How many times do we have to say it? At least once more, apparently: The anti-vaxer movement is wrong, it’s dangerous, and it’s having major effects on public health. Like this one: More than 12,000 cases of measles, around four-fifths of which were in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated children, surfaced in Europe in the two-year period from 2006 through 2007, with an additional 6,000 infections reported in the first three quarters of 2008.
These results come from a study published in the upcoming issue of The Lancet, and were written up by Mark Muscat of Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut. The study includes data from 32 countries, though 85 percent of the cases were in Romania, Germany, the U.K., Switzerland, and Italy—all of which have vaccination rates below 90 percent, well below the World Health Organization’s 95 percent recommendation.
So here it is, a highly-contagious and also highly-preventable disease making its way into children because their parents saw some study or read some pamphlet filled with inaccurate and scientifically disproved information.
To make matters worse, there’s also the class problem that anti-vaxers are causing:
Now that the worldwide euphoria over Obama’s victory is abating, it’s time to look at some dismal facts: The air is still thick with pollution, the globe is still warming, and the science community is in a frenzy over who the president-elect will choose to head up the battered, broken EPA.
The short and distinguished list of candidates includes include former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection head Kathleen McGinty; California Air Resources Board chairwoman Mary Nichols; Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection head Ian Bowles; Kansas governor Kathleen Sibelius; New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson; and, finally, environmental lawyer, activist, and prolific blogger Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
While all are talented and have the potential to breathe life into the foundering agency, the one receiving the biggest pounding is Kennedy. Across the Internet, science writers have lambasted the longtime environmentalist for his alleged “anti-science” views—in particular, his public criticism of vaccines.
There’s no question that Kennedy has been vocal in his campaign against the CDC, particularly regarding its stance on Thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. In 2005, he published a controversial piece in Salon charging that the government had concealed data showing that Thimerosal-containing vaccines were harmful. Critics excoriated the article, and Kennedy has since been labeled a traitor to science and affixed with the anti-vaxer label.
Still, the reality isn’t quite so simple. While Kennedy has indeed pointed accusatory fingers at certain vaccine practices—and has fallen victim to the “hand-picked studies” effect on at least one occasion—the charges that he’s a full-on anti-vaxer are incorrect and arguably irrelevant.
You’d think that recent news about autism—i.e., the increasing amount of definitive evidence proving it’s not linked to vaccines—would be vindication for Paul Offit, the prominent pro-vaccination advocate and medical director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. As you might recall, Offit sounded off earlier this year on the Hannah Poling case, offering an opinion that led to all sorts of name-calling and borderline hysteria.
Now, it appears, the hysteria has made a sharp right into psychosis. ABC News reports that Offit has been receiving death threats (as in, more than one) from anti-vaxers. On a recent “Today Show” appearance, Offit revealed that “the threats [he] received included a ‘phone call from an unidentified man who mentioned specific and private details’ about Offit’s family.”
And he’s not the only one: Flu vaccine advocate Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, describes the following:
“Among the most egregious things — I got a letter once railing against my involvement in vaccines and hoping that something serious would happen to me and hoping that something serious would happen to one of my children,” he said. “I had people come to the door of my home and harass my wife and kids, so I no longer have my address listed in the phone book.”
And at one point, Poland said, someone broke into his lab and attempted to hack into his computers. As a result, Poland’s lab is now locked down for security purposes.
Granted, leaders of anti-vax groups respond that they’ve also been the victims of harassment, with taunts like “baby-killer” hurled their way.
• It was only a matter of time: The official “Palinisms” video game launches.
• For that matter, why not throw in a “Green New Deal” to save the economy (and the planet, while we’re at it)?
• While we’re on the subject of good news—aka the planet and the economy—it’s worth asking: Does the rise of one necessarily mean the fall of the other?
• Ticked off about the bailout? Luckily there’s Offsetthebailout.com, a social network for angst-filled consumers to post their anti-bailout rants.
