Last night’s Frontline on PBS (which can be viewed in its entirety), titled “The Vaccine War”, showed the conflict in America raging over whether or not to vaccinated children.
It pitted establishment: doctors, big pharma, NIH, and the CDC against the small guy: people who think vaccines are harming children at unacceptable rates.
The topic really comes down to some anecdotal evidence against current medical advice. Being a scientist, I’m sure you can guess where I come down on this debate. I can think for myself and do not make important, life decisions based on rumor or Internet gossip.
The main argument by the anti-vaccine camp seemed to be the possibility of autism being a side effect of childhood vaccinations. Frontline pointed out that autism is typically diagnosed in young children. One of the reasons being development delays are a symptom of some autism patients. Vaccines are done in young children, so it’s easy to see a correlation. Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation; meaning as was said in the show, “just because a rooster crows and the sun comes up doesn’t mean the rooster caused the sun to rise.”
Jenny McCarthy, actress and parent to an autistic son, said that within 12 weeks after the MMR (a vaccine that prevents 3 different diseases) her son showed signs that something was wrong. Which is funny, since in 2007 she told Oprah, “…the nurse gave [Evan] the shot,” she says. “And soon thereafter—boom—the soul’s gone from his eyes.” So which is it? Instantly or 12 weeks? Okay, so Jenny’s a mom–a hot mom–but not a scientist. Since she isn’t a scientist, we really probably shouldn’t even be listening to her. (It’s kind of like taking environmental advice from Al Gore.) Although she does say she’d rather take the measles than the autism.
Measles is a horrible virus. People DIE from measles. And diphtheria, mumps, German measles (rubella), pertussis, even chicken pox. All of which are pretty rare in the United States. Because we have such a high vaccination rate.
The show features a group of moms from Ashland, Oregon who are adamantly opposed to vaccinating their children. Again, these aren’t scientists, just moms. Asked if they would feel any responsibility for getting another child sick, one not able to get vaccinated (for example, because they are too young), and writer Jennifer Margulis sternly said no. What about helping to create an epidemic? She said if vaccines worked, it wouldn’t spread.
That’s pretty foolish thinking. If vaccines work, but not enough people get them, infection will spread. Frontline presented a case in which a little girl, who was not vaccinated, got sick in San Diego when exposed to the measles virus a classmate of her older brother was carrying.
Margulis goes on to ask if polio is so rare in the U.S., why are we still vaccinating against it. She must not understand that just because it’s not common in the U.S. that doesn’t mean someone can’t bring polio over on a plane. Viruses don’t respect political borders. Apparently she thinks we keep vaccinating ad infinitum just to make money. Guess what? Small pox has been completely eradicated in the wild. And we don’t vaccinate for it anymore. Questioning vaccines based on rarity of diseases is really Margulis’ fatal argument.
Not the only one, though, as Margulis says she thinks germs are good and people have been getting sick for 200,000 years. I’m guessing she hasn’t had even an introduction to immunology. There are a few simple ways to get immunity to something, 1) maternal (a passive immunity in the womb or from breastfeeding), 2) infection (an active immunity from experiencing the invader first-hand), and 3) immunization (an active immunity from having antigen(s) directly introduced). That’s right, your body’s reaction to a vaccine works the same way as its reaction to getting the infection naturally. Well, you know, with a much smaller chance of side effects… like dieing.
Frontline went onto show that the link to autism is not scientifically valid. JB Handley, businessman-turned-anti-vaccine activist who founded Generation Rescue, doesn’t buy it. He said vaccines cause brain damage and that autism is form of brain damage. Yikes! Autistic brains may be different, but it’s not induced by trauma like too many jabs to the head by late-80’s era Mike Tyson.
Most anti-vaccine activists pointed to thimerosal as the cause of autism. Thimerosal was removed from vaccines before Jenny McCarthy’s autistic child was born. Many pointed to the MMR. Despite popular misconception, the MMR never contained thimerosal, so this was a new hypothesis. Frontline showed that studies proved this link was also not scientifically valid. Now opponents seem to be going to the idea that it’s just the sheer number of vaccines in such a short period of time. Pediatricians and anti-vacciners Dr Robert Sears and Dr Jay Gordon (you can read his thoughts on the show) seem to currently be in this boat. Of course, they don’t have a shred of evidence to support this theory.
Let’s recap: Does thimerosal cause autism? No. Does the MMR cause autism? No. Do vaccinations cause autism? No. Does Dr Robert Sears‘ alternative vaccine schedule have any evidence to support the reasoning that his schedule is more effective at preventing autism than the CDC’s? No.
What does it mean? First, there’s no reason to think because you skip the vaccinations that your kid will not have autism. Autism rates are the same in both vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. Second, there’s a reason we have vaccines: they work. Actually, there’s more than one. Not only do they work, they prevent child deaths. Third, you have to be okay with not only your child being infected with a serious, potentially life-threatening disease, but you have to be able to sleep at night knowing your child can infect someone who can’t be vaccinated. If having the blood of innocent children on your hands is okay with you, then don’t worry about skipping the vaccines.
I received the standard vaccines when I was a kid. And so will my kid. Because at the end of the day science trumps speculation.
Filed under: Today's Science | Tagged: Autism, Dr Robert Sears, Frontline, Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy, MMR, Non-scientists making science decisions, PBS, Science, Thimerosal, Vaccination, Vaccine |