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the vast majority of people don't think twice about vaccines. for babies, or travelling abroad, you visit the doctor who gives you a shot so you won't catch something - usually a fairly dreadful disease.

there are, however, those who avoid vaccinations on the grounds that they adversely affect overall health.

vaccination is reflective of the trend towards health enforcement, as we decide what diseases we must elimate and we demand people receive vaccinations.

tom's adopted daughter in honduras has polio, she got it from the vaccine.

vaccination, like much of technology, reflects a general movement away from faith; faith in the citizenry, and faith in the natural dis/order.

or, to put it another way, vaccination reflects a certain fear. we would rather be responsible for preventing possible illnesses than allowing the possibility, however slight, of infection.

this makes sense with regard to most vaccinated-against diseases, they tend to kill quick.

but the vaccines themselves can have an impact. being often a derivation of the disease itself, the supposedly weakened sickening agent introduced as a vaccine provides the body with an opportunity to learn an immunity to that disease form.

this can go awry, however; these cases below from recent miliary action have seen unfortunate social fallout, with thousands of gulf war veterans applying for compensation for their suffering at the hands of the government and the government replying, in essence, "you're deluded."

cnn army vaccine "An experimental anthrax vaccine was among the 17 different viral and bacterial vaccines given to U.S. troops who went to the Gulf War. The chronic autoimmune and neurological dysfunction suffered by more than 70,000 Gulf War veterans has been repeatedly linked to the large numbers of vaccinations and experimental drugs they received before arriving in the Gulf as well as their exposure to chemical toxins after they arrived."
- Barbara Loe Fisher, "Pentagon Orders Anthrax Vaccinations For All U.S. Troops," The Vaccine Reaction, Vol. 2, No. 4

this is hypothetical situation here - no direct correlary, according to that statement, exists between any one of seventeen administered medical substrates and the condition seemingly resulting from the injection. the use of the word "experimental" here connotes some instability, while the use of passive voice ("has been repeatedly linked") and the mention of the other chemical toxins makes simple vaccination infection a difficult position to maintain.

outside of a medical establishment unlikely or unable to research such things, time provides the likely correlation between vaccination and illness:

"In just one of many reports by Gulf War veterans to the National Vaccine Information Center, NVIC was told about the effects of a series of anthrax vaccinations one soldier got in 1990 before being deployed to the Gulf. "I was bedridden for a week like many of my colleagues who got the shots. I had high fevers, head and body pain and fatigue so bad I couldn't walk. I couldn't move the leg where the injection was given. I had never been so sick in my life." This veteran is now one of the tens of thousands of veterans suffering from chronic fatigue, joint pain and swelling, intestinal problems and neurological dysfunction."
- Barbara Loe Fisher, "Pentagon Orders Anthrax Vaccinations For All U.S. Troops," The Vaccine Reaction, Vol. 2, No. 4

whether those symptoms can be assigned to the vaccine itself, or some genetic disposition of the soldier, or some other agent of illness in the air at the time, is a matter before the courts. regardless, for the soldier and the author of the article, the evidence is enough to convict the military medics of malicious malpractice. through her reporting, Ms. Fisher argues that science, for all its stridency, disgregards the critical examination necessary before such a technology is to be dispatched, or especially enforced on a broad body.

this is especially critical when the citizen choice has been removed. in this case the soldiers in question have resigned much of their independence to the armed forces; placing a soldierly faith in the army's medicinal decisions. the army takes responsibilty for the health of each soldier, and in this case, they failed him.

the worst case scenario is when those officials to whom we entrust our physical fates conduct themselves so recklessly that their motives might be called into question:

"...a report by the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs chaired by Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) charging the Pentagon exposed Gulf War soldiers to dangerous experimental vaccines and drugs without their knowledge or consent. Gulf War veterans were given the investigational drug pyridostigmine bromide, a nerve agent, together with toxic bacterial vaccines and now many suffer from immune system and neurological damage including extreme fatigue, memory loss, joint pain, seizures, personality changes, vision and breathing difficulties and some have had babies who are deformed or have died.

"The report details how soldiers were ordered to receive multiple injections of experimental vaccines without being informed what kind of vaccine they were receiving or the potential risks. Medical records were seldom kept on which vaccines were given, making it impossible to track side effects. Those who attempted to refuse the vaccines were threatened with court martial.

