A sure shot?

Three weeks ago, like many other Queen’s students, I lined up to be immunized against the mumps. I wasn’t entirely sure I needed the vaccine—I was pretty sure it was part of the booster shot I got when I was little—but I knew I couldn’t afford nine days of isolation if I was wrong. I also reasoned that the KFL&A health unit wouldn’t be giving out a vaccine willy-nilly if getting it twice could harm you.

As I stood in line in the John Orr room, I remember thinking how great it was that I could just come and get a free vaccine on campus. It never occurred to me that the vaccine I was waiting to get might be a dangerous ploy by an outside government to debilitate my generation.

Judging from the placid faces of everyone else in the growing line, this didn’t occur to them either.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case in huge parts of the world. Yesterday, the Globe and Mail ran a story about hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians refusing to be vaccinated for diseases such as diphtheria, mumps, polio, hepatitis B, tuberculosis and whooping cough—all diseases I’ve been vaccinated against since elementary school.

The problem has gotten so bad, Ukrainian authorities have cancelled a UN-backed program to vaccinate children against measles and rubella. In the next few months, over nine million unused doses of the vaccines will be incinerated.

Anti-vaccination campaigns are blamed for the drop in Ukraine’s vaccination rates. In May, a 17-year-old boy died of septic shock shortly after he was vaccinated. Despite dying from unrelated causes, many media outlets and anti-vaccine groups blame the vaccination for his death.

And Ukraine isn’t alone in this kind of anti-vaccine fever. In 2003, the imams in northern Nigeria refused polio vaccinations because they were convinced the vaccines were a Western ploy to infect them with HIV. Indonesian authorities are also considering stopping vaccination programs because they’re worried foreign drug companies are using the Indonesian population as test subjects.

The worry that childhood vaccines cause autism has even decreased the rate of vaccination in North America.

I have no way of knowing if these worries are justified, but I sincerely hope they aren’t.

Although I’m a strong believer in the right of autonomy over your body, and don’t want to see what little freedom people are given diminished, refusing vaccinations affects more than just specific individuals.

Part of the vaccination program is the eradication of certain diseases. Once people refuse to be vaccinated these diseases become more prevalent, because there are more people who are susceptible to them. The result is a major health risk that is, theoretically, completely avoidable.

The public needs more education on where the vaccines come from and what the pros and cons of vaccinations are.

To protect both the health and choices of people worldwide, drug companies, governments and health care workers need to restore people’s faith in vaccinations, and they need to do it soon.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.