Fourth quarter blog post

Here is my fourth quarter blog post

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Tragic Germanwings Plane Crash Could Have Been Prevented

Just on Tuesday, one-hundred and fifty people were killed in a horrifying plane crash. Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot of a Germanwings plane flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, locked the pilot out of the cockpit and (most likely) deliberately crashed the plane, killing every single person on board. What makes this even more devastating is that there were safety measures that could have prevented a horrible disaster like this one, and airlines are only putting these measures into place after the tragedy occurred. 

In my opinion, the primary way in which this disaster could have been avoided was by having a procedure in place for passenger flights that prohibits one person being alone in the cockpit at any time. Even if the pilot gets up to go to the restroom and leaves the co-pilot in charge, as was the case on the Germanwings plane, there needs to be an extra person in there with the co-pilot. This extra person's purpose would be either to attempt to stop the other person from committing a horrible crime like the one committed by Lubitz, or to communicate to other airline staff if the other person in the cockpit is having a medical emergency. If either of these took place when only one person was alone in the cockpit and the door to the cockpit was locked, there would not be a way to stop the situation from turning into a disaster.

This photo was taken from inside a flight simulator of the type of plane that Lubitz crashed. This switch is how he was able to lock the pilot out of the cockpit after the pilot went to the restroom, thus allowing him to crash the plane.  The locking system is actually very complicated and was put in place to prevent terrorists from being able to enter the cockpit, but now has proven to be a safety measure in ways and a safety concern in others. I hope that somehow this locking system can be redesigned so that something like this does not happen again.  

In fact, this type of procedure is already in place in the United States, but not in Europe. The United States actually adopted this rule after 9/11. It would seem that European countries would want to adopt their own safety procedures after witnessing this horrible terrorist attack, but apparently no rule stating that more than one person must be in the cockpit was ever established. Now, after the tragic Germanwings crash (which likely was not a terrorist attack but almost certainly was done deliberately), many airlines outside the U.S. such as Lufthansa (the carrier company of Germanwings), Air Berlin, easyJet, and Norwegian Air Shuttleare are beginning to enforce rules prohibiting a person from being in the cockpit alone, but it is devastating that a tragedy like this one had to happen in order for these rules to be made. This, in my opinion, is very similar to the U.S. creating these sort of safety procedures only after the horrible tragedy of 9/11. In the future, I hope safety measures like these can be made proactively instead of reactively. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

What's Worse: Measles or the MMR Vaccine?

The U.S. is currently experiencing a multi-state outbreak of measles. This dangerous and potentially deadly infection is preventable by vaccine, but it is still spreading throughout the country. Why is this? Because some people choose not to get vaccinated or not to vaccinate their children. In my opinion, this decision, which typically is based on the almost non-existent risks of vaccination, is an incredibly uninformed and illogical decision.

Typically when people choose not to vaccinate their children, it is due to their fear of the risks of vaccination. Of course, like any medical procedure or drug, vaccines have risks, but these are minimal. Out of all the rare side-effects of the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, the most common are pain where the shot was given, fever, a mild rash, and swelling of the neck or cheek. The more serious side-effects are extremely rare. 4 out of 10,000 babies 12-23 months old who get the MMR vaccine will experience a seizure as a result of a high fever, and 1 out of the 10,000 people will develop the bleeding disorder Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). None of these risks are life-threatening, and even developing ITP from the MMR vaccination is still ten times less likely than death from contraction of the actual measles virus. Mathematically, the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks. These extremely rare side-effects are the only real risks of the MMR vaccine, but because of a paper with false information published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, 20% of the U.S. population believe that the development of autism is another risk of the vaccine. In reality, there is no connection between autism and the vaccine, which has been shown through numerous studies, and Wakefield's study was actually retracted a few years ago.  Considering all of the evidence, choosing not to vaccinate one's child is a completely illogical decision. So why do people make this decision? It could be because individualism is a big American principle, and therefore some Americans feel that they have the right to make this choice for themselves, even if everyone and everything is telling them that it is completely illogical. 

Sadly, this decision that some people may make to protect their sense of individualism puts others at risk. People who have not yet received the MMR vaccine not only includes the people who choose not to get it but also infants under 12 months, people with life-threatening allergies to a component of the vaccine, and some people with diseases such as cancer. Because of this, the current measles outbreak has spread to five infants under 12 months old in a day care here in Illinois. Now, officials at the day care say they are "focused on ensuring the continued health and safety of the rest of [their] center...[they] are following Public Health officials’ guidance and excluding unvaccinated children and staff.” In my opinion, people who chose not to be vaccinated should have already been "excluded" from this day care before a virus spread to five infants. "Public Health officials" do not seem to be keeping the public healthy if they are not enforcing that unvaccinated-by-choice people stay out of public day cares. If these people were always "excluded" from the day care, no one would have gotten sick in the first place, and the day care would not have to worry about keeping the "rest" of their center healthy. Officials at the day care also said that: "Residents are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated to protect themselves and the most vulnerable members of the community". Yes, someone should be allowed to put their own health in danger and not "protect themselves", but they in no way should have the right to put other helpless and "vulnerable" people's health at risk as well. 

I strongly believe that more people in the U.S. need to get their children vaccinated to prevent outbreaks like that of measles. Right now, 8.6% of people ages 13-17 have not had their necessary two doses of the MMR vaccine in the U.S.  8.6% may not seem like much, but this amounts to over 27.5 million unvaccinated people in that age range in the country. In order to decrease this number, I think all public schools and day cares should require vaccination except if a child is not capable of receiving a vaccine for religious or health reasons. Nobody should ever have the right to put others at risk just so that they can protect their sense of individualism.