As a physician and a new mom, the current measles outbreaks occurring in several parts of the world worry me. Many of my colleagues, friends, and patients share their concerns regarding this viral infection with me on a daily basis. In several mom groups on facebook, I see posts buzzing about this topic and I realize that now more than ever, antivaxxers are loud and proud. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more prevalent in the vegan community, making us look less and less pragmatic, scaring people away from our humble cause (to reduce animal suffering and exploitation).
To give you my point of view on the matter, let’s take a look at a few important things first.
What are vaccines?
A vaccine is the introduction of an inactive or attenuated pathogen (like a virus or bacteria) into the body to stimulate the innate immune system (inflammatory response you are born with) to form antibodies against those pathogens. This provides defense against them if we were to come into contact with the pathogen again in the future, preventing the disease from advancing because of the memory it has built against it (adaptive immunity).
This also helps to decrease the propagation (spread) of the pathogen to the at-risk community that could become greatly ill if infected. For example, if I were not vaccinated against the measles, a HIGHLY infectious virus, I might get sick but would probably be fine. However, I may spread it to my baby or to my grandmother who has recently had chemotherapy (weakens the immune system). My daughter could possibly spread it to other kids at daycare and my grandmother could spread it to other cancer patients when she visits the oncologist. All of these people would then possibly become infected and sick with the measles, needing hospitalization or worse.
If I would have been vaccinated, the risk of me getting the measles would go down greatly and this entire cascade could have been prevented.
What is veganism?
We, as vegans, seek to reduce animal suffering as far as practicable and possible. Unfortunately, in the society we live in today, it is impossible to eliminate animal harm completely, however, we should do our best to do what we can, when we can, to avoid it.
If your definition of veganism is to not do anything that could harm an animal at all ever… No one would be able to live up to that and it would not be practicable or possible and people would be discouraged from trying.
Animals are harmed in the cultivation of ALL food, whether that be insects and rodents which are killed for crop production, ants we step on accidently, animal products used to produce cars or other forms of transportation that most of us in society use. Yes, that means your bike, buses, trains, etc.
Unless you walk everywhere and grow all of your own food, do not use technology, electricity, running water or plumbing, you would already not be able to call yourself a vegan under this definition of the term.
I believe we should all do what we can to reduce suffering, but not vaccinating is not the way to do that. The more we, as vegans, are associated with the antivaxx movement, the less people are going to want to become vegan.
Let’s not make the word “vegan” synonymous with “antiscience”.
Big Pharma Wins
You are not “sticking it to big pharma” by choosing not to vaccinate. If you do believe this, you are not looking at the big picture. By not vaccinating your child, you are increasing the likelihood that they get and spread a preventable disease, causing others to be hospitalized… And with hospitalizations, big pharma wins.
When a sick person gets hospitalized, they get IV fluids, cultures, blood exams, nosocomial infections (hospital spread), antibiotics, other medications, vital signs taken, sometimes are put on ventilators, etc.
All of these have been tested on animals (including humans, ie Nazi Medical Experiments) or have animal products in them. Sheep’s blood agar is used to see what kinds of infections someone may have. Blood pressure and shock have been extensively studied on animals, especially dogs.
Please, do not misunderstand this article. If you are sick and need to go to the doctor or be hospitalized, PLEASE, go and get the care you need. This is just to show you that prevention is probably the most ethical path, not to discourage you from seeking medical attention.
Thankfully, times are changing and companies are seeing the greater demand for “cruelty free” products. Hopefully, medicine will also be able to exclude animal products and testing from their processes, but unfortunately, that is not the reality of the moment.
Please, choose to vaccinate
Not being able to vaccinate your child is one thing, and choosing not to vaccinate them, is another… Actively going out to persuade people with pseudoscience to not vaccinate their children may not only harm them and their families, but your own unvaccinated children. Your children depend on herd immunity if they are not vaccinated so choosing to be an anti-vaxxer activist works against your own family and community, even though you have their best interest at heart.
Antivaxxers see vaccines as a “personal choice”, in my mind, like meat-eaters think that eating animal products is a personal choice.
The best and most ethical medicine we have currently available to us is PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE.
Washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, vaccinating and using condoms (regarding STIs) are the best prevention for infectious diseases.