• Schwarzenegger cracks the whip on California’s urban—and gas-guzzling—sprawl.
• And in other anti-vax news, the Florida Institute of Technology publishes the first national survey of attitudes towards autism and vaccines—and it ain’t pretty.
• The BBC reveals its version of the Stanford Prison Experiment (hint: They got the same results).
• And where oh where can we turn for informed and accurate advice about the economy? MIT’s a pretty good start.
• Congratulations to Andy Revkin, New York Times reporter and DISCOVER alum, on winning the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism, which is given to journalists who provide excellent reporting on “stories that simmer instead of explode”—though whether global warming falls into the former category or the latter remains to be seen.
• DrugMonkey sounds off on the “broken” NIH grant review system.
• We here in Mother Russia do not like silly American “Google.”
• Is media sensationalism a product of evolution?
• Which scientific experts should the next U.S. president appoint to guide him? The National Academy of Sciences has a few ideas—and they’re happy to share.
We decided to take a break from the creative environmental fables springing forth in Minneapolis to hit yet another field where fact and fabrication have been scarily intertwined: autism and vaccines. The anti-vax celebrity movement is going strong—now they can add Lance Armstrong to their ranks—and more parents are jumping on the “screw public health, we don’t want autistic kids” bandwagon.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is already seeing a measles spike, while Canada is reporting a mumps epidemic and the U.K. is bracing itself for a possible measles outbreak. All while the actual research continues to show that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism, Crohn’s disease, colitis, asthma, teenage pregnancy, incurable foot odor, etc.
A stock anti-vax response to these facts? “So what? Who says the measles are so bad?”
We’re not one to say “I told you so” (oh, who are we kidding) but reports are in from the CDC that the number of measles cases in the U.S. has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of the reported cases involving children whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated for the disease.
Granted, the number of cases is low, 131 total, but that’s only from January through July of 2008—and that increase is significant, considering that 2007 saw a grand total of 42 cases. Thus far, none of the newly infected have died, though 15 were hospitalized. To make matters worse, the AP reports, at least 17 children contracted whooping cough (which can be fatal to children) at a private school in the San Francisco Bay area, and 13 of them weren’t vaccinated against the disease.
ABC News has a report on the Lend4Health blog, which offers a person-to-person lending system for parents who can’t afford and/or whose insurance won’t cover autism treatments for their children. The concept follows the model of Prosper.com and other individual loan sites. But the idea behind it—loans exclusively for treatments of a particular disorder—is unique among micro-lenders.
The system was created by Tori Tuncan, a mother of two who decided to take action after hearing one too many stories about insurers denying coverage for autism therapies. Tuncan acts as the money go-between, reviewing pictures, bios, references, and the treatments desired by potential borrowers, and then doling out micro-loans at her discretion.
It’s true that this kind of system could be a potential lifesaver for patients who desperately need certain procedures or treatments, but are caught in insurance company red tape and can’t come up with the money. But the current setup of one person deciding what treatments are worth funding, and handing out funds accordingly, sets a dangerous precedent. Tuncan is not a doctor and has no medical training. In fact, it’s unclear if she has any particular knowledge about the complexities of autism therapies, or the controversies surrounding them.
While the celebrity smackdown between former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy and actress Amanda Peet has been working its way through the media python coils, another autism/vaccine showdown has sprung up—this time at the New England Journal of Medicine. Pro-vaccination guru Paul A. Offit of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has gotten into it with Jon S. Poling, a Georgia neurologist and the father of Hannah Poling, who was diagnosed with autism after receiving five standard vaccines.
The dispute is over a piece Offit did for NEJM on Hannah’s successful lawsuit against the government after her diagnosis, which made her the first autistic child to collect damages under the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Offit argues that, while anti-vacciners have pointed to the case as proof that the government knows vaccines are dangerous and can cause autism, in reality the Poling win was one in a chain of sketchy decisions by the VICP, which “seems to have turned its back on science.” Sure enough, in swooped Poling Sr. with the following response: