Doug Moss, Byron Bay.
In the interests of balance in the debate, I’ll offer a different perspective to that often stated by anti-vaxxers.
But first, it’s right to acknowledge that both sides of the debate are motivated by the well-being of their children. I don’t think anybody doubts the good intentions of parents on both sides.
But it’s in the interpretation of the evidence that I think the anti-vaxxers allow an un-scientific bias to influence them which leads them to the wrong conclusions, and therefore places their kids, and everybody else’s kids, in more danger from disease than is warranted by the risks of vaccination.
It is beyond doubt that vaccination works – smallpox completely eradicated from humans on planet Earth, polio nearly so, measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, tetanus, whooping cough and several other dangerous diseases greatly reduced in regions where vaccination is practiced.
The above is undeniable – vaccination works!
The flip side of that success is the risk of vaccination for the child. I think that everybody on the pro-vaccination side of the debate knows and accepts that any vaccine can have adverse side effects. In rare cases, very serious side effects, even death. Nobody is saying all these vaccines are perfect. But the risks are very well known – for example, see https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm. For many of the vaccines, the occurrence of severe problems is known to be tiny, less than 1 in a million in some cases. And it is the high-reward vaccines (ie. those protecting against particularly nasty diseases) that have a very low risk which are used in the global vaccination programmes.
All the above was accepted by parents until 1998 when Andrew Wakefield (formerly a doctor and medical researcher) and twelve other authors published an article in the prestigious UK journal The Lancet which purported to link autism to measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine in children. Panic around the world followed, and parents began refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated.
But it was later proven that Wakefield was a fraud, that he’d faked evidence for the Lancet article, he had abused disadvantaged (autistic) children during his research, and had acted dishonestly in submitting an article he knew to be not true for publication in Lancet. It was also found that Wakefield had conflicts of interest which he did not disclose to Lancet or its readers, of which I’ll say more in a minute. As a result of his many proven instances of professional misconduct, Wakefield was struck off the UK medical register and barred from medical practice. And in a very rare and unusual step, The Lancet fully retracted the 1998 article.
But unfortunately, the fear sparked by Wakefield continues to reverberate around the world. Well-intentioned parents, fearing that ‘where there’s smoke, there must be fire’, ignore, or are skeptical of, the evidence and continue to place theirs and other children (other people’s newborn babies who have not yet been vaccinated) at risk.
Part of the reason for the skepticism is the suspicion that ‘big-pharma’ has corrupted the independence of the independent watchdogs (e.g. the CDC), and so their statements cannot be trusted. I think that most sensible people, on both sides of this debate, have very well founded suspicions of ‘big-pharma’, of their self-serving lies and deceptions. ‘Big-pharma’ would certainly be trying to influence the CDC and the other watchdogs, and to think otherwise would be extremely naive, but common sense would indicate that any such corruption is not complete, that good people continue to do good work at those organisations, and that most of the information they publish, such as the website noted above is fairly accurate.
Before signing off, a final word about the role of ‘big-pharma’ in this debate. Andrew Wakefield was found to have applied for pharmaceutical patents himself for new vaccines he had invented which would have competed with the MMR vaccine attacked by his article, and to have personally received GBP435,643 from lawyers suing the manufacturers of MMR on behalf of his autistic research subjects. His research labs also received GBP55,000 from the same lawyers. None of this serious conflict of interest was disclosed by Wakefield.
So it’s good to keep a vigilant lookout for corruption, on both sides of this debate, and to view claims and counter-claims with appropriate skepticism. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – vaccination is proven to work, the initial allegations against MMR have been absolutely refuted, and the ongoing echo’s of Wakefield’s misconduct should be ignored and replaced by common sense and careful attention to all the evidence.
DISCLOSURE: the writer of the above letter is not medically trained, but does have science degrees and continues to treat all evidence as equal, until it’s shown to be either factual or counter-factual with a good degree of certainty. He has spent the last 30 years doing risk management for a large organisation (not a medical one, or one with vested medical interests!). He understands that this letter is going to upset some people, and for that he is sorry. Hopefully it will be taken in the spirit of a true debate, and both sides can find more common ground in this area.