Grey Matters: Why we should offer some flexibility when it comes to vaccinations but never risk public health.

Blue Pill or Red PillGlick and Preon are intergalactic space travelers and members of the Bratoon race of humanoids. They are about to spend the next few years on the planet H-trae. The physiology of Glick and Preon requires them to take a pill in order for them to be able to survive in H-trae’s environment. They have two options, the Red Pill or the Blue Pill.  Scientists have developed and modified the Red Pill repeatedly to provide the best protection against the harsh immunological environment of H-trae.  The Blue Pill was the preference of Bratoon scientists for thousands of years but when the Red Pill was developed, scientists no longer worked on the Blue Pill. As a result, the Blue Pill has not been updated for 250 years. Glick and Preon have been summoned to appear before the on-board Bratoon holographic doctor prior to beaming to the planet’s surface.

“I’m not taking that Red Pill,” Preon said when the doctor uploaded the consent form to Preon’s internal processor.

“There are some nasty nano-Kraebors on H-trae,” Glick said. “You don’t want to get some nasty infection where your tentacles swell up larger than your third head.”

“The Red Pill is the recommended option,” the holograph said in the clipped speech pattern typical of Bratoon binary data processors. “It contains the latest anti-Kraebor upgrades.”

“The Blue Pill has worked for Bratoon explorers for a million years,” Preon said. “I’ll stick with that.”

“What’s your deal, Preon?” Glick asked. “You don’t enter a potentially deadly confrontation with maxi-Kraebors with outdated technology? Why would you want to face nano-Kraebors with ancient weaponry?”

“The Red Pill has toxins,” Preon replied. “It contains Alpha, Forma and even Hydra.”

“The Red Pill no longer contains Hydra,” the holograph recited. “The levels of Alpha and Forma are no greater than those you will encounter in the H-trae environment.”

Glick reached for a Red Pill.

Preon mind-froze Glick for a couple seconds before Glick kleck-checked it and grabbed the Red Pill.

“Just wait a second,” Preon said, touching a tentacle to Glick’s. “My sibling unit has an offspring who took the Red Pill. A couple of weeks later, the small-ling got very sick. And I read on the Binary Code Stream all about how many others got sick after taking the Red Pill.”

“Preon, I’ve searched the Binary Code Stream as well,” Glick said. “The potential nano-Kraebors on H-trae are really bad. For example, you might lose all ambulatory functions if you get Plinger syndrome.”

“Plinger syndrome has been eradicated from H-trae,” Preon said.

“Total eradication of Plinger syndrome has not been achieved on H-trae,” the holographic doctor spat out. “Plinger syndrome still exists in the following regions: Flager province, Zartia, Klynoceptorion. . .”

“Halt,” Preon commanded, and the doctor obeyed. “We’re never gonna be in those regions.  Glick, you’re making too much of this.”

Glick shook two of three heads. “If the Bratoon high council thinks the Red Pill is best, then that’s what I’m taking.”

“How can you trust the High Council?” Preon asked. “They get paid by the manufacturers of Red Pill. They get nothing if people use the Blue Pill, but they get paid tons of money for the Red Pill.”

“Doctor, does the Red Pill protect against all nano-Kraebors?” Glick asked.

The holograph clipped out the standard response: “The Red Pill is 100% effective against seven different nano-Kraebors, including Plinger syndrome, Merumea and Beye’s syndrome. It is at least 50% effective against other nano-Kraebors, such as the Inzaf virus and strains of monggionic bacteria.”

Glick gullet-popped the Red Pill and washed it down with a half-glark milletweed juice. “50% is better than nothing.  You can read anecdotes on the Binary Code System, but I trust the High Council and the overwhelming consensus of Bratoon scientists.”

Preon grabbed the Blue Pill and swallowed it. Preon finished off the glark of milletweed juice. “I never get sick. I don’t need the Red Pill.”

Glick shook all three heads and gathered up their gear. They headed to the transporter room to be beamed to the planet.

COMMENTARY:  The question of the Red Pill or Blue Pill forever changed the course of Keanu Reeves’ life in the matrix, much like it could impact the lives of Preon and Glick.

Preon preferred to rely on the body’s natural immune system, developed over millions of years to combat the diseases they may face on H-trae. Glick trusted in the government and scientists and took the latest technology found in the Red Pill, assuming that the benefits outweighed the risks.