- Barbara Loe Fisher, "Experimental Vaccines Haunt Ill Gulf War Veterans," The Vaccine Reaction, Vol. 1, No. 1

without the other side of the story from the armed services ('no comment'), we are left to surmise that the pursuit of health services required some test subjects; the soldiers did sign up to serve their country after all.

the US government will fight hard to defend the solvency of the vaccine program. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, passed by congress, distributed funds to afflicted children and families who were disabled by vaccines. as the (accumulated?) amounts awarded topped over $500 million, the fighting became more intense:

"Maggie [Whitecotton] was a healthy baby who developed normally even though her head size at birth was at the low end of the head circumference size chart. Within 6 hours of her third DPT shot she suffered her first seizure, followed by a series of seizures 30 hours later. After her vaccine reaction she stopped developing normally and, today, Maggie is severely brain injured with multiple handicaps that make her totally dependent on her parents for daily care. Shalala, together with HHS doctors and U.S. Department of Justice lawyers, contend that Maggie should not receive federal compensation because her head was smaller than normal at birth and she would have been brain damaged even if she had never gotten a DPT shot."
- Barbara Loe Fisher, "Shalala Takes Vaccine Injured Girl To The Supreme Court," The Vaccine Reaction, Vol. 1, No. 1

after reading the umpteenth case history along these lines, it seems there is a concerted effort to bury claims of vaccine injury. the drama of these individual tales stands in stark contrast to the muted body of science backed up by statistics and the memories of old folks who remember polio. Neil Miller outlines in his Vaccines book case after case where "The doctor would not report this reaction. He did not feel that it was related to the vaccine." (pages 59-61); these refutations come immediately after brief but heartrending tales along the lines of "We lost our beautiful, precious and adored four month old son 26 hours after receiving the DPT vaccination and oral polio..." (page 59). ("A Parent's Guide to Childhood Shots"; the cover of Mr. Miller's book features a smiling mom holding a baby to her cheek).

as parents, and "concerned citizens" they mean to put the problem of abnormal vaccine reaction in our laps, or cradles as it were. if prospective vaccinateds knew that the government and medical officials would fight them so hard, would they care to participate in the system? they would probably ask to weigh the options.

that's perhaps possible for illnesses that have somewhat departed from the national fear - polio, tuberculosis. these are diseases that see only rare outbreaks, in far distant lands. there's discussion on the news of killing the only remaining samples of polio.

(hypothetical) AIDS vaccine

consider, however, if an AIDS vaccine was announced. there is indeed a rush to find one, and were it announced, many folks would sign up, and many people would find themselves compelled to sign up.

would our eagerness for a solution to the AIDS problem mean that a drug might be rushed to market?

imagine contracting AIDS from a vaccine. before there was a cure. you would be in the theoretical last wave of people passing away from a disease that was now slated to disappear. you would spend your final years in court fighting for money to support your treatment for a disease society decided it had conquered.

would you consider yourself as a soldier, dying for science and progress?

this kind of story emphasizes the place of the individual in the development of the AIDS vaccine. you could practice AIDS avoiding behaviour, and avoid taking the vaccine, and accordingly avoid that risk of infection. but would your kids be as safe from AIDS if no one took the vaccine? wouldn't we all be better off if a few folks had AIDS but the vast majority of folks could not get it?

point, counterpoint

the current trend towards mandatory vaccination is being met by a small but vocal body of folks crying for more consumer information. they want us to question our acceptance of the technological society. their bet is that increased information will save individual babies either by compelling people to resist vaccines, or by compelling companies to refine their vaccine product and delivery.

they are led mostly by parents, people with bad experiences, or who examined vaccines for their children. their question is this:

"Do vaccination programs stunt or in any way thwart the normal development of the immune systems of children?"
- Harold E. Buttram, M.D., introduction to Neil Z. Miller, Vaccines, page 9

the resulting evidence qualifies "normal" as naturally occuring, as a child is exposed to ambient disease; this as opposed to vaccination, which is the introduction of a tempered but deadly virus on the two month old body.

the argument is not only that people will become infected with AIDS or polio, but that repeated introduction of deadly viruses, albeit weakened, has a detrimental effect on the overall immune system.

the counter argument here might be simple economics, as articulated by game theory, in the prisoner's dilemma. the prisoner's dilemma says that folks will always operate in their own self interest, and this will ultimately screw them over if they take only their own position into consideration.

so these anti-vaccine folks advocate a position, as my economics teacher Bernard Saffran put it, of immorality. if everyone followed them, there would be an epidemic! says he. articulated here by Neil Miller:

"Authorities also argue that parents should vaccinate their children to protect societry as a whole from epidemics. But if the vaccines offered true immunity only the unvaccinated would become ill."
- Neil Z. Miller, Vaccines, page 66

this makes sense as a defense of the vaccine position - that those who are uncomfortable with the technology should be free to extract themselves from this puts Neil in the position of being a "free rider," in economics terms:

"Because public goods are collectively consumed and exclusion is not feasible, it is difficult to make people pay for them. Since they can enjoy the benefits of public goods without paying for them, most [reasonable people] would choose not to pay; that is, they would be free riders."
- Rodney Mabry & Holley Ulbrich, Economics: Second Edition, page 215

when the society has provided for a public good, people who shirk paying for their part in that public good still get the service for free. in this case, Neil Miller may indeed not be infected by measles, but it will be because thousands of folks have subjected themselves to the side effects of vaccines in order to assure that there will be a measles-free population.

