Intelligent Inoculation

As we transition from fall into winter, we are reminded of the impending flu season. This can be daunting news, especially if you remember last winter. With a record-breaking number of students with influenza on campus, a strictly-regulated near-shutdown of Paresky Commons and sick, miserable people in general, the 2014-15 flu season was not a pretty one.

The failure of the season vaccine certainly was a major contributing factor to last year’s epidemic. According to “The Washington Post,” the vaccine was only 23 percent effective due to a late mutation in the predominant strain, H3N2. Lower vaccination rates, however, exacerbate the issue.

This is not just a trend on the Andover campus; it turns out that vaccination rates are dropping in many other places around the world. While there has been an increase in the types of vaccinations available and also in the number of people who can afford these vaccinations, especially in first-world countries, “The New England Journal of Medicine” recently reported that there were more cases of measles nationally in the first eight months of last year than in any other year over the past two decades. The primary cause was unvaccinated children.

Most people reading this article will probably agree that vaccines are good for them; I personally believe that everyone who can get vaccinated, should. Yet, despite this belief, fewer and fewer people are getting vaccinated each year.

Some of the people opposed to vaccination cite the risk of autism that comes with vaccination, but this is false. The myth that vaccinations cause autism was started by one of the greatest scientific frauds: Andy Wakefield. In 1998, Wakefield published a paper that blamed the MMR vaccine, which prevents measles, mumps and rubella, for causing Autism Spectrum Disorder. 12 years later, it was discovered that his study contained falsified data. Various meta-analysis studies also proved his results to be false. Furthermore, other researchers found no relationship between vaccination and autism at all. His medical license was revoked and his paper was retracted, but the 12 years that the study had been in circulation caused the rumors of an autism-vaccination link to spread. In the end, “there is no scientific proof that autism and vaccines are related, yet somehow the legend lives on,” said Tom Daley, a professor of public health at Boston University.
Other vaccination side-effects that people worry about are usually only mild allergic reactions, and even then, the chances that a vaccine will cause a reaction are slim. The risk of developing serious side-effects, like heart disease or kidney failure, is even smaller. In fact, only five out of one million people will develop a serious side effect from vaccination, according to the Institute of Medicine. Compared to the day-to-day risks that people take, this five in one million is nothing: you are more likely to be killed crossing the street (1 in 45,000). In fact, a non-vaccinated person is more likely to die from the disease they decided not to vaccinate against than die from a side effect that they could have gotten from the vaccination.

Others may argue that if everyone else gets vaccinated, then they will not have to. In this argument, people rely on the concept of “herd immunity,” which the Harvard Medical Dictionary defines as: “Protection occurring when so many people in a region are immune to an infectious disease that it can’t spread to others.”
Deciding not to vaccinate puts those who are truly unable to vaccinate, like infants and the elderly, at risk. If everyone develops this mentality and decides not to vaccinate, then the rate of vaccination is going to drop significantly, at which point, herd immunity becomes completely useless. After all, it was the 95 percent vaccinated rate that caused the European measles epidemic and a whooping cough outbreak in California three years ago. While a 95 percent vaccination rate may seem high, the 5 percent of the population who do not get vaccinations can cause infectious diseases to proliferate, and prevent the complete eradication of certain diseases.

On campus, I know that there are many other reasons why students may opt out of vaccination, including: lack of parental permission, fear of needles or in the case of last year, simply the inconvenience of walking over to Isham Health Center.

Sadly, there is not much that can be done about a declined permission slip. I also can completely sympathize with a student with a fear of needles – getting something sharp poked into my arm is not remotely close to my idea of fun. I hope, however, that the discomfort will not completely deter anyone from receiving the vaccination since we can prevent campus-wide illnesses for all students and faculty if all students get the vaccination. As for the inconvenience – this year, Isham is offering multiple vaccination clinics to students. For boarders, these will take place in the evenings during study hours in various dorms this week; for day students, Isham offered flu shots in the Steinbach Lobby of George Washington Hall on Thursday during dinner. Additional vaccinations will be administered at Isham in the coming weeks of October.

Again, I want to emphasize the importance of receiving vaccinations. The shot itself takes less than two minutes and lasts for the whole season. Even if you usually don’t get sick, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I strongly encourage everyone to take advantage of this offer and get vaccinated.