Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Veterinarians and anti-vaxxers

Let's get something straight from the outset.

Vaccines don't cause autism.  They never have.  The "research" of Andrew Wakefield, which started that whole myth, was shown to be fraudulent years ago, and every study since then -- and there have been many -- has supported that vaccines have few side effects, the vast majority of which are mild and temporary, and their benefits outweigh any risks they might engender.

And yes, that includes the two vaccines most often cited as being dangerous, MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) and HPV (Human Papillomavirus).

This whole thing should have been laid to rest ages ago, but there's no idea so baseless and stupid that there won't be loads of people who believe it.  Which, I believe, largely explains the bizarre resurgence of the "Flat Earth" model, a claim so stupid that anyone who believes it apparently has a single Froot Loop where most of us have a brain.

But back to vaccines.  I've dealt with this topic here at Skeptophilia often enough that you might be wondering why I'm returning to it.  Well, the answer is that the anti-vaxx movement has now expanded its focus to a different target...

... pets.

[image courtesy of photographer Noël Zia Lee and the Wikimedia Commons]

I kid you not.  Veterinarians, especially in urban areas of the United States, are reporting an increasing number of pet owners who are refusing to get their pets vaccinated.  Only one vaccine is mandated for dogs in the U.S. -- rabies -- but the others are critical to prevent devastating diseases.  The reason you hardly ever hear about a dog getting (for example) canine distemper is because responsible dog owners have their dogs vaccinated against it.  The vaccine is nearly 100% effective, and (like virtually all vaccines) safe and side-effect free.

If your dog actually contracts distemper, however, he has a 50-50 chance of surviving it, even with the best veterinary care.

There's no question which option I take for my own dogs.

The anti-vaxxers, however, don't see it like this.  Recall that this is the group of people who believe that it's better to develop "natural immunity," meaning immunity from exposure to the actual pathogen.  If a child (or a pet) has a good diet and is otherwise healthy, they say, these infectious diseases aren't dangerous.  Thus the book Melanie's Marvelous Measles by Stephanie Messenger, which tells the story of little Melanie who is just thrilled to get measles and develop "natural immunity" rather than having to go through the ordeal of getting a vaccination.

For the record, I'm not making this book up.  Although I do find it heartening that of the 511 reviews it's gotten so far on Amazon, 74% of them are one-star.

The problem is twofold.  First, this "natural immunity" carries with it the risk of horrible complications from the disease itself, a few of which are shingles (chicken pox), sterility (mumps), blindness (measles), and birth defects (rubella).  That's if they don't kill you outright.  I have mentioned before my grandfather's two sisters, Marie Emelie and Anne Daisy, who died nine days apart of measles -- at the ages of 22 and 16, respectively.

The second problem is that it doesn't take all that many people choosing not to vaccinate to give infectious diseases a foothold.  Measles and mumps are both making comebacks; to return to the original topic of pets, so is distemper, to judge from a 2014 outbreak in Texas that resulted in 200 cases of the once-rare disease.

And why are people making this decision?  As with the anti-vaxxers who are refusing to vaccinate their children, these people are trying to protect their pets against some unspecified set of ostensible risk factors.  Stephanie Liff, a Brooklyn-based veterinarian, has reported that she has clients who elected not to vaccinate their dogs -- because they were afraid the dogs would become autistic.

"We've never diagnosed autism in a dog," Liff said.  "I don't think you could."

The bottom line here is that our pets, like our children, depend on us to make responsible decisions with regards to their health, safety, and welfare.  The fact that people have loony ideas sometimes is unavoidable; but when those loony ideas start to endanger others, including animals, who have no say in the matter -- then it becomes reprehensible.

1 comment:

  1. I don't agree with not vaccinating your animals, or children. I do however agree; that some vets are over vaccinating animals. My Boston terrier, and the asshole that he is. Is an escape artist. So I got a radius collar. The Spca picked him up out of my driveway (which he probably got horribly shocked when doing so), and took him to the Spca. When I arrived they asked for his paperwork. The woman asked me why he had six one year rabies in a span of a year. SIX!! I calmly explained to her that they (spca) gave him all but one. Which was administered by my vet when we got him. The vet there tried telling me he needed another one! I calmly, and in the nicest manner possible. Told her if she vaccinated him again with the rabies. I would have her diploma on my wall at home while she did kennel work for the rest of her life. More and more issues are arrising in animals because of over vaccination. As a pet owner you have a duty to your pet, family and society to protect them. As a vet you swear an oath to do no harm. Over vaccinating is just as bad as not doing it at all in my opinion. You have rights. Use them.