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Indonesia: Vaccination: The gambling game

26/12/11  health.asiaone.com

It is now a common thing to hear people questioning the safety of vaccinations. There were two cases over the last two months; a diphtheria outbreak in East Java and the deaths of two toddlers in Jakarta, confusing mothers in our country about vaccinations for their children.

In the former case, the parents’ reluctance regarding vaccinations was cited as the cause of the outbreak, while in the latter case the vaccination was blamed for the toddlers’ deaths.

The vaccine controversy actually began even before the discovery of the vaccine itself. In 1722, English theologian Edmund Massey argued that diseases are sent by God to punish sin so that the effort of preventing smallpox through inoculation – the same procedure as vaccination – was regarded as a “diabolical operation”. In the modern era, this “religious” argument may still be beholden in the minds of some conservative people in our country, though most Muslims are now more concerned in questioning the “halal” label of the vaccine.

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In addition, people against vaccinations do not only come from religious backgrounds. There are also some people who have non-religious arguments.

In the United States, some people suspect vaccination as the cause of autism. So far, these suspicions are not scientifically proven although many studies have found that there is a correlation between vaccination and autism.

Until now, most medical experts consider vaccination the most effective way to prevent disease in infants. They brought reliable studies to the public to support vaccination until it became compulsory treatment for children throughout our archipelago.

I think, however, that we should think critically about this case. We cannot just simply “believe” those against vaccination or the scientists.

If we bring our examinations further, the definition of vaccination itself is the insertion of weakened pathogen into the body of our children to stimulate their immune system. But the problem is that not all individuals have the same response to pathogens.

Different health conditions may result in different responses. That is what happened to the two toddlers in Jakarta. The country’s Health Ministry said that the toddlers were not healthy when they were vaccinated.

But perhaps this is not only about your child’s health condition at the time of vaccination. It can be about the “uniqueness” of your child. Every individual in the world has unique genomes.

Everyone has a unique sequence of DNA that may result in different responses in dealing with pathogen. Pharmacogenomic, the emerging field of genetics, may explain this phenomenon. One child may succeed in building their immune system, but the other may not.

Statistically, indeed, vaccination has decreased the prevalence of diseases since the 19th century. But it is important to note that statistical facts are always vulnerable to error. Outliers can exist and they may happen in your child (hopefully not). For me, this is the most rational argument to being opposed to vaccinations.

We should always remember that there are non-outliers out there. Many people live a healthy life after having had vaccinations during their childhood. Perhaps this is what some parents in East Java do not look at. As a result, their children are at risk of infectious diseases.

So where do you stand? Both sides have a chance to make your child healthy as well as infected.

Are you ready to gamble?


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