Monday, November 22, 2010

Rational Questions About Vaccines

I want to start by saying both my kids have received their age-appropriate vaccines (except for chicken pox), so far. My husband and myself both had all our childhood vaccines and my mother was a firm believer in the yearly flu vaccine so I got one every year too... and I still got the flu every year growing up. I also managed to get the mumps when I was 20. The mumps, seriously, who gets the mumps anymore? So I've always had a few questions about vaccines. Lately, I'm finding I have more.
At varrious health care facilities and public offices I see the flu vaccine touted as anywhere between 60% and 90% effective. But a meta analysis by the Crochane institute places it's effectiveness at just 1% for healthy adults, and warns that, since most of the studies were carried out by the vaccine's makers that 1% might be overstated. 1%, really? For a disease like small pox that, even among healthy individuals, has a 1 in 3 chance of death even a 1% effectiveness would certainly be worth it, but the flu? The point, realistically, seems to be little beyond a feel-good placebo effect. A placebo that does have known side effects.
And about that...I always throught double blind studies with vaccines (any drug really) vs placebo to test for side effects and efficency the placebo was supposed to be some sort of harmless 'sugar pill'. Yet now I'm reading that placebos, to maintain the 'blindness' of the study are things meant to mimic expected side effects. Yet then they epress the likeliness of side effects in compairison to the 'placebo' users in the drug trials. I honestly don't know if I believe it, but I've read it from more than one source and it is both despicable and sounds likely (realisticly how else WOULD you keep a study double blind if only one group was getting side effects?)
Another thing, the CDC says doctors woefully underreport minor side effects. Which makes sense. When I call the peds office to ask for proper dosing for weight because my infant/toddler has a minor but annoying fever after a vaccination I don't expect them to call and report that to the CDC. And what parent is going to call themselves and say their babe is cranky and feverish. We've already been told to expect that. The paperwork says minor fever/crankiness has a 1 in 3 chance of occuring after vaccinations but in 12 years of childcare I've NEVER met a kid that didn't have that reaction. It seems more likely that 1/3 of parents/doctors are apt to report.
So dragging myself towards my point...I have some questions that I feel are valid, reasonable, and logical questions about vaccines.
1) if vaccines are as effective as touted why do health officials say unvaccinated kids put 'others' (who are vacconated) at risk? I've heard/read it so many times it's apparently a mantra, unvaccinated kids in our schoools put all the students at risk. Only, wait, the kids are vaccinated they are supposed to be immune to the diseases they are vaccinated against, so how could being around kids who aren't vaccinated, and who could potentially have the sickness, possibly put them at risk??? I've had chickenpox, I'm immune so I have no fear of being around someone who has it. I've been vaccinated against measles as a child, and had my booster as a young teenager, can I, as an adult say the same? Could I even as a child? It doesn't make sense. So, are they lying when they say vaccines produce immunity to the diseases they vaccinate against? Or are they lying when they say unvaccinated children put vaccinated children at risk? Is there a third option?
2) If I catch a 'one time' sickness like chicken pox, mumps (seriously, MUMPS!) etc, I'm immune for life. I can, twenty years from now, take care of another with the disease without any risk of becoming sick (well, theoretically. I know a whole family, 4 kids, who ALL got chicken pox twice. Yes, it was 'really' chicken pox, confirmed by a doctor both times. On rare occassions you can get one time diseases a second time.) Yet the vaccines 'wear off'. Vaccines require multiple shots and even, years later, boosters. Why? If they actually produce immunity, why is it temporary? How can the (hypothetically) same antibodies produced by the vaccine not stick around when the antibodies from the disease sticks around? What's more, many of these sicknesses are known to be less severe when caught as children, so are we, as adults, all wandering around at risk for significantly worse cases of something if we happen to get exposed to it in our 30's, 40's, or, worse, 70's? Is this really worth it when the diseases as children are (usually) merely annoying? (The paperwork I received about the chicken pox vaccine when it was offered to my eldest child actually stated 'chicken pox is a painful childhood disease that can cause life long scars' really? States are making a vaccine that has only been around for a few years mandatory because they are afraid kids might get a scar?) Are required vaccines for our children putting us at risk as adults because they don't really produce immunity? Or are we being used as pin cusions for the money with unnecessary booster shoots?