the problem with free riders is one of leadership: if they lead other people to follow their example, soon the social good of disease-prevention will buckle as an epidemic ensues in the un-vaccinated population.

at least that's what my economic professor said. he believes in technology, he said, when it comes down to it, americans just live longer. so even though he is a free market kinda guy, he favours government intervention here to maintain the status quo of public health.

let's follow the free market approach to vaccination though: we allow information on vaccines to emerge, and allow Neil and his friends to opt out, even to encourage others to opt out. thousands of people skip vaccination, and suddenly a new disease emerges that kills a few hundred of them. so then they get vaccinated again! or maybe nothing comes along to kill them and the society has fewer and fewer vaccinated people suffering from vaccine side effects and eventually we would all be wiped out by a fatal illness?

according to economics, or at least my economics textbook, people like Mr. Miller are a statistical reality. if there is a large enough group doing anything, it's inevitable that at least a few small people will exempt themselves:

"The larger the number of consumers, the more likely it is that free riding will occur."
- Rodney Mabry & Holley Ulbrich, Economics: Second Edition, page 217

in this case then free riding is a political statement from the anti-vaccinatory, and a moral outrage from the public health system invested in maintaining medical conformism for the sake of easy health. the process advocated by the free riders here is one of information gathering, and selection - more responsibility than what most people would choose, especially when confronted with typhoid or polio.

"...decisions that affect your child's health should not be forced upon you by so-called experts who are not even willing nor able to take responsibility for their actions."
- Neil Z. Miller, Vaccines, page 66

but who is Neil Z Miller? the man who writes the book Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective? offers no posted credentials, no biography. on one hand he discounts experts who won't take responsibility, but what other experts does he offer? many of his sources are reputable; major magazines and even medical journals, but Bernard Saffran asks why he should trust this guy. indeed the only alternative expertise that he offers, besides his anonymous own, is the expertise of each individual, that they might do their homework and make their own decisions about vaccines.

vaccine conspiracy

the problem is that the evidence against vaccines presented by the people outside the academy is so monumental, and they are so strident, it's a bit overwhelming, like conspiracy theories that sound true but nevertheless sound like conspiracy theories. because what are you going to do, never get a vaccine again and leave your children unvaccinated as well? that's a big decision in our society!

conspiracy theory, as defined by Teodor Florea, is a tactical narrative that uses a distinct notion of truth in order to try to achieve some kind of institutional space or legitimacy for itself (Teodor Florea, private conversation). existing as reactions and rebellions against the dominant system, conspiracy theories are alternative storytellings that take publicly shared information and weave different meanings from them. conspiracy theories remain conspiracy theories as long as they are outside the mainstream, so like anti-vaccine narrative, they remain the loyal opposition:

"Dramatic claims of the dangers of vaccines pop up from time to time. In the 1970s, fears that whooping-cough vaccine might cause brain damage led to a decline in vaccine cover and an increase in outbreaks of the disease. This resulted in needless epidemics in many countries, and hundreds of deaths worldwide. The fears, however, turned out to be groundless."
- "Rash Worries," the Economist online, April 11, 1998

when considering questions of public health, most people would prefer to trust a specialist.

the issue of vaccination is an excellent one for illustrating different perspectives on technology - expertise and determinism.

as Tim Burke put it in an illustrative metaphor, if you refused to use electric light, and you came to college and wanted to burn kerosine lamps in your dorm room, should the community accept the greatly increased risk of fire to accomodate your desired lower-tech lifestyle?

questions of rights and lifestyle fall by the wayside easier when personal safety, especially that of children, is the issue in question; indeed the folks arguing against vaccines make their headway arguing that children will be healthier without vaccines.

but that fits into a larger vision of health responsibility, including faith - that parents trust that their childrens' immunity systems will develop healthier without vaccines intervention. still some children will die that way - there is no sure thing. only a healthier thing.

and the medical profession in this case, the folks who exercise and promote the technology of vaccines, they have an immense structure of science and proof standing behind their claims of vaccine efficacy.

the Economist arguing for sobriety in the face of reoccuring claims of vaccine-related health problems, says:

"But although such claims are frightening, and the more so the more distant the memory of the disease, they should be subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny as any other apparent scientific discovery--especially by the reviewers and editors of influential journals."
- "Rash Worries," the Economist online, April 11, 1998

the balance of steady science supports vaccination. accordingly did one conscientious parent i know decide in favour of vaccines for her children maria interview.

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technology affects food relationships and death determining potential directions for our society.
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diet pills
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electronic babysitting fluoridation
technological determinism

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