By Dr. Linda Girgis
One of the greatest advancements in medicine came with the advent of the vaccination program. Certain diseases, such as small pox, were eradicated around the globe through aggressive vaccination programs by both the CDC and the WHO. Other diseases like Polio no longer exist in the Americas and others are in the process of being wiped out globally.
However, we are all aware of the recent anti-vaxxer movements where some people believe myths about vaccines and refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated. Because of this popular trend, measles recently has been making a resurgence in the US. Despite what vaccine opponents may tell you, it is not just a fever and rash that infected children may suffer. Of every thousand people that are infected with measles, about one child will get encephalitis which can lead to long-term neurological problems, and one of two will die.
While in the US, we are seeing a return of infections that were nearly eradicated and many still refuse the CDC vaccine recommendations. In other cultures, even more primitive ones, this is not the case and parents are firm believers in vaccinating their kids.
I recently returned from a service trip to the jungles of Panama, where we provided medical aid to the Ngabe community. In some of their villages, there is no electricity and certainly no such thing as TV or Wifi. Some of them do not even possess their own bathrooms but used shared outdoor latrines. They suffer many infections that we do not see in the US, such as Leishmaniasis, parasites, Typhoid, cholera and many others. Children die in this culture from dehydration related to diarrheal diseases.
Despite all this, they make sure every child is vaccinated according to the recommendations devised by the CDC and WHO. The government provides the vaccines to all children in the country and many vaccines are administered in school. Some of these people are the poorest of the poor, yet they carry very detailed vaccine records with them about their children.
In the Ngabe culture, girls start having babies from very young ages, 13, 14 and some even younger. Once they start having babies, they go on to have many babies. From the time a Ngabe woman is a little girl, her duty is to help raise the kids in the family, first in her parents’ home and then in her husband’s. Most girls drop out of school by the fourth grade so receive little education. They have no other hope for the future other than raising kids. And these large families are often hard on them.
During one of our mobile clinics, a Ngabe woman was talking with us about vaccines for her child. We do not administer them in the clinic run by the Floating Doctors because the government thought it so important that they wanted to be in charge of Panama’s vaccine program. They wanted to ensure every child gets vaccinated appropriately. One of the doctors in the clinic mentioned to her how in the US, some parents are now opposing vaccines and refusing to vaccinate their children. This woman was clearly shocked that any parent would refuse vaccines. Her response: “Why? Are these women trying to make their families smaller?’ She truly believed that the anti-vaxxers wanted some of their kids to die of vaccine preventable diseases because they wanted their family to be made smaller. No amount of explaining to her could make her understand. And truthfully, as a scientist, I do not understand the reasoning so much myself.
In Egypt, I witnessed people who have been infected with polio. Many of these people are left with limb deformities and some neurological deficits. It is a hard disease on anyone, but especially for someone living in a third world country where there is no such thing as disability benefits or social services. People there do anything to make sure their children are vaccinated according to the recommendations. They have seen what happens when vaccine preventable diseases are not prevented.
Around the world, people in rich cultures and poor, people with many kids or few, people from all walks of life have benefitted from the work the CDC has done with vaccines and vaccine recommendations. People are living who previously would have died or suffered a horrific outcome. While some here create CDC conspiracy theories, around the world the CDC recommendations, along with those of the WHO, prevail.
About the Author
Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP is a family physician practicing in South River, New Jersey. She was voted one of the top 5 healthcare bloggers in 2016. Follow her on twitter@DrLindaMD.