Vaccines on the left, vaccines on the right

By Phil Plait | April 9, 2009 7:00 am

I am sometimes accused of attacking Republicans on this blog, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s more that the Republican party has held an increasingly anti-science stances these past 15 years or so, and I have been attacking that (plus the occasional other platform or two).

However, I’ve also been attacking the far left for some time now, but I just haven’t come out and called it that. Mostly because it’s not an overtly political stance, but it does tend to fall along that party line: the antivaccination movement. A lot of the most vocal advocates in this pro-disease camp are on the left; look at how they have shifted their name to "Green our Vaccines" for example.

Amanda Marcotte is an e-friend of mine, a blogger whom I like and with whom I tend to agree on many issues. She recently wrote a very good article about vaccinations, in particular Gardasil; a preventative against the human papillomavirus, a known cause of cervical cancer in women. Gardasil is a medical triumph: 4000 women die every year from cervical cancer, out of 12,000 women who get it. 20 million people carry HPV, with more than 6 million becoming newly infected every year. Gardasil will drop those numbers precipitously.

But because HPV — and therefore Gardasil — are associated with sex, this topic becomes a tinderbox, and Amanda writes about how the left has adopted the right’s memes about sexual behavior, letting them get ingested, I suppose, because it’s an idea that fits their predisposition to be antivax.

I disagree with Amanda on one point, though:

When you attack vaccinations, you are really helping Big Pharma out. First of all, you’re being an anti-science crank, and it allows Big Pharma to paint all critics as anti-science cranks, even though with legitimate concerns.

I wish that were true, that we could simply label people thusly and they’d get ignored! Sadly though, with voices belonging to Jenny McCarthy and other celebrities, the antivax movement has traction, and as I have said before, is a public health threat.

This isn’t left or right, and it isn’t about politics. It’s about reality. Whether it’s MMR or Gardasil or the flu shot, the lies of the antivax movement need to be countered with truth. And I’m glad to see whatever voices we find to announce it.


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