For over a year now my brother’s been writing on his blog about the after-effects, ten years on, of faulty a 1998 study linking childhood vaccinations to autism. From his first post on the topic:
In 1998 UK doctor Andrew Wakefield had a study published that claimed there was a link between autism, a new type of bowel disease, and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination jab given to children. This scary proposition – that something that almost all children were getting might cause autism – led to a massive amount of media coverage of the study. And that, of course, led to massive dropoffs in the rates of MMR immunisation of children in the UK.
It quickly became clear, even back in 1998, that Wakefield’s results were suspect. Ten of the thirteen authors of the paper summarizing the study removed their names from the conclusions drawn. It’s been a sordid saga since then. Newspapers have re-ignited the scare. Wakefield has been charged with professional misconduct. The publication that carried the original study has since denounced the study as flawed. Although Wakefield continues his work, there are very few medical professionals who believe there is a connection.
Today the BBC reported disturbing (if not surprising) news: a measles outbreak in Wales.
Health chiefs in Wales are dealing with a “massive” measles outbreak, with numbers already four times the highest figure recorded over the past 13 years. Four nursery school children were treated in hospital as part of 127 cases across mid and west Wales, while there are another 35 cases in Conwy.
The National Public Health Service (NPHS) in Wales saw 39 cases last year. Its highest figure in 2003 was 44.
Officials appealed for parents to take up the MMR vaccine.
“Parents are taking a conscious decision not to get the MMR jab. We think that is down to the concerns that were raised when the research came out.
“The newspapers have admitted the research was wrong, but it is still hard to convince people of the truth.”
That’s the real crux of the problem. The news went out, it was a hot story and blared from newspaper headlines, but retractions rarely have the same zazz and so most people don’t absorb the news. Also, Oprah deserves some blame.
Seriously. Oprah, who undoubtedly influences the opinions of millions of parents, has thrown in with Jenny McCarthy and other vaccine skeptics. And if you’re a new parent — exhausted, stressed and fairly freaked out — maybe you don’t have time to thoroughly research these things. Maybe you trust your friend who heard it on Oprah, or your family member who read it in the newspaper years ago.
Here’s the thing: ten years ago a scientist yelled “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and the media started yelling along with him. When some people looked around and realized there was no fire, they pointed it out to the media. The media, for the most part, realized they’d been fooled and told people it was safe to come back in, but the people were already out on the street and no longer paying attention. Worse yet, there are now people standing in the doorway saying the theatre is still on fire even though there’s neither smoke nor heat.
Look, no scientist would claim that it’s impossible for there to be a link between vaccinations and autism. It’s just that there’s been no substantive proof of one to date. If there were no consequences to this, no one would care. But there are consequences, and they’re serious indeed. Kids die from the measles.
Doctors everywhere are begging parents to get kids vaccinated before the problem gets worse. We happily listened to doctors about washing our hands to avoid H1N1, and all that was on the line there was the flu. Why would we ignore their advice about how to save our children?