The Great Vaccine Debate: Who’s waging war?

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press today, the chicken pox has been confirmed in children at three Birmingham schools, and as such, “unvaccinated students may not be allowed back in three schools until April 14” [1].

Is it appropriate to deny public education to students who have legally foregone vaccinations for the chicken pox?

What purpose does it serve to force unvaccinated children to stay home from school?

Is it to protect the unvaccinated children?

Is it to prevent the transmission of chicken pox? The premise behind herd immunity is that a vaccinated majority (of a population) is sufficient to interrupt the transmission path of the virus, thereby protecting those who aren’t vaccinated. Most kids are vaccinated. So what’s the worry?

Perhaps unvaccinated individuals are more likely to become affected by varicella after exposure than a vaccinated individual. (Though it’s important to consider that there’s a lot more to immunity than antibodies, such as a robust immune system.) But how are unvaccinated children perceived as a threat when:

  1. Vaccinated individuals are, well… vaccinated,
  2. Unvaccinated children don’t inherently possess the chicken pox, and
  3. A person (vaccinated or not) who is exposed to a virus might be able to transmit it even if they are unaffected by the virus (it’s called being an asymptomatic carrier) [4]?

From where did the affected students acquire chicken pox (varicella); what was the source? Was it the wild virus? Was it from a student who was recently vaccinated who might have shed the virus? Shedding means that a virus successfully reproduces and can subsequently be transmitted; it can happen with the chicken pox (after natural exposure or vaccination) [2].

Perhaps it makes more sense to force all children recently vaccinated for varicella (the chicken pox virus) to stay home, given that the package insert for the vaccine (manufactured by Merck) specifically states that “transmission of vaccine virus may occur rarely between healthy vaccinees who develop a varicella-like rash and healthy susceptible contacts” [3]. It goes on to suggest that it is advisable for vaccine recipients to avoid contact with immunocompromised individuals, pregnant women without a history of varicella and newborns for six weeks following the vaccine [3]. Of course even those who are not immunocompromised can acquire a virus that’s been shed.

The Free Press article states “But Oakland County health officials advised the school to step up the restrictions, requiring – rather than recommending – that parents keep children at home if they do not have immunity to chicken pox either through a vaccination or a prior infection” [1].

Is it too much to expect that the Oakland County Health Department demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the diseases for which they play a role in attempting to manage? Is it too much to expect the health department, which is funded by the Oakland County tax payers, to participate in unbiased discourse rather than igniting unfounded fears and conflicts between citizens? If this type of blunder were made by an auto executive the media would have a field day and said executive would likely be fired.

A more serious question remains: Who is waging this war on children who haven’t been vaccinated (LEGALLY), and when is it going to stop?

I have a sneaking suspicion that if one follows the money trail, the answer will reveal itself.

  1. Erb, R., 3 Birmingham schools ban kids without chicken pox shots, Detroit Free Press, March 27, 2015.
  2. Galea, S. A., et al., The Safety Profile of Varicella Vaccine: A 10-Year Review, J Infect Dis. (2008) 197 (Supplement 2): S165-S169.
  3. Varivax (varicella) [package insert]. Whitehouse Station, NJ; Merck; 2013.
  4. Fisher, B. L.,The Emerging Risks of Live Virus and Virus Vectored Vaccines: Vaccine Strain Virus Infection, Shedding & Transmission, National Vaccine Information Center, 2014.
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