Tonawanda News

May 1, 2014

WALLACE: Anti-vaxxers are hurting us all

By Amy Wallace
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — It’s National Infant Immunization Week. But unfortunately, we seem to be regressing as a society where immunizations are concerned.

Measles, a highly contagious respiratory disease that affects young children, is making a comeback and parents’ refusal to have their children vaccinated is the cause. 

Measles has infected 129 people in 13 states in 2014, the most in the first four months of any year since 1996, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April.

California has seen 58 cases, New York has had 24 and Washington state has had 13. Symptoms of measles include fever, a runny nose, cough, a distinctive rash all over the body and can be deadly.

Researchers have worked for years to develop immunizations to prevent dangerous and deadly diseases with much success. Diseases like polio, small pox, whooping cough and measles were once eradicated thanks to the vaccines developed to prevent them.

But now, these diseases are returning with a vengeance due to misinformation and urban legend.

The anti-vaxxers, as they are called, are parents who believe that there is a link between autism and vaccines, particularly the measles, mumps, rubella or MMR vaccine. These parents live in a time when they have never seen what these diseases can do and where there is an ever-increasing rate of autism with no explanation.

Where did the idea come from that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism?

The MMR vaccine controversy originated around the 1998 publication of a research paper in the medical journal “The Lancet” by British doctor Andrew Wakefield. The article cited a link between autism and MMR vaccines.

Investigations revealed that the author had multiple undeclared conflicts of interest, manipulated evidence and broke other ethical codes. The article was partially retracted in 2004 and fully retracted in 2010. Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council of serious professional misconduct in May 2010 and was no longer allowed to practice as a doctor. 

Reviews of the claims in the article by the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine of the US National Academy of Sciences and others all found no link between the vaccine and autism. 

Unfortunately, the claims in the article were widely reported and the damage was done. Vaccination rates in the United Kingdom and Ireland dropped sharply, which was followed by significantly increased incidence of measles and mumps, resulting in deaths and permanent injuries. And it seems the U.S. is following suit.

The New England Journal of Medicine said that anti-vaccinationist activities have resulted in a high cost to society, “including damage to individual and community well-being from outbreaks of previously controlled diseases.”

Over the years, the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics have organized several panels of independent scientists – all concluded that there is no association between MMR and autism. 

Adding to the dissemination of false information are “celebrities” like Jenny McCarthy, who have gone on record saying there is a link to vaccines and autism.

McCarthy claims her son is autistic and has gone on national television spouting her claims that vaccines are linked to autism. 

The scientific consensus is that no evidence links the vaccine to the development of autism, and that the vaccine’s benefits greatly outweigh its risks.

Why are parents believing a former Playboy centerfold, actress and game show host over doctors, scientists and researchers? 

I understand that the increase in the rates of children diagnosed with autism is scary and parents are desperate to find a cause. But people can’t let fear cause them to grab on to false information, placing children at risk of acquiring serious, deadly diseases because of it. 

People can say, well if your child is vaccinated then you don’t have to worry. However, infants who may be too young to be vaccinated, children with compromised immune systems and others who may be unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, are very much vulnerable to the disease.

God forbid someone claimed autism was linked to the polio or small pox vaccines. Would we really want to see a comeback of those horrible diseases?