particularly in view of the current measles outbreak that is ravaging certain Orthodox Jewish communities, that have been particularly hesistant to vaccination.

Within the past twenty years, there has been an increase of concern about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, despite the fact that we had nearly wiped out measles in the United States, in the early part of the first decade of the 21st century. Many doctors say that the recent measles outbreaks in America can be directly correlated to the decreased practice of vaccination across the country, and many Christians are involved in this movement.  Yes, there is misinformation in the vaccination debate, but there is also a lot of unnecessary vitriol, from both sides. Here are some points for discussion, that I hope everyone (maybe?? maybe?? maybe??) can adopt:

  • Parents who are hesitant about vaccination love and care for their kids. Take a trip scanning through social media, and you will quickly find rude and insulting comments lodged at parents who do not support vaccination. We need to find ways of encouraging conversation, instead of just shutting down conversation with un-Christlike comments. Parents need compassion, not condemnation.
  • Not everyone can take vaccines. Some people are unable to take vaccines, due to known medical risks. Folks should consult their doctor about those risks, before going ahead with vaccines. There is nothing wrong with asking questions. The good news is that across the broader population, those who are unable to take vaccines without adverse side-effects can be protected by herd immunity. Unfortunately, as the rates of vaccination continues to decline, the effectiveness of herd immunity continues to decline as well, leaving those who are unable to take vaccines at risk of exposure to deadly diseases.
  • Some vaccines have been developed from cell lines that were derived from aborted fetuses. As Young Earth Creationist scientist, Jay Wile, observes, most Christians are rightly horrified by abortion, and so might reject vaccination on moral grounds. Yet some, like popular Christian talk show host of Wallbuilders, David Barton, draw from this the conclusion that parts of dead babies are hiding in the vaccines, that your doctor wants you to take. This is misleading information. Cell lines derived from aborted fetuses are not the same as dead baby body parts, or “debris,” themselves. Nevertheless, how is a Christian who cares about the unborn to respond, regarding this connection between some vaccines and abortion? Following the lead set by the Roman Catholic Church here, is a wise move to make. Christians should lobby for the medical and pharmaceutical professions to find other ways of obtaining cell lines, without crossing ethical boundaries that violates Pro-Life concerns. Nevertheless, until those vaccines become available, across the board, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the benefits of using such suspect vaccines outweighs such ethical concerns.
  • Time is limited, and not everyone can be an expert. That is why we have doctors. As is the case with you, my time is limited. I can not be an expert on everything. That is why it is important to find a doctor, whom you can trust, to help guide you through navigating cost/benefit analysis for taking vaccines.
  • In some very limited cases, vaccines can produce negative outcomes. I have known friends who have experienced such negative reactions, particularly to flu vaccines. Nothing in life is risk free. This may sound insensitive to someone who has a child who was injured by vaccines, but it need not be. We should encourage those in the medical profession to better help those who have concerns, or those in this small category who might have experienced some injury in using vaccines. In at least a few cases, some are probably receiving vaccines, when they should not, because they are not being properly screened. Every child, every person is important to God. Nevertheless, this point needs to be balanced by the next point.
  • The overwhelming scientific consensus in medicine today indicates that the benefit of taking vaccines, to protect against deadly diseases, far exceeds the risks involved in actually taking the vaccine.

I know that some Veracity readers might be confused, or challenge me on some of these points (particularly the last one). But it is important to consider that when you search for information on the Internet, whether it be using Google, YouTube, or Facebook, these databases are designed to narrow your search field to include results, that by default, will skew what you are looking for. For example, if you do an Internet-based search for “vaccine injury,” the results of your search will be skewed to point you towards websites that favor anti-vaccine movement information, as opposed to pro-vaccine information, in line with the current scientific consensus. Likewise, if you search for “vaccine injury” on YouTube, you will be directed to anti-vaccine videos more than pro-vaccine videos, even though Google may force a CDC-sponsored video to pop up at the top of your search, in an effort to counter-balance the anti-vaccine info that otherwise pops up. And the more you watch anti-vaccine videos on YouTube, the more it will skew your searching for vaccine information in the future, to be biased towards giving you other anti-vaccine videos to watch, instead of pro-vaccine videos.

That is just how Internet-based social media works, folks. We live in an era of “fake news,” largely due to the proliferation of disinformation spread by social media. As someone working in the field of information technology for 34 years, I know how this works. It should be no surprise that the current rise of the interest in  the anti-vaccine movement coincides with the rise in popularity of social media websites, like Facebook, etc.

