The plain truth, vaccines save lives

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Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

For instance, if you have never seen HD television, then the old-fashioned color TV is just fine.

Other times, however, ignorance can be dangerous, harmful or even a curse. With the H3N2 flu epidemic raging in central, eastern and now northern Canada, attacking the young and old, with a sizable number of fatalities, I am still surprised with the number of people who flatly refuse to avail themselves of a simple, virtually harmless vaccination and avoid being quite sick or die prematurely.

Many people are still influenced by the fraudulent scare perpetrated by a physician with a criminal mind who was able to pull the wool over the eyes of the editors of the Lancet, the medical journal that enjoys a great reputation for being accurate and informative for the medical profession.

The Lancet has since retracted the article and the doctor has been charged.

The article claimed that childhood vaccinations were causing autism in some children.

Even though the vaccines have been exonerated, we still do not know why we are seeing increased numbers of autistic children. There are lots of hypotheses, but none have been proven.

Let me briefly digress. I was born well before the time that most of the vaccines existed. The only vaccination we received as infants was against smallpox, a dreadful disease that thankfully now has been eradicated from the planet because of a worldwide, well coordinated vaccination program.

As youngsters, we lost family members, classmates and friends to the deadly effects of diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, meningitis, poliomyelitis, hepatitis.

Nowadays, young doctors have never even seen most of these diseases either during their training or as practicing physicians.

The absence of these diseases and their nasty consequences has created a ho-hum attitude among an increasing number of individuals in the general population and is spurred on by all kinds of myths that they should not have their children vaccinated. Even though they think that they are saving their children the discomfort and the possible minor side effects of the injections, they are putting their children at risk to contract these diseases later on in life, with sometimes dire consequences.

How did the vaccination programs come about? In the past, when strong and healthy individuals contracted any of these diseases and survived, they became immune for life even if they were exposed time and again. That phenomenon was the trigger for a number of clever scientists to develop vaccines that would trick the immune system of the body to manufacture protection against the real thing.

With the exception of the oral polio vaccine, all other vaccines are killed viruses or bacteria. That includes the flu vaccine. Therefore, it is impossible to get the disease from the vaccination, and once your immune system has completed making antibodies against the real disease, you are fully protected.

The only exception is the oral polio vaccine, which consists of a live virus that has been modified and made harmless and yet will trigger a immune response to polio.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, with the help of more than a million Rotarians, are waging a worldwide campaign to rid our planet of this dreadful disease that used to paralyze or kill 1,000 people a day, mostly children.

The world’s greatest crippler has now been reduced to less than 1,000 deaths per year and it looks like it will be gone in the near future.

Vaccines have literally saved millions of lives and prevented even more illnesses.

In the meantime, Alberta and British Columbia are now bracing themselves for a wave of a miserable flu, affecting many of those who did not get their flu shot.

There is still time to get one before the peak of our flu season, saving you the week or longer of wishing that you had been sensible and made the trip to the doctor’s office.

Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.