Thursday, April 6, 2006

Chicken Pox

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chicken Pox
Current mood: annoyed

I don't want my kids to get the varicella vaccine. Varicella (to simplify a bit) is Chicken Pox. The varicella vaccine is now required in the state of GA for any child who goes to school, and is part of the recommended schedule of vaccines for all children. This is a new vaccine, with widespread distribution in the US beginning in 1995. It is essentially still an experimental vaccine, because there have not been any large long-term studies of it's effectiveness. It is considered to be safe and effective (meaning, the danger of the vaccine is less than the danger of the disease and this vaccine is about 86% - 95% effective in preventing the disease) for children.

OK- so far so good. I am not against vaccination, on the contrary I think widespread vaccination has improved the quality of life for far more people than it has harmed. I do think that the adverse effects of vaccines are under-studied and far too easily dismissed by most medical professionals, and that it is wise for parents to be more aware of the real benefits and risks of the recommended vaccinations. But on the whole I have been happy to have my children receive the recommended shots, at least on an altered schedule. I know (Ok, "believe" is more accurate) that the vaccinations are heavily researched, and I am comfortable with my analysis of the risk/benefit.

Not so with varicella. Chicken Pox is generally just a mild annoyance in children under 10 or so. Most of us have caught it, and once you catch the disease you are effectively immune for life. It has been argued to me that Chicken Pox can be life-threatening for some children, and I am sure that this is true. However, I think that the risk of serious complications from natural Chicken Pox infection in children is less concerning than the potential complications from widespread use of the vaccine. (I know, I know, try telling that to someone who has lost a child to chicken pox. But far, far more children die in car accidents, yet proper carseat use is a harder sell to parents than the varicella vaccine has been. Go figure. Anyhow what I'm saying is that there are always risks, and our job as parents and public policy makers is to try to make benefits outweigh risks when making health and safety decisions for our children).

Chicken pox is far more severe in adults than it is in children. Adults who have not developed immunity to varicella can certainly develop life-threatening complications should they contract the disease. Herein lies the crazy thing about widespread varicella vaccination right now: We do not know if the vaccine remains effective into adulthood! What if all these children receiving varicella vaccine now never catch the disease in childhood (which is exactly what is supposed to happen), the vaccine begins to wear off as they get older (which is very likely, as many vaccines require booster shots to remain effective, and there is a documented reduction in the efficacy of varicella vaccine over time), and then perhaps some of them contract chicken pox. It could be very, very serious. It amazes me that this vaccine is being "required" before we have studied it's effects into adulthood.

I don't care to have my children be part of an experimental vaccine study, thankyouverymuch. Call me selfish, but I'll let someone else volunteer their children for medical experiments. The only problem is if I do not vaccinate, yet all the other children around have been vaccinated, how will my boys catch chicken pox naturally? What if they don't, and then come into contact with the disease when they are older and lack even the partial resistance provided by the vaccine? It's a Catch 22. I'm still not sure what I'm goiung to do about this. In the meantime, to have Littleman's vaccination records be up-to-date for school, I have stated that vaccination requirements are "against my religion". Not precisely accurate, but arguably true. At least that's an easy enough way to get around the "requirement" for school-age vaccinations for now.

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