Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Parents Should Heed Ben Franklin’s Vaccination Story

New data indicate increasing conflict between parental rights advocates and vaccination experts. To avoid the return of preventable disease, both sides would be wise to begin a more open and educational dialogue with each other.

According to a study published recently by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a significant number of parents are ignoring the advice of vaccine experts. The study calculated 13 percent of U.S. parents are following an alternative vaccination schedule. This is not just a matter of temporary delays in immunization: 53 percent of these parents refused some vaccines entirely, and 17 percent refused to vaccinate their children at all.

Even among those parents who kept to the recommended vaccine schedule, 28 percent told researchers they believe an alternate schedule that spaces out vaccines is safer.

A new analysis by the Associated Press found this is having a marked effect on young children’s vaccination status. After surveying eight different state elementary school systems, AP found one in every 20 public school kindergarteners did not have the vaccinations required by law to attend school.

Politicians such as presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) have not helped matters. She engaged in severe scaremongering regarding the Gardisil vaccine against the human papillomavirus when she suggested, in claims repeated on national television, that a woman’s child had “suffered mental retardation” as a result of the vaccination.

The failure to vaccinate can have serious consequences. In Europe, preventable diseases have been making a comeback in recent years, with major outbreaks of mumps and measles in the wake of fraudulent reports of connections between vaccines and autism. Here in the U.S., we may be seeing the beginning of the same trend. Last year brought the largest outbreak of whooping cough in a half-century, resulting in the deaths of ten infants.

In refusing to vaccinate because of scare stories, parents are making a foolish choice. But it should be their choice. Parents have the right to opt their children out of vaccinations as they see fit. It is their child, after all, not the government’s.

But when this happens, it must be understood as an act of self-segregation. Parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated must understand they are deciding to teach their children at home or in schools that will allow unvaccinated children to enroll. The rest of the community should not have to bear the risk of a rise in preventable disease.

The role of government in the matter should be to ensure people aren’t allowed to impose their choices on others, which means if we’re going to have public schools and children are required to attend, we can’t allow them to admit unvaccinated children.

All parents would do well to consider the words of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote movingly on the topic, from personal experience:

“In 1736, I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox,” Franklin wrote. “I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it, my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

As Franklin acknowledges, the choice here belongs to the parents, and it ought to. But every choice has consequences, and those with knowledge of the risks and rewards must educate and inform parents of what the consequences of refusing vaccination can be for their child and their neighbors’ children as well.


Taking multi-vitamin pills 'does nothing for our health'

New research shows that taking supplements can actually harm you

They are a daily essential for millions of Britons hoping to ward off ill-health. But despite the millions of pounds spent on vitamin pills, they do nothing for our health, according to a major study.

Researchers spent more than six years following 8,000 people and found that those taking supplements were just as likely to have developed cancer or heart disease as those who took an identical-looking dummy pill.

And when they were questioned on how healthy they felt, there was hardly any difference between the two groups.

Experts said the study – one of the most extensive carried out into vitamin pills – suggested that millions of consumers may be wasting their money on supplements.

Many users fall into the category of the ‘worried well’ – healthy adults who believe the pills will insure them against deadly illnesses – according to Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London. She said: ‘It’s the worried well who are taking these pills to try and protect themselves against Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and strokes. ‘But they are wasting their money. This was a large study following people up for a long period of time assessing everything from their mobility and blood pressure to whether they were happy or felt pain.’

Multi-vitamin supplements have become increasingly popular as a quick and easy way of topping up the body’s nutrient levels. But a series of studies have indicated that, for some people, they could actually be harmful.

Two studies published last year suggested supplements could raise the risk of cancer.

One found pills containing vitamin E, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc increased the risk of malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, four-fold. The other discovered women on a daily multi-vitamin pill increased their risk of breast cancer by up to 20 per cent.

While the evidence that vitamins can do harm is still limited, the latest study seems to confirm that many people are at the very least taking them unnecessarily.

A team of French researchers, led by experts at Nancy University, tracked 8,112 volunteers who took either a placebo capsule, or one containing vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium and zinc, every day for just over six years.

They assessed the state of their health at the beginning and end of the trial, taking a quality of life survey designed to measure everything from mobility and pain to vitality and mental health.

When researchers analysed how many in each group had gone on to develop serious illnesses over the years, they found little difference. In the supplement group, 30.5 per cent of patients had suffered a major health ‘event’, such as cancer or heart disease. In the placebo group, the rate was 30.4 per cent.

There were 120 cases of cancer in those taking vitamins, compared to 139 in the placebo group, and 65 heart disease cases, against 57 among the dummy pill users.

In a report on their findings, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers said: ‘The perception that supplementation improves general well-being is not supported by this trial.’

Miss Collins said the results of the study ‘reinforce the idea that if you’re worried about your health and start taking multi-vitamins, you will still be worried about it six years later’.

But the Health Supplements Information Service, which is funded by supplements manufacturers, said the finding that vitamins had no impact on how people perceived their health was ‘to be expected’.

Spokeswoman Dr Carrie Ruxton said: ‘The role of vitamin supplements is to prevent deficiencies and make sure people are receiving their recommended levels.

‘They won’t have a measurable impact on how you feel on a day-to-day basis but what they are doing is topping up your recommended levels to the right amount. They are not meant to be a magic bullet.’


1 comment:

John A said...

I am not a big fan of over-the-counter vitamin pills, many are over-hyped or outright scams and even the "good" ones often are not actually in a form useable by the human systems.

Still, I could use some language clear-up from the article.

"When researchers analysed how many in each group had gone on to develop serious illnesses over the years, they found little difference. In the supplement group, 30.5 per cent of patients had suffered a major health ‘event’, such as cancer or heart disease. In the placebo group, the rate was 30.4 per cent.

"There were 120 cases of cancer in those taking vitamins, compared to 139 in the placebo group, and 65 heart disease cases, against 57 among the dummy pill users."

In the first para, the numbers basically show no difference. Yet the numbers in the second para show, for the same mentioned problems, extremely significant differences. It is only when the apple stats are combined with the stats on oranges that the number seems to be level, with no large difference in outcome between the good and the bad.

Ir is a good thing both were presented, rather than one or the other, as together they show the advantages vs disadvantages seem to cancel out. But the way this is presented to us...