According to the NY Times, there’s a new report discrediting the Wakefield study. Andrew Wakefield’s unethical science — including undisclosed financial gain and altered data — is one of the worst medical moments of the modern era, right up there with Tuskegee.
I once reported on an anti-vax rally for a summer internship, and it was one of the saddest moments of my medical education. Hundreds of parents swarming around Capitol Hill, listening to Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey blather on about medicogovernmental conspiracy. Oh no! We actually want to prevent diseases that kill more than three-quarters of the world’s children! (Fun fact: Did you know that measles kills more children under age 5 than HIV/AIDS?)
Once, a long time ago, when I was in India, I saw a man crouching by the tourist gate of the Mughal fort we had just visited. Then I looked again and saw that he wasn’t crouching at all. His right leg was withered away, a crumpled bit of skin lying uselessly at his side. Polio. It seems like something so far away, so ancient. Until suddenly you see it and smell it and then somehow it’s not so far away at all.
Parents “shun” inoculation for their children.
This makes me sad, because while you don’t have to vaccinate everyone (herd immunity‘s a wonderful thing), the threshold is always somewhere in the high 80%s. Also, the link between vaccines and autism is completely unsupported by scientific evidence. In fact, we had an entire small group session devoted to debunking it. I should’ve taken notes on the “miracles” required for the link to be true.
Moreover, after the Wakefield paper was published in the Lancet (and subsequently reported all over the popular press), there was a scare in Britain where parents refused to consent to vaccinating their kids. Result: increased incidence of measles and mumps, with two kids suffering measles encephalitis (read: permanent brain damage). Similar effect in Ireland: 1500 cases and 3 deaths. It’s all nicely outlined, with citations, on Wikipedia.
Now, autism is an illness that hits very close to home — one of my family members has been diagnosed with autism. It’s a frightening label to put on your kid, because although there are various therapies, there is no cure. I completely understand why parents would want to avoid anything that might cause it. (Current evidence suggests it’s genetic, but obviously very complex and non-Mendelian.) But also frightening: encephalitis. Death. You’d think parents would want to avoid these, too.
On a slightly related note: there are ads in the subway for some medical malpractice firm. In large and glitzy letters, they proclaim that you can win $1.5 million suing for autism. Who do you sue for a complex genetic trait, anyway? The worst part is the testimonial from a “satisfied customer” who notes how pleased she is that her child’s incurable neurological condition has netted her some bling. I wish I were kidding.