Fair warning: this blog post contains pro-vaccine opinions.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was incredibly sad to hear that we would be loosing both John Stewart and Steven Colbert in the coming year. Where will I get my news? I find the loss of these programs particularly upsetting because there is a special kind of truth that comes from satire, and in my opinion both Stewart and Colbert did a wonderful job of presenting difficult and dividing issues in a way that made their viewers think. I’m bringing this up because the other day I saw a clip from another TV host–Jimmy Kimmel–that did a fantastic job of using humor to get a message out (á la The Daily Show).
The Anti-Vaccine movement has been attracting a lot of media coverage recently, what with the Disney measles outbreak. As a medical student and future doctor, I have a vested interest in this debate (if you can really call the issue a ‘debate’). It baffles me that people would want to put their children in danger. I don’t understand why we are still having this discussion, but apparently there are those that are still confused. And as physicians (not famous people), I’m sorry to say that the medical community doesn’t have the popularity to get the word out as much as say, I don’t know, Jenny McCarthy. At the end of the day, it really comes to which side is yelling the loudest, and unfortunately the anti-vaccine movement often wins in that arena. Which is why I appreciate this unsolicited support from someone like Jimmy Kimmel. Its humor makes the clip a form of entertainment, but the seriousness of the message still shines through.
There are two big reasons why I love this video (and a dozen more small ones that I won’t bore you with here). The first is that Kimmel addresses what I think is one of the most important arguments against the anti-vaccine movement (besides potentially saving their life): that it puts other children in danger. Yes, feel free to argue that your healthy child can probably survive measles and get their immunity ‘naturally’. But what about people with impaired immune systems? What about children with cancer, genetic immune deficiencies, or those that are too young to have developed an immune system? Your child could pass on the disease to someone who might not be able to fight it off. Besides, its not just the immunocomprimised that have potentially life threatening reactions to these diseases. Regular, seemingly healthy children can get encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) from chicken pox, or hearing loss, pneumonia, or subacute sclerosing encephalitis from measles (yes, the measles that you are so unconcerned about). Children die–we have forgotten this fact because with modern medicine, the number of childhood illnesses has fallen so much in the last century.
The second reason that the video brings up is the implied mistrust of doctors that inherently comes with the anti-vaccine movement. Twelve years of obligatory school, four years of university education, four years of medical school, and 3-??? years of residency and fellowship to become a doctor and you still don’t trust our medical knowledge? The main argument that I seem to hear from the anti-vaccine community is that Doctors and Scientists are ignoring the evidence against vaccines (possibly for our own gain?). First, any evidence that suggested danger in vaccines has been disproven over and over again. Do you think we looked at information that suggested we were harming people and said “Eh, its probably fine.” No. We have invested time, money, and effort to make sure that vaccines were safe. And then when we proved that they were, we kept checking, because the safety and well-being of others is kind of our job. Besides, as a former professor of mine once said: Scientists never agree on anything. We like to argue. There is always someone willing to oppose your ideas. The theory that all of the scientific community has come together to deceive the public is absurd–we are not nearly that organized. Second, vaccines are the single most important medical development of the last century. As the video states: “Do you remember that time you got Polio? No–because your parents got you vaccinated.” Walk through a really old church grave yard sometime. Look at all the graves of children and remember that death in childhood was heartbreakingly common even 50-100 years ago. Vaccines have allowed us to stop many of these common, devastating disease outbreaks that previously swept through the population. When I suggested that a child get vaccinated, I’m not twirling my evil mustache, laughing maniacally to myself about my evil plan to cause the child harm. I am taking the best medical evidence out there and giving the child the chance of a better, healthier life.
So thank you, Mr. Kimmel. It is a wonderful thing to see you using your fame and reach to advocate for such an important issue. I hope you continue to do so in the future.