Not Worth a Shot: Why Some Christians Refuse Vaccinations on Moral Grounds

"The use of fetal cell lines from the 1960s is another sticking point in the vaccine debate." - Christianity Today

1584 reads

There are 23 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There shouldn't even be a "vaccine debate."

Does it make sense to view oneself as responsible for how a vaccine was derived but not view oneself as responsible for the spread of deadly diseases? ... I can't see it.

Bert Perry's picture

There are a number of medical innovations whose roots ought to make us cringe; one thing for starters is that a lot of the best early work on hypothermia and said injuries was done in Nazi concentration camps.  I think I can learn from that while mourning the atrocities committed, no?

Regarding fetal stem cells, it also strikes me that one could obtain a new line if one desired from fetal surgeries they're doing now, or possibly even from amniocentesis.  No murder required.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

There shouldn't even be a "vaccine debate."

Does it make sense to view oneself as responsible for how a vaccine was derived but not view oneself as responsible for the spread of deadly diseases? ... I can't see it.

I agree, but let's not act like an unvaccinated child is the equivalent of Typhoid Mary.

Joeb's picture

I agree with both of you. Not getting the vaccine shot for your child because you disagree how it was developed is crazy.  

Along the same lines as this argument is creating a chimera to harvest organs for transplant.  They are planning on creating a chimera via a human dna  and pig mix for organ transplant purposes.  I guess my question is where does this idea lie within are Christian beliefs.  Same argument regarding the basis of the organs to be transplanted.  I have a friend a believer who says this is sinful.  

My friend would probably hold the same opinion re the vaccine of the people refusing to get the shot.   

Bert Perry's picture

pvawter wrote:

 

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

There shouldn't even be a "vaccine debate."

Does it make sense to view oneself as responsible for how a vaccine was derived but not view oneself as responsible for the spread of deadly diseases? ... I can't see it.

 

 

I agree, but let's not act like an unvaccinated child is the equivalent of Typhoid Mary.

Tell that to the hundreds of kids getting measles around New York City because people aren't willing to get their MMR.  Measles has come back because we're not vaccinating, and yes, it can be lethal.  I also remember around Boulder that there were quite a few cases of whooping cough (pertussis) because people around there weren't getting vaccinated.

As a result, Typhoid Mary is, in a manner of speaking, on the streets of Gotham again.  It's probably greatly because vaccination has been so successful that we forget how important a lot of these vaccines are.  Put differently, ask someone my age or younger about polio, and then ask someone who's 70 or up. You will likely get two very different answers, and Jonas Salk's success has a lot to do with why.

Don't get me wrong; there are more important and less important vaccines, corresponding with the lethality of the disease and how easy it is to prevent it.  But that noted, let's encourage people to remember their history and why, precisely, doctors started to recommend them.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David R. Brumbelow's picture

One way to evaluate Measles vaccine is to compare the percentage of deaths to measles to the number of deaths and complications to measles vaccine.  This is difficult to do, but the following quotes give a rough idea: 

Historically, the CDC has reported measles death rates to be one in 10,000 cases.

https://www.nvic.org/vaccines-and-diseases/measles/measles-quick-facts.aspx

Nearly two decades earlier, in 1981, a report of the National Childhood Encephalopathy Study was published in Britain that concluded:

“The risk of a serious neurological disorder within 14 days after measles vaccine in previously normal children irrespective of eventual clinical outcome is 1 in 87,000 immunizations.”27

However, a 2007 study conducted in Britain concluded “We can estimate the vaccine-attributable risk of serious neurologic disease after the first dose of MMR vaccine as 1 in 365,000 doses.28 

Today, the majority of doctors and health officials reject the suggestion that MMR vaccine is associated with the development of autism in children.43 However, privately funded research continues to investigate the potential association between vaccines, including MMR vaccine, and the development of autism, inflammatory bowel disease and other kinds of brain and immune system dysfunction in previously healthy children. 

https://www.nvic.org/vaccines-and-diseases/measles/measles-vaccine-injur...

There is, of course, much more information at each of these sites. 

David R. Brumbelow

pvawter's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

As a result, Typhoid Mary is, in a manner of speaking, on the streets of Gotham again.

