Debating the Effectiveness of Vaccination

Movies like 28 Days Later, Contagion and Outbreak cater to our fear that something is going to come along that will destroy our way of life. Ultimately it is more than that. In a society that is both ever more connected and ever more disconnected, by interacting so closely and being able to very quickly be on the other side of the world, events like these show that the efficacy of vaccination is called into question now more than ever.

No one wants the elderly to pass, but ultimately they are old. They have lived their lives, and as they age, they tend to suffer. There are ailments of all sorts, from broken hips and heart troubles to cancer and well, more cancer. In some cases, dying can actually be seen as a blessing because it can put and end to their suffering. Jack Kevorkian may be the most extreme example of this. The point being that we don’t often put a whole lot of thought into the aged dying from sickness – they are supposed to do so, right?

What is perhaps most interesting is when they don’t do so, at least not at the normal rate. In the 2009 pandemic, those that had experienced the 1918 flu had the best chance of fending off the virus because the remnants of those antibodies were still with them. They had effectively carried it with them for the majority of their lives, and they could laugh at us young folk.

Meanwhile, everyone else is now advised to get a flu shot. But according to recent reports, there were 105 deaths of children during this year’s flu season. Now most people will probably get upset that 105 children died, and be more upset about children dying than if it were 105 elderly people. That’s just the way it is. But if that is near the normal number of children to die, why do we vaccinate at all?

Now I do understand – and I get that the first argument will surely be that 90% of the children who died were said to not have been vaccinated. Surely the argument is not going to be that they are the only kids nationwide who were not vaccinated, are they? If so, that is some amazing luck. I would bet that the sample would hold pretty close to that sample, though it is a fairly small size, so there might be some variation.

Moreover, I would suggest that allowing a certain percentage of people (of any age) to die off for the greater good and the continued survival of the species is a good thing. In the movie Contagion, for instance, suggests tat 8% of the population will be infected and 30% will die. Those seem like large numbers. But if you do the math, that means – if my math is correct – about 2.4% of the world population will be wiped out.

A huge absolute number, to be sure, perhaps as many as 175 million. In exchange, however, we end up with a gigantic number on the other side that now possesses natural immunity and it costs nothing in resources to create a vaccine. Will there be sadness? Absolutely. Will there be loss? Certainly. But instead of expending resources to try and combat something which will result in drug-resistant strains and ultimately create even more difficult obstacles to surmount, spend the time with those who will be lost and the resources on conserving whatever they may have to offer before they are lost. It makes so much more sense.