Editor’s Note: MAPP, Mobilizing for Action through Planning &Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.
Working with all the health professionals on the MAPP steering committee, events and dates come to my awareness that I normally would be oblivious to. In April, for example, there is National Infant Immunization Week, Vaccination Week In the Americas, National Immunization Awareness Week, and World Immunization Week.
That’s a lot of immunization awareness. Even in Homer, one of the groups that is trying to address issues that were highlighted in the MAPP Community Health Needs Assessment, is the Immunization Coalition. It turns out that the Homer area has some of the lowest immunization rates in the state.
Even though I am not a health professional and certainly don’t give immunizations, this topic has come up in my life as a debate coach at the high school. The folks who pick the topics for debate love issues that highlight different value systems. There are those who value immunizations and there are those who don’t.
When students are researching to find supporting evidence for their cases, value systems start taking shape. The side that would argue for vaccinations takes on what we call a “utilitarian” value system: the greatest good for the greatest number. Students can use evidence for this side that includes statistics like how there were only about 42 cases of polio in 2016 in the world as compared to an estimated 350,000 in 1988. Students will talk about how everyone needs vaccinations so that diseases like polio won’t spread again, so we protect ourselves from various diseases that used to be common. It is easy to show how the numbers of stillbirths, birth defects, deaths, deformities, etc. from diseases that are now vaccine preventable have dropped dramatically.
But students in debate have to argue both sides. It doesn’t matter what their personal beliefs are, when they go to a competition they don’t know which side they will have to debate until minutes before they enter the room to perform.
As often happens in value debate, one side has a lot of easy-to-find supporting evidence whereas the other side has a lot of passionate testimony. This is a wonderful exercise for students because they get to sift through fact and fiction and determine which arguments will hold water in a competition.
There are many claims against vaccinations that are so controversial and easily debated that I will encourage students to think twice before using them as part of their case. For example, it has been said that autism is caused by vaccinations. However, students arguing the side for vaccination can use data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) who can quite easily pull up thousands and thousands of cases of people with vaccinations and those without and compare statistics to children with and without autism. No correlation can be solidly proven for claims that they are responsible for autism, ADHD, SIDS, allergies or any of the other large-scale health problems kids face today.
But there are lots of other reasons people don’t want vaccinations. The main value systems that come up here are autonomy, independence, the right to choose, distrust in authority and self care. What do they know about the long-range effects? What do they know about my personal immune system? What is best for my child right now? What about adverse reactions? What do they know about alternative health options?
Successfully casting doubt on the validity of the pro-vaccine argument can win a student the debate. A good debate student goes into competition well prepared with arguments, statistics and a well-defined value system for each side.
But what if you are a parent with your child at the doctor’s office? How prepared and informed are you? Doctors may not have the time to fully educate you on the pros and cons of vaccinations or explain options.
If you have questions about vaccinations, make sure you find out the facts to answer them. Talking to a professional will give you a good idea of the strongest arguments on the subject, just like a good debate. It will help you determine what information you see later is based on fear and what information is based on fact.
So mark your calendar for the Safe &Healthy Kids Fair on Saturday, April 29, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Homer High School. There you will be able to find some of those professionals to answer your questions at the Immunization Coalition booth.
If you can’t make it to the Safe &Healthy Kids Fair, you can always visit the Public Health Center down on Bunnell Street Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. to help you decide what choice is best for you, your children, and for your community.
Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.