Whenever I hear people argue that children should not be vaccinated, I think about airbags. This is how Wikipedia describes airbags:
An airbag is a vehicle safety device. It is an occupant restraint system consisting of a flexible fabric envelope or cushion designed to inflate rapidly during an automobile collision. Its purpose is to cushion occupants during a crash and provide protection to their bodies when they strike interior objects such as the steering wheel or a window.
Now, that seems like a pretty good idea, right? But here’s the thing. I went to this other site called howstuffworks and it has an article called How Airbags Work. You can read the whole article here. But here are some key points:
The sensor is the device that tells the bag to inflate. Inflation happens when there is a collision force equal to running into a brick wall at 10 to 15 miles per hour
The airbag’s inflation system reacts sodium azide (NaN3) with potassium nitrate (KNO3) to produce nitrogen gas. Hot blasts of the nitrogen inflate the airbag.
Well, I’m not a chemist so I should probably look those chemicals up.
The inflation system is not unlike a solid rocket booster. The airbag system ignites a solid propellant, which burns extremely rapidly to create a large volume of gas to inflate the bag. The bag then literally bursts from its storage site at up to 200 mph
Are you kidding me? So now I’m a little nervous. Because I started out going 10 to 15 mph and now I have a rocket going 200 mph going off in my face?
Let’s look up those chemicals. The first one was sodium azide. I know sodium is salt. And too much sodium isn’t good for you. For more about the dangers of too much sodium read this from the American Heart Association.
I’m not sure what azide is. I’m pretty sure it’s the little Indian guy from Parks and Recreations. (Edit: it’s not. That’s Aziz Ansari and it’s a common mistake.)
Here’s what the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention has to say about Sodium Azide.
Sodium azide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that exists as an odorless white solid.
When it is mixed with water or an acid, sodium azide changes rapidly to a toxic gas with a pungent (sharp) odor. It also changes into a toxic gas (hydrazoic acid) when it comes in contact with solid metals (for example, when it is poured into a drain pipe containing lead or copper).
The odor of the gas may not be sharp enough, however, to give people sufficient warning of the danger.
Are you kidding me? Well at least there’s no chance of it coming in contact with solid metals in my car, which is made out of… solid metal. Well what about the other chemical. Potassium nitrate. I know potassium is in bananas. And potassium is definitely good for you. Listen to what Web MD says about potassium:
Potassium exists in abundance in soil and seawater. A healthy amount of potassium is essential to all plant and animal life. A critical electrolyte, potassium allows our muscles to move, our nerves to fire, and our kidneys to filter blood. The right balance of potassium literally allows the heart to beat.
I made that end part bold. But I mean, come on, how great is that? Although nitrates aren’t good for you, right? Isn’t that one of the things in bacon that’s bad for you? Yes. Look at the information I found on healthychild.org
Nitrates are a normal part of the diet, but excessive levels can cause problems, especially for kids who pound for pound take in more than adults do. They have been linked to diseases like leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and ovarian, colon, rectal, bladder, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer.
Jesus. But maybe potassium nitrate is different? It is. Here’s what Princeton University has to say about Potassium nitrate:
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. … Major uses of potassium nitrate are in fertilizers, rocket propellants and fireworks; it is one of the constituents of gunpowder.
Wait a minute, they put gunpowder in airbags? The same gunpowder they put in bullets? I’m not going to bore you by looking up statistics on the dangers of bullets. That would be silly. But airbags do work like rockets. I read that earlier. So rockets and gunpowder are clearly relevant. So check out some of the statistics on the dangers of fireworks sourced from American Pyrotechnics Association, National Council on Firework Safety and found on statisticbrain.com
- Number of injuries per 100 lbs of Fireworks used- 3.5
- Number of deaths in the US annually due to fireworks- 4
- Number of serious injuries in the US each year by fireworks- 9,300
- Percent of injuries caused by illegal fireworks- 40 %
- Percent of injuries incurred by kids under the age of 14- 45 %
- Number of Americans who lose sight in one or both eyes due to fireworks- 400
- Number of US fires caused each year due to fireworks- 20,000
As an aside, we should really ban fireworks. They seem super dangerous. But so do airbags, right? At least when I start to do some research on the internet.
