Dear Mr. Trump and Mr. Kennedy,
Are you serious? I mean, are you really serious – a committee to investigate the effectiveness of vaccines? What do you think science has been doing for the last 220 years? We are going to spend millions of dollars and precious hours that could be better spent, I don’t know, say… working on securing peace in the Middle East or developing a realistic and actionable alternative to the Affordable Care Act (which, by the way, I happen to like and don’t feel needs replacement but, perhaps, improvement). This is ridiculous!
We (I really want to say “you” but I’m trying to be inclusive here) must have an unbelievably short collective memory. Do you not remember smallpox? Do you not remember polio? Do you not remember the Influenza pandemic of 1918, which affected 1/5th of the world’s population and killed more people than died in all of WWI? 50 million people died! That’s million, with an “M”! Why do we not see these horrible plagues anymore? Because of vaccines, that’s why! But, somehow, even though many people – healthy people – still die of the flu every year, this doesn’t feel like a current concern. Maybe it’s not sexy enough of an issue. I would stake my career on the fact that, if there were an Ebola outbreak and people were bleeding out of their eyeballs and dying left and right, every single person out there would stand in line to get a vaccine if one was available. Maybe the flu and other vaccine-preventable diseases just aren’t scary enough.
How pretentious and elitist of us. This move, to question the utility and benefit of vaccinations, is a luxury of the wealthy. You do not see the people of third world countries or those in our own country who are just scraping by, living paycheck to paycheck, questioning the benefit of vaccines. To them, this is a life and death situation. Whether to vaccinate is a make or break decision. For those out there who don’t have access to adequate health care or can’t afford the medication or the doctor bills to treat an illness, having a family member get sick can be catastrophic. They can’t afford to take time off of work to nurse their child or themselves back to health. So, what happens? Kids get sent to school during illness. Adults continue to go to work during illness. And illness spreads.
It feels like I spend half my day trying to convince people to get vaccinated. As a family doctor, who cares for a largely middle to upper middle class patient population, I get a lot of questioning patients. In 2015, after growing frustrations with how much effort was expended addressing this issue, and not feeling fully prepared to answer all the concerns that my patients had, I took the time to do my homework. I took every doubt, every reason that I have heard not to vaccinate, and addressed each one in turn. I wrote an article about it called An Ounce of Prevention and you can read it if you are so inclined, or you can do your own research. You will find, as I did, what we as people of Science and Medicine already knew. Vaccines are safe and vaccines save lives!
What I know to be true in my heart of hearts and what I see to be true in my everyday practice, is that population health and individual health are inseparable. If you choose not to get vaccinated, so be it. You are an adult. But know that your choice puts others at risk. We vaccinate not only to protect ourselves but also to protect the more vulnerable in our community. Or maybe you don’t care about those more vulnerable and at risk individuals.
Make your own personal decisions, but don’t deny the right to this lifesaving health intervention to others and don’t waste our time and dollars setting back the clock to the 1700s.
Gretchen LaSalle, MD