Last week I took Benny to the doctor’s for his nine month checkup. He’s doing well, thanks, but he needed his HepB jab.  I’ve met Baruch Blumberg — and see him often around work — so I’ll have to thank him personally. Benny was decidedly less enthusiastic about it at the time. But when he doesn’t die of liver cancer, I’ll give him an I-told-you-so.

My vaccinated boy. Benny gave garbled a close approximation to "Da-da" this morning. He either likes me or has a fondness for the early 20th c. art movement. Either way, genius.

I’ve been following the vaccine/autism fretfest from a distance, so I chatted the topic up with Ben’s doc, who mentioned how Hib cases, of all things, were on the rise. (One unvaccinated infant in Minnesota recently died. Tragically preventable.)

If you haven’t heard of Hib, that doesn’t surprise me. It causes a form of meningitis. You, and your parents, probably never encountered it. Chances are fairly good that your grandmother, however, might have lost a sibling or a cousin to the disease…or one of the many other illnesses that used to routinely rob us of our children.

As you might know, the current anti-vaccination nonsense that’s spreading through the land began in the UK in ’98 when a Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism. (We gave the world Intelligent Design, the UK gave us anti-vacs…as much as I detest ID, at least it doesn’t have a body count.)

I haven’t really followed the career of Wakefield. We have our own anti-vac proponents in the US to worry about. UK Journalist Brian Deer suggests Wakefield might have some ulterior motives, this makes for interesting reading.

Of course many controlled, reputable studies since then has cast that link in doubt. If you don’t believe me, I can’t help you more than to suggest some reading, WebMD has a nice lay-friendly FAQ that spells out the depth of research on the topic. You can also read the take of pro-science skepticsyou can read the take of pro-science skeptics here. At this point you are either merely ignorant or actively in denial.

Like I said, this really began in the UK, so it isn’t surprising that we’re seeing a return of preventable diseases like measles.

Confirmed cases increased from 990 in 2007 to 1,348 last year – the highest figure since the monitoring scheme was introduced in 1995.

Health Protection Agency experts said most of the cases had been in children not fully vaccinated with combined MMR and so could have been prevented.

Immunisation expert Dr Mary Ramsay said the rise was “very worrying”, adding measles “should not be taken lightly”.

More than 600 of the 2008 measles cases occurred in London, where uptake of the vaccine for MMR – measles, mumps and rubella – is particularly low.

We’re not immune (heh!), in the US. As I mentioned, there was a Hib outbreak in Minnesota recently, but also pertussis in Philly and measles in California last January. In the latter case, an unvaccinated seven year-old brought the disease back from vacation in Switzerland and spread it around his private school. The scary part is, as you can see in the Cali case, these kids aren’t from poor families without access to healthcare.

Supposedly educated adults, concerned enough with their children’s welfare to send them to private school, were scared into NOT vaccinating their kids. In the 21st century, they made a choice against the medical technology that created an unprecedented wave of good health in the 20th century.

Likely, they believed the autism fearmongering and figured they’d place a safe bet and let “herd immunity” cover their kids. That only works when everyone else plays along. So, it won’t be surprising to see clusters of outbreaks in some of our wealthiest communities as well as among under-served populations.

That doesn’t take away from the essentially parasitic (Amanda Peet took it back, but I think it is apt) practice. Herd immunity protects kids who can’t get immunized (for a variety of health-related reasons) and a small minority of those who did get vaccinated, but for whom it didn’t take.

While all this is going on, there is a huge kerfluffle involving Bad Science columnist extraordinaire, Ben Goldacre, is boiling over across the interwebs. (Quackometer has a nice round-up.) A radio host is trying to use the UK’s anti-free speech libel laws to silence Goldacre. Toss him a couple of quid, if you can. The first time I ever used paypal in pounds. How global of me.

2/8 UPDATE: Wakefield doctored his results, says Brian Deer in today’s Sunday Times.

2/9 UPDATE: The Bad Astronomer has more on recent outbreaks in Australia and Switzerland, where a 12 year-old girl died of measles-related encephalitis.

That reminds me a bit of my own childhood experience regarding opportunistic infections. I contracted osteomyelitis after a bout of chicken pox when I was about four or five. I really ought to corroborate my memories with my mom, I could be wrong…and a doctor, for that matter, I could totally be wrong on this. Soon after getting over chicken pox, my dad found me on the floor one night, crying hysterically because I couldn’t walk. I spent two months in a wheelchair at Abington Memorial. Again, my memories of early childhood are anything are perfect, but I remember spending my fifth birthday — got a landspeeder — at the hospital.

Anyway, I know people think chicken pox aren’t a Big Deal, but I’m getting my kids vaccinated anyway.