3) What are the actual effectiveness vs side effects? I remember learning about Pastuer and his small pox vaccine. Long before 'double blind' trials he had real world proof his vaccine worked. Children receiving the vaccine were less likely to die from small pox. (did you catch that, it didn't provide immunity to small pox, it lessened it's severity) The trade off was they had a mild case of a different version of pox, which was non deadly. That makes sense. Deadly disease significantly less deadly for the price of a couple of sick days. But what about today's vaccines? What are their side effects? The real side effects, as in, take a 1000 kids, what side effects will they have, not what side effects are reported via doctors or what side effects are worse than those that had a 'placebo'. But what side effects do they actually have? And how effective is it? This relates back to a previous question. Can a vaccinated person really safely be around the disease without catching it? Does the vaccine just provide for a milder form of the disease? And I want to see the actual numbers. When the public health office says the flu vaccine is 70-80% effective to keep people from catching the flu, but the Cochrane institute says it's 1% effective, and that's questionable, it's clear us parents are not getting the correct/full information. When I looked at the papers on the Cochrane site I see lots of studies about different vaccines effectiveness in the elderly, or in children with specific health problems, but nothing (other than the one about the flu) about the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccines towards regular kids.
Alright, when I started this I know there was a fourth point, but I've been interupted in writing this so many times that now I can't remember it. So I suppose those three will work for now.
Do YOU have any questions about vaccines? Have you found any answers you would like to share?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Circumcision and Common Sense

Recently I've been reading a lot about the who circumcision debate, words like 'intactivsm' and 'MGM' have been introduced into my vocabulary, and I've read both thoughtful and thoughtless comments from both sides of the aisle. To be up front I am against circumcision for my family. My son, and my husband, are both 'intact'. As I was a virgin when I married and not given to looking at nude males I've never seen a fully grown naked man other than my husband. So I don't know what a circumcised penis looks like on an adult. I have, however, seen it on children when I babysat as a teenager. I think it looks obscene. I think, by mimicking what an erect penis looks like, it sexualizies infants and children.
I'm a Biblical Christian, and Biblically speaking Christians are not supposed to get circumcised, so I'm always surprised when I hear a fellow Christian mention the procedure. It's my understanding, from a historic standpoint, that Jewish circumcision used to be a lot less 'extreme' than it, and secular US circumcision is today. I've never spoken to an Orthodox Jew about it though so I'm not sure on that point.
Recently my friend on Facebook brought up a proposed ban in San Francisco, CA on infant non-medically indicated male circumcision. Many repliers pointed out that female circumcision had been banned for years, why not male? Parental choice verses protection of children went back and forth, and in general most people had a thoughtful comment to leave.
Yet I think many people are looking at this with veiled eyes. On the one hand you have people saying things like, I want him to look like his father/older brother, it's cleaner, it looks nicer, or that's just what you do. On the other side you have people pointing out that you wouldn't amputate a kids leg if his father had only one, the varried and sometimes severe (including deah) side effects, it's no more difficult to care for than female genitals, it looks nicer, it's not the parent's body, and 'just because' isn't a valid reason to do a medical procedure. A few pointed out that we let parents pierce their infants ears so why deny them the option to circumcise?
Yes, society protects children from what society as a whole deems abusive, and that does change generation to generation. But just because it 'mutilates' the body doesn't automatically means it should be protected from. All societies throughout history have given parents/adults broad rights over a child's body in order to bring them into the society properly. Male or female circumcision, head shaping, foot binding, scarification, tattooing, neck/lip/ear/etc stretching, binding of the waist/ankles/wrists/etc have all, for one culture or another been seen as a normal and non-abusive act for a parent to inflict upon an infant/child. To call every child ever born into these societies (which includes out own during certain times) 'abused' stretches the word past any meaning and detracts from what it actually means. Saying that WE 'know' it's 'detrimental' means we get to tell others what is abuse and what isn't is the highest form of egocentric racism/culturalism. There are plenty of things 'we' (Americans) do to our children that would be considered abuse or neglect if viewed through the lens of another culture.
