Vaccination: a Fightin’ Word

Vaccination is a four-letter word these days. I am an alternative health care practitioner, a doctor of Chiropractic who runs a holistic nutrition center in Atlanta, Georgia. For someone like me, discussing the subject of vaccinations can be a no-win situation. For many in my line of work, being against vaccinations comes along with the territory. My profession, holistic health care, has a skepticism of the mainstream health care system, which is often not misplaced. But right now, if I were to state any misgivings at all about a particular vaccination or ask for more transparency, I risk the label of “anti-vaxxer” and “crazy.” On the other hand, someone who fully vaccinates their kids become the “enemy” and supports the “evil empire.”

There are many things that modern medicine has right. The technology of imaging, diagnosis of disease processes, and correction of damaged body parts with surgical procedures and emergency medicine are second to none. However, some very pointed weaknesses exist in the medical system. Being in the field of alternatives, I am very often able to supply some of the pieces that our healthcare system is missing, especially regarding chronic health conditions. I utilize safe and straightforward solutions to a variety of health concerns often overlooked in many medical settings.

Despite the weaknesses and strengths of medicine, I do not think that a conversation about vaccinations should be a forum for name-calling and abuse. We are about as divided on vaccinations as we are on politics and unable to speak about either safely.

What’s Wrong with Medicine

Our current healthcare system is very much in partnership with pharmaceutical companies and large corporate structures that were created to make a lot of money. Many of these companies have failed the trust we placed in them and in the medical system they serve. The doctor-patient relationship is, for me, a sacred honor. Patients rely on me to help them in some of the most challenging times of their lives, and I need them to be honest with me so I can give them the best possible advice. In conventional medicine, there is this same requirement. There must be trust for patients to be helped, but in many cases, this trust is violated.

The public is losing its trust in medicine as a whole. The perception that the medical model is driven by profit and not by the patient’s needs or health concerns is becoming more apparent.  When you see the inflated prices of a hospital stay and what the hospital charges the insurance company for aspirin, it is hard to remain idealistic in the face of sheer insane overcharging. In our current healthcare system, a third party often makes the decisions, not the patient and the doctor. Prescription drug prices are skyrocketing, and patients don’t always believe that the procedures recommended are in their best interest. Patients may be treated as a number, and patient care suffers in the face of corporate profit.

Distrust

Added to this distrust are the racial bias, fraud, and medical malpractice perpetrated on minorities. Medicine has a checkered history to overcome. Examples: the infamous Tuskeegee study where doctors let black men die of syphilis, and the case of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman whose cancer cells were used for decades without her permission.

I see many minorities in my practice. Often I am the only healthcare provider they will agree to see because of deep distrust in the “system.” This year alone, I have referred at least three patients in some stage of kidney failure, a breast cancer patient, and numerous others who needed medical intervention for severe diabetes or unmanaged blood pressure—but who were afraid to seek medical care. In many cases, they would not have gone but for their trust in me as their doctor. Because they trusted me, they were able to receive the medical intervention needed that they had been afraid to seek because of distrust of the system.

Vaccinations, like any health care, must be safe, effective and above all, trusted. Polls done this past May showed only about 50% of Americans are willing to get a coronavirus vaccine. Right now, especially now, there is distrust in government and the science that that government represents in the form of public health initiatives.

False Information

Possibly because of this distrust, we’re experiencing an explosion of “at home experts.” These are people who mistake their internet “research” for the professional opinions and advice of the actual experts who spend their lives studying and perfecting their art and science.

The internet and social media are a constant source of misinformation and outright lies, and many people can’t tell the difference. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. In many cases, people only see and recall proof that supports their ideas. For example, if one believes that vaccinations are harmful, one only searches for this type of data and for studies that back up their beliefs on the subject. The more one finds people and articles that confirm this belief, the more that belief is bolstered and strengthened. People tend to ignore information that contradicts their existing beliefs.

It’s embarrassing to be wrong. If you have believed in a flat earth or a cheesy moon for your whole life, it’s going to be hard to admit to being wrong on these subjects, especially if those around you still believe it. Often, it is how we grew up, where we went to school, or in what church we had our upbringing; but by the time we reach our 20’s our world views have been formed and are difficult to change. I see this in friends I grew up with who never moved outside their small towns and belief systems. I also see it in health associates I went to school with, who were indoctrinated in a particular philosophical belief system. We are all the sum products of our nature and our nurture.

