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

14 responses to “About Vaccine Hesitancy: Having a Conversation

  • Jane Hanson

    Thanks for posting this, Clarke. One viewpoint I have heard from some young moms is that they wish the vaccines would be given in separate shots rather than in combinations… such as DPT and MMR. More shots for baby but maybe safer? I too am not a doctor and my kids and grands have gotten all their shots but I do understand the concerns.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Christianity Today just ran a story on why some Christians refuse vaccines on moral grounds, regarding the abortion fetal tissue issue:

    https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/april-web-only/why-christians-refuse-measles-vaccinations-moral-grounds.html

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  • Lee

    Hello there! Interesting topic to bring up, and while I disagree, you handled it with some sensitivity which I appreciate. I am a Christian who has decided not to vaccinate my precious babies. It was a hard decision that my husband and I did not make overnight. What led me in that direction? My own brother was vaccine injured. He was given a meningitis vaccine at 14 months and began high pitched screaming on the drive home which then turned to seizures by the time he got home. Those horrible, back arching, body locking, eyes rolling in back of head seizures. My parents raced him back to the doctors, who admitted it was the vaccine, and recommended my parents report it (I think the doctors wrote it on my brothers medical file, but it never went further up the chain than that!)

    My brother is in his late twenties now, and has the mental capacity of a 10 year old. He was not born that way…the seizures left him with irreparable brain damage.

    So as a young adult, long before I even had kids, I went down the rabbit hole of looking into vaccines. I was horrified. Vaccine reactions are not as rare as they say – they are GROSSLY under reported (my brother is a prime example). Pharmaceutical companies are not honest and not transparent. Google the name “Saba Button” to see a classic case of a pharma company fast tracking a vaccine that had disastrous consequences and that they refused to take responsibility for until mass public pressure and outcry forced them to…and even then they never ended up doing the “internal investigation” they promised. That vaccine cost kids lives.

    Research the ingredient “neomycin” and tell me why on earth some vaccines still have that ingredient in them, when it’s so darn toxic that they removed it from some adult medications! It’s not needed, they could easily replace that ingredient.

    You know when I was a kid we had 13 vaccines, and none of my peers were dropping dead from diseases. Now my kids are supposed to have 27 in their first few years of life alone. Why do we have so many??
    My kids’ generation is experiencing auto immune disorders like never before in history. Serious allergies, type one diabetes, severe eczema, chronic ear infections, severe asthma…my kids’ peers are constantly in hospital with these afflictions and yet these issues are seen as perfectly normal these days! My own kids have not one of these issues. Not even a slight bit of eczema. Not one ear infection.

    I believe that we have overloaded and seriously messed up our kids immune systems with the onslaught of vaccines, to the point where our kids’ bodies start turning on themselves and attacking their own immune systems. Their little bodies don’t know what to fight and what not to fight.

    Vaccines aren’t as safe as they are made out to be. There is a risk, and it’s a bigger risk than we think. And where there is a risk there MUST be free choice. Vaccine hesitation is on the increase for a reason. It’s because more and more people are seeing the side effects.

    Also, I think herd immunity is a false pretence. According to the CDC (and my own governments health agency) the whooping cough vaccine is only 70% effective at BEST. This vaccine also seems to only last 2 years…so the are having to add more booster shots to the schedule as they’ve found that fully vaccinated kids had lost immunity by the time they hit school at age 4/5! My area has had constant whooping cough outbreaks in the last few years – all kids were fully vaccinated. Go figure.
    How can you have herd immunity (which to achieve apparently 95% of population must be vaccinated) when a vaccine only lasts 2 years with a 70% success rate? And how many kids get blood tests to check their titre levels? None that I know! So how do you know who is even immune? How many adults get whooping cough boosters every 2 years and titre levels checked? NONE that I know! How on earth do you achieve this holy grail of herd immunity? It has ever existed!

    Anyway, they are my thoughts on the issue – and I totally agree with you on one thing – we need more discussion, and more information. More transparency.
    As it stands we are faced with with threats, coercion, and mandatory vaccinations…at the moment it just looks like the pharma companies are dodgy as, and they know it, so they want to suppress discussion lest the truth come out. I mean, why wouldn’t they. How do you put THAT cat back in the bag?

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Lee,

      I am so sorry to hear about the injury that your brother suffered.

      For those of us who accept the medical/scientific consensus regarding the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, I can understand that hearing about the 99+ % safety rate for vaccines provides very little comfort for those in the less than 1 percent category that actually do experience vaccine-related injury.

      Gathering from what you have said, I find that most folks in the anti-vaccine movement have had some kind of traumatic disappointment with the medical establishment. I would have hoped that your brother’s doctors would have done more than simply note the reaction on his medical file, putting the burden on your parents to report the incident themselves. That, in and of itself, is very suspect. Not everyone should take vaccines, so it is really the doctors’ responsibility to figure out why your brother was not properly vetted, BEFORE being given the vaccine. That does not sound like a very good or caring group of doctors.

      So, I can surely understanding your negative view about vaccines, due to lack of trust with the medical establishment.

      That being said, it is worth putting more prayerful thought in taking action that puts your children, and other children, at unnecessary risk. Furthermore, it would be much better to cite actual peer-reviewed studies, to verify the type of safety concerns that you mention, than simply suggesting to go “Google” for information. Otherwise, the idea that “Vaccine reactions are not as rare as they say,” sounds like conspiratorial thinking, among doctors, governments, and “Big Pharma.”

