health policy

More on vaccines and autism

From the New York Times, Measles Cases Grow in Number, and Officials Blame Parents’ Fear of Autism.

It’s a wordy headline, but a decent article.  Key fact: From January through July, 131 measles cases were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 15 states and the District of Columbia….Sixteen were younger than a year old, too young to have been vaccinated. But two-thirds of the rest — or 63 people — were unvaccinated because of their or their parents’ philosophical or religious beliefs.

My thoughts

1. Oh, those poor babies.  I don’t know if measles is particularly worse in infants, but it can’t have been a happy time for them or their parents.

2. Philosophical exemptions for vaccines?  What?  Since when?  And why?

3. Part of the issue is that, largely thanks to these vaccines and a better understanding of infectious disease, those childhood diseases are virtually unknown.  Young adults in my generation — today’s young parents — have probably never seen measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio*. The worst we had was chicken pox, and even that’s got a vaccine now.  When you haven’t seen how bad a disease can be, it can be hard to rationalize sticking a needle in your baby, who’s probably not so happy to be at the doctor anyway.  The autism connection seems to me to be a scapegoat, just there to justify that fear of harming the child.  Which is why when mercury and thimerosal proved to be red herrings, the anti-vax crowd moved right along to their current cry of “Too many, too soon.”

It’s true, autism is a scary thing.  And when you frame the question in terms of “Would you rather have your kid itch for a while or suffer this lifelong neurological disability?” — what loving parent wouldn’t go with the anti-vax crowd. Except that’s not the question at hand.  And I’m just sad that since so much attention and research dollars have been spent on debunking Wakefield et al., no one’s publicized the newer studies pointing to a genetic link.  If I didn’t have a personal reason to be interested, I probably wouldn’t even be aware of that.

The reality is that everyone’s heard of the spurious vaccines-autism link, and very few people have heard that it’s not true.  That seems to me to a failure of marketing — AAP policy is pretty much to ignore those guys, which just gives them cause to sneer at the lofty docs who are too busy getting kickbacks from vaccine-producing pharmaceuticals to address the concerns of parents.  That’s what needs to change: the AAP and AAFP need to address this issue head-on, proactively, and officially.  Otherwise, we’ll just see more public health crises as physician organizations lose whatever social capital they ever held.

*By a beautiful twist of internet fate, today’s featured article on Wikipedia is on poliomyelitis.  Check it.


2 thoughts on “More on vaccines and autism

  1. I see the World Health Organisation as impartial. They’ve not the political games to play that elected governments dance through, they’ve not the financial machinations of Big Pharma. They say that every our 27 people die from measles.

    27 deaths each and every hour.

    Is the MMR vaccine that unsafe?

  2. Wow, I had no idea the morbidity/mortality from measles was still so significant. Thanks for the link. I’m willing to bet that parents in Southeast Asia, where the primary disease burden appears to be, don’t have the same outrage over MMR that the American antivax crowd seems to “inspire.”

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