Looking At Both Sides

Opinions of vaccinations are subject to a person’s previous experiences as well. What you think about vaccinations and whether or not your kids are vaccinated probably has everything to do with what your education was on the subject and what your closest friends and family thought. You probably already have an opinion—perhaps a really strong one. I want to suggest a little experiment: whatever your belief, find and study ideas and content that is in direct disagreement with what you hold to be true.

When I was young, I came to realize that if something was true, I could examine it. If it still turned out to be true for me, then I’d consider it actually to be true. Do not be afraid to look and examine and ask questions and doubt. If your eyes are blue, you can examine it up and down, and no matter what you do or who you talk to, your eyes will still be blue.

With a belief, though, you do have to be brave. Your eyes being blue is different from a belief. Beliefs are, by their very definition, changeable. Be brave and be humble and be willing to examine information that is different from your previous experiences. Be willing to be wrong.

Do Your Research

If you think all vaccinations are safe, go to the CDC and read the ingredients and the side effects of childhood vaccinations. If you feel all vaccinations are harmful, read the efficacy rates and the rates of immunity for a particular immunization. Read how polio and smallpox affected our world when they ran rampant and what happened after we developed vaccinations for these diseases.

To counter confirmation bias, you need to study and read ideas and content that disagree with your stated belief. But you would have to have your mind open to learning and to possibly seeing something new. I don’t want to convince you one way or the other. Instead, I’m offering the possibility of broadening your experience.

The source of the material you read to get your information is essential. Reputable sources that use real science are the best places to get information. Personal experience and stories are just that—someone’s experience. They don’t add up to everyone’s experience and can’t always be extrapolated out to the population at large.

Public Health Needs Public Relations

I lay the responsibility for demonstrating and proving vaccination safety at the feet of our public health servants and other scientists. It is these professionals who should be safeguarding the public regarding pandemics and epidemics as well as vaccination safety. Certainly, these health officials desperately need a reputation makeover to handle the distrust that much of the public feels for their public health institutions—and vaccinations specifically.

A definition of public health is the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life, and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private communities, and individuals. Public health is achieved by promoting healthy lifestyles, researching disease and injury prevention, and detecting, preventing, and responding to infectious diseases. So much of our lives benefit from public health initiatives like hand washing and hygiene, seat belts, and safe water, to name a few.

Vaccinations are part of public health, supposed to prevent disease and sickness. If someone believes that vaccinations will kill or damage themselves or their families, they won’t get vaccinated.

Lies, Truths, and Science

Winston Churchill said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. “ This certainly describes vaccinations. Mixed in with the lies are half-truths and urban legends, often creating confusion and misunderstandings. Churchill also said, “People always find lies more exciting and thrilling than the truth. Lies are like a virus that spreads easily around and contaminates the truth, making it impossible for people to separate actual facts from malicious rumors.”

Science is something one can see and can experience. Vaccination science is real science. In a fantastic turn of events, we humans can inoculate our bodies with a substance and create an immunity that is long-lasting and, in some cases, life-long. It’s a miracle and a fascinating story. My opinion is that public health advances in our world have been nothing short of miraculous, and to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” as many have advocated in regards to vaccinations rings particularly hollow.

In any application of medicine and with any drug, and especially vaccinations, we must demand transparency and safety. We must require this to improve our world with more and better science, not negating progress made and especially not lumping all vaccinations and scientists into a group intent upon harming the population. There is a real concern for the state of our healthcare. We have a “sick care” system, not a “well care” system, and that needs to change for all of us. We can do better than this. But do we want to go backward to a time when we had no vaccinations and no control over some pretty nasty diseases? To a time when our grandparents feared polio and smallpox? We are privileged not to have these fears and not to lose our loved ones to these incurable diseases.

We will have a vaccination soon for Covid-19. What will you do? How will we know if it’s safe? There is a lot to cover regarding vaccinations. I can’t possibly address all the pros or the cons right here. This is a post to encourage dialogue and discourse. If you cannot see how anyone could distrust vaccinations, read a book by Dr. Sears or talk to someone who has these beliefs—and really listen.

There are many organizations dedicated to educating people on the efficacy of vaccinations. If you think vaccinations are the devil’s work, find a doctor you respect and see why they think the way they think. You may find some interesting information from your asking. Be willing to learn and, at the very least, be ready to see another’s point of view.

There are rigid and structured steps to developing vaccinations. Nothing should be skipped, and one’s observational skills should be employed when examining data and evidence for or against vaccinations.

We have a lot of coming together to accomplish in this area, and I can only hope for more data and fewer lies and innuendo from both sides of the immunization issue. This could make a real difference in all our lives moving forward.

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