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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ignorance and Vaccines

Laurie Garrett and Maxine Builder of the Council on Foreign Relations write at The Los Angeles Times:
Since 2008, the Council on Foreign Relations has been collecting data and publishing weekly updates to an interactive map of vaccine-preventable diseases, and the map is now robust, dense with six years of data. One terrible truth stands out: Misinformation and rumors from just one persuasive voice, delivered effectively, can derail entire immunization campaigns and persuade millions of parents to shun vaccinations for their children.
And anti-vaccine sentiments aren't limited to the developing world. The effects of Andrew Wakefield's now thoroughly debunked 1998 Lancet study claiming links between vaccinations and autism are still being felt in the Western world, as can be seen in our interactive map. Outbreaks of pertussis in wealthy California communities, of mumps in Ohio college towns and of measles throughout the United Kingdom demonstrate the broad impact of the anti-vaccination movement.

In light of the paranoia evoked by Ebola, political and public health leaders must appreciate that not a single voice dispensing misinformation should go unchallenged. The general public has proved its inability to weigh facts accurately and reach a rational conclusion when fear clouds its judgment. Remarkably, in the case of the purported associations between autism and vaccines, the concept has gone viral in some of America's most highly educated and wealthy communities, as has unscientific advice about delaying certain immunizations to avoid “vaccine overload.
At The Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove writes of Jenny McCarthy:
McCarthy herself famously told Time magazine: “I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back…If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.”

She came to this conclusion—and published three books on the subject—after her son Evan was diagnosed at age three with the neurological syndrome, and, by dint of sheer energy and celebrity, she became the nation’s most prominent purveyor of anti-vaxxer ideology.

Indeed, she is president of Generation Rescue, a group dedicated to the proposition that children on the autism spectrum can be cured, often by methods that depart from traditional, scientifically supported medicine.

“I am not anti-vaccine,” McCarthy insists. “I’m in this gray zone of, I think everyone should be aware and educate yourself and ask questions. And if your kid is having a problem, ask your doctor for an alternative way of doing the shots”—for example, fewer vaccination doses at the same time.