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“Vaccinations, alternative treatment and facts”
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“Vaccinations, alternative treatment and facts”

ashley-foster-estwickAmerican politics under President Trump has ushered in an era where facts can become alternative facts, not fiction, writes Ashley Foster-Estwick, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Barbados. She questions the impact on anti-vaccine activists when misinformation is accessible in a millisecond on the web.

It is reassuring to let persons conduct independent investigation on the risks and benefits of immunization. Yet for the Caribbean, we should boast of being the first globally to eliminate infectious diseases such as measles and successfully maintain this status. The question now exists – are alternative facts a deterrent for the proponents of vaccinations in the health industry and beyond?

On December 21st, 2016 the Government of Barbados announced plans to discontinue the administration of the Bacilla Calmette Guerin vaccine, a vaccine administered as close to birth as possible to counteract tuberculosis (TB). Rather than a complete discontinuation of the vaccine, it will only be administered to those at a high risk for contracting TB.  Barbados is considered by the World Health Organization to be a low-burdened tuberculosis country. Nevertheless, the full circle public health has taken on in the region is unappreciated. Barbados and other island territories were, in the 1950s, some of the first colonies outside of Europe to produce TB campaigns. From independence to present, the polyclinics of these islands provide free vaccinations to citizens.

It is uncertain what sparked the discontinuation, yet an incident such as this goes to the heart of the pro-immunization argument. For a region where travel immunizations are necessary and the celebration of World Immunization Week is an annual event, have we in the West Indies accustomed ourselves to populations free of polio, measles, mumps and TB, or do the majority of us believe that natural immunity is the best remedy?

We have been privileged in the W.I. to have no disease outbreaks due to under-vaccinated or un-vaccinated persons, even among low income families or individuals. This has prompted many to research herbal remedies. There is no newspaper free of a column on natural remedies to cure any disease, and what has for the last 30 years globally been a trend towards healthy living seems to have become a standard for some families. The efficacy rate for childhood vaccines is and has never been 100 per cent. Vaccines prompt a natural immune response in the body without causing the specific illness. For some, natural immunity should not be a response but the sole way to detract further illness.

The ingredients of vaccines, listed on any public health website, include formaldehyde and “other growing media”. Upon further investigation chemicals, heavy metals, allergens and human cell strains are other ingredients. Pro-lifers, vegans and other organically conscious individuals believe that these ingredients should not be a product for human consumption.

This is not the only source of contention. Side effects of vaccinations can include itchy skin rashes, convulsions, pneumonia as well as inflammation of the stomach and in very rare cases, permanent brain damage. It is for these reasons vaccination legislation in the Caribbean is pertinent to create a legal framework which is accessible to those who experience any adverse effects to mandatory immunization shots. This way, ethical arguments which can be formed against any product can be debated fairly. As such, these courts are also necessary to ensure that should a mandatory vaccination programme be enforced, it will be executed as accurately as possible to protect the welfare of the state.

As islands which have progressed from Third World to developing countries and Small Island Developing States it is essential to legitimise the risks associated with vaccinations, because they outweigh the economic drawbacks our economies would face in case of outbreaks. We are a people reliant on tourism and population growth to maintain positive social taxes to avoid further grievances in the future which will impact National Insurance Schemes and pension benefits. An un-vaccinated population results in higher treatment costs. A once-healthy workforce then becomes an island’s greatest weakness, as disease will make people inherently unable to tend to themselves, elderly or children. An unhealthy population is a huge deterrent to positive tourist arrivals and, as such, a depletion in foreign exchange.

The social value of natural immunity is a response from our bodies, which is not the product of anyone person or our government. However, when given the opportunity to vaccinate our children to prompt such a reaction and to protect ourselves this should not be taken lightly. To believe otherwise would be an alternative fact entirely.

Reach me on Twitter @MissAshleyFE

photo credit: IFRC p-AGO0154 via photopin (license)

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About me: I was born and raised on the island of Barbados. While writing has always been an outlet for my creative ideas or thoughts, I never fully pursued it as a career. Instead I have studied business, languages and politics.

I work in administration and management sectors, hoping to use these skills to cross over into the management of public health. My hope is to use this platform as a way to stimulate conversation with my peers and reenergise my writing.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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