To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

4 June 2015


Last week, an e-mail popped into our in box calling for voters in California and Vermont to campaign against state laws that will limit the allowable

exemptions from mandatory vaccinations.  Sent by an

organizations called Citizens for Health, the appeal cites

“bodily integrity and personal and domestic sovereignty”,

alluding to some vague potential loss of liberty and

founding constitutional principles.


Notably absent from this appeal is any mention of the responsibilities that necessarily accompany freedom.  What Citizens for Health considers “the essence of American liberty” – the right to refuse an immunization – inherently includes the ability to pose risk to others.  Refusing a vaccination places you at risk for contracting the particular disease.  Once infected, you become a vector for transmission.  You are now a danger to infants, transplant recipients, cancer patients, those living with HIV/AIDS, the elderly, and others with weakened or compromised immune systems.  While you may have the right to place yourself at risk, that right does not extend to posing danger to others.


There is a powerful meme on Facebook that asks “Remember that time you got polio?  Of course not, because your parents had you vaccinated.”  There is no arguing with that sentiment.  The statistics speak for themselves.  The absence of smallpox in our world is a result of what Citizens for Health term “forced medical treatments.”  Perhaps equally troubling is that this freedom from illness is enjoyed because herd immunity is gained via widespread immunization.  Those demanding the right to refuse vaccination rely on others to provide this protection.  There is something perversely shortsighted and selfish in this.  Guaranteeing others the basic liberty we enjoy is an essential aspect of our freedom.  Concentrated self-interest is not.

Outbreak of 'nightmare bacteria' in Illinois stirs worry

The emergence of carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE) offers another example of the consequences of over or misuse of antibiotics, the presence of antibiotics in the food chain, and the need for aggressive infection control measures in hospitals and long term care facilities.

Enterobacteriaceae are a normal part of the bacteria found in the human digestive tract, and include Klebsiella species and Escherichia coli (E. coli). Strains of antibiotic-resistant, and specifically resistance to carbapenem antibiotics, have emerged over the past decade. While only 97 cases of this particular bacteria have been detected – almost half in Illinois over the past year – a 2013 CDC report noted that almost 200 hospitals and long-term acute care facilities in 42 states treated at least one patient infected with these bacteria during the first half of 2012.

CREs produce enzymes such as KPC (Klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase) and NDM (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase) that break down carbapenems and make them ineffective.CRE infections are typically nosocomial, or hospital acquired. CRE infections most commonly occur among patients who are receiving treatment for other conditions and whose care includes use of ventilators (breathing machines), urinary (bladder) catheters, or intravenous (vein) catheters. Patients who are taking long courses of certain antibiotics are most at risk for CRE infections.The growth of CREs is concerning because these infections are hard to treat and have a roughly 50 percent mortality rate, much higher than the more commonly known MRSA or Clostridium difficile. A 2012 CDC recommendation to healthcare providers advised:

  • enforcing use of infection control precautions (standard and contact precautions)

  • grouping patients with CRE together

  • dedicating staff, rooms and equipment to the care of patients with CRE, whenever possible

  • having facilities alert each other when patients with CRE transfer back and forth

  • asking patients whether they have recently received care somewhere else (including another country)

  • using antibiotics wisely.

Increasing resistance to antibiotics is a serious matter. The recent decision by the FDA to limit routine use of antibiotics in agriculture reflects this concern. While government, agriculture, and medicine move to limit the spread of this danger, individuals can help protect themselves as well as contribute to countering the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Use antibiotics only when appropriate, never for viral infections. Follow the prescribed regimen completely; never stop taking your medicine even if you feel better. Practice personal hygiene, frequent and proper hand washing. When hospitalized, advise your provider if you have received care elsewhere. Ensure that staff washes their hands when interacting with you as a patient, and especially when working with ventilators, catheters, or other invasive items. Awareness can be your best defense.


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