The anti-vaccination movement, like climate-change denial, pitches opinion and folksy anecdotes against peer-reviewed science as if it were a fair fight. When a scientist came across this ridiculous anti-vaxxer meme on the internet, s/he couldn’t help but let rip with this awesome response.
The only element of this argument I would dispute is ‘mum-led’, which smacks of sexism. This author has certainly seen a pretty even gender balance in the anti-vaccination movement, and across class and race too. The wave of anti-vaccination celebrities from Jim Carrey to Donald Trump is also un-nerving, given their public profile and ability to sway a mass audience.
While the sheer lunacy of the arguments put forth by anti-vaxxers might raise a laugh, the consequences are deadly serious. As the Washington Post reports:
Infectious diseases that we normally think of as rare in the United States are making a comeback. In recent years, pertussis — also known as whooping cough — has returned to the headlines. A measles outbreak that struck a Texas megachurch community late last summer sickened 21 people. And just recently, at least 16 people got sick during a measles outbreak in Ohio. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported 13 measles outbreaks so far in 2014 — the most since 1996.
That’s not to mention the rapidly escalating measles outbreak in Disneyland.
How did we get here?
In 1998, a rogue scientist named Andrew Wakefield released a paper which he claimed connected the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism. No other scientist was ever able to match Wakefield’s findings, and in the coming years, it became known that Wakefield had a financial conflict of interest. In 2010, an ethics review board found that he had falsified the data in his report, causing an immediate retraction of his original paper and revocation of his medical license.
But the damage was done. If Wakefield’s paper hadn’t been published by a respected medical journal such as The Lancet (which was in financial dire straits at the time and made an economic rather than scientific decision to publish) it would never have gained such legitimacy; a legitimacy which allowed mainstream media outlets to run a fear campaign against the vaccine from which we have not recovered.
The mass opposition to the paper’s findings by the scientific community was spun to make Wakefield appear the ‘Lone Truther’, versus the sinister cabal of mad scientists.
It is little wonder that anxious parents the world over are having their heads turned. This level of noise from public figures and institutions which should know better could hardly be expected to go without consequence. But at some point, we have to stop flapping along with careerist chicken-licken types, and make our own calm, informed choices. It is this simple:
Refusing to vaccinate your child places them and others at risk of deadly, life-altering and entirely avoidable diseases. Please don’t do that to them, or us.