It’s The 21st Century, Why Are We Still Arguing About Vaccines?

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Vaccines save lives. Smallpox, polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, yellow fever, tetanus, and measles have all been brought under “some degree of control” by vaccines. Vaccines are especially helpful in poverty-stricken countries, where infant mortality is extremely high. Vaccines allow families in poor countries the freedom to only have as many children as they want, not needing to overcompensate because they know some of their children will die. Vaccines protect children and adults here in the U.S. who, for any number of reasons, cannot be vaccinated. Adults like our daughter-in-law, in remission from leukemia, living with a compromised immune system. Infants under a year, who are too young to receive the MMR vaccine. People living with diseases that lessen their own immunity to disease.

Why then are we arguing about vaccines? Scientific studies, too numerous to list here, have all concluded that vaccines are safe. Pediatricians have stated vaccines are safe. Millions of lives have been saved by vaccines. So what is it, exactly, that the “anti-vax” movement has against vaccines? Much of it is fear-based, rather than fact-based, encouraged by people who used to be on the fringes of the left and the right, but now are online, on the radio, and even featured on mainstream cable news. People like the discredited Andrew Wakefield who was found to have been hired by a lawyer to attack the drug companies that manufactured the MMR vaccine:

Deer’s investigation – nominated in February 2011 for two British Press Awards – discovered that, while Wakefield held himself out to be a dispassionate scientist, two years before the Lancet paper was published – and before any of the 12 children were even referred to the hospital – he had been hired to attack MMR by a lawyer, Richard Barr: a jobbing solicitor in the small eastern English town of King’s Lynn, who hoped to raise a speculative class action lawsuit against drug companies which manufactured the triple shot. (Source)

In 1998, London’s Free Royal Hospital called a press conference to publicize a research paper written by Andrew Wakefield for The Lancet. Wakefield spoke during the press conference about his “concern” about a link between the M.M.R. vaccine and the onset of autism. He based this claim on a case report that involved all of twelve children. If you visit The Lancet link, you will see the word “RETRACTED” all over Wakefield’s article. It’s important to note that case reports are observational, and, as Julia Belluz wrote for Vox:

Case reports are basically detailed stories about a particular patient’s medical history. If a doctor writes up case reports about a cluster of patients with the same condition or disease, this is a ‘case series.’

There were no controls in Wakefield’s case report. From Medical News Today:

A case-control study is a type of medical research investigation often used to help determine the cause of a disease, particularly when investigating a disease outbreak or a rare condition.

If public health scientists want a relatively quick and easy way to find clues about the cause of, for example, a new disease outbreak, they can compare two groups of people:

Those who already have the disease – ‘cases’

Similar people who have not been affected – ‘controls.’

Wakefield did not follow usual protocol for his case report, and his “research” was debunked almost instantly. He believed that “the three vaccines [M.M.R.], given together, can alter a child’s immune system, allowing the measles virus in the vaccine to infiltrate the intestines; certain proteins, escaping from the intestines, could then reach and harm neurons in the brain.”(source) Wakefield’s medical license was revoked, The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine concluded  there was no evidence to back up Wakefield’s claims, and The British Medical Journal found Wakefield’s research was unethically financed and “fraudulent.” But it was too late-the anti-vax movement had their hero: a disgraced, dishonest, former doctor named Andrew Wakefield. When The New York Times sent Susan Dominus to Texas to cover one of Wakefield’s “conferences,” she found armed guards (to protect Wakefield) and a woman named Michelle Guppy. From the NYT article:

Michelle Guppy, the coordinator of the Houston Autism Disability Network and the organizer of the Tomball event, said she believed her own autistic son benefited greatly from one aspect of Wakefield’s work: his conviction that untreated gastrointestinal problems could be behind some of autism’s symptoms. It was Guppy, it turned out, who thought to hire the armed guards “to make the statement,” she said, “that this is neutral ground, and it’s going to be civil.” Guppy, a mother of two who was elegantly dressed for the occasion, made no pretense of neutrality herself. She narrowed her eyes when she learned that a writer from The New York Times was there to write about Wakefield.

‘Be nice to him,’ she said, ‘or we will hurt you.’ (source)

Andrew Wakefield is not the only deity in the anti-vax movement. The most prolific on social media is Sherri Tenpenny, an Ohio-based osteopath and anti-vaccine heroine. In 2013, Tenpenny was a guest on Dr. Oz’s radio program, where she said vaccines had very little to do with the eradication of smallpox. You can listen to that audio here. Tenpenny’s website has a store, where visitors can purchase her books, tee shirts, supplements including something called NeuroTransmitter Supplements, and CDs. Her Facebook page is littered with links from anti-vax blogs, and conspiracy sites like The Daily Sheeple, which bills itself as “Alternative news for the alternative mind.” When Tenpenny does post anything from a mainstream source, it is to either mock it, or argue against the science said article promotes. Sherri Tenpenny was recently forced to cancel a tour in Australia when vaccine supporters began applying public pressure to venues scheduled to host her events. From The Guardian:

On Wednesday night a joint announcement from Tenpenny and the Queensland-based tour organiser, Stephanie Messenger, was published on Facebook outlining their reasons for cancelling.

‘We have reached a point where we can no longer guarantee the safety of those attending the seminars,’ the statement said.

‘The anti-free-speech terrorists have voiced bomb threats and have threatened violence against venue owners and their families.’

One venue owner, from Queensland, reported receiving a bomb threat, but that was later revealed to have come from an anti-vaccination advocate who was disturbed by the thought that Tenpenny’s event might not go ahead.

Stephanie Messenger has written a few children’s books, including “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles.” The reviews are hysterical.

We are arguing over vaccines because a discredited former doctor, who lied about not just his research, but his funding, and a woman who was raised by anti-vax parents, and missed the entire third grade, and who blamed the Sandy Hook massacre on vaccines, have dismissed all scientific evidence, and convinced people to believe vaccines are horrible. My father had polio; let me ask him what he thinks about vaccines.

Vaccines work. Anti-vaxers like Andrew Wakefield, Sherri Tenpenny, Jack Wolfson and others are selfish sociopaths, who refuse to acknowledge their own culpability in the reemergence of diseases like measles and whooping cough in the U.S. We shouldn’t be arguing about vaccines; we should be shaming these people out of existence.

Erin Nanasi

Erin Nanasi is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries: Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Fictional Diary. She hates writing about herself in the third person. Erin enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with family. And wombats. Come visit Erin on on Facebook. She also can be found on Twitter at @WriterENanasi.


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