Why I Think Vaccines Are Safe, Part I

Awright.

First off, the title of this is “Why I Think Vaccines Are Safe,” not “Why People Who Don’t Trust Vaccines Are Idiots” or “Why I’m Right And Everyone Else Is Wrong.” There’s enough finger-pointing and name-calling about the subject already, and I’m honestly not trying to add to it.

Like most parents of autistic children, every once in awhile, I scratch my chin and go, “did vaccines cause this?” And, the conclusion I’ve come to is no. And, it’s not because of anything I’ve been shown or not shown. If you’ve made up your mind about something, the Internet is NOT where you go to disprove it. So, here are my personal ruminations along (but not necessarily about) “chemicals,” “vaccine injury” and related topics.

What Does “Safe” Mean?

The title  of this piece is actually misleading, because I don’t think vaccines are safe. I don’t think cars are safe-do you? Cars kill over 40,000 people a year. I don’t think guns are safe. I don’t think crossing the street is safe-if you saw the way people drive around here, you wouldn’t think so, either. In fact, from the moment you get out of bed in the morning, everything you do from making breakfast to driving to work to picking up groceries has an inherent level of risk involved. In fact, chances are, whatever you’re doing as you read this, someone has been killed doing the exact same thing. If you use your phone in the bathroom and are now using your phone to read this, chances are your phone has fecal matter on it, putting you at risk of E.coli poisoning.

But, we understand all this, don’t we? I think, when we use the word “safe,” what we actually mean is “all things being equal, this activity, product or procedure is no more likely to harm or kill you than similar activities, products or procedures of its kind.” Maybe the Germans, who are great at coming up with words for things like this (my current favorites are “Weltschmerz” and “fachidiot“) have a specialized word for “reasonably safe considering external factors.”

When we learned my wife was pregnant, I spent quite a few hours assembling “baby stuff”-cribs, strollers, car-seats, you name it. And, the first thing you see when reading the instruction manual for “baby stuff” are colorful and horrifying descriptions of how you are going to maim or kill your baby if you assemble said product wrong. As somebody who’s worked with pro audio equipment their entire adult life, I can tell you that the first thing you see in any manual is the warning that misusing this product will lead to fire or electric shock. Companies are legally mandated to provide this information, and because they don’t enjoy getting sued (keeping in mind I have no great love for trans-national corporations) will warn you up-front about any possible scenario involving use or misuse of their product. Anytime anybody brings up “asking to see the inserts for vaccines,” my response (spoken or unspoken) is “It can’t be any more terrifying than looking up the insert for a stroller.”

Baby strollers, despite their inherent dangers, and potential for misuse, are a boon and a benefit to mankind. I’m sure, every year, a few babies are injured (or God forbid, killed) by parental incompetence in regard to strollers, but of all the threats to my child that have kept me up at night, his stroller was never one of them. Although maybe it should have been: an estimated 111 children every year are killed by nursery products.

Why Do We Need Experts When We Have The Internet?

My car is sporty and fun to drive, but burns oil at an heroic rate. I thought I’d save a few bucks by learning how to change my own oil (technically, I was right…I saved a few bucks. I literally saved a few bucks).

It’s a simple procedure and I was confident that, as a college-educated adult who over the years has proven to be reasonably good at following directions to put stuff together, that it would be pretty simple. So, in order to prevent costly mistakes, I resolved to “do my research.” I looked up two separate videos, one of which was professionally produced by an oil company. I watched both several times, then practiced taking the engine cover off and locating the oil drain plug and oil filter cover. I was gonna nail this!

(Disclaimer: I am NOT a mechanic, and am probably using the incorrect terminology for a lot of what follows. Flame away).

So, one bright summer morning, I drove my car up on a high curb (a technique my neighbor told me about), wormed my way under the car, and fitted the ratchet on the oil drain plug. It wouldn’t budge.

I know you have to be careful with the plug because if the threads are compromised, your car will leak oil. And, in situations like this, I’m overly careful because I don’t want to break something that will cost thousands of dollars to fix (after all, this was about saving money). So, I called a buddy of mine who happens to be a master mechanic, and told him my dilemma. His response: Make a fist around the wrench with your left hand, then with the heel of your right hand, hit the hand holding the wrench.” Worked like a charm.

The first hurdle was over. The oil was drained, the plug replaced, and I was ready to change the filter.

No, I wasn’t. The oil filter wrench, which was allegedly designed specifically for such instances, and which looked so easy to use in the videos, just slid around the oil filter canister. After about half an hour of fiddling around, I realized the pin in the center of the canister needed an Allen wrench (something not shown in either of the videos I looked up). Well, if a guitarist has anything laying around, it’s Allen wrenches. I found the correct-sized Allen wrench, unscrewed the center of the canister, and was rewarded with a gout of oil as the center pin came out. I fitted the oil-filter wrench around the canister. It still wouldn’t budge.

