Vaccines, Loss, Grief

The tragic loss of a young child from our area.  A father’s bottomless grief.  A social media cri de coeur.  All combine to drive a recent increased local trend toward questioning the validity and safety of childhood vaccinations.

As a physician and in personal life I have on several occasions reluctantly witnessed the catastrophe of a parent losing a child.  No human should have to endure such an ordeal; any compassionate person would feel the greatest empathy for someone in the throes of that awful experience.

However, we should make health decisions based on facts, not emotions.  The facts here are definitive.  I know essentially nothing about the recent incident in our community but it was reported that the child was immunized weeks before he died.  To establish a meaningful causal link between the 2 events, especially given that time frame, would be most difficult, and would require extensive scientific analysis that would take a significant amount of time.  The effectiveness of vaccines in preventing severe illness and in saving millions of lives and the evidence of their safety from serious problems in all but the remotest of circumstances (if measurable at all) is overwhelming.  The studies that have been conducted in the US and worldwide and are far too extensive to review here.  That Mt. Everest of data on the subject is simply too big to dismiss.  And to postulate a profit driven conspiracy to hide some contrary “facts” would entail believing in a plot that is large enough to encompass multiple countries across several major industries including millions of people.  Kind of hard to keep such a thing a secret.

The consequences of doubt and avoidance are often severe.  There are still outbreaks of vaccine preventable illnesses throughout the US and the world and so many of those are caused by suboptimal immunization rates.  Children are disabled, disfigured, or die as a result.  We can absolutely establish a causal link between under or lack of immunization and these tragedies.  Clearly these children are just as dead, and their families’ grief just as horrific, as our most unfortunate neighbor now must sadly face.

So let’s use our emotions–those of us who share this man’s life–to support him and his family as the try and bear the unbearable, and carry them on to a future where they may one day rediscover joy.  It is our duty to our fellow human beings.   But let’s use our brains to make policy choices that impact our children’s wellness based on facts carefully uncovered and reliably reproducible.  The only really productive way to deal with child loss is to do our best–based on reality– to limit its occurrence.

I encourage all of my patients with questions regarding vaccines and their children to bring those concerns to my attention.  Educating my patients about the advantages of immunizations and making them comfortable with that choice is among my most essential duties as your pediatrician.

And thanks for following.