Vaccines and Raw Milk

There is a facebook group that I belong to called “Anti-Vax Wall of Shame”. It’s a group of people, myself included, who take screenshots of the ignorant, stupid, crazy, astonishing things that anti-vaccine people write online. We post the screenshot, have a laugh, and then fire back something witty — albeit coated in science — to counter the anti-vaccine message. It’s a great group of people… For the most part.

One of the long-time members of the group, Ren (known to you as “Epi Ren”) left the group yesterday after having an exchange on the page with people arguing about the regulation of raw milk. Some people were arguing that it was very much their right to choose what to drink, and that it didn’t matter that there was plenty of evidence that pasteurized milk was better in terms of preventing infection from contaminated milk. Someone went a step further and asserted that they were not concerned with unpasteurized milk because anyone drinking that milk did not pose a public health threat.

If those arguments sound familiar to you, they should — especially if you’ve been reading this blog for a while. So let’s take them on one at a time, the way it should be.

One of the big arguments of many in the anti-vaccine camp is that they have some sort of a right to refuse vaccination while still having a right to public education and other services that are conditional on your vaccination status. Yes, they do have a right to refuse vaccination. In fact, I will go to war (figuratively) to defend their right to refuse any medical intervention, so long as they are well-informed and in full use of their mental capacity. The second part of that, the right to public services that are conditional on your vaccination status, is not a right.

Why? This is the land of the free, right?

Well, yeah, it’s the land of the free, but we all also took a vote and decided, based on tons of good evidence, that vaccines are good to keep some really bad things at bay. And we’d like to keep it that way. Don’t want to cooperate with us solely because of your “philosophy”? Then don’t. Homeschool your kids or find a school that doesn’t care that they’re one snotty kid away from an outbreak of something evil.

What about the raw milk crowd? It’s pretty much the same thing. They seem to think that they live in some sort of a vacuum where their drinking of unpasteurized milk harms no one. Well, tell that to the parents of an unfortunate child who acquired hemolytic uremic syndrome as a result of an E. coli infection from a hamburger he ate at the home of and prepared by a neighbor who, as you should have guessed by now, drinks raw milk. The E. coli would be eventually traced to the farm where the neighbor got the milk.

Here’s an interesting fact about E. coli, ladies and gentlemen. It lives in the gut of all cows. Not just some cows but all cows. And if it’s not the one that humans carry in their gut, then it is pathogenic (capable of causing disease) and sometimes deadly to us. Just because the farm is “clean”, whatever the heck that means, or because they claim to be organic or some nice-sounding name like that, it doesn’t mean that they’ll be free of pathogens.

So, no, drinking raw milk is not just about you. Neither is vaccination.