It is unhelpful and inaccurate to compare an unvaccinated person to Typhoid Mary. There is a world of difference between someone knowingly carrying a deadly disease and someone merely not contributing to herd immunity. It is characterizations like this that make any meaningful conversation with someone who is anti-vaccine virtually impossible.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There are both similarities and dissimilarities. 

Both contribute to the spread of disease... one individually, the other as one of many, some of whom get sick and spread it.

The cases are not identical, no, but I don't think anyone is saying that. 

pvawter's picture

Does the very fact that a person is unvaccinated contribute to the spread of disease? I think that would be a difficult assertion to demonstrate. 

When we talk about the "responsibility" of an individual to society, should we include any and all things that carry a potential and uncertain risk as opposed to a known and actual risk? That's where the conversation starts to get troublesome in my opinion.

Bert Perry's picture

Paul, look up "Typhoid Mary" and see what you find.  She was a woman who was a carrier of typhoid, one who carried the virus but did not get sick.  Because she wasn't sick, she persisted in her vocation as a cook despite public health officials telling her she was spreading a deadly disease--somewhere between three and fifty people died as a result, and somewhere between 50 and who knows how many people got sick.

The same dynamics are at work with anti-vaxxers these days.  The relevant principle is "herd immunity", and it works on the notion that if you don't get the disease (either openly or as a carrier), you also are far less likely to pass it on to others.  Remember the old geometric series you learned back in junior high or high school math, where a^n goes to infinity if a>1, but zero if a < 1?  That's the principle.  If the average person exposed exposes one or more people to the disease, you have an epidemic.  If the average person exposes less than one, it fizzles out.

So like it or not, those who refuse vaccinations are indeed running the risk of exposing their neighbors to those diseases, just.like.Typhoid.Mary.  

 

Side note; I believe that if the CDC and others made the case of herd immunity more emphatically, a LOT of the opposition to vaccines would disappear.  People are looking at "will it make me immune?", but that's really far less important than "will it make me less likely to pass this disease to someone else?"

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Typhoid Mary changed her name and moved constantly to avoid facing authorities because she knew she was carrying a deadly disease. Her story of more akin to an HIV infectee having sex with various people knowing he will likely infect them. It's just not the same as otherwise healthy people who are not inoculated against a disease many of them do not and will not ever have.

Bert Perry's picture

And the consistent refrain she gave was that she didn't believe she was causing a problem.  Just.Like.Today's.Vaccine.Deniers.   It's also worth noting that you can transmit diseases like measles without knowing you've got it.  Just.Like.Typhoid.Mary.  She also changed her name a sum total of...once.

And regarding your comparison to HIV, thankfully typhoid is not (sans AZT/cocktail) consistently lethal like AIDS.  So the case of measles in Gotham is a lot closer to Typhoid Mary's case than vaccine deniers would like to admit.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

pvawter's picture

Just so I understand you, Bert. You're saying that unvaccinated people in the US are like those who knowingly carry and spread disease to others. And this applies to all of them, whether they actually carry disease or not, because they may carry a contagion at some point. If the above is an accurate characterization of your view, then I assume you would be in favor of either forced vaccination or quarantine for all those who refuse the vaccine. That was how Mary spent the last decades of her life, btw.

I'm sure that argument wins a lot of vaccine skeptics to your position.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

One of the major contributors to anti-vaxxers is the almost complete inability to get any numbers at all regarding actual (not fictional) deaths from vaccination.  Try even googling for them.  Of course, it's recognized that nearly all adverse events, rare as they are, are a result of allergic reaction or severe immunodeficiency, but when someone asks the odds, and gets the answer that "vaccines are safe" rather than getting a number like 1/10,000,000 (I just made that up) can have an issue with vaccine, people start to not believe what they are being told.

Since the consequences of some of these diseases, like measles or polio, is fairly high, it's pretty easy to make the decision to take the risk even without numbers.  For something like chicken-pox, which no one of my generation was vaccinated for and most eventually got, it's a harder call when you're getting "feel good" answers from the doctors.  I'll admit I went back and forth about getting the chicken-pox vaccine for my kids, before eventually having them vaccinated.  (As discussed in a previous thread, my kids ended up getting all that were available, except HPV.)  When you think you are being fed a line, it's easy to listen to alternative sources of information, even if they are more likely to be wrong.

