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POV: This Won’t Hurt A Bit

Point Of View with Barbara Sumner Burstyn

This Won't Hurt a Bit

When it comes to immunization, who do we believe?

British leader Tony Blair recently re-ignited an old battle by refusing to say if his young son Leo had been immunized. Blair's reluctance to reveal his child's immunity status was seen as adding w eight to growing fears that immunization, when looked at through the wrong end of the telescope, ma y end up being more harmful than many of the illnesses now being controlled by it.

In editorials across Britain parents were extolled to put aside fear mongering and accept the weigh t of scientific evidence that proclaims immunization as safe. And the underlying message is always the same. Non-immunizing parents are placing our entire society at risk.

So while it seems fitting that as a parent Mr. Blair has likely suffered the same agonizing decisio n as other parents here's my confession. All four of my children are un-immunized.

A recent American study has labelled parents like me 'trend or fad parents'. We're the ones suscep tible to any new development that comes along, especially developments that occur outside the tradi tional medical framework.

My parent's generation was spared these types of decisions. They listened to their doctors and the y believed them; they vaccinated, tonsillectomied and fluoridated with gay abandon. And they were s ecure in the knowledge that their doctor knew best. But our generation has lost its blind faith and the reason's simple enough. If something goes wrong; if your child becomes autistic, dies from Su dden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or develops a chronic illness like Crohn's Disease, or god forbid , Mad Cow disease (from vaccines used to prevent influenzas, pneumonia and meningitis) following im munization the medical establishment, the marketing companies that manufacture pharmaceuticals or t he endorsing governments won't take the blame. Because it's a no-fault world.

Except if you're a parent. Then of course you're the one who's always at fault. 'I blame the paren ts.' You hear that statement all the time, either spoken or implied. And when others aren't blami ng the parents the parents are blaming themselves. Because with parenting you can't hide in layers of bureaucracy, in expensive legal diversions or in a public relations buffer zone. Parenting is like a game of tag and you're always 'it'.

So perhaps declining vaccination rates, in the UK and in New Zealand (only two-thirds of New Zealan d are children immunized and 12.5 percent of parents are unconvinced that it's safe) is another exa mple of our increasing lack of trust in governments, in companies and institutions that never have to face the reality of personal consequence in a meaningful way.

Certainly pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in promoting full immunization. They hav e their shareholders to consider. And governments too. To them immunization is not a personal mat ter but a public health issue, a cost-effective way of disguising the true level of poverty in soci ety. In New Zealand where one in every 100 Maori and Pacific Island children under five can expect to catch meningococcal disease, Auckland researchers this month acknowledged that the disease is s trongly linked to poverty, with the risks increasing with overcrowding. Illogically public health specialists reasoned that an effective vaccine was the answer. So rather than resolving the issues of poverty the Government is contracting an international vaccine maker and embarking on expensive trails to create a new vaccine.

And that's a lot of vested interest in successful vaccine creation.

But as compromised by corporate agendas, as researchers, doctors and public health officials are, t he weight of evidence to support the role of immunization in a range of chronic illness, retardatio n and cot death is compelling. Dr Robert Mendelssohn an American doctor and best selling author be lieves that nearly 10,000 child deaths each year are related to one or more vaccines that are routi nely given to children. "Imagine," says Dr William C Douglas, twice honoured as America's Doctor o f the Year, "the economic and political import of discovering that immunizations are killing thousa nds of babies?'

So rather than being blinded by 'drummed up hysteria' and my love for my children I'd say I sifted through all the available information and made the best decisions I could. I'm one of those parent s who are swayed by alternatives, by the 'shrill tracts' - as one journalist recently described an anti-immunization brochure. I did opt for homebirth, I briefly give-up cows milk in favour of soy a nd I do believe that homeopathic medicine can work even though I know it isn't scientific.

But I'm not easily lead, a faddist, unstable or a trend parent. I just think I'm trying to do the best I can in a world that over-simplifies complex issues, in a world that clings to the concept of an altruistic health care system when it is patently obvious that corporate self-interest is deepl y embedded in public health. And even if I am mislead or misinformed by the manufacturers and mark eters of something as routine as a child's vaccination it will still be my fault and my responsibil ity when something goes wrong

And perhaps in the end that's the best way. To be the opposite of the blinded parent of my parent' s generation, to be as fully conscious, aware, and responsible as I am capable of, every time I, as a parent, have to make a major decision.

I'm not even positive immunization is bad. But I do know that it's not about the health of individual children and that vested interests have more control over public policy than governments will ever admit too. And pharmaceutical companies with their PR campaigns and demand for shareholder dividends most certainly do not have the health of my child at heart.

And on this particular issue I don't think I can believe my pediatrician. He has too many pharmaceutical company freebies around his office and I'm beginning to wonder at which sponsored conference he acquired his tan.

ENDS

© Barbara Sumner Burstyn


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