Tag Archives: fear

Prevention: vaccines as public health superstars

Prevention: n. the act of keeping from happening, holding back or hindering

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

I’m working on an article for a health magazine on vaccinations for children.

If you don’t have little kids you may not be aware that vaccinations have become a focus of parental angst since a (now-debunked) 1998 study of 8 autistic children by Andrew Wakefield in the UK, which claimed that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine could cause autism.  Turns out that the doctor was a shill for the kids’ families who were seeking financial settlements. And last week several cases trying to link autism to vaccines were thrown out of court.  (Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley just did an excellent feature on the history and current state of the vaccination kerfuffle – Anatomy of a Scare….)

Wakefield’s British medical license was revoked, but the damage was done. Parents with autistic children had found themselves a scapegoat in the vaccine, and parents of healthy infants began to question the whole concept of vaccination.

  • There were so many shots: “Why when I was a kid,” they said, “we just had the DPT and polio vaccines….”
  • Is this an evil collaboration between Big Government [the CDC] and Big Pharma to get more money from us?
  • Had the vaccines been properly tested – separately and in combination? Was it safe to give babies so many shots at one time?
  • What are all these diseases anyway? Why should we worry?

To make matters worse, the media picked up the controversy and rumors spread like wildfire on the Internet. Celebrities ignorant of science and the scientific method ranted on TV. Some parents decided to forego vaccinating their kids;  some (thanks to a misleading and poorly researched book on vaccinations by the Dr. Robert Sears) decided to formulate alternative vaccination schedules for their babies – delaying some and dropping others.

I interviewed several pediatricians, family practice physicians, and epidemiologists for the article and they all were disturbed by the level of public misunderstanding and the potential repercussions of fewer kids being vaccinated.

“The problem,” said one pediatrician, “is that many of these vaccines have been around long enough and have been so dramatically successful that today’s young parents are unaware of how devastating these diseases can be. In my travels to less developed parts of the world I’ve seen kids struggle for their very lives or die from them.”

Another pediatrician told me that parents always fear for possible health threats to their babies. “Without the actual diseases themselves to fear, they are now focused on vaccine side-effects. Instead they should be worried that many of these childhood diseases are just a plane flight away. Or an unimmunized buddy at daycare away.”

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center:

Before the vaccines we use today parents in the US could expect every year:

  • Polio would paralyze 10,000 children
  • Rubella (german measles) would cause birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns.
  • Measles would infect about 4 million children, killing 3,000 and causing severe brain damage in many others.
  • Diptheria would be one of the most common causes of death in school-aged children
  • A bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae typ b (Hib) would cause meningitis in 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage
  • Pertussis (whooping cough) would kill thousands of infants.

Additionally, the recent rotavirus vaccine protects the against an intestinal infection that’s still one of the  leading killers of the very young around the globe.

The other issue big on young parents’ minds is the timing of vaccinations – so many so close together. But that is how they have been studied, said the docs I spoke to – the current vaccination schedules have proven effectiveness and safety, and alternative schedules have not.

I could go on and on, but this is just a blog post.  If you’d like more information check out the CDC website.

Update 4/23/09: Jim Carrey wrote an outrageous post at Huffington Post yesterday – another celebrity rant by someone who doesn’t understand science. I’m not linking to it, but I will link to Skeptic Dad at Science-Based Parenting, who rebuts in detail the Carrey post. Nice job.

Public Speaking: the power of Toastmasters

Public speaking: talking from the front of the room to a group of people, some or all of whom may be strangers -for many people the most petrifying experience imaginable.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2002 and last year completed all the requirements to receive the top TM award, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM).  Among other things, this means I’ve given about 100 (mostly) short speeches, each of which was evaluated by another member.

When I joined I was already a semi-experienced speaker and I’d long long ago left the knocking knees behind.  Furthermore, because I’m a writer, pulling together 700 words on a topic of interest to me was no problem either.

But many folks start here:

I joined for five reasons:

  • I am a terrible memorizer and could not leave my “brilliantly crafted” script behind.
  • I feel quite passionate about some of the things I wanted to talk about and have a tendency to burst into tears at in impassioned moments. This is mortifying.
  • I wanted an excuse to organize the nebulous snippets wafting inside my head, because I often don’t know what I think until I’ve had to write about it.
  • I wanted to choose my own topics. As a writer for hire, I’m usually assigned them.
  • I wanted live feedback from warm bodies. When someone reads my written stuff I’m rarely present so I have no clue if they understood my message, if they liked it, where it caught their attention and where it lost them.

After the first ten speeches (which is unfortunately when many people quit their clubs) I had improved on all counts, but had just begun to understand how much PRACTICE good public speaking requires. The advanced manuals offer such a variety of speaking assignments that I’ve been able to expand my skill repertoire into new realms.

Toastmasters’ magic formula includes constructive feedback after every speech. If you’re not speaking, you’re evaluating. This has improved not only my speaking, but also punched up my writing. In some ways you learn even more doing evaluations than speaking because you can clearly see in others what works and what doesn’t.

The memorization thing? Speaking without notes is 100 times more effective than reading a speech, even if you stumble some. It’s so much more direct and communicative.  Think Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton.

I gave up on memorization after one horrible experience in a humorous speech contest when I was talking about meeting men as an older single woman.  I had dressed up in a hideous baggy dress, rouged my cheeks and put on a Dolly Parton kind of wig.  I delivered my first memorized paragraph, then totally forgot/skipped over the next two paragraphs which were to have set the stage for the action. The audience was baffled and thought the memory lapse was part of my senior citizen schtick.  So no more trying to memorize for me… instead I practice and use a few notes. It’s still a “growing edge.”

The weepy thing? It runs in my family – we’re a mawkish bunch. I try to avoid topics that are sure-fire tear-jerkers, even though they’re sometimes the most persuasive. I take a deep breath when I’m blind-sided by the sudden prick of tears, the constricted throat and the high squeaky voice. In desperation, I extract a length of toilet paper from my sleeve and mop my eyes with a flourish which usually defuses the situation.

Public speaking is such a crucial skill that it should be a requirement for high school graduation. And after that, a year or two in Toastmasters to give you the necessary practice.

It’s never too late! There are thousands of clubs across the country and around the world. Find one near you here. Toastmasters is CHEAP, it’s 80+ years proven, and it’s a whole lot of fun.