Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Vaccines and Sudanese Refugees

When my niece was born, my sister decided not to vaccinate her against certain diseases, fearing that vaccines had something to do with my nephew's autism. "Everybody else is vaccinated anyway, so there's nobody who can get her sick", was her main argument then, when she tried to convince me (and probably herself) that the risks of vaccination are greater than the risks of non-vaccination.

For the past few years a small yet steady stream of African refugees, mostly from Sudan (Darfur and South Sudan), has been crossing the border into Israel. Their numbers have recently risen and their plight has gotten more press coverage. While in the past they were arrested and deported, government policy now allows them to stay in Israel, but they do not have any legal status here. Most of them don't even receive refugee status, and the government doesn't lift a finger to help them. They've been pretty much stranded. Some Kibbutzim have taken some of them in, others have been given jobs in Eilat, but even those are only temporary solutions.

I thought of pitching in somehow to help them, maybe by volunteering at a Kibbutz where they are staying or something of the sort. But then I realized that there may be health implications. Even if I am vaccinated against most diseases they may have, I can still become a carrier and pose a health risk to my niece. Then I thought of the fact that not only can I become a risk factor, a lot of people who either come into contact with the refugees or with others who have been in contact with them, may pose a health threat to my niece and any other child who was not vaccinated.

I should talk to my sister about this. It isn't too late to give my niece the vaccines she hasn't taken yet. Now, with the current situation, my sister may be convinced that the risks of not being vaccinated outweigh the perceived menace of mercury.

And an apology to the refugees if this post makes them sound like little more than carriers of dangerous diseases. I still plan to help them.

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