In the Point of View article entitled “Truth about vaccines not told” printed on the Homer News editorial page on Aug. 28, concern was raised about the risk of routine vaccination causing autism. Twenty-five percent of parents still have the erroneous belief that autism is caused by the measles vaccine. This belief stems from a 1998 article published in Lancet — one of the most reputable medical journals — indicating that, based on a study of 12 children with developmental delay in England, there was an association between autism and receiving the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine.
Not only were there many issues with the validity and design of that observational study, Lancet took the previously unheard of step of formally announcing in 2004 that the results were falsified and fabricated.
Since 1998 a number of studies have been done at great expense that have now looked at a combined 25 million children, all of which prove, with a rigorous scientific process, that there is not a connection between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Unfortunately, many more children are being diagnosed with autism and many receive the measles vaccine but correlating these two events does not imply they are caused by each other.
Impulsively, the brush that has been used to smear the MMR vaccine has now been arbitrarily expanded to cover all vaccines and consequently about 5-10 percent of local parents are not vaccinating their children with any of the available vaccines.
If you can get past the fact that we are members of the medical establishment and therefore are already biased, brainwashed or paid servants of Big Pharma, we would like to carry this discussion a bit further.
There is clearly a pattern today to dishonor a scientific evaluation that relies on double blind studies, random cohorts and peer reviewed evaluation — all steps to ensure that the conclusions reached are reproducibly valid. It is much easier to just believe that anecdotes are true, that the Internet holds all the hidden secrets of the world and that whatever you personally believe must be the absolute truth.
There is no doubt that over the years organized medicine has been guilty of jumping to conclusions — we are the ones that brought you such great treatments as thalidomide for a sleeping pill, X-rays to the face to cure acne (and cause thyroid cancer), unethical experiments like the Tuskegee Airmen, wholesale dispensing of estrogen to post menopausal women to prevent heart disease, overprescribing antibiotics or sham surgeries to cure heart disease. Those practices and firmly held-beliefs ended with someone questioning and then implementing rigorous double-blind studies.
Similar rigorous, double-blind studies are used to determine vaccine efficacy and safety. If we have to point to the two most important projects that have done the most to advance health for the greatest numbers they would be the sanitation effects from sewer/water projects and vaccinations.
One of the hurdles to offering vaccinations is that parents do not all see the consequences of not vaccinating. Parents from the 1950s remember the dread of their children getting the sniffles in the summer and worrying that it might really be polio or of seeing their child get measles and developing encephalitis, deafness or testicular atrophy. Look at how parents rushed to get the Salk Vaccine for their children in the 1950s because they knew the horror of polio and iron lungs.
Whether it is an increase in whooping cough cases and deaths, large outbreaks of measles with associated death and disability or the World Health Organization’s projected 4 million preventable child deaths worldwide, the consequences of not immunizing are still waiting there in front of us. Those viruses and bacteria that vaccines prepare us to fight off without getting ill are still present, whether it is whooping cough, measles, polio, etc.
If you lived in West Africa and could vaccinate against Ebola today, would you? From a personal standpoint, (and you are right, this is an anecdote) in 33 years of practicing in Homer we have seen the virtual disappearance of meningitis and epiglottitis due to the success of the Hib vaccine. Tragically, those two diseases have previously claimed the lives of several healthy, vibrant Homer children. Last year saw an outbreak of life-threatening epiglottitis in local unimmunized children.
The inference was made in the article last week that the dissenting scientist from the Centers for Disease Control strongly supported the idea that vaccines should be avoided because of a hidden conspiracy regarding a specific set of statistical manipulation. It would be appropriate to more completely quote his own words in that testimony:
“I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits,” said William Thompson, MD.
The rallying cry for medicine for years has been “Primum non Nocere” — first, do no harm. Unfortunately, everything we do has potential for harm. We know that we have to strongly support a procedure as common as an appendectomy even though we also know that someone, somewhere will be harmed from anesthesia, from infection, from surgical injury. More apt would be “ Saltem plus boni quam mali efficere conare” — try to do much more good than harm.
We very much support the right of patients to make up their own minds about the risks and benefits of medical procedures, because it really is a balancing act of harms and rewards that have to be individualized. If there is a 1 in 10,000 risk of a procedure but you are the one that has the bad outcome, for you it is 100 percent.
We just ask that it be an informed decision, that you actually understand how vaccines and the immune system work, that you understand the stimulus to the immune system from vaccines is not abnormal or unnatural, that you cannot get heavy metal poisoning from vaccines, that not immunizing your child does place others at some risk and that we all need to make decisions off well-run studies, not anecdotes from the Internet, headlines from the Enquirer and especially not from poorly run and overly funded experiments by big pharma.
There are many good resources in our local community for accurate information on vaccines including Public Health and your medical providers here in Homer. We suggest, above all, that these be informed decisions and can recommend vaccinateyourbaby.org or the Parents PACK at chop.edu. For a quick read to help understand the personal focus for medical decision making, we would recommend “The Smart Patient — Mistakes we Make About Our Health — and How to Avoid Them” by Gina Kolata.
Homer Medical Clinic providers signing this piece include: Devry Garrity, RN, pediatric advance nurse practitioner; Julie McCarron, RN, certified nurse midwife and lactation consultant; Jill Rife, RN, advanced family nurse practitioner; Mary Lou Kelsey, RN, certified nurse midwife; Sarah Roberts, MD; and William Bell, MD.