Vaccination and Institutional Trust

Vaccination and Institutional Trust

I remember when vaccination wasn’t controversial. It feels like a long time ago. It’s unlikely things will change any time soon because people are no longer placing high levels of trust in institutions. There is a substantial amount of evidence people serving in the highest levels of government, both at the White House and Congress, aren’t being truthful. Even when they are, it’s difficult to take what they say at face value. It used to be that when someone took political office they set up a blind trust or sold anything that might be perceived as influencing their decision making. That’s no longer the case in every situation.

I say that to say this, I understand why it’s difficult to trust hospitals. Physicians of all kinds, especially Pediatricians, seem to follow the recommendations of large organizations. It’s difficult to trust these large health care organizations when we see scandals like the Epipen pricing scandal where the Mylan CEO who is accused of gouging is U.S. Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-W.V.) daughter. Fortunately, the scientific evidence to support vaccinations has been around a lot longer than recent history. When vaccinations were developed and these programs were first implemented, the institutions doing the research were worthy of our faith and trust.

I’m not going to bury you with factual statements whose authenticity you’ll question anyway. I don’t have perfect information about each and every person and individual involved in the creation of vaccinations. I’m asking you, instead, to trust your parents and grandparents who may no longer be here to engage in this discussion and explain to you why they chose to vaccinate you. If they were here today, people who were parents before widespread vaccination could tell you a few things.

  1. They didn’t expect all of their children to make it to adulthood. If none of their own children died to measles or polio, they saw other children suffer and pass away from these diseases.
  2. These diseases, specifically measles, made being a pregnant woman especially dangerous.
  3. When vaccinations were first announced they were considered a medical miracle.

The doctor who developed the polio vaccine, Dr. Jonas Sulk, never licensed it. According to the website documenting his life, he never earned a dime from the discovery.

In 1954, national testing began on one million children, ages six to nine, who became known as the Polio Pioneers. On April 12, 1955, the results were announced: the vaccine was safe and effective. In the two years before the vaccine was widely available, the average number of polio cases in the U.S. was more than 45,000. By 1962, that number had dropped to 910. Hailed as a miracle worker, Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible.

The measles vaccine was developed by modern pharmaceutical companies Merck, Pfizer, Lilly, and more in and around 1963. Today, when medications are developed they are typically created by one company. That company holds the rights to it and maintains those rights as long as possible (with the stated goal of recouping research costs) until the government tells them they can’t keep sole rights any longer. Then, if its cost effective, a generic is developed by a competing company and released. The measles vaccine was a clear public need. Most, if not all, large pharmaceutical companies developed their own version and sought to license it. A large number of options for purchasing the vaccine were rapidly available on the market. This means all of the companies, with no single company having a monopoly on the vaccine, were seeking to offer the safest, least expensive, and most effective product on the market.

The doctors, nurses, and social influencers that recommend against vaccination today frequently have a financial interest in doing so. Many have their own online stores, receive money for speaking at public events, and sell ad placements on their websites. Patients who are afraid of making the wrong decision come to them for advice, keeping their offices full and providing them money in the form of fees for consultations and other services. The primary concern I have with them making recommendations isn’t actually any of the above issues. My main worry is that these professionals are making recommendations based on a single office visit. Many children coming to see them for the purpose of their vaccine-related recommendations have other pediatricians managing the majority of their care.

Is it possible to review a child’s medical record and treat them? Absolutely. A much more common application of this approach is getting a second opinion on a major medical intervention with potentially serious risks, something similar to a surgical procedure. There is one major difference between these two situations. When you take your child for a second opinion the doctor giving the second opinion hasn’t already determined what they will recommend before you walk into the office or they’ve reviewed your child’s medical records. Anti-vaccination advocates are never going to recommend vaccines for your child. Their mind is made up before you even enter their office. I would find that concerning in any medical practice.

Are they really doing what’s best for your child? A doctor in San Diego was recently discovered to have written a third of the total medical exemptions from vaccination. That sounds suspicious to me. As a parent, I want every medical provider my child sees to take a meaningful look at their case and make an informed decision. I question strongly if a doctor can do that and still write that many exemptions because, and I want to be extremely clear about this, medical exemptions from vaccinations are a real and medically necessary thing. Anti-vaccination advocates are not the only ones who write these exemptions. They’re not extremely common, but odds are every pediatrician likely has at least one case where a true medical exemption is warranted.

You probably expect a statement like, “AND THIS IS WHY YOU SHOULD [or SHOULDN’T] VACCINATE!!!?!?!?!@@@,” at this end of this article. There isn’t going to be one and here’s why: I don’t think it’s responsible or appropriate to take medical advice from an online source. Take medical advice from your pediatrician. Not the one you looked up on an anti-vaccination website, the one you trust with all the rest of your child’s care. You trust this person with your child’s life in every other capacity. They’re capable and they’re doing a great job. Trust them with this, please. They have a long standing and lasting relationship with your child. They know your family and they care. Let them help you keep your family safe and healthy.

3 responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on anti-vaccination beliefs. I’d never thought of this aspect of the issue before, and it makes a lot of sense. How sad it is that so few people trust our institutions anymore, and that in some cases that lack of trust is very justified!

    In case any worried parents stop by, I’d like to offer this assurance: as an autistic person, my life isn’t always easy, but it’s better than being dead or irreparably harmed from a vaccine-preventable disease. I get to explore my yard, and do crafts with my sister, and attempt to play piano, and go for walks with my dad. If your kid gets polio, they might not be able to do any of that.

    I wish every child would get the chance to have a childhood.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and support! I followed your blog and look forward to seeing how it develops over time. I’m glad to hear you have such a positive outlook about your diagnosis. Let me know if there is anything I can do as a blogger to support your journey.

      Liked by 1 person

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