Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Vaccines and Faith

When I was still in college, I had a summer job at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland and the project I worked on in a genetics lab was to track down kids who were born in Baltimore during an outbreak of measles which occurred in the 1960's.  A lot of those kids born to mothers who got exposed to measles were born deaf or with a variety of other congenital defects.  Measles. I had measles as a kid, and I got it again as a doctor in my 30's, a very attenuated illness. Didn't seem like a fearsome disease, but it did a lot of nasty things to a lot of people.

When I was in medical school, we occasionally got a kid who needed a transfusion to save his life, or we had a mother in labor who hemorrhaged who needed a transfusion to save her life but they were  members of the Seventh Day Adventist church and so we had to simply watch some of them die.  Faith.

There is a disturbing, maddening book called, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" about a Hmong girl who has a severe epileptic (seizure) disorder and she lives in Davis, California where her parents bring her to the Emergency Room at the UC Davis Hospital and they revive her, stop her seizures and send her home with anticonvulsant therapy but the parents do not give the girl her medicine because they believe, as Hmong do, that illness is caused by a disturbance in the universe, so the girl goes on seizing and suffering. The doctors called this child abuse and fight it through the courts. Those parents are not doing what's best for that child.

Michelle Bachmann and Donald Trump hear from a lady in the parking lot or from some other equally reliable source that vaccinations cause autism or mental retardation or cerebral palsy or who knows what and on the basis of that scientific analysis they advocate for vaccine free babies.

Alexandre Yersin, a student of Louis Pasteur goes to Vietnam around 1900 and he gets a telegram from Pasteur telling him of an outbreak of bubonic plague in Hong Kong.  Yersin does not ask the lady in the parking lot what is causing the Black Death. He has been trained in science. He gets on a boat and gets to Hong Kong, where the British, who are then in charge, dismiss him because he doesn't speak English and he looks pretty scruffy to them and they have their own expert, who totally fails to identify the causative organism, but Yersin, using the techniques of SCIENCE, actually identifies the beast, and not just that--he raises a vaccine to Pasterela Pestis (as he names the organism) and when Plague breaks out back at his home base in Vietnam he is uses his vaccine to save hundreds of patients.
Oh, what we do to children

Throughout the centuries, we have had to chose whether to believe in science we do not fully understand or to put our faith in people "of faith."

Mr. Trump clearly rejects scientists because, well we can only guess why. I suspect he rejects science because it doesn't allow him to believe what he wants to believe and it's a power thing with him.

In some African countries Presidents have denied HIV causes AIDS.  They think its a Western plot to gain control of Africa. Mr. Trump believes climate change is a Chinese plot.

We are back in the Dark Ages now. And soon, we will see what pestilence looks like, when the anti vaccine people have their way.

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