      The medical profession is far from perfect (believe me, I know), but if you find the right doctor, particularly when it comes to vaccines, then all of us are much better off. Yes, we do live in a time when things like allergies and autism do plague us, but it is much better now than in my parents’ generation, where measles, mumps, and polio were such a horrific concern. The last thing we need is for those days to return again.

      I understand that you might not still agree. Nevertheless, I once again say that I am very sorry to hear about your brother’s experience. I pray now for the Lord’s power to intervene and do a miracle of healing.

      Peace.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Lee,

    I found this article to be very helpful:

    https://www.voicesforvaccines.org/vaccine-injury-stories-the-sacred-cows-of-the-internet/

    One thing that it suggests that I forgot to say in my reply is that it is very important for folks who have suffered vaccine injury, and their advocates, to lobby for greater accountability among doctors and drug companies, among elected officials who regulate medicine. There should be ways to reform how vaccines are reported and administered, without having to fall back on conspiratorial theorizing, that only makes the medical establishment more resistant to trying to solve real-world problems, like the the one your brother has suffered.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    The New York Times has an informative article, reporting data that shows that 1 out of 4 people, who get measles, are likely to be hospitalized, with 1 to 2 out of every 1,000 dying from the disease.

    Between 2006 and 2017, there were 2 claims of injury for every one million doses of all vaccines given in the U.S., with more that 3.4 billion vaccine doses distributed during that period.

    The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has compensated about 6,600 claims, during the program’s existence, which was started in the year 1986. Many of these claims resulted in compensation, even though no evidence was cited specifically that vaccines were at fault.

    The vast majority of claims are filed people who are not vaccine skeptics.

    This really makes me wonder where anti-vaccine advocates get their information.

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    • Lee

      According to the CDC’s own website:

      “In the decade before 1963 when a vaccine became available, nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age. It is estimated 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected each year. Also each year, among reported cases, an estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain) from measles.”

      https://www.cdc.gov/measles/about/history.html

      If 3-4 MILLION people caught measles every year and 400-500 died, that is NOT equal to 1 in 1,000.

      That is equivalent to 0.000125%

      They also say that “nearly all children got measles by the time they were 15 years of age”.

      Not sure where this 1 in 1,000 comes from, but it seems even the CDC can’t keep consistent with it’s own statistics.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Lee.

      Thank you for responding on Veracity.

      If you do not mind me asking, why would you suppose that statistics collected from 60 years ago, prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine, would necessarily need to match current statistics, when a vaccine is available, and the majority of people use the vaccine? Can you please help me to better understand your logic here?

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    • Sheridan

      I thought it was a rather simple question…why do we (according to statistics) have a supposed higher death rate per infection to measles now, than 60 years ago?

      Like

    • Clarke Morledge

      Hi, Sheridan.

      Perhaps the easiest answer to give is that the presence of vaccines today, as opposed to 60 years ago, when we did not have vaccines, most probably has changed how the human body, on average, interacts with the measles virus. But there are numerous other factors to consider too, such as variances in nutrition, variances in immune deficiency, and variances of access to quality medical care.

      The bottom line is that the differences between the current death rate from measles, as opposed to the death rate 60 years ago, would not necessarily be the same, because there is a whole set of complicated factors involved, that makes such a simplistic comparison extremely difficult.

      It would be very interesting to discover the specifics, as to why the death rate, per infection, is so relatively high now. I would be curious to know myself what research is being done in this area. The CDC has published some research explaining how measles infection, can be coupled with other complications, resulting in various kinds of injury.

      https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/meas.html#complications

      Nevertheless, despite what questions we may have about the death rate, the evidence is still abundantly clear that the benefits of worldwide vaccination against measles far outweighs the drawbacks, by a significant order of magnitude. We should still be vigilant in protecting against vaccine injury, but we should do so in such a way that does not diminish the effectiveness of vaccination programs, that protects and saves so many lives every year.

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    • Lee

      At this point Clarke, I’ll not comment any further. I did not comment originally to start a never ending argument on what risk is greater. We can argue all day about what risk is greater, however there IS risk involved, and the risk is that the very thing that we are trying to prevent with vaccines (injury and death) is the very thing the vaccines themselves can cause. As long as that risk exists, no matter how rare you think it is, I strongly believe freedom to choose must exist. I would also like that freedom to exist without the coercion, shaming, and bullying that is happening in the world today. If people (and governments) have to resort to that, they have crossed the line.

      I simply wanted to share a personal story with you, so that you did not get lost in the cold hard statistics, but understood that there are real people out there who have been directly affected by vaccine injury. Our story is no less important than those who have tragically died from measles.

      Ps – I apologise for any confusion with the name above. As you do, I have two names and usually use Lee, but had a momentary lapse and used my other name – it was not intended to confuse!

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    • Clarke Morledge

      Well, as I stated in the original blog post, there are real cases of vaccine injury, suffered by real people. So, I do share your concerns. If I come across as bullying, I apologize. I am simply trying to understand why those opposed to vaccines think the way they do.

      In the end, I do support exemptions for vaccinations. No one should try to force such things against the conscience of another person. Unfortunately, there are folks on the pro-vaccine side who think that bullying people is the solution. Reasoned, informed conversations are a much better approach.

      So, yes, I do respect freedom of conscience…. but I also do believe people should do the right thing… because it is the right thing to do.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    The 2019 measles threat in the U.S. has been dramatically reduced. We dodged a bullet on this one. But if the anti-vaccination rates increase, will we continue to evade the threat of measles, that was no close to being eliminated, less than 20 years ago?

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-measles/u-s-records-no-new-measles-cases-for-first-week-since-outbreak-began-idUSKBN1W11LS

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