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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Senate Hearing on Vaccines

In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autismTwitterFacebook, and other social media platforms have helped spread this dangerous myth.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing titled  "Vaccines Save Lives: What Is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?"

Ethan Lindenberger, senior Norwalk High School, Norwalk, Ohio:
My mother is an anti-vaccine advocate that believes vaccines cause autism, brain
damage, and do not benefit the health and safety of society despite the fact such opinions have been debunked numerous times by the scientific community. I went my entire life without vaccinations against diseases such as measles, chicken pox, or even polio. However, in December of 2018, I began catching up on my missed immunizations despite my mother's disapproval, eventually leading to an international story centered around my decisions and public disagreement with my mother’s views
I remember speaking with my mother about vaccines, and at one point in our discussion she claimed a link exist between vaccines and autism. In response, I presented evidence from the CDC which claimed directly in large bold letters, “There is no link between vaccines and autism.” Within the same article from the CDC on their official website, extensive evidence and studies from the institute of medicine (IOM) were cited. Most would assume when confronted with such strong proof, there would be serious consideration that your views are incorrect. This was not the case for my mother, as her only response was, “that’s what they want you to think.” 
The Atlantic examined vaccine related posts on the social media platform Facebook from 2016-2019. In their article, they found that “Just seven anti-vax pages generated nearly 20 percent of the top 10,000 vaccination posts in this time period.This echo-chamber that a handful of sources generate create the majority of anti-vaccine information on these platforms, and with my mother it continues to influence her views along with countless Americans.
My mother would turn to some of the cited sources in this article by The Atlantic, using their information as a basis for her views. This was problematic, as with a quick inspection of the claims and evidence of these sites their intentions are revealed. Information is not properly cited, and data is skewed to create false claims. In one video published by the website “” (which was listed as one of the top contributors of anti-vaccine information by the Atlantic), the measles outbreak was made out to be a unfounded panic created by big pharmaceutical companies and meant to push legislative agendas. Del Bigtree, a celebrity in the anti-vaccine movement, spoke with “Dr. Bob Sears.” My mom and I sat down, watching this video so she could prove her beliefs were not unfounded.
Opposition to vaccines began in England in the early 19th century after introduction of Jenner’s cowpox vaccine for the dangerous disease smallpox. People objected on religious grounds and due to the irrational fear of becoming a cow. Opposition in the United States became common in the 1850s, resulting in lawsuits against states that mandated vaccination, culminating in a Supreme Court opinion in 1905 that found in favor of states’ right to enforce mandatory vaccination as a public health tool. Although the concept of vaccination opposition is not new, the rise in frequency and ease of rapid international travel has made it much more dangerous today than it was a century ago when vaccine refusers may have been isolated from others. The reasons for refusing vaccination have historically been very heterogenous. In 1998 the Wakefield Hoax  unified many vaccine refusers by providing a single platform for them using a false narrative – that childhood vaccines caused unsuspected, long term medical problems that had been missed by scientists. In response, a great deal of scientific work was done to prove that there is no link between vaccines and conditions such as autism. The Institute of Medicine has now declared that the evidence is thorough and convincing on this point. The antivaccination movement at this time, therefore, no longer has a platform or any credibility and has returned to a more heterogeneous group of objections.
 John Wiseman:, DrPH, MPH Secretary Of Health Washington State Department of Health:
As secretary of health for Washington state, my mission is to protect and promote the  lives of all the people in our state and when making public policy to ensure that it is based on the best science available to us. To that point, I want to speak directly to the parents who have children with autism and other serious health issues and who have been attending our hearings in Washington state and who are watching this hearing
today. I see you and your children. I see your pain, your desire for answers to your children’s health issues, your skepticism of government and the pharmaceutical industry, your mission to give your children the best life they can have and your desire to prevent other parents from the pain and suffering you and your children experience. Your  mission to protect and promote the health of your children is a mission I share. And I know on this point, some of you will strongly disagree with me: the science demonstrates that autism is not caused by vaccines.
Due to the success of vaccines, fewer people have witnessed the complications and  severity of vaccine preventable diseases. Unfortunately, this means that some parents may believe that vaccination is no longer necessary or that the minor or rarely severe  complications from vaccines are somehow worse than getting the disease, resulting in some parents not vaccinating their children. Discredited and fraudulent research has been used as a basis to claim a link between MMR and autism.24 Moreover, public health officials throughout the country are gravely concerned about the latest  misinformation originating from a well-organized and orchestrated anti-vaccination