Over the past few weeks I’ve been reading Deadly Choices a book by Paul Offit which gives a history of the science and debate about vaccine safety in the United States.
Coincidentally, within the last week back home in New Zealand the Hamilton City Council has decided to remove fluoride from drinking water. A daft and backward step which will have long term negative consequences for public health.
Writing on the blog site Pundit, Tim Watkin states:
Hamilton councillors are just the latest folk to fall prey to fear-raising arguments against ‘mass medication’ and in favour of individual choice, while ignoring science…
The science – the proper science, that is – seems pretty clear that we have low fluoridation levels in our water and bumping it up a little helps our oral care en masse. Health agencies from WHO down say it helps dental hygiene and is a human right. There is no proof of fluoride poisoning, if that’s what you’d call it, in the New Zealand population over recent generations and every reason to think a significant number of New Zealanders will have more teeth problems as a result of less fluoride in the water. Just about everything becomes a poison at the right dose, but at a lower dose it’s fine, even beneficial…
But it’s indicative of a wider trend in these modern times, which is worrying, and that’s the rise of the instant expert and the ‘I know better than the majority of scientists’ brigade.
This is one point that Offit’s book touches on. Emotional stories about how medication is actually poisonous and how it harms people that isn’t backed up from science is often believed in lieu of strong and easily understood scientific explanations. The problem is at times science is hard to understand, and combined with scaremongering about anything government controlled explaining becomes a scientific PR nightmare.
Each of those ‘mass medication’ debates are issues, to greater and lesser degrees, of the community good coming up against individual choice. And it’s about time we started paying more attention to the community good.
Many kids living in poverty, for example, don’t have the choice – for all kinds of complex reasons – to get enough fluoride and will suffer as a result of this decision by the council in Hamilton, and those in other cities. So what about the choice of them all?
Recently in Sydney there has been news articles about the levels of immunisation in select suburbs. Strangely, some of the most affluent suburbs have the lowest rates of immunisation. This is as a direct result of people not understanding science or putting their own individual views and rights before the collective community good.
The problem with this is people who chose not to vaccinate are not only putting their own family at risk they are also putting at risk the lives of others in the community whom are unable to vaccinate due to a variety of health reasons.
The science is sound and simple:
- Water fluoridation improves oral health.
- Vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism, or other extreme side effects.
- By not vaccinating you are putting your own and others lives at risk.
Over the last 200 years we have seen vaccine science develop and all but eradicate deadly diseases of the past: measles, mumps, smallpox, polio, and many others. However, in the recent past as a result of people not believing, or accepting real science, communities have seen a breakdown of herd vaccination and these deadly diseases have started to kill again. I wonder how large a disease outbreak will have to be to get a change in this behaviour.