In Vaccines We Trust
Having never experienced a neighbor's child who comes down with measles and a few years later succumbs to the neurodegenerative complications of the disease, some parents have less appreciation for the vital protection provided by the routine application of vaccines. There is a disconnect between doing P to prevent Q—such a recommendation is backed only by the authority of the physician, the school board, and the scientific literature.
Mistrust of conventional medicine, pharma, or government agencies can lead to rejection of vaccination even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Indeed, that has been the case across the world, from Nigeria, where claims of vaccines made by the federal government to sterilize and kill the population have severely hampered polio eradication efforts, to the U.S., where mistrust of conventional medicine leads people to choose measles over vaccination on the word of celebrities and pseudoscientists.
It really is a question of trust—without an understanding of the science behind vaccines, you're left with someone being told to dose their children for a disease they do not have. Being that the only exposure to vaccines many people have is childhood vaccination, we have a rare event with no basis of experience to buffer it from association with whatever happens afterward. So, if a recently vaccinated child becomes sick, one would be more likely to associate the sickness with the vaccine rather than their playmates who have been passing around colds.
Fear wasn't always in charge. The "courage" that Dr. Salk is referring to in the above quote is his decision to test his vaccine on himself and his family, knowing that he could not in good conscience ask other families to do the same if he had not. The parents of over a million school children, the 1954 "Polio Pioneers," followed his lead, volunteering their own families to receive the experimental vaccine to prevent the dreaded polio disease. Even today, many parents embrace vernacular vaccination by holding "chicken pox parties" that, by embracing the usually mild disease in infancy, usually prevent more significant complications of the disease at an older age.
So why revisit the topic now? The profile of vaccine medicine is dramatically changing. The previously cited vaccines are prophylactic. Now, a broad new class of vaccine—the therapeutic vaccine, which is given to treat an existing disease—is about to transform medicine, with ramifications perhaps as dramatic as the prophylactic vaccines have had.
We stand at the threshold of a new era in medicine. Therapeutic vaccines, previously rare, will soon explode, with many new dramatic avenues for treating serious illnesses. This could be a new golden era for medicinal advancement.
But this glowing vision faces a potential impediment that may stall progress in its tracks. In its current term, the Supreme Court is considering a case that will decide the constitutionality of the NCVIA's no-fault vaccine compensation program. If the Supremes decide in favor of the plaintiffs, we could very well see a storm of lawsuits against a number of childhood vaccine manufacturers, with ominous implications for the introduction of new therapeutic vaccines, setting back this promising field of medicine for years if not decades.