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Keep vaccine rejectionism to the back burner

October 3rd, 2013 · 6 Comments · Critical thinking

UPDATE: The Orlando Sentinel will not be asking a childhood vaccination foe to participate in its Front Burner series.  “Just wanted to let you know after careful consideration, we decided to listen to your wise counsel,”  wrote Darryl Owens. On behalf of parents and public health advocates everywhere, AutismNewsBeat would like to thank Mr. Owens and the Orlando Sentinel.

AutismNewsBeat has learned that the Orlando Sentinel is looking for two one-time guest columnists to produce an op-ed columns on the “pro” and “con” of childhood vaccinations for the newspaper’s Front Burner series.  Here is my response to the editor, Darryl Owens, who can be reached at deowens at tribune.com .

Dear Mr. Owens,

I understand you are soliciting one-time guest columnists to write an op-ed column on the “pro and cons” of childhood vaccines. May I respectively suggest that you not invite the anti-vaccine point of view, just as you would not solicit the views of someone who says the moon landings were faked, or that the Earth was fully formed 6,000 years ago.

I’ve been monitoring and writing about the anti-vaccine movement for over six years, and I have yet to see evidence which suggests that the risks of childhood vaccines are worse than the diseases they prevent. I have seen countless anti-vaccine talking points which blame vaccines for autism, asthma, cerebral palsy, SIDS, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and other medical conditions, based on the flimsiest of evidence, or no evidence at all.

I’ve read so many anti-vaccine rants that I can predict some of what your guest columnist will write:

  • If vaccines are so safe, then why has the government paid billions of dollars to the families with children injured or killed by vaccines?  The answer, which your guest columnist won’t tell us, is that the standard of proof in federal “Vaccine Court” is far more lenient than what is found in civil court. Of the 3,000 plus cases settled since 1986, nearly a third were for brain damage and seizure disorders caused by the old DTP vaccine. Today scientists know that DTP did not cause those disorders.
  • Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research, which showed the MMR vaccine causes autism, has been replicated many times around the world.  Mr. Andrew Wakefield (he is not a physician in the US) lost his medical license in the UK over a study he published in The Lancet. The results of his research have never been replicated, and when given the opportunity to so himself, Wakefield declined.
  • There are (some random number) of peer-reviewed scientific studies which show vaccines cause autism. That list was cobbled together by anti-vaccine activists with a poor understanding of the science. The studies listed either don’t say what are claimed, have never been published, or are found in low impact journals known for publishing highly speculative hypotheses.
  • Vaccines are a huge moneymaker for drug makers and doctors, so they have an incentive to lie and cover up vaccine injury. Pediatricians and family doctors make very little from storing and administering vaccines, if they make any money at all. If doctors and drug companies were as evil as anti-vaccine folks suggest, they would be against preventing disease. There’s way more money to be made treating measles, pertussis, and other nasty germs than in preventing them.
  • The ever -expanding vaccine schedule explains the autism epidemic, since both started around the same time.  There is little empirical evidence for an increase in the actual number of children born with autism. The increase is for diagnoses of autism and related disorders, for which there are several sensible explanations. But the notion of an autism epidemic is an article of faith among anti-vaccine activists. Any reference to “skyrocketing autism rates” is mistaken at best.

A more interesting vaccine-related debate might be between two doctors who differ on how to handle vaccine-rejecting parents. One camp will not allow unvaccinated children in their practice out of concern for infants and children in the waiting rooms. Infants are too young for some vaccines, and some children cannot be vaccinated due to very real medical conditions. The other camp chooses to work with those parents out of concern they will take their children to an unqualified “alternative” medical provider, or reject medical care altogether. This is a very real debate among family physicians, and there is no perfect answer.

In a perfect world anti-vaccine conspiracy mongers wouldn’t find it so easy to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt on the internet and on the pages of major newspapers. There’s not much we can do about internet-based paranoia, which flourishes in the absence of gatekeepers who understand and respect the scientific method. Fortunately, most print and broadcast media are skeptical enough these days to do the right thing.

That includes the Orlando Sentinel.

Thank you for your consideration.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Chris Hickie // Oct 4, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    I hope they publish your letter. Can I be the pediatrician who now, thanks to the increasing rates of vaccine preventable diseases (fueled by decreased vaccination rates) will not allow unvaccinated children into their practice?

  • 2 LIz Ditz // Oct 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Missed this 10 days ago. Excellent advocacy.

  • 3 JJ Keith // Oct 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I come here via Liz Ditz. I am not disappointed! This so eloquently states something I’ve been sputtering about. I dare a newspaper to run a “pro” and “con” piece that pits “unchecked contagion” against “minuscule risk of vaccine reaction.” And I’d be delighted too to see a conversation between doctors about how to handle non-vaccinating parents. Well done.

  • 4 Ken // Oct 15, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    Thanks, Keith. The newspaper did cancel its plans to include anti-vaccine propaganda in its pages.

  • 5 Chris Hickie // Oct 16, 2013 at 5:40 am

    The timing of this request makes me wonder if the proposed Front Burner piece wasn’t going to run during the AAP’s annual meeting in late October, which makes me doubly glad you convinced them not to

  • 6 lilady // Oct 22, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Well done Ken and a big thank you to Darryl Owens for his decision to not permit his newspaper to be used as a platform to spread anti-vaccine views.

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