Recently a mom wrote a post on this very site with the title, “Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Not Welcome Play With Mine.” When I read this headline I couldn’t decide if I was more troubled with the headline, the article itself or with the ensuing commentary. Shortly after, Time tweeted a link that suggested “1 in 10 parents don’t vaccinate their children,” to which I RT’d, “That’s because 1 in 10 of parents are assholes.”

When a twitter acquaintance suggested that my comment was a bit harsh — she doesn’t vaccinate — I apologized and carried on. Still, both the stat and the post troubled me and so I decided to consult my father, Bolanle Williams, PhD, a microbiologist-virologist, a research scientist with patents, and a former university professor.

My father is a fairly plain-speaking man whose great grandmother was a Medicine Woman and herbalist. Some of her remedies have been passed down to relatives who have incorporated them into Western practice. For example, my father’s niece is a leading specialist on postpartum emotional care for women who’ve experienced difficult births in  Africa. Given this type of familial legacy, my father doesn’t romanticize what Western medicine does well and he essentially feels the same way about naturally-derived medicinal concoctions, too.

In his words, “Science is not infallible, it doesn’t give you all the answers, but it enlightens you to the possibility of what can and cannot happen.” I once asked him what the deal was with pharmaceutical companies and, among other things, he said point blank that it’s big business. Of course it wasn’t always so, and Western drugs certainly do more good than harm if used properly under medical supervision. But we’re a pill-popping culture of addicts, ready to ingest the next cure-all and pharmaceuticals chemical or otherwise enable that.

As for the question of childhood vaccination, he said, “It’s a mistake not to.” The reason being, he explained, is that there are so many different kinds of infection that children can acquire at a young age since they do not have sufficient immune recognition. And, yes, if you eat well you are certainly well ahead of the game, but that doesn’t mean that you are protected against infection unless you consume things with relatively high amounts of certain chemicals that will prevent you from becoming infected. Still, the way to really become immune is with vaccinations and booster shots.

Vaccinations immolate your system before it becomes weak. That said, there are degrees of reaction to certain vaccinations. Sometimes an infection can take a long time to show up in the body and so, too, can a side effect. Reactions to certain vaccinations are normal. A reaction demonstrates that the body is able to recognize the vaccine and this renders the body immune from infection. If you don’t react, it means that the vaccination didn’t work and you will have to get another. It is important to note that having a reaction in the body is not necessarily a bad thing since it entitles your body to build up antibodies.

Which means the jury is still out on whether vaccinations “cause” autism, ADD, mental disorders, etc. There is no scientific proof that this is true. Science discredited and debunked the unscientific findings from the scientist who made the previous false claims that there was a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. It may be untrue.

Flu viruses change as a result of genetic mutations. Which means that the flu we have this year may have changed in a way that is not the same as the previous year. For example, the vaccine made against the flu virus of 2010 may not be effective against the flu of 2011. New virus types emerge all the time, which is why a vaccination is required each new year. Flu shots are preventative; for that reason alone, they be should be considered.

In the 1950s, when the polio vaccine came out, the reaction of people was mixed. Today, the vaccinations are more precise and the technology has improved substantially. Vaccines now are very specific, and scientists know much more about the agents of vaccines. For example, the polio virus has RNA and not DNA, which means that scientists are able to make materials specific for an RNA virus, whereas in the past they were unable to do this because they did not have the technology to make the necessary discoveries. New technologies in science have allowed scientists to learn more about virus properties.

HIV and other viruses have a combined RNA and DNA and they can mutate and change their nucleic structure so vaccines are hard to produce. If a virus has both nucleic acids, it won’t be specific enough to create a vaccine for it. Which is why it has been hard to find an effective vaccine for HIV. The virus itself mutates and changes. Much like the flu virus, the HIV virus has different strains known as “serotypes” and because of that genetic mutation, vaccines have to be produced yearly or so. The structure of HIV is complex, there is no vaccine. Which may be one of the reasons they used to teach abstinence. HIV may not be curable. According to my father, it is also tenuous whether HIV is entirely treatable, however its effects can be minimized, and it is not as “dreadful” as it used to be. Patients can take a mega dose cocktail to lessen symptoms.

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Which brings me to the issue of unvaccinated children playing with vaccinated children. When I told my father this, he said that unfortunately people are misinformed. “Nothing will happen if unvaccinated children play with a vaccinated and immuned child,” he said. “It’s discrimination. It is not a biological exactitude. That said, the only individuals who will be at risk for highly contagious and infectious microbes like whooping cough, for example, are other unvaccinated children and those children should be isolated. If your child has been properly vaccinated and immuned, then the unvaccinated child poses no risk to your child.”

Preventable diseases are much more pronounced in developing countries because they don’t have the benefit of vaccinations that first world countries do. Some people take this for granted.

(Photo: ZanyZeus/Shutterstock)