The Red Pill and Blue Pill scenario is what many parents face nowadays as they consider whether to vaccinate their children. When I was a kid, few parents would have refused to vaccinate their child, barring religious reasons.  (And some religious faiths do have valid reasons for refusing vaccines because some vaccines are indeed made with animal blood products).

As a result of a widely publicized study linking autism and vaccines, and with little apparent threat from the diseases being vaccinated against, more and more parents have started questioning the need to vaccinate their children, and they have claimed a personal belief exemption. So that government would not have to police the veracity of someone’s faith-based objections, a “personal belief exemption” was allowed. Here are some of the main arguments against vaccines and my take:

  • Too many vaccines can overwhelm a child’s immune system. Whereas, 100 years ago, kids were only vaccinated against smallpox, children can now be vaccinated against sixteen diseases. Some parents worry that the combination shots, containing the vaccine for Mumps, Measles, Rubella and Varicella can overwhelm a child’s immune system. However, there’s no proof that this is the case. Antigens from vaccines are a drop in the ocean. If a child receives the full vaccination schedule, including yearly flu shots through the age of 18, the total number of antigens the child is exposed to is 653. Compare this to the fact that children are exposed to 2,000 to 6,000 antigens every day. The numbers again – 653 antigens over 18 years for vaccines versus 2,000-6,000 antigens every day.
  • Vaccines are a big money game based on fear. I don’t understand this argument. Drug companies and doctors make far more money treating diseases than they do on vaccinations. Vaccines aren’t a huge profit center for pharmaceutical companies. That’s the reason that fewer and fewer companies manufacture vaccines. And even if vaccines are a profit center, so what? If pharmaceutical companies can develop vaccines to prevent illnesses, then shouldn’t they be incentivized to do that? I worry that companies don’t have enough incentives to develop vaccines. For example, pharmaceutical companies don’t spend as much research money on an HIV vaccine as they do on treatments because it’s far more profitable to treat people on a lifetime basis instead of preventing the disease.
  • Vaccines contain toxins. Although vaccines do contain substances, such as aluminum and formaldehyde, which are toxic in large quantities, these compounds naturally exist in our bodies, breast milk and/or the natural environment, and in quantities far higher than those found in vaccines. Mercury from thimerosol was a concern for many parents, and as a result, vaccines for children no longer contain thimerosol (other than the flu vaccine). And the thimerosol was removed only because of perceived and not actual risk to children. For more, see
  • Better nutrition and not vaccines aren’t responsible for the decline in childhood diseases. This argument confuses correlation with causation. For example, those opposed to vaccines try to show that the incidence of measles in this country would have gone to zero even without vaccines, but this view is not supported by the vast majority of scientists and is based on the misuse of graphs (measles cases are plotted using a logarithmic scale against time and then a straight line curve is assumed).

Ironically, vaccines are no longer seen as needed because they’ve been so effective at eliminating diseases. For instance, before the introduction of the measles vaccine, there were around 500,000 children infected each year. In the 1950’s, doctors wouldn’t even allow children suspected of having measles to come to their offices for fear of infecting others, and houses where kids had measles would be put under a quarantine. But people younger than sixty haven’t experienced any of this, so they don’t understand the need for vaccines for these illnesses.

The system isn’t perfect, and there may be some risks associated with vaccines, but an overwhelming majority of scientists, doctors, pediatricians, and infectious disease specialists believe that vaccines are essential to protecting society at large from certain diseases. And I don’t understand why we would allow people armed with Google research and anecdotal evidence to overturn the scientific community.

The government intrudes in our lives in a myriad of ways for our personal safety. We are required to wear seat belts when in a car. We are required to wear helmets when riding motorcycles or bikes. Medications are heavily regulated by the FDA and subject to rigorous testing. The government decides what is allowed or not allowed in our drinking water and in our food.

But on the issue of vaccines, we’ve become too polarized and created a system of all or nothing. I think that the government could take a less forceful approach when it comes to vaccines. We could have a system where some vaccines are required and others are optional. We could allow parents the option to space out vaccines so that children aren’t given them all at one time.

But if philosophically, people are opposed to any government requirement related to vaccines, then we need to take a stand.  According to a Pew Research Study, young adults (18-29) are twice as likely to think that parents should be able to decide whether or not their child should be vaccinated (41%). At this rate, we risk the re-emergence of diseases if sufficient numbers are not vaccinated.

We cannot allow a personal belief exemption. We cannot have a policy that says the government shouldn’t be able to require vaccines. Public health has to have higher priority than individual rights. As I learned from my love of science fiction, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.