Shit.

I called my buddy again, who, thank God, wasn’t doing anything that day and came driving up with his kids in tow. While the kids played, he unfolded his heroic frame under the front of the car, surveyed the situation, then flagged down my neighbor (whom he knew from decades before), and requisitioned a medium-sized pair of channel-lock pliers. He slid back under the front of the car and, with a combination of surgical skill and brute force that was a thing of beauty to watch, smoothly unscrewed the oil filter canister, fishing out the spent filter.

I pulled out the new filter, and he explained to me how the little gaskets fit around the filter (something that also wasn’t explained in the videos, and could have led to considerable grief). The filter was replaced, fresh oil was poured in, and I was ready to go.

Part of the problem of living in an age of anti-intellectualism is the disdaining of “experts.” We don’t need “experts” if we just “do our research.” Well, I did what I thought was a reasonable amount of research for such a simple task (draining and replacing oil and an oil filter), knew the steps backwards and forwards, and still needed to rely on someone who looks at car engines every day.  Maybe, in this day of unlimited information, we still need “experts” after all.

Are Chemicals Bad?

The first word typically thrown out during any debate about vaccines is “mercury.” Despite the fact that mercury was removed from childhood vaccines in the US in 2003 (more to assuage the fears of parents than by any evidence of Thimerosal being a health risk, and vaccine skeptics insist that childhood vaccines still contain mercury) fear about “chemicals being injected into our children” dominates the discussion.

I’m not an expert on mercury, but here’s a recent experience we had with a far more terrifying “substance”…and what I learned.

We live in an old house (by West Coast standards) and have a damp climate, and shortly after moving in, we wondered if there was anything we could do about the seemingly ever-present mustiness. We thought maybe having the house’s vents cleaned was the answer, so I called a vent-cleaning service (I forget how I found them-probably looked them up on Craigslist).

They came, hooked up the vacuum, vacuumed (blowing a fuse in the process), and then I was given some devastating news: the man in charge pointed at the white stuff covering the top of the furnace (now replaced), and said in a funereal tone, “that’s asbestos.”

Asbestos. It was a word I’d been raided with an instinctive horror of. I’d seen it on commercials for law firms since the 1970s. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was bad, and caused cancer (mesothelioma-another terrifying-sounding word). I also knew the main furnace vent running through the attic was covered in the same white stuff.

Well, asbestos wasn’t going to take my family down. I asked the guy in charge if they removed asbestos and what the charge would be. Why, yes, they did asbestos removal, and to remove every bit of asbestos in the house would probably cost around $10,000.

Well, we didn’t have $10,000, and after making several phone calls to various friends in the trades, along with consulting our neighbor (who has been trained in asbestos removal) and doing a little reading, my worries abated somewhat.

Asbestos is dangerous to breathe, and does cause cancer. However, asbestos is largely safe unless you break it up and breathe the dust. A friend who lives in one of the few remaining areas of San Francisco that is still being developed also told me at one point that construction had to be halted due to the fact that asbestos in the rocks was being released into the air…that’s right, asbestos is “natural” (it’s technically a mineral). In fact, OSHA estimates that 40% of the land in America and much of our drinking water contains some naturally occurring level of asbestos (more below). And, OSHA also acknowledges that chrysotile asbestos (the kind insulating your pipes) is safe unless airborne.

When our furnace needed replacing, I had just gotten off the phone with the furnace repairman when my wife made me call him back: “Does he know the furnace has asbestos on it?”

My response: “I’m sure they know how to handle it.” My wife wasn’t satisfied and I called the repairman back, explaining the potential hazard waiting for him. Without skipping a beat, he answered, “No worries. We’re trained in asbestos removal and by law are allowed to remove a small amount.”

Let me be clear: asbestos causes cancer. In no way am I suggesting that it is not dangerous for untrained personnel to handle or remove it, and it causes significant danger for first responders every year (which is why they have breathing apparatus).  But, according to OSHA, it’s not even in the top 10 causes of construction-related injury or death.

I’ve tried to avoid copious links in this article, but here’s what seems to be an excellent article from “Natural Handyman” Jerry Alonzy on the subject of asbestos. And, he raises a strong point: panicking about asbestos can be more dangerous than asbestos itself.  Removal by untrained personnel is actually much more dangerous than just letting it be.

Now, if something I’ve been raised to believe is one of the most toxic substances on Earth is actually relatively safe, is it possible the dangers of mercury have been (somewhat) exaggerated?

 

 

Next up:

Are Childhood Diseases Dangerous?

Is There A “Conspiracy?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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