Who would you trust with the health of your child?
A) Jenny McCarthy - Playboy Centerfold and Comedian who has a child with autism.
B) Barry Marshall - Winner of the Nobel Prize and vaccine researcher.
If you chose "A" you're among a growing number of well educated and presumably otherwise sane adults who eschew vaccinations.
A recent Wired article “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All” written by Amy Wallace summarizes the vaccination debate. She reiterates the facts, which are sufficient to my mind to make disagreement sound like the deranged spoutings of conspiracy theorists. Wallace documents how medical researchers who unambiguously support vaccinations are being demonized simply for stating their professional opinions. The pseudo-science of the Web is drowning out the conclusions of legitimate research.
I spent an hour or so re-reading some of the research (key word research, I don't mean the ramblings of amateur bloggers such as myself) supporting the safety of vaccines in an effort to summarize it here. I came away absolutely flabbergasted that any reasonable person would choose not to get vaccinated--or to not vaccinate their children--based on the evidence. I must conclude that if you, like Jenny McCarthy, choose to believe the exaggerated claims of the dangers of vaccinations, then there is no amount of scientific evidence that could ever persuade you otherwise. So, I gave up.
If you insist that vaccinations are dangerous and that if not for the vested interests of pharmaceutical conglomerates, the true dangers of vaccines would be revealed, then you must believe that all of the following organizations are lying and engaged in a conspiracy on a scale equal to that of the Moon Landing hoax: all major pharmaceutical companies, the CDC, the NIH, the WHO, the ECDC, etc. If this seems plausible to you, well, feel free not to vaccinate yourself or your children. The gene pool will take care of itself. I don't mean this, of course, I'm concerned that a lot of unnecessary suffering will result from the irrational fear of vaccines--that's why I encourage people to read the Wired article
Something I find interesting about this debate is that the people who are opposed to vaccinations are both Democrat and Republican, affluent, and well educated:
"This isn’t a religious dispute, like the debate over creationism and intelligent design. It’s a challenge to traditional science that crosses party, class, and religious lines. It is partly a reaction to Big Pharma’s blunders and PR missteps, from Vioxx to illegal marketing ploys, which have encouraged a distrust of experts. It is also, ironically, a product of the era of instant communication and easy access to information. The doubters and deniers are empowered by the Internet (online, nobody knows you’re not a doctor) and helped by the mainstream media, which has an interest in pumping up bad science to create a “debate” where there should be none."
It comes as no surprise that ignorant and ill-informed people would ignore scientific findings in deference to superstition and magical thinking. Vaccines are afterall counterintuitive. I am perpetually perplexed, however, by the willingness of well educated, intelligent, and sound individuals to choose pseudo-science over science. I believe it's because some people, no matter how smart, are unwilling to accept that life is inherently unfair and that bad things (autism, say) happen to good people (innocent children, e.g.) for no other reason than the luck of the draw. There's no one and nothing to blame. Carl Sagan (as paraphrased in Wallace's article) says it well: "Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort."
The comments are as illuminating as Wallace's original article. The tone of her antagonists is often bitter, angry, and oddly misogynistic. Most comments, however, (4:1) side with Wallace. One commenter provides a perspective I hadn't consciously considered before, that of the autistic: "Our oldest son, now 10, was diagnosed at age 3. He showed some signs of autism from a very young age… Autism will never kill my child. But many diseases targeted by immunizations sure could. The autism community burns time, resources, and, most importantly, credibility, chasing toxic ghosts. These resources instead could and should be spent on research – not just for cures, but for interventions to help kids and adults with autism live and thrive. But helping a child with autism learn to do an everyday task such as brushing teeth, or helping an adult on the spectrum secure a job bagging groceries won’t land you a spot on Oprah’s couch. Hence the needs of our community remain unmet in many meaningful ways despite an outpouring of resources."