Growing up in the 1960’s we lined up in grade school to get some of the first polio vaccines. I didn’t like getting shots, but we had to have them. During my youth I managed to acquire a number of infectious diseases such as measles, rubella, measles, and whopping cough.
But vaccines mean a bit more to me, than to most. The reason is that my father is an orphan. He was an orphan raised in an orphanage in Seward, Alaska called the Jesse Lee Home. He wrote a book about his, “Jesse Lee Home: My Home.” You may recall that home from my father’s book, but more likely you will remember Balto – popularized by Walt Disney.
The reason there were over 100 Native American (Alaska Natives, including Eskimo, Athabascan, Aleuts, and Tlingit) children in the orphanage was because of the outbreaks of infectious diseases that killed their parents. Alaska Natives, much like their cousins in the lower 48 (American Indians) have a higher death rate from infectious diseases of Europeans than descendants of Europeans.
Balto, as you may recall, led the sled dogs on the Iditarod trail to Nome, bringing with him vaccines against diphtheria. They arrived in time, and many were saved. While most recall the heroic dog and his master, few will recall that the reason was to bring vaccines to a population that would have been decimated.
In 1900 1/3 of the population of Unalaska was wiped out from measles, and again in 1919 over half were victims of influenza. The village of Knik, which was, at the time, the largest city in South Central Alaska, with an estimated population of over 20,000 was reduced to three villagers after the influenza epidemic.
These epidemics resulted in a number of orphans, all Alaska Natives, in a time when American Indians were not even granted the right of citizenship in the United States.
We then come to the modern era where vaccines are widely used, and on a schedule, by pediatricians throughout the United States. Vaccinations offer a high level of protection against the disease, and are the most effective mechanism we have to protect people from the virus, some bacteria, and even against other diseases — potentially now with some forms of cancer.
Science, not politics, not celebrity, should determine how medicine should work. Jenny McCarthy has a son who, she claimed for a while, had autism. She relates this to vaccination.
The anti-vaccination crowd states that autism has a striking similarity to mercury poisoning – and will show you charts of patients who have mercury poisoning, and compare them with people who suffer from autism. They relate how the preservative used in the vaccines, thermasol, contains an ethyl mercury — and contend that it is this mercury that causes the damage to the children.
The difficulty with their argument are multiple but here are a few simple ones:
The FDA mandated removal of thermasol from all vaccines in 2002. The rates of autism have not decreased.
When careful examination of children who have autism the signs of it are found as early as 9 months of age, but at one year. Typically it is the second year of a child when vaccinations are administered. Parents see the correlation — a child gets vaccinated and the child begins more overt signs of autism, and seeks to make that correlation.
There have been many studies done and none have found a correlation between autism and vaccination. None. Yet, people without a background in science, or those who don’t get the scientific method continue to pound their anecdotal evidence that there is a connection. There is not.
It is now clear that autism is genetic, coming from a range of mutations – not one in particular. So the anti-vaccination crowd focus on how vaccines are an environmental toxin – that can alter DNA. Again, this is not supported by science. The DNA is set in an individual when they are born- there is no evidence a vaccine can alter DNA – although live virus can. Once again, the group who supports not vaccinating does not believe science, or the studies – they believe in anecdotes – stories, things they see. This is very sad.
The new worry is that the agents used to preserve the vaccine- aluminum or formaldehyde are toxic and we should not be injecting them into our children. This in spite of over sixty years of vaccines, and minimal side effects. In large doses aluminum can be toxic, but we still use aluminum in many deodorants as well as in antacids. Aluminum is the third most abundant element on planet Earth – it is not a “heavy metal” as some allege- in fact, it is one of the lightest. There are levels of aluminum in our drinking water, in our blood, and in our bones. Too much is a problem- much like too much vitamin B6 is a problem.
Formaldehyde is a natural byproduct of biochemical reactions that happen in our body every day. Everyone has a level of formaldehyde in them – and while high doses are bad – the body makes formaldehyde as a byproduct of metabolism.
So while I feel sorry for all who have autism, lets look at what having the measles vaccine alone has done for the population of the United States. It has saved 52 million people from getting the disease that I suffered as a child. It has prevented 17,400 of them from being mentally retarded, and prevented 5200 deaths. Worldwide the estimate of lives saved is over 1.4 million. Yet measles is making a comeback. A disease that could have been eliminated is coming back.
July 20, 2010 my son was born. In the hospital he received his first vaccine, and has received every one, on schedule, since then. I won’t risk my son’s life or the lives of other children, by not vaccinating him. Since he is 1/8th Native American (Athabascan) – it is difficult to say if the 7/8th European genes would protect him against the western diseases – but I won’t take that chance.
There is a concept of “herd” vaccination — that if you vaccinate enough people (typically around 85%) of the population, the other 15% will be so much less likely to get the disease that one can effectively call the disease as extinct. Don’t tell that to residents of Tucson, Arizona. Last year an outbreak was associated with a patient from Europe, and over 500 people were exposed to measles. Some 15 cases were confirmed. In the first few months of 2008 there were 64 cases in the United States, 63 of those were not vaccinated against measles. The problem with the herd concept is when a disease is highly contagious, it can quickly spread through a population and that 15% number become irrelevant. Sadly, this has become evident, as the numbers of measles cases has increased in the last few years – a disease we should have eradicated is making a comeback – now over 152 cases mid way through 2011.
To be able to eliminate a disease that almost wiped out a people, as it did in Alaska in the last century, is an amazing leap in science. To let such a disease run wild is genocide. Letting infectious diseases, like measles, out of Pandora’s box when it could be eliminated, is beyond foolish – it is homicidal. To be a celebrity and advocate against vaccination represents the worst of celebrity over science and is de facto a celebrity advocating for genocide against Native Americans.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.