From today’s Chicago Tribune.


There is no other side to the vaccine debate

Are you at risk to get the measles? Are your kids?

Duh, yes — if you are not vaccinated!

Commuters on San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system were exposed to
measles last week when an East Bay resident with the disease rode a BART train to
and from work in the city for three days. The measles is way more easy to catch then
Ebola. If someone has it and brings it on a subway, to a day care center or to a train
station, you could, if you are not vaccinated, get it.

Given these facts, why is it that so many parents all over the United States have
chosen not to vaccinate their children against the measles and other infectious
diseases? Measles was virtually wiped out in the United States years ago thanks to
vaccination. Now it is back. Why the growing rate of nonvaccination?

The most popular explanation is that false claims linking the measles-mumps-rubella
shot to autism are what have led many parents to stop getting their children
vaccinated. This explanation appears everywhere in the media and even in the
public health literature. This leads to the belief that if the phony link between
vaccination and autism could be broken, if we could just clear the Internet of
misinformation and slap a muzzle on celebrity proponents of anti-vaccine fear-
mongering, such as Jenny McCarthy, Rob Schneider, Bill Maher and Donald Trump,
then the truth would get vaccination rates back up to where they were in the good
old days.

The false claim that the vaccine for measles caused an increase in autism was made
in 1998 by a doctor writing in a distinguished British medical journal. So it is
understandable that many parents took it seriously, not wanting to run the risk of
having their children become autistic. But the doctor, Andrew Wakefield, has long since
been exposed as a fraud, with his medical license yanked; the journal apologized many
years ago for publishing such dreck; and no medical organization lends any support to
the claim. Still, despite the autism claim being debunked over and over again,
vaccination rates fell so low that we now have an epidemic.

What gives? It can’t just be the autism zombie living on and on in the cloud.

I think other factors are to blame for undermining support for vaccination against the
measles: the media, fear of pharma and the lack of support from religious leaders
and organizations.

When personal choice becomes a public health crisisThere are a handful of
irresponsible medical doctors who peddle vaccine misinformation and whom the media
keep throwing on the air or into print to give the “other side” of the vaccine issue. For
example, there is the lunatic osteopath Jack Wolfson, who told The Arizona Republic
that diseases like measles are nature’s way of building up the immune system: “We
should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox; these are the rights of our
children to get it.”

OK, Jack, interesting point of view ya got there.

Normally we would quietly leave Jack in a corner to rant to himself, but he and an
exceedingly tiny handful of his nutball doctor friends have been showing up in the
media spewing nonsense at parents for many years. This knucklehead and a few
other anti-vaccine windbags have been all over the media thousands of times,
including on network and cable news, on local news, in print and on social media
outlets. They are presented as “experts” as they spew drivel about the dangers of
vaccines and the glories of the measles. They have gotten a billion times more
exposure than they should have in the media’s bizarre effort to provide balance on
the vaccination issue.cComments

Balance? There is no balance. There is mainstream, superstrong consensus about
the value of vaccination, and on the other side … nothing else, since there is no other
side. The media have made parents worry about vaccines in a lame effort to provide
balance and all points of view.

Then there is fear of Big Pharma. People think vaccines are some sort of conspiracy
on the part of the pharmaceutical industry to make money by injecting us all. As a
proponent of vaccines and a fierce critic of anti-vaccine claptrap, I constantly get told
that I must be in the pocket of pharma (I am not), on the payroll of pharma (nope) or
support organizations that take pharma money to promote vaccination (guilty).

‘Anti-vaxxing’ pits politics and public healthBig Pharma is easy to hate. So if its
members make vaccines, they must be bad. Of course pharma also makes insulin and
aspirin and cancer drugs and drugs for many other awful diseases — but forget that. I
wish pharma and its brethren in biotech would make more money from vaccines. That
would mean shifting its profit schemes to prevention from treatment. Right now it makes
about 3 percent of its money from vaccines. If it would push vaccines harder, we would
be healthier and it would be only a tiny bit poorer. Making money from affordably priced
vaccines is one of the most ethical things the industry could do. If critics try to sell that
as a plot, the correct answer is, sadly, it is still only a dream.

Religious leaders and their organizations have been far too quiet about their support
for and endorsement of vaccination. All the public sees and hears is that many people
refuse vaccines on religious grounds. Really? Who? What religion opposes

Hindu? No. Jehovah’s Witness and Christian Scientist? Nope. Eastern Orthodox,
Oriental Orthodox, Amish, Anglican, Baptist, Mormon, Congregational, Episcopalian,
Lutheran, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Seventh-Day Adventist? Nope. A
few Roman Catholics have expressed concerns about aborted fetal tissues once used
in manufacturing some vaccines, although the Vatican has again and again urged that
this be ignored in order to protect the community. Jewish? Nope; that religion was
among the earliest supporters of smallpox inoculation. Buddhist? No. Muslim? No.

I could go on, but I would rather religious leaders did so vociferously and knocked the
canard that religion opposes vaccination out of the public’s mind.

Yes, the old lie that vaccines cause autism has caused a lot of vaccine resistance. But
there are other causes too. Time to fix them unless you are a fan of the measles,
mumps, whooping cough, flu, pneumonia, polio, tetanus and meningitis, to name but
a few preventable diseases.

Arthur L. Caplan is director of medical ethics at the New York University Langone
Medical Center’s Department of Population Health.Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

Tony Paulauski
Executive Director
The Arc of Illinois
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