What is wrong with car manufacturers? Why would they put these things in cars? Is it possible that they know more about airbags than I do? Because I’ve done a lot of research. And not just Wikipedia research. Real research. Sites like Web MD which has MD right in the name. And Princeton University which is a really prestigious University that would not accept me in spite of my extensive list of extra curriculars and a personal essay highlighting my decisive victory in the 8th grade track and field day relay race.
Is it possible that the engineers who design airbags have done more research than I have? Is it possible that they went to school for engineering and then went to work and worked as engineers for years before becoming engineers who designed airbags?
Here’s an article from Automotive Engineer about the inventor of the airbag John Hetrick, and the evolution of the airbag:
Daimler proved the technology’s durability during more than 250 impact tests using complete vehicles, over 2,500 sledge impact tests and many more tests on individual components. A fleet of 600 test vehicles was also run to ensure that the airbag wouldn’t deploy during normal driving conditions.
After 13 years in development, Daimler brought the technology to the market in its 1981 Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan.
It took time for the technology to enter mainstream production, but Hetrick’s work over 50 years ago has helped to save many lives. In the US alone, airbags have saved more than 28,000 lives to date.
But that isn’t the end of the story. Because I can feel the anti vaccine people getting ready to pounce. Why? Because air bags are really dangerous for children. It’s true. They’re even dangerous for adults who are not wearing seatbelts. Here’s an article from the DMV about proper airbag safety. It says:
The first rule for safe vehicle airbags is that frontal systems are not designed for youngsters. Frontal airbags can be dangerous or even fatal to the following:
- Infants or babies in backward-facing child seats.
- Small children in forward-facing child seats.
- Older children belted only by the waist-belt, but not the shoulder belt.
- Any child who is below the weight limit for the front seat and belt without a booster seat, which is typically about 12 years old.
Safety experts indicate the safest place for a child in a vehicle is in the back seat, fastened in a properly-fitted child car seat suited for the child’s weight. Side or so-called curtain airbags are safe for children riding in the back.
And that’s not all. Because in my quest to be absolutely fair I have to mention faulty airbags. Just the other day Toyota issued a recall for 119,000 2003 Toyota Avalon sedans due to faulty airbags. Pretty terrible right? A good reason to stop installing airbags. Because how many cars has Toyota produced? Like a million, right? Or ten million? Oh, wait. Apparently Toyota has produced 200 million vehicles. But in fairness that took 50 years. We should probably look at a smaller period. So … the latest 50 million vehicles assembled in just six years and five months, a rate of roughly one car every four seconds. So that’s 6 and a half years, not 10. So even using that number, we find .2% of their cars not actually having defective airbags, but merely having potential airbag problems.
So, the point of this article is that you can do well intentioned research and still come to a poorly reasoned solution. I still feel confident that I don’t know anything about airbags. Although from the research I did they seem pretty dangerous and I’m pretty sure we should remove them. But I also found something else interesting. I was pretty sure nitrates were bad for me. So I was googling “are nitrates bad for you”. I found a lot of articles. But that was based on a preconceived notion I had in my head. So for fun I also googled “are nitrates good for you”. And I was able to find a lot of research that they were. But only when I looked for it. The same was true for potassium.
I’m often amazed how people are so willing to not trust doctors when it suits them. Very few people cut their arm off with a chainsaw and call their acupuncturist. My father-in-law had a heart and later a kidney transplant. That means they took his working heart out of his chest and put someone else’s heart in in place of it. Did I mention the other guy was dead? And that they brought his heart over in an igloo cooler that they probably bought at a CVS? Does that sound like a good idea? Do you think you could make an educated decision about that based on information you found online?
Which brings me to another point. I’m amazed how willing people are to listen to “experts” on medical topics who lack any formal medical training, as long as they have some type of advanced degree. Take my mother for instance. My mother has a Masters from Columbia in History. She graduated with honors. She is incredibly smart. She also loves The Good Wife. She watches it every week. There are something like 112 episodes. So, she’s watched over 100 hours of legal drama. And they have technical advisors on the show so the law should be accurate. I mean come on, it’s written by people who are in the same room as a lawyer. How much more do you need? But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my mother represent me in court. No matter how smart she is and no matter how much third hand legal knowledge she’s absorbed.
And by the way, I believe the earth is round. Even though I’ve never done any first hand research and I barely understand the science. Or maybe I only think I barely understand it. And I believe China exists even though I’ve never been there. It’s great to do your own research but it’s also important to admit when you may not have the necessary background and training to understand what you’ve found.
And I’m keeping my airbags.