What disturbs me most is the sloppy thinking, the near universal presumption that certain facts, which aren’t facts at all, are now inviolate and cannot be questioned.
I’m talking about the universal attacks against anyone who even questions vaccines – now denigrated as ‘anti-vaxxers’ or ‘vaccine deniers.’
You’ve probably seen the righteous headlines on both sides of the Atlantic lately, about anti-vaxxer crazies who are essentially deluded and a menace to society.
As Frank Bruni wrote recently, in an opinion piece in the New York Times, ‘This isn’t a public health crisis. It’s a public sanity one.’
Then in the UK, the Spectator recently published an article by Isabel Hardman, “What a baffling group of people anti-vaxxers are. They rail against one of the miracles of modern medicine, peddling scare stories about vaccines which had nearly eradicated many deadly childhood illnesses in the developed world.
“Baffling, of course, is too soft a word for many: they’re dangerous, because their anti-science views don’t just put their own children at risk, but wider society.”
Several states in the US are considering a restriction on exemptions against vaccination.
Of course, anti-vaccine stories on social media are being blamed, and we now have Facebook joining in, threatening to censor ‘anti-vax’ sentiment, and the Johns Hopkins hospital in Florida, announcing that it will no longer treat any child who has not had his or her full course of shots.
European countries are also chiming in, with many countries threatening to make vaccines compulsory.
This latest wave of anti-vaccine sentiment was prompted by an ‘epidemic’ of measles cases recorded in California in 2015 and more than 350 cases reported in the US thus far this year.
All these cases are being blamed on unvaccinated children spreading the illness. But the truth, verified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is that fully one-third, or 73, of the 194 cases in California recorded in California in 2015 were in fact reactions to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine itself.
Vaccine makers admit that at least 5 per cent of children getting the MMR will display measles-like symptoms, such as rash or fever – in other words, a mild case of measles – but this new data suggest this type of reaction may be far more common than assumed.
And if that’s true, more than a hundred of the 350 cases of this year’s ‘epidemic’ could simply be reactions to the shot itself.
Indeed, the CDC researchers, working alongside scientists from the Public Health Agency in Canada, are taking this issue so seriously that they are testing two new systems to determine if they can accurately assess whether a case of measles is caused by the virus or is a reaction to the vaccine.
"It is very important to identify vaccine reactions to avoid unnecessary isolation of the patient," the researchers say.
The truth is more subtle
Whenever there is an outbreak of an illness, it’s always blamed on unvaccinated children and sets off a wave of clampdowns on exemptions. However, the truth about vaccines is far more subtle. I’ve been studying the scientific evidence on vaccines for 30 years and here’s what I’ve discovered:
Vaccines work imperfectly and some work better than others. Most outbreaks occur among fully vaccinated children. Researchers from the University of Michigan, recently studying outbreaks of illness across America and Europe, have concluded that both the mumps vaccine and the acellular whooping cough vaccine last, for at most, 10 years. The resurgence of these illnesses is being seen in people aged between 18 and 29, the vast majority of whom had the recommended two shots when they were small children. This puts around one-third of 10-to-14-year-olds at risk of getting mumps, the researchers warn.
Vaccines do not account for the eradication of disease. The big fall in cases of most infectious diseases occurred well before the advent of universal vaccination. The real heroes were sanitation and good nutrition. Any chart showing the incidence of communicable disease in the 20th century shows this. Vaccines account for at most a 3 percent drop in the incidence of communicable disease – that’s it.
Vaccines are not harmless. The America Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has paid out a whopping $3.9 billion in compensation to the families of children damaged by vaccines. The vaccine manufacturers pay into this fund. That is tacit acknowledgment that these shots can cause harm.
I could go on and on. And my magazine What Doctors Don’t Tell You has – for 30 years. We’ve even published booklets like The Vaccination Bible to offer the other side of the story.
The logic of the herd
What bothers me most is the dumb logic of people arguing that we need universal vaccination for so-called herd immunity. If vaccines worked so well, those parents who wanted their kids vaccinated would have them vaccinated and they would be protected. Those parents who did not want their kids vaccinated would take responsibility for their children getting the diseases or not.
So if vaccines work so well, why are unvaccinated children a ‘menace’ to society? Surely, any ‘risk’ (and I’d argue about the size of the risk of something like measles, mumps or rubella in well-nourished youngsters) is only to the unvaccinated child. And when weighing the risk of the diseases against the risk of vaccination, that should be every parents’ individual decision to make.
As a journalist, I am most shocked by the lack of reportorial inquiry among otherwise respectable publications. It is now taken as read without any sort of dispute, that vaccines save lives and are safe. A cursory glance at the scientific evidence at vaccines shows otherwise.
But here, as usual, it’s important to follow the money. The main group that stands to gain from the demonization of the ‘anti-vaxxers’ is the pharmaceutical industry.
Many newspapers and publications receive advertisement funding from the pharmaceutical industry. Rupert Murdoch’s son James took a job as non-executive board member of GlaxoSmithKline in 2009 – around the time that the London Times started going after Dr Andrew Wakefield for daring to suggest that the MMR vaccine was not perfectly safe.
That’s what’s really going on here. And the newspapers like the Times are in collusion. If the media stops asking the questions and starts accepting its facts fed to it by industry and the government, we are all in trouble.
And I suspect we’re already there.