The world before vaccines is too easy to forget

A 14-year-old girl in Britain has died after receiving a vaccine against cervical cancer. While her death has not officially been linked to the vaccine, many are assuming it to be the cause. Dalrymple argues in the pages of The Times that the benefits of immunization greatly outweigh the risks and that concern over vaccination is partially attributable to its own success at eliminating diseases that threaten human life:

As common infectious diseases loosen their hold on human beings, so the harms caused by immunisation loom larger and larger in people’s minds, obliterating remembrance of conditions before immunisation. Technical improvement is taken for granted the moment it is made (how difficult it is to remember the world before the internet, although many of us have lived most of our lives without it).

Nothing is sooner forgotten than that we have much to be grateful for. Therefore a current death from immunisation counts more than a thousand lives saved by it, in part because a death is tangible but saved life abstract.

19 thoughts on “The world before vaccines is too easy to forget

  1. Tayles

    It is understandable that parents regard the prospect of killing their child with a vaccine as a more immediate and tangible danger than the distant and unknowable possibility of them later contracting the disease against which it is supposed to defend.

    On reflection, however, it should be apparent that this is a pusillanimous response. If they give them the jab, parents run the risk (however small) of their children falling ill and possibly dying as a direct result of their actions. If they do nothing, they abandon their children’s welfare to fate. The latter scenario is less daunting precisely because it requires no action and places no direct blame on parents for any illness their children later contract: “I didn’t MAKE my child ill – they were just unfortunate victims of circumstance.”

    A concerned and considerate parent should take the broader view – that the long-term risk to their child is greater without the vaccine – and act accordingly. It requires courage and conviction but it is ultimately the right choice.

    On a related and more cynical note, I wonder how many people who doubt the honesty of the scientific establishment and who regard vaccines with great suspicion are willing believers in other spurious scientific claims, such as passive smoking and man-made global warming? I suspect there are more than a few.

  2. Mary

    On the other hand, vaccines are not a monolithic bunch. For instance, there are school systems that require children to be vaccinated against forms of hepatitis found almost exclusively among IV drug users.

    One has to measure the risk of getting the disease.

    Note that polio is airborne.

  3. soin

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