A few days ago another colleague told me that she and her husband had decided against vaccinating their little boy when he was a baby. She didn’t believe in them. Four years on, she tells me, he is robust, whereas cousins of a similar age seem often to be unwell. They’d been vaccinated. Whether that necessarily accounts for the difference isn’t obvious to me, not being especially well informed on the vaccination controversy.
Today this same colleague admitted that she’d buckled under pressure, and had her child immunised against measles. Apparently measles has been going around the schools in this city, having been brought in by a child from overseas. Once it gets into one classroom, no one in the entire school is safe; and from schools it spreads to other schools. Assuming children have not been immunised against it. My colleague didn’t want to be the one mother who might be accused of being irresponsible and putting other children at risk.
The New Zealand Government’s chief scientist Sir Peter Gluckman deplores our low immunisation rate: “From my work as a paediatrician I’ve seen children with whooping cough, diphtheria, tetanus and it’s not nice. Those bugs are still out there and can harm your child and we don’t need to look that far back in our history to remember polio epidemics, influenza epidemics and the like,” he said. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/manawatu-standard/news/4899847/Vaccination-rate-dismal). We are apparently complacent because we haven’t had a major epidemic, and parents have been taken in my ‘a load of rubbish’ that vaccinations can cause autism.
Well, if we’re one of the lowest immunisers in the OECD and we haven’t had an epidemic, then what’s the argument for doing it? The genuine argument would have to do with real benefits, but the actual argument seems to have a lot more to do with fear: fear of an epidemic, fear of getting ill, fear of suffering. Fear of those malevolent ‘bugs that are still out there’ waiting to harm us and our children, against which we have to arm ourselves.
I’ve just looked up the standard immunisation schedule for New Zealand (here: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/pagesmh/7890/$File/natl-immunisation-sched-21mar-11.pdf). I count eleven injections before the age of five. Now to me that’s scary stuff, given the amount of toxic material present in vaccinations, I’m told!
Clearly bugs are at the centre of the picture, as suggested by my colleagues’ description of the way measles bugs spread from child to child, unless they’ve been pre-armed to fight them off. And bugs aren’t just at the centre of this picture, but right at the centre of the picture of infectious diseases per se.
What does GNM say about bugs: viruses, bacteria, microbes of various descriptions? Well, a lot actually, too much to review now. But basically, GNM denies that bugs cause disease, which means, obviously, that flus and colds and infectious/contagious diseases like measles, like malaria, TB, HIV, tetanus, meningitis, hepatitis B, because caused by biological shocks, are in fact not transmissible by microbes. (For a comprehensive list of such diseases see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_diseases_associated_with_infectious_pathogens).
What they don’t deny is that microbes are active and present when someone is ill, but claim that the work they are doing is attempting to restore the person to health. They might always be present within the phenomena of illness, but that’s no proof of causality.
We all have the same picture in our minds: one kid gets something, then a bunch of others in the same class get it. One of our colleagues comes down with a nasty flu in mid-winter, and then we find ourselves coming down with it, and soon the whole office is getting it. How many of us believe we’ve caught something in the confines of an aircraft cabin, stuck for hours and hours with a sniffing companion two rows back, with air going round and round distributing all the bugs going? It seems entirely self-evident.
Not so for GNM: even the common cold is said to be caused by a biological shock, not to mention measles of course. In the latter case, a class full of kids is subjected to the same circumstances, and it’s only individual differences in sensitivity that explains the susceptibilities to experiencing a shock of the disease-causing kind.
Hmm, that hardly seems entirely self-evident, does it? A bit hard to believe, in fact.
But that’s not an argument against its truth. Empirical claims need empirical evidence; that’s what I want to see: the empirical evidence.
And that cuts both ways: empirical evidence for the existence of the dreaded bug, not to mention an adequate account of its capacity to cause illness.