Friend and blogger Tall Penguin recently wrote about some amazing travels that she's considering, and her concerns about the vaccines that she needs for the trip:
With two years of possibly not having to work spread out in front of me, I am entertaining ideas of travel. This became a very real possibility this past weekend when a friend offered to show me India in November when he goes there for his sister's wedding. I am excited about this prospect. But it's raised a fear in me that I didn't realize I was going to have to confront. Vaccinations.Don't swallow the alternative-medicine snake-oil, Penguin, no matter how much water it's diluted with.If I'm going to experience world travel, there's a whole lot of shots I have to get. And it's not that I'm afraid of the needles. It's my fear that vaccines could be somewhat damaging to my long-term health. Having got hit with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my teens shortly after having a Polio vaccination, I have had a hard time shaking the idea that the two may have been connected, even though there is much scientific research to dispel any connection.I have done a fair amount of research on the vaccination issue and feel that while vaccinations are generally safe, there are risks involved. So, I'm going to book myself an appointment with a travel doctor and learn all I can about the vaccinations I'd require to travel abroad, the benefits and the risks. All said and done, I am of the opinion that there are always risks involved in any choice and I can't keep myself back from fully experiencing my life just because of the potential risks.
Here's where I tell you where I stand, based on my understanding of the facts. Take it or leave it.
Immunize. Vaccinations are probably responsible for saving more lives than anything else in the history of medicine, with the possible exception of basic sanitary procedure.
Things like measles, smallpox, and polio are just far-away ideas now, and they don't seem all that scary. The reason they're not all that scary is because vaccinations have effectively eliminated smallpox from developed countries, and all but decimated many other diseases which once killed people in huge numbers.
India is country with first-world areas within a literal stone's throw from people living in medieval conditions - dying of medieval diseases. Black Death still exists there, and there have been outbreaks of it within the last two decades.
For Canadians like us with little actual exposure to crippling and lethal epidemic diseases, it's easy not to get worried about them. They're still out there, though. They're only not here because of vaccination programs initiated in the Western world within the last few generations.
Weighed against the enormous life-saving benefit of vaccinations are the mainly unsubstantiated claims that there is a link between immunization and long-term physical or neurological health problems. The loudest rants come from people like your commenter "V," and former Playboy model/celebrity anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy, who are convinced that there is a link between modern medical vaccination programs and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
There have been numerous medical studies that have shown that there is no realistic link between vaccination and ASDs, and every time a study comes back and shows no causative link, anti-vaccine activists will either scroll down the vaccine's list of ingredients and pick out another chemical boogeyman, or else argue that "there's more to understanding your health than controlled, double-blind medical studies."
It's bullshit. The first vaccine ingredient to be touted as the cause of an "Autism Epidemic" was Thimerosal. There was no real evidence for a link, but it was removed anyway from just about all vaccines but influenza's. This happened over a decade ago in Canada, and ASD diagnoses haven't gone down.
I spend half of this last summer working with kids on the Autism spectrum, and I saw many parents and otherwise superb colleagues who bought into this frightened mob-think.
There's nothing to lose by getting vaccinated by getting immunized before going to India, and everything to lose by skipping the vaccines.
I'm solidly with Umlud and CyberLizard on this one, and I'll happily second Umlud's suggestion that you check out Orac over at his "Respectful Insolence" blog (http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/). He's a surgeon who has written extensively on the subject.
My advice is to be skeptical of anyone who touts "alternative" medicine. The main reason alternative treatments are alternative is because they can't go through a controlled study showing anything more than placebo effect. Most treatments and medicines that can pass such a test are incorporated into the canon of mainstream medicine. There's no mainstream conspiracy to disprove things like homeopathy; if there were anything to it, Big Medicine would be more than happy to make money off of it, and would push for its full acceptance.
The medical community is about as embroiled in controversy over the safety of vaccinations as the scientific community is about the controversy of the origin of the human species - that's to say, an overwhelming majority standing on the side of the evidence, with a small handful of degreed whack-jobs getting attention for being "mavericks."
You know me. You know I'm not a conformist for the sake of conformity. It's just that there's no actual reason to skip your vaccinations, and a lot at stake if you do.
I'm not a doctor, though. Neither (clearly) is "V," and neither (presumably) are Umlud or CyberLizard. Orac is probably a doctor, but pseudonymous bloggers don't exactly display their medical degrees for the world to see.
Trust an actual doctor.
And bring me back strange and exotic forms of alcohol.