My grandfather served as a medical doctor missionary in South Africa, in the 1920s, vaccinating hundreds of Africans against the spread of tuberculosis. My grandfather’s actions to get vaccines out to people saved countless lives. But in letters I have from my grandmother from those years, while her  husband doctor was running off into the African hinterlands, with his bag of medicines, my grandfather’s greatest challenge was in trying to calm the fears of those, who would benefit the most from those living-saving vaccines.

Apparently, some things never change.

Vaccines were not 100% safe back then, with positively zero side effects, just as they are not absolutely, without any margin of error, 100% safe today. But their benefits surely outweigh the risks, by a significant order in magnitude. In fact, the order of magnitude is so great that the risks associated with taking vaccines is almost negligible, compared to the benefits. Serious negative reactions to vaccines are barely a fraction of a percentage point. You and your children are at a higher risk of contracting a deadly disease, that a vaccine can prevent, than having a negative, life-threatening result from taking a vaccine. I know of older family members, who have since died in recent years, who would tell me tales of barely surviving measles, mumps, and polio infections, some 70 to 80 years ago. These type of diseases are thankfully rare today, but the rise of anti-vaccine concerns threatens to reverse those gains that doctors like my grandfather fought so hard for.

Nevertheless, my own personal view is that vaccines should be received voluntarily, and not by mandatory government force (but stay home please, if there is an outbreak locally). People should do the right thing, because… well…. it is the right thing to do. I am also concerned when information content providers unduly restrict information about the anti-vaccine movement. Government sponsored dictates and censorship of ideas only serve to reinforce the perception of conspiracy. Instead, we need more information, specifically correct information, not less.

I am not a doctor, and I have never played one on television. I am not omniscient. So, if folks really want to challenge on the data, just make sure it is backed up by truly peer-reviewed science, and not some questionable source that passes itself off as “peer review.” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidential backing in order to overturn a current scientific consensus.

It surely is possible that vaccines are not as completely safe as they have been made out to be. I could be quite wrong about my support for vaccines. But surely, peer reviewed science will sort that out. That is how science works.

So I simply ask that the challenger to the current consensus be willing to consider the other side of the argument, about the effectiveness of vaccines, and how God has given us a wonderful tool to do much good in the world, to limit some of the deadly effects of natural evil, exacerbated by the Fall. Consider giving vaccines a chance, if not to protect yourself, but also to help to protect others, and express the love of Jesus in a concrete manner. Can we have a conversation, please?

I am personally encouraged that Christian young people, like high school senior, Ethan Lindenberger, who grew up in a Christian family that opposed vaccines, was willing to do the research himself, to figure out if vaccines were good or bad, and weigh the evidence himself, and conclude that he should get vaccinated. This young man plans on pursuing a career in either Christian ministry or politics. The first video below is Ethan’s testimony before Congress.

The video with Ethan is followed after that with an interview by anti-vaccine leader Del Bigtree, with Ethan’s mother and older brother. What disturbed me the most about this video are several peculiar expectations Ethan’s mother originally had about vaccines:

  • (1) Ethan’s mother was told, as she put it, that she would need to get the chicken pox vaccine initially, and repeated again once every ten years after that. Current CDC recommendations are that vaccine recipients should get the vaccine only twice, “the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 through 6 years old.” For adults, the vaccine should be given twice, “4 to 8 weeks apart.” Perhaps the recommendations several years ago were different, but I highly doubt it. Did she not clearly understand her doctor, or was her doctor not properly informed, or worse, incompetent?
  • (2) Ethan’s mother expected that the vaccine need be only applied once, and that once a vaccine is given, it will be a “forever thing.”  But numerous vaccines require an additional treatment, for the fullest effectiveness. Yearly vaccines, like for the flu, should be taken every year, because of the changing nature of the flu. Again, did she not clearly understand her doctor, or was her doctor not properly informed, or worse, incompetent?
  • (3) Ethan’s mother expected that vaccines were always 100% safe, with no potential side effects ever. But as noted above, nothing in life is 100% risk free. Driving a car is risky. Stepping outside during a thunderstorm puts you at risk of getting hit by lightning. But does this keep people from driving cars, or being fearful of springtime and summertime, when thunderstorms are more prevalent? Where did Ethan’s mother get this expectation from?

But to reiterate, it is apparent that Ethan’s mother really loves her son, and only wants the best for him. If this story moves you, you might want to consider praying for this family.

After that is another video, which shows several pro-vaccine people in dialogue with several anti-vaccine people. After that is the last video, by the well-known “Dr. Mike,” critiquing the pro/anti-vaccine discussion video. Is this a good way of having the conversation?

 

 

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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