[Editor’s note: This article takes a pro-vaccination stance. It is SurvivalBlog’s position that every parent has the right to raise their children as they see fit and that mandatory vaccination programs are an overreach of governmental authority. Aside from the discussion of whether the vaccinations cause reactions of one sort or another, there is an ethical issue on what materials are used in the production of vaccines. SurvivalBlog will never advocate using vaccines that are manufactured with aborted fetal tissue and/or toxic ingredients.]
Now back to my initial story about having to get a vaccine due to a lack of records in our possession. With the exception of sanitation and possibly the development of antimicrobials, vaccines have been responsible for more lives saved than any other invention/discovery by man. “It is estimated that 3 million children are saved annually by vaccination, but two million still die because they are not immunized. Tetanus, measles, and pertussis are the main vaccine-preventable killers in the first years of life.” (Vaccine. 1999 Oct 29;17 Suppl 3:S120-5)
The United States is currently in the worst pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic this country has seen in fifty years, due to a lack of compliance with health care recommendations as well as a waning immunity in the older population. In a first world country where vaccines are readily available, we are having the worst outbreak in 50 years. Imagine what it would be like when organized health care is not available, or don’t imagine and just look at what is happening in Syria in regards to polio– a disease that had almost been completely eradicated. Quoting from the UN and WHO regarding polio, due to the “seriously damaged health infrastructure, poor health access and utilization because of insecurity inside Syria, and massive movements of vulnerable and at-risk populations in and out of Syria – all make controlling the outbreak and rendering health protection to Palestine refugees in Syria and across the region very challenging.” Look at how easily measles made it into a first world country that is mostly vaccinated. All it takes is one person being around you or your family with a communicable disease, and you not having protection, to make all your other preparation obsolete. It is difficult to take advantage of all your preparations if you are too sick to move or if you are dead from a preventable disease.
In recent months, pertussis has taken a back seat as a mysterious “polio-like” illness with paralysis that has hit the pediatric population in this country. The suspicion is that it is related to the Enterovirus that swept the country last fall and this winter, but in all reality the scientific community doesn’t have an answer. There’s no answer when the top specialists are working on the problem. Trust me; disease will become a significant concern in a broken society.
There is a movement in this country to not vaccinate. It has entered into almost everyone’s conversation these days. As a physician, I can tell you neither I nor any of my partners have ever seen a severe reaction to a vaccine and this encompasses over 100 years combined medical experience. I am not saying adverse reactions don’t happen; there is no such thing as 100% safe medicine, food, liquid, et cetera. Obviously, there are people out there who have had severe reactions to vaccines or the warnings would not be present on the handouts we give to parents concerning potential reactions, and there wouldn’t be a fund to pay for vaccine-related injuries. It just isn’t anywhere as prevalent as the misinformed claim.
I have, however, personally seen severe disease and even death from various vaccine-preventable diseases in the unvaccinated population.
I am not going to argue with people who are anti-vaccination, as you can’t convince someone of the best available scientific evidence if they are convinced there is a conspiracy or that the falsehoods spread on the Internet are real. I am just stating that if you really understand the disease process and what will happen with health care and public health in a break down of basic services scenario or in a pandemic situation, then vaccination would be a “no-brainer”. Just like with those who accept the inherent risks associated with driving, what it comes down to is the benefits outweigh the risks, and if you are truly preparing for a major disaster, vaccination should be part of your family’s prepping plan.
Right now, the medical profession practices what is called evidence-based medicine, meaning there is enough scientific evidence to support the care and treatment that are currently provided. Will I tell you that all medicine is safe? Absolutely not! Will I tell you antibiotics are over prescribed? Absolutely! I see reactions to medications and improper use of medications constantly.
Alexander Fleming, a British bacteriologist, discovered penicillin in 1928 by accident when he sloppily left a Petri dish of bacteria unwashed in his lab. He found a substance (later named penicillin) growing on it that killed the bugs, and modern-day antibiotics got its start. Fleming shared the Nobel Prize in 1945 for the discovery. The biggest problem with antibiotics is overuse. The rampant use of antibiotics has resulted in super resistant bacteria that nothing can kill. If anyone is going to prescribe an antibiotic for you, they should be able to answer what bacteria are they treating.
So what should you know about antimicrobials in a disaster situation? Are antibiotics found in local pet stores safe for humans? How long will stored antimicrobials remain viable?
From a professional stand point, in a non-disaster scenario, I would strongly recommend against the use of any antimicrobial not prescribed by your physician, as I have seen severe reactions with antibiotics (look up Stevens Johnson Syndrome). However, if I had no other alternative in a disaster situation and I knew what I was treating, I would use anything available, including pet antibiotics, antibiotics I found in the neighbor’s medicine cabinet, antibiotics that were years out of date, et cetera. The key here is the part about “if I was in a disaster scenario and knew what I was treating”. If you don’t know, you could absolutely do more harm than good. The one class of drugs I would definitely avoid, if more than a year old, would be tetracycline, minocycline, doxycycline, due to issues involving the kidneys.
As far as longevity of antibiotics, there were studies by the U.S. military that looked at ciprofloxacin out to 10 years, depending on the environment in which it had been stored. Ciprofloxacin was the most bioavailable after prolonged storage, but multiple antibiotics retained some potency long past their expiration date.
The pharmacist will tell you antibiotics are good to one year past their date of sale, but like with food storage environment is everything. In all reality the antibiotics in your medicine cupboard have probably lost considerable efficacy by year two, but that wouldn’t prevent me from using them if I was in a dire situation. Sunlight and heat are probably the worst environment for medications followed by high humidity. Ideally a cold, dark, dry environment would be ideal for antibiotics. I would suggest storing antibiotics in a fridge after placing them in a dark bag with an oxygen absorber. So let’s say you buy fish antibiotics or online antibiotics or over-the-border antibiotics. How do you know how to use them?
In my opinion, the best resources for someone trying to determine what they are treating and what they should be treating with is The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy with Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple as a back up for those who really want to study the pathogens you are dealing with. I would also have a Dorland’s Medical Dictionary in my library to define terms found in both the other books. The Sanford Guide takes a condition, lists symptoms, lists common causes and first, second, and third line treatments for many of the conditions as well as the dosage. The drawback is that you would have to know things like “tinea cruris” means “jock itch”, in order to look up the therapy. This is where the dictionary would come in handy. While parts of all these books will be way over the head of someone who has never studied microbiology or is unfamiliar with biological terms, Micro Made Ridiculously Simple does contain descriptions of symptoms caused by various common bacteria. The best thing about the Sanford guide is that it is extremely small and light weight yet packed with tons of useful knowledge, and if I had to go with just one antimicrobial guide it would be the Sanford. It usually runs $15-$20.
To sum up, while I personally think clean, potable water is the most important preparation anyone can make, personal health preparation should be a high priority on your preparation list if you want to continue to enjoy your current quality of life after an event.