I would be willing to bet the vast amount of those calling out against circumcision because it's mutilization of a non-consenting body put shoes on their kids without mind or thought. Shoes premanently deform the feet, leading to many problems later in life not seen in societies that don't wear hard soled or structured shoes. So if their objection is really to deforming/mutilating the body why are they so cavaler about shoes?
The main difference is that America is a melting pot, and, increasingly so is the industrialized world. We want to embrace the cultures of the world while simultaneously preserving some sense of out own culture. So, as a culture we pick and choose what of other cultures we are willing to adopt and what we are willing to decry. Fortunately or unfortunately that is most likely to follow either the popluace majority or the money. Either way the industrial society has something that preindustrial society did not, a conflicting voice. In tribal cultures even extreme rituals of body modification is acceptable because everyone went/goes through it. It's not abuse, and people don't come out the other side as abuse victims. But in any society that which is unusual is, most often, going to be seen as destructive and unwanted.
The circumcision debate should not be 'to mutilate or not to mutilate' but rather have we, as a society come to a turning point where individual choice has made this particular modification rare enough for it to no longer be normal? I don't think so, in some places circumcision has dropped below 50% in the newborn generation, but not in all places, and even a 50/50 split is still well within the range of normal. It is time for those who don't like circumcision to talk to others and try to convince others, eventually the odds will swing (one way or the other) and perhaps male circumcision will, like the restrictive corset, become one of the 'horrors' of our cultural history. Or maybe it, like tattooing, will be regulated to an 'adults only' decision.

Friday, November 12, 2010

You Look Like Someone Stole Your Birthday

I was reading an article about symantics and it was referencing the change in meaning of pregnancy and, specifically, 'conception'. Historically when pregnancy 'began' has varried some. Not every woman cycles every 28 days, and not every woman who misses the first expected day of her period is pregnant. The first successfuly abdominal surgery to remove a tumor in the U.S. (no, I don't remember the year) was proformed on a woman who sought medical help after a 13 month 'pregnancy'. I've seen the old drawing of this poor woman, looking very pregnant, being led astride a horse to the nearest doctor, many miles away. In some cultures if a pregnancy did not produce a birth (as in fetal demise that doesn't naturally expel the stillborn) the woman was still considered pregnant with a 'sleeping' baby, that might at some future date awake and be born. (Current medicine refers to these retained dead babies as 'stone babies' because they become calcified in the womb) Many cultures waited until the mother felt pregnant, or until 'quickening' (when the baby starts moving) to claim a pregnancy. Yet even in cultures that don't have calanders or counting the concept that pregnancies last about 10 moons (9 months give or take) is an accepted fact. I'm unaware of any culture through out history that didn't have a correct expectation of how long pregnancy usually lasts. Which, logically, means that pretty much every woman has understood that their pregnancy began before they knew they were pregnant.
With the advent of modern medicine we can tell if a woman is pregnant much earlier, and with more reliability than ever before. Most OTC pregnancy tests now work up to 5 days before a woman misses her period. But even now women understand thet they have to be pregnant BEFORE they can know about it. So where am I going with this rather long preamble? Conception.
Conception, the very moment a pregnancy starts. For generations the term conception was synonomous with fertilization, which is biologically sound. The moment sperm meets egg and fertilization occures biological life begins. The new human, medically termed a zygote, meets all the biological requirements of life and are a unique individual with a fully complete DNA that has never existed before nor will again (discounting asexual reproduction or cloning). As late as the 90's this was still the accepted medical description of conception, and therefore pregnancy (1995, 26th edition of Stedman's Medical Dictionary: "act of conceiving, or becoming pregnant; fertilization of the oocyte (ovum) by a spermatozoon to form a viable zygote"). But something happened. It started in the 60's actually when, following the lead of Planned Parenthood instead of biology, the ACOG redefined pregnancy to begin at implantation. This is primarily tied to the advent of hormonal contraception that can keep implantation from happening, thus terminating a pregnancy under the old definition. In the late 80's when the 'morning after' and 'chemical abortion' came onto the scene (the later wasn't legal in the US until 2000 but was medically known and availible elsewhere starting in the late 80's) the trend to redefine pregnancy as starting after implantation as opposed to fertilization gained more supporters. (The 27th edition of the above mentioned text, published in 2000, changed to read "act of conceiving; the implantation of the blastocyte in the endometrium).
