Is there such a thing as a vaccine debate?

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Many science minded people are bothered by the term “vaccine debate”.  The suggestion is that no debate exists when one side has the benefit of scientific evidence, while the other relies on an unproven hypothesis.

But a “debate” it has become.  Especially when it provides for interesting coverage in the mainstream media.  This recent PBS video, To Vaccinate or Not? Two Mothers ‘Debate’ is a perfect example of how various vaccination decisions can be compared, debate-style.  With the U.S. currently in the midst of the worst whooping cough outbreak in more than half a century, PBS Newshour positioned took two women from Washington state and addressed the question of whether it is irresponsible not to vaccinate our children.

I was somewhat impressed by how the women chose to defend their opinions.  At one point, even the woman who has chosen not to vaccinate her child, made some relevant points.

  • She emphasized that the most important thing that we can do for newborns is to keep infants away from anyone with a cough.  However, her suggestion to test everyone for pertussis reveals her lack of understanding of the symptoms and diagnosis of the disease.
  • She recognized that the pertussis vaccine has a less than perfect record of efficacy, yet she emphasized that the vaccine helped reduce the severity of the disease.  While most people who are well versed in vaccine efficacy realize this to be true, I agree with her comment that many vaccinated individuals are not always aware that the vaccine does not provide 100% assurance against contracting the disease.
  • However, my biggest concern with her statements was her personal conviction that her kids were at “no risk of complications from pertussis”.  She was certain that if they contracted whooping cough, that they would not die, but may suffer greatly.  I’m not entirely certain what she based this opinion on, but I found her statements a bit troubling.

Shot of Prevention & PBS Newshour

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