Author: Lisa Gross
Researcher: Sharon Kaufman (Professor of Medical Anthropology @ UofCalifornia)
A paper published in PLoS Biology in May reviews the actions and reactions regarding the anti-vaccination movement. More important, the author, Lisa Gross, has documented research that shows the consequences of propaganda and half-truths have upon the health of the population as a whole. And the surprising fact that it continues…
Now, more than ten years after unfounded doubts about vaccine safety first emerged, scientists and public health officials are still struggling to set the record straight. But as climate scientists know all too well, simply relating the facts of science isn't enough. No matter that the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that climate change is real, or that vaccines don't cause autism. When scientists find themselves just one more voice in a sea of “opinions” about a complex scientific issue, misinformation takes on a life of its own.Does this reluctance to believe trained professionals indicate a widespread “conspiracy theory”, or is it a horrible meme that has taken on viral traits? The evidence overwhelmingly states that this information is dangerous to the well being of humans, but it still persists, not unlike a cold or the flu. Now when H1N1 Influenza is gaining notoriety for being a pandemic, and also of being a relatively mild flu; most parents (remember one in four in America) believe an idea that is hurting them. Should not the WHO confirm this meme as an epidemic? It is now in other parts of the world as well as Canada…
Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines don't cause autism, one in four Americans still think they do . Not surprisingly, the first half of 2008 saw the largest US outbreak of measles—one of the first infectious diseases to reappear after vaccination rates drop—since 2000, when the native disease was declared eliminated(see Figure 2). Mumps and whooping cough (pertussis) have also made a comeback. Last year in Minesota, five children contracted Hib, the most common cause of meningitis in young children before the vaccine was developed in 1993. Three of the children, including a 7-month-old who died, hadn't received Hib vaccines because their parents either refused or delayed vaccination.
The same trends have played out in Britain, where one in four parents told pollsters in 2002 that they believed “the weight of scientific evidence supports a link between MMR and autism” .Not only does this misinformation hurt the parents’ own children, but risks the population as a whole as well.
Though state law in the US requires that children be vaccinated to enter school or daycare (although parents may cite philosophical and religious reasons to claim exemptions), vaccination is not compulsory in Britain, and vaccination rates for MMR there dropped from 92% in 1998 to 80% by 2003. Although rates climbed back to 85% in 2006, England and Wales last year saw 1,000 measles cases before winter, breaking a ten-year record . (Immunization rates for other childhood vaccines in Britain were largely unaffected by the MMR scare.)
Had the discovery about thimerosal come at a different time, it might have gone unnoticed, suggests Jeffrey Baker, a pediatrician and the director of the Program in the History of Medicine at Duke University. He argues that rising autism rates, an expanded vaccine schedule, and contemporary attitudes toward environmental risk combined to create what he terms “a perfect storm” . ....Celebrities and other non-professional people including parents with unrelated (or nonexistent) education are giving information with an air of professionalism exhorting the public to believe them instead of trained doctors and researchers. (As if those scientists went to school for over 8 years just to get student loans and the letters behind their name….) Personally, I will not let a high-school graduate design or build a bridge that I would use just because “they know better than those engineers because it’s just a big conspiracy to get more money out of the public, and of course the design does not flow with the Chi so it causes cancer!!1!!11!”
In January, Baker appeared on an Oregon radio call-in show that featured several parents who shunned vaccination. While over 95% of Oregon parents vaccinate their children, only 70% did so last year in Ashland, a small town known for its Shakespeare festival. Nearly 60% of Ashland residents polled told the CDC, in town to hear parents' concerns, they “would expect serious consequences” from vaccines. Such low vaccination rates worry public health officials because they could signal the next epicenter of an epidemic: when vaccination rates drop below a critical percentage, called the “herd immunity threshold,” infection can swiftly spread among unprotected individuals. This threshold varies depending on the vaccine and target disease; for example, the target for measles, one of the most contagious human diseases, is 90% .
Because this problem is widespread, and not just in the United States it cannot only be a symptom of the education system or government as some people have stated. We have popular TV shows dedicated to Mythbusting* common Urban Myths, and they often find them not true. Is the anti-vaccination movement the same as these urban myths, but only because it causes deaths and widespread illness does it garner so much public attention? I believe people need to start their own experiments, collect information and think logically about the information. We need to trust people to do what they are trained to do… however some skepticism is needed as the public has been mislead before (DDT, BisphenolA, etc). So the reasonable solution would take into account both benefits and drawbacks and see which is better and provide research results to the public at no cost.
*among my favorite!