I am reminded of 1752 when the official change over between the Julian calander and the Gergorian calander happened. To align the calander 11 days were deleted. People went to bed on September 2nd and woke up on September 14th. A bunch of people had their birthdays stolen that year. But in the last generation literally millions of people have had their birthdays stolen by medical personnel that assured a women that their birth control or morning after pill wouldn't abort a pregnancy. Yes, some mothers still would have chosen abortion for their newly made babes, but many would not have as well. And those mothers weren't given a 'choice'. 'The Pill' and the 'Morning After Pill' had far too much appeal to the abortion advocates to let a little thing like the dictionary to stand in their way. And, for whatever reason, the established medical community (especially pharmicutial companies anxious to get their pregnancy killing drugs to a wider clientel bas) has been following the abortion industry like good puppies since Planned Parenthood's early years. (I blame a mix of clever marketing and monetary gain)..
Language changes, and definitions change, it's true. But when the medical community redefines a medical term for a non medical reason I call BS. Nearly 50 years after the 1st redefining of pregnancy and still the average woman doesn't know the morning after pill "won't harm an established pregnancy" only because the company that created it put a * after pregnancy in their initial literature and gave the then unusual definition of 'an already implanted' baby. To the average mind conception still equals fertilization . Webster still defines conception as "the process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both". Yes, even Webster is starting to jump on the badnwagon, but it still shows the common English definition involves fertilization, the biological start of life, as the start of a pregnancy.
In the 1700's the establishment stole 11 days of birthday anniverseries, today we've stolen 50 years of actual birth-days from the most innocent and youngest of our societies, and most people don't even realize it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Monsters in the Dark and What I Learned from Them

So a couple of the blogs I commonly read are all doing parenting pieces, apparently there is a blog carnival going on. i dont know what that is but it seems to be something of a 'jump on the bandwagon' style thing, so I figured i'd toss in my 2 cents. Course, my '2 cents' would fill pages an attempt to follow up on the 'will post via cell even if it's short' point' and because I'm feeling philisophical today, I'm going to touch on something my father told me once: "monsters are only scary because they don't have names. You'd be cranky if you didn't have a name too. So if you feel scared by the monsters in the dark just give them names and they won't be scary and will go away." My brother and I had, if I remember correctly, been complaining about having to go out to the wood pile in the dark, a scary thing for a young kid, when my father first dropped this jewel onto my little mind. It had the immediate effect of my brother and I shouting names into the dark while fetching wood. "George, Jill, Martha, Thomas, Amanda!" Any name that popped into our head. We gave those monsters names and by golly, they really did leave us alone. Even as a five year old it's hard to be scared of something you just bestowed the name "bob" upon.
But in the long run I look back at this nugget as one of the wisest and most insightful things ever said to me, by anyone. I have no idea if my Dad meant it as such, I don't know that my brother gleaned any deeper meaning from it. But I know it has followed me all these years. Let me break it down.
First, he acknowledged the monsters. Unlike so many adults my Dad didn't just say 'there is nothing to worry about; there's no such thing as monsters'. Because there are monsters. When you're a kid the monsters under your bed or hiding in moon-cast shadows ARE real. As real as the monsters we come to know as we get older. Because there are monsters. Murderers, rapists, child abusers, serial killers, and Hitlers exist and are just as scary, just as monstrous as the preverbial boogyman. What is more, even before my family came to the Lord, we acknowledged the spirit world and its evil (we just didn't explain it the same light). Demons exist, and I believe it's foolishness to dismiss our innate fear of 'monsters'. My Dad's acknowlegement of the monsters gave us the right and permission to be afraid, a key step to understanding fear is recognizing it's validity.
Second having given us the right to fear instead of mocking it by saying it shouldn't exist he gave us a way to combat it. In a very real way this relates to the old 'give a man a fish and he eats for the day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime' proverb. He gave us a way to combat fear, define it. Yes, shouting names into the darkness has a certain obsurdity to it, but the concept doesn't. It is the unknown that terrifies us, the 'nameless dread', the 'unseen terror', that chills our very spirit. The dark is scary precisely because we can't see what's out there. Telling us to name the monsters gave us a vital tool to deal with more than the dark. I knew from a very young age that, once I had defined and known a things nature I could then logically attribute to it only that fear which it deserved, which is usually far less than it would have been given otherwise.