The same thing happened when my wife got breast cancer (a fairly rare and aggressive type, or so we were told).  We kept asking for her prognosis or odds.  Unlike what you hear from others with cancer, where they got answers of "its possibly curable" to "you have a couple months to live," the doctors refused to ever give my wife or I any numbers.  At all.  Ever.  All they would say is "let's be positive."  I can assure you that such non-answers have completely the opposite effect of what's intended.  I never did get them to tell me whether the odds were just really bad, or they didn't know them.  What it did do, was make me realize that I would listen to what they said, but then my wife and I were going to make the call on treatment, taking advantage of their knowledge, but never completely believing anything they said.  I'm not sure that that's the goal they were shooting for.

Doctors need to be completely honest with people.  They should say that vaccine complications are rare (or even extremely rare), but can happen, and they need to be prepared to give whatever numbers are available, rather than trying to snow the patient's parents.  And they need to contrast that with what can happen if people do get polio or measles, and show the numbers there too.

Along similar lines, have you ever noticed what happens in an airport when there's a delay and all personnel refuse to give *any* information as to what is causing it it vs. just saying the pilot was late, or there was an equipment malfunction, or whatever?  People get much more infuriated when staff are trying to pacify them vs. just being straight up with them.  I know it's true for me, and it's fairly easy to see in the passengers around me.  I hate getting no info, and I fume and think the airline is terrible, but believe me, I'm perfectly happy to patiently wait knowing the plane needs to be repaired or replaced, since I'm going to be riding in it.

If you want people to believe vaccines are safe, give hard numbers.  That may not convince everyone, but it will convince a lot more than just saying "vaccines are safe."  Not doing so makes people think the doctors are hiding something, even if they are not.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Given the speed with which an epidemic can rage through a community, Paul, the differences between Typhoid Mary and modern anti-vaxxers are not as big as they ought to be. Mary was imprisoned/quarantined, yes, and rightly so, because she was getting people killed and large scale vaccination was not practical--the vaccine was used only by the military in her time.  Even today, the typhoid fever vaccine is effective for only a couple of years, so the reason you don't have reason to fear it is because, quite frankly, quarantines work.

Measles is somewhat different since the vaccination can last for two decades.  However, if the situation gets quite a bit worse--say tens of thousands of infections and a number of deaths in New York City--public health officials are going to need to give those communities a choice; get vaccinated, or get quarantined.

Describe the risks accurately, yes--but let's remember that the reason we don't have huge fear of things like smallpox and polio is because generations before us made some hard choices to accept these risks to protect their neighbors.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

Describe the risks accurately, yes--but let's remember that the reason we don't have huge fear of things like smallpox and polio is because generations before us made some hard choices to accept these risks to protect their neighbors.

I'm not convinced that people were that altruistic in their motivation.  What previous generations had was *experience* with polio and smallpox, and they knew how bad they were and thus were willing to take some risk with the vaccine to prevent worse consequences down the road (consequences they hadn't just heard about, but likely had seen in others or maybe experienced themselves).  While generations before us were certainly more self-sacrificing than ours, I rather doubt parents would have made a risky choice to risk their own child getting a disease or having some potentially debilitating side-effect to supposedly help protect their neighbors, though a few might have.

And back then, there were justified reasons to fear vaccines -- sometimes QC was not so great, and vaccines got out that caused the disease they were trying to prevent.  But again, the likelihood of bad consequences for not vaccinating was much higher than parents have today with larger amounts of herd immunity.  With that reduced risk, the need for being open and honest about the actual risks (i.e. very small but NOT non-existent) will help convince parents to make the right choice.  The "trust us" line is just not going to work, especially in this day and age where trust and respect of authority is much reduced from that of previous generations (and while not a welcome development, it's not always completely without justification).  What parents hear when they hear "trust us" about something like vaccination is "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or of the one."  Not very comforting.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Actually, this article about the unveiling of the Salk vaccine does indicate that people could and did do a little bit of relative risk analysis.   300,000 people, confronted with the risks of polio, knowingly took the risks of the early Salk vaccine.  When the relative risk came out about the same as the placebo, millions more joined them, and the results were announced on nationwide TV/radio.  

