After the storm

By: Radel Paredes December 23,2017 - 08:48 PM


It is a bright warm morning today as the Tropical Storm Vinta leaves Cebu while I write this piece. The plants in the garden are still dripping from last night’s rain, and the puddles in the street outside the house have not yet dried out. Today, as you read this, it is Christmas eve. We must all be busy with preparations for the Noche Buena, the midnight dinner with family and friends.

What a fitting metaphor then is this sudden change of mood that the sunshine brings after the storm. There’s no stopping Christmas now, not even the weather Grinch. Indeed, as Longfellow once said in a poem: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;/ Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;/ Thy fate is the common fate of all;/ Into each life some rain must fall.”

It is as if Vinta has brought with her all the tragedies and miseries that we have gone through this year. And today, on Christmas eve, we mark the passing of the year with a cheerful mood, full of hope for the New Year 2018.

There’s been so much gloom in 2017. The drug war, which began in 2016, continues to take thousands of lives. The nation also fought terrorists that invaded the Islamic city of Marawi, a war that reduced that city to rubbles and claimed hundreds of lives. And as the year was about to close, there was that disappointing news about the Dengvaxia vaccine, which is feared to cause severe dengue to those who took it but have not yet experienced being hit previously by the mosquito-borne virus.

After writing twice about it in this column, Allan Sacris, apparently a doctor at the Cebu Doctors’ University Hospital, wrote a comment on my last article entitled “Bughaw.” Here’s what he said:

“Hello. I read your column on today’s local newspaper. Bughaw’s story is quite fascinating, and of course very interesting. What got me to write you is about the ‘natural’ immunity the children developed. I just remembered how millions of Native Americans including the ancient Mexicans died upon exposure from diseases the Europeans brought, notably Small Pox (among others). In our country (and some Southeast Asian countries), measles still kills thousands. That being said, I still favor vaccination, especially those common ones like TB, DTP, MMR. Not that vaccines are without problems but the benefits HEAVILY outweigh the risks. I have to politely disagree with the generalization that medicines are harmful chemicals (anything that’s in excess, even if it benefits the body, is bad). For billions of people too, medicines are life savers. Let’s take syphilis (which was a disease the Native Americans gave back to the Europeans), its outbreak in Europe was only controlled upon the discovery of Penicillin in the late 1920s. Of course, the pharmaceutical business is big money but we can not discount the service rendered to humanity. Good night Sir and may we all have a Merry Christmas.”

I greatly appreciate this reaction from a medical expert like Dr. Sacris. As laymen writing in the newspaper, we need to be reminded of facts or even corrected by specialists as we tackle certain issues like public health. While the debate on the Dengvaxia is being brought to public attention, highlighted in that recent Senate investigation, I write about it mainly to express public apprehension and even doubt about the efficacy and side effects of vaccination in general. In other words, I choose, for my angle, the dissenting view about artificial immunization.

While we cannot question the importance of vaccination as a way of fighting certain diseases, particularly those that could easily grow into epidemics that could wipe out entire communities, we remain apprehensive about their possible side effects. Even scientists make mistakes and correct themselves from time to time in the light of new data. The recent admission of Sanofi Pasteur, the producer of Dengvaxia, attests to it. Such is the paradox of science: Contrary to being a narrative of certainties, it is actually constantly being revised.

Nature, on the other hand, seems to be the only thing that is reliable. We know, for instance, that breastmilk, if given properly up to at least two years, works best to provide the body’s defense against diseases. I pointed out that how the shift from breastmilk to formula milk due to convenience has been a major reason why we have weakened our natural defenses. We tried to make up for it by taking mandatory shots of vaccines and a daily dose of vitamin pills and other meds, some (I said some, not all) may do more harm than good.

Thus, I write about people who took the other path, like Bughaw. They have shown that they can raise children to be strong and healthy with what nature provides — breastmilk and a daily diet of organic food, mostly vegetables.

The more we hear about increasing toxicity in our daily diet of processed food and medicines, we are drawn by the stories of simple folk living in the rural areas who actually lived longer just living off the land. On the other hand, those of us, who are stuck in this toxic urban environment remain constantly anxious over our unhealthy lifestyle.

So we tend to suspect even the usual medicines and vaccines. Such is the degree of public doubt, and cases like Dengvaxia don’t help to expel it. Still, we welcome anything that might prove us wrong. On that note, let me greet you all a Merry Christmas!

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