11 November 2011

Does Having a Vaccine for a Disease Make Us Fear It More?

The title question is something I've been mulling over lately.  When I was a child, I started getting the flu jab.  I didn't know much about the flu, but I figured it must be something horrible if I needed a vaccine to protect me, so I dutifully got the jab every year.  That continued until after I went to England, and one year I just didn't get the jab.  Yes, I got the flu that year, but it wasn't all that horrible and was nothing to fear since I don't have any respiratory issues that would make flu more serious for me.  I found that my fear of flu (for me, personally) was rather unfounded.  It might be different if I fell in one of the higher risk groups for it, but I don't.

Recently I've come across people who seem absolutely terrified of chicken pox.  I don't recall encountering such reactions prior to the chicken pox vaccine being available, and I certainly don't remember encountering such reactions in England, where they do not give the varicella jab.  Again, I could see the fear for those who are in a higher risk group with it, but in general I just don't see it.

So why the fear?  Can these diseases be serious?  Of course.  Are they usually, for the majority of the population?  Not that I'm aware.  And so I wonder if part of the fear isn't because of the vaccine being available, in a way.  Having a vaccine for something seems to render the disease more serious in the minds of people, or maybe that's just me.  As fewer cases of the disease are seen, it seems it would be easy to begin seeing it as worse than it is, since it's not just another common childhood illness.  So I suppose the reaction can make sense, even though I think it isn't the logical conclusion to make.  Of course, my musings on this could be completely off, too.  What do you think?

ETA:  Just to be clear, I'm not saying one should never get vaccines, but just wondering if some undue fear has been created due to the fact that we don't see these things regularly.  One should always look at all the facts and weigh all risks and benefits when making these decisions, and the decisions that are right for one may not be right for another when it comes to medical decisions.


  1. First of all I love reading your blog. I read I just don't always have the time to comment. :)
    I think the flu one is definitely overdone. It's fine to get the flu. And yeah it could make you miserable for a few days but is it worth it? But comparing flu to something like making sure you got the polio (just an example) vaccine before you travel somewhere where polio actually exists is a little more dangerous. Also, for the flu I figure I should make every attempt to be able to fight the flu virus with my body and kill it by being healthy. Have you read 'raising a vaccine free child?' I can't remember the author off the top of my head. Wendy something. It's a good one.

  2. I hope I didn't give the impression that one shouldn't get vaccines ever, but that one should weigh things and not have undue fear of the diseases. My kids had adverse reactions to the DTaP/IPV/Hib, and polio is only given in a combo like that, as far as I saw, so kinda in a bind there. Maybe a travel clinic would have it if that became a necessity, though.

    I definitely agree with making sure we're doing what we can to fight the illness.

    Don't think I've read that one. I'll have to look it up.

  3. And thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. The very first thing I ask myself when trying to decide which vaccines to give my son and which to skip is, "How life-threatening is this illness *really*?" The next question is, "If my son got this illness and was in the small percentage of children who experience complications from it, is the medical community able to help him?" Although polio is nearly extinct, he still gets the shot - it's a terrible disease and there have been very few medical strides since before the vaccine came out that could save him from the harm getting polio could do to him. MMR and Varicella, on the other hand, prevent diseases that really don't pose a huge threat. If complications should arise, I know that a doctor's care would be enough to fix him up. I wanted to skip the DTaP, but my little guy is fearless. He needs the Diphtheria and Tetanus protection. I've weighed the risks of getting these diseases and having complications from the shot and have decided that the shot is worth the risk. I could go on and on...

  5. Makes sense, Alicia. I tried to find Diptheria and Tetanus separated for my son, but was unsuccessful, at least when I was going through NHS channels. The kind of reaction he had meant that getting another round of DTaP was contraindicated, per the vaccine insert. It's the pertussis component he reacted to. So for me, the DTaP itself doesn't seem worth the risk, though I'd perhaps consider the diphtheria and tetanus.