No doubt that "trust us" just won't work, but it's not like we can't look back a few decades and see what happens when we don't take care of these things.  As I noted above, people above age 65 or so are genuinely perplexed about why people don't work with this, because they remember the days when their friends were going into the iron lung.  Their parents remember the names of relatives lost in the 1918 flu epidemic.

We can either heed history, or we can re-learn it.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

No doubt that "trust us" just won't work, but it's not like we can't look back a few decades and see what happens when we don't take care of these things.  As I noted above, people above age 65 or so are genuinely perplexed about why people don't work with this, because they remember the days when their friends were going into the iron lung.  Their parents remember the names of relatives lost in the 1918 flu epidemic.

We can either heed history, or we can re-learn it.

I mostly agree.  It was an easy call for me on diseases like Polio.  But when some people hear things like "Polio has been 99.9% eradicated," then they re-evaluate the risk/reward for vaccination, since they believe their chances of catching it are much less than was the case a couple generations back, even if non-zero.  They probably figure that others will take the risks, so they don't need to.  The people above 65 have too much experience, so they probably would never consider not vaccinating.  Plus, as you noted, their generation already took the risks.

People should indeed learn from history, but since that often doesn't happen (cf. socialism), then why not explain more to them?  Having more information about the actual numbers would help more than it would hinder, but it seems the authorities think the opposite -- it's almost like they think if any information gets out it means even less people will vaccinate.  Unfortunately, social engineers always seem to come to the conclusion that an ignorant populace is better, since they can be controlled and dissenters can just be silenced.  They just don't seem to get that human nature doesn't work that way.

I don't actually know what information doctors give out now when preparing parents for vaccinations, but in the early 90's when I was having children of that age, they were definitely trying to convince me that there were no risks I need worry about.  I ended up vaccinating, but in spite of what they said rather than because of it.  I'm not at all surprised that other parents are resistant to that sort of advice being passed off as "expertise."

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

My kids started in 1998, and we had about the same experience--that the materials encouraging vaccination left "a little to be desired" in the persuasion department.  The most infuriating thing, though, is that the consequences of not vaccinating are pretty darned straightforward.  Vaccination does not confer intergenerational immunity, so if you've got the pathogen out there, not vaccinating over time will lead to similar disasters as we had in the past.  

You can "scale" it by estimating herd immunity and the incremental impact of people choosing not to vaccinate, and you can determine "communities at risk" by plotting out vaccination rates by neighborhood or town, but the long and short of it is that the consequences of not taking MMR are very significant outbreaks in measles, mumps, and rubella in and around the affected communities.  It's infuriating that the case is not made because it's so straightforward.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

The most infuriating thing, though, is that the consequences of not vaccinating are pretty darned straightforward.  Vaccination does not confer intergenerational immunity, so if you've got the pathogen out there, not vaccinating over time will lead to similar disasters as we had in the past.

That's just it though.  While I agree with what you are saying, the consequences of not vaccinating are definitely *less* than they were in the past.  I don't mean for someone who gets the disease, or what will happen when it spreads, but I'm speaking about the chances of getting it in the first place.  Some of these anti-vaxxer parents are seeing that many kids who aren't vaccinated don't get those diseases, probably both because they are not as prevalent in the wild, and because most everyone else is vaccinated.  Because of that, and because they don't get good answers on the risks, they make the wrong choice and choose not to vaccinate, thinking that the risk of not vaccinating is less.  I would agree with you that it's a wrong conclusion, at least for most diseases that have vaccinations available, but that shows exactly why the medical community should do much better than "trust us."

Quote:

It's infuriating that the case is not made because it's so straightforward.

I could not agree with this more.

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

Yes, we don't have the obvious reservoirs of various plagues out there like we did in the past, but we have to remember that these things (again, a^n) grow exponentially and can sneak up on us in a hurry.  At that point, our main defense, if a "critical mass" does not vaccinate, against things getting as bad as they used to be is the fact that most of us don't live in tenements anymore.  Single family homes without a person for every 50-100 square feet amount to a partial quarantine.  

Which is a long way of saying that the difference between then and now is that we've got a few extra weeks to prepare, and slightly slower transmission.  Maybe.  Knowing that, I'm actually somewhat uneasy that our fix for smallpox (if some sadist releases it again from some vial in or outside of Atlanta) is just a few vials at the CDC.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.