I’ve been off the grid for several days with no time to research or write. But I can assure you that my absence was not due to having measles! I was vaccinated as a child, my children were vaccinated, and their children have been vaccinated. In fact, due to the wonders of vaccines, measles had actually become extinct in North America by 2002.
For those who weren’t around in the 1950’s or earlier, a vaccine may seem silly and old fashioned. But people my age and older remember growing up when children could still get polio; most of us had friends who had spent time in an iron lung, or who were still recovering, if they’d been lucky enough to survive.
And most of us knew someone with scars left from having had smallpox. Edward Jenner invented the very first vaccine, for smallpox, in 1798. Before that, 30-35% of people who caught ‘the pox’ died, while the rest were left with horrible scars, usually on the face, and possibly blindness, limb deformities or osteomyelitis. When smallpox was finally eradicated in 1979, it had already killed an estimated 300–500 million people in the 20th century alone .The disease is now effectively extinct; the last known case was in 1977, in Somalia.
(for more information on other horrible diseases eradicated by vaccinations, please read here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eradication_of_infectious_diseases)
Our parents were more than eager to protect their children from these horrors. And when vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella appeared, they were added to what we were given. Why would parents let their children suffer, if there was an alternative?
Vaccination (or inoculation) is essentially the administration of a material made from the antigen (antibody generator) of the disease you wish to avoid. That material stimulates the immune system, which either completely prevents an individual from getting the disease, or at the least, weakens the impact of the disease.
In a way, it’s sort of how homeopathy works, where a substance that causes the symptoms of a disease in healthy people is given to sick people in hopes of curing similar symptoms. But homeopathy is considered a pseudoscience, and is not effective beyond having a placebo effect.
The real science of medicine, on the other had does work. And until a British medical researcher, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield, wrote a now discredited 1998 paper claiming that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease, most of us were simply happy to ensure our children lead healthy lives.
(Not only was the study discredited, when his results were never able to be reproduced, but a 2004 investigation identified undisclosed financial conflicts of interest to do with his research. He was also charged with misconduct by the British General Medical Council when it was found that autistic children had been given invasive procedures, like colonoscopy and lumbar puncture unnecessarily.)
Unfortunately, former Playboy nude model/MTV host Jenny McCarthy, heard about this study, and believed the theory, citing her own autistic son Evan as proof positive that Dr. Wakefield was correct in his findings. She became a vehement activist and promoter of alternative autism treatments, and pushed for research into the possibility of environmental causes.
Apparently disregarding the updated information on Dr Wakefield’s misconduct, and despite what now seems to be a misdiagnosis of her son’s illness (seizures more consistent with Landau-Kleffner syndrome, often confused with autism,) McCarthy took to the airwaves, beginning in 2007, spreading her beliefs before mass audiences, including the respected Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live and Frontline.
With such a high profile, her stance became very popular. And as hard as it is to get a ball rolling, it’s just as hard to change its direction. There are now millions of people who treat her three books on autism as bibles, despite the misinformation they contain.
It has been said that that McCarthy’s “unfounded claims that vaccines cause autism have been one of the greatest impediments to public health in recent decades.” Her short 2013 stay as a co-host on the talk show “The View” was highly criticized. McCarthy’s credibility rating remains high, despite her anti-vaccine stance. Since The View is largely aimed at parents, many believed further discussion of the discredited theory would endanger the public.
In an open letter article in Time Magazine, senior writer Jeffrey Kluger criticized McCarthy, saying, “Jenny, as outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough continue to appear in the U.S.—most the result of parents refusing to vaccinate their children because of the scare stories passed around by anti-vaxxers like you—it’s just too late to play cute with the things you’ve said. You are either floridly, loudly, uninformedly antivaccine or you are the most grievously misunderstood celebrity of the modern era. Science almost always prefers the simple answer, because that’s the one that’s usually correct. Your quote trail is far too long—and you have been far too wrong—for the truth not to be obvious.”
Many who followed the misguided theory pointed to a correlation between an increase of many conditions that used to go by other names now being called autism and the administration of the MMR vaccine. The fact is, we are now more informed and able to recognize the span of autism spectrum disorder. It is that ability to provide a better diagnosis that has created the apparent rise in the number of autism cases.
As early as 2007, Skeptic.com had already laid out the truth about the discredited theory.
“During a question and answer session after a talk I recently gave, I was asked for my opinion about the vaccine/autism controversy. That was easy: my opinion is that there is no controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism. There is no controversy.
There is, however, a manufactroversy — a manufactured controversy — created by junk science, dishonest researchers, professional misconduct, outright fraud, lies, misrepresentations, irresponsible reporting, unfortunate media publicity, poor judgment, celebrities who think they are wiser than the whole of medical science, and a few maverick doctors who ought to know better. Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. The public health consequences are serious and are likely to get worse before they get better — a load of unscientific nonsense has put us all at risk.”
The facts are that research shows that the vaccinations do not contain materials that cause autism. There have been over 1 billion vaccines given, and study after study has shown that there are no negative long-term consequences.
Last week, Rob Ring, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, said in a statement posted to the group’s website. “Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.The results of this research are clear: vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”
Now, I’m all for freedom of choice. Parents who are concerned about their child receiving a vaccine SHOULD talk to their paediatrician, and make an informed choice. If that choice is not to vaccinate, then, for the sake of ‘the herd’ – the millions of others who may be affected by that choice – families who opt out of vaccination should be isolated from those they may contaminate.
Measles are very contagious. Even hours after an infected person sneezes or coughs, everyone who is in the area is potentially affected. And that includes babies too young to safely receive a vaccine, and the elderly, who may have come to the end of their immune safety. About three out of 10 people who get measles will develop one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections, or diarrhea.
Does that seem fair? Does it seem right that someone who ‘feels’ that their child may develop … MAY develop … a problem .. a one in literally a million chance .. should potentially be allowed to let their child impact upon other people’s health?
We live in a world that has outlawed everything from scented toilet paper to peanut butter in schools, and smoking anywhere. The receptionist at my medical clinic has to wear a face mask all winter because she won’t get a flu shot. Much as I hate the restrictions, I respect those who have lobbied to protect everyone, as opposed to those who chose to follow their own conscience, whether their information is correct or incorrect.
I don’t get to smoke in the park; you don’t get to subject others to your unvaccinated child.