Third, because of one and two, we were able to get over a fear of the dark (and the monsters of childhood) much earlier I think than the average. The dark might be scary for a five year old, but, as mentioned before, 'bob' is not, and, even to a seven year old the obsurdity of shouting names into the dark is nothing but laughable. It is extremely difficult to be afraid andtake seriously that which reduces you to gails of laughter. Yes, I remember occassionally needing to call out some names at 9 and 10, but for the most part by 8ish I had outgrown the child's boogyman. Because, ultimately, that which is capable of being dismissed merely by naming them are not worthy of fear.
Finally it is a lesson that is fully applicable to nearly all fears. When I was younger I had very little fear of the dark, I have very light sensitive eyes so the darkness was always somewhat of a relief, a respite. But I did have a very nearly overwhelming fear of walking towards the light with darkness at my back. Finding myself walking back towards the lit house in the dark would cause my pulse to jump, my breathing to quicken, and my whole body to quiver with the need to RUN! Of course running didn't really do any good, it just got me out of the situation marginally faster. So, annoyed with what I knew to be a pointless fear (if the dark didn't scare me all around why should it be scary just behind me?), I applied my Dad's lesson to it. I sought to understand it, to define it. It was based in a nightmare i'd had years earlier of running through the dark towards a point of light with some slathering monsters chasing me. Hardly unique I know. So I knew where the fear came from, I was afraid of the situation because it reminded me of a nightmare. Well that's hardly something to be afraid of, a remembered nightmare? Why should I be afraid of something just because it reminded me of a dream? Once I had named it I was able to asign the appropriate level of fear to it, namely, none. So I forced myself to walk slowly, breath normally, ignore the fear and demand my body catch up with my mind. It took conscious effort and time but my body did catch up with my mind.
I've had more than one person ask in an annoyed voice "don't you have any irrational fears?" To which, thanks to applying my Dad's advice I can reply: "no, that would be irrational." And why would a rational person put up with that? I have had irrational fears, and some took me years to fully dismiss from my physical body's automatic reaction, but I have never actively allowed an irrational phobia to linger. Nor have I ever allowed myself to panic over something I can't control.I seek to understand a fear or panic, do whatever is logically required or merited given that understanding, and then put it from my mind. All because my Dad thought to tell us to give those creepy darkness monsters names.
In conclusion I hope someday I get to tell my children to shout names at the darkness, and I hope they too take a valuable life lesson from naming the monster under the bed 'bob'. Because knowing that there is no reason for irrational fear or panic and that such can be overcome is definately a lesson I've used more than nearly any other through out my life. And in no doubt it will continue to need to be dusted off the shelve and used again and again as I age and deal with all those irrational parental fears that crop up as my kids age as well.
Love you Dad.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The first of many, hopefully

My daughter (7 months) is sitting on the floor unrolling paper towels. But it's cute and I'll clean it up later.
I have been badly ignoring this blog for years, not from any real lack of intrest, but because it just always ends up being too far down on the list of things to be done to ever get done. I'm going to try to change that. Of course right now it really should be lower down the list, I have a Princapality Dragon Master to prepare for this week, but now is as good as ever.
Most of my posts have been long. I'm a writer, more to the point I'm a novelist. My high school creative writing teacher's stated goal was for me to turn in an assignment under 2 pages. She didn't get her wish. It's almost impossible for me to say anything of substance in less than 3 pages. In school I didn't ask how long the paper had to be I asked what the maximum length was, then I messed wih the margins to get another paragraph or two in.
That being said I don't actually have internet access right now, at least not in the normal sense. I have a internet capable cell with a qwerty keyboard aproximately 1in by 3 1/2 in total. So, while I can navigate, surf, read, even comment/reply, writing a standard 3-5 page discussion is a bit more than I want to commit to. What I will commit to is doing my best to post some short notes on topics that catch my interest.
Right now though, I need to work on a jewled belt that still needs a great deal of work. 'Til next time. Tz a maisve.