Did you know that Andrew Wakefield is originally from Bath and went to school in this fine city? That’s the second local person that I have blogged about who has been at the centre of some really dangerous beliefs.
As you are probably aware, people used to escape the squalor and disease of London by visiting spa towns like Bath to take the waters centuries ago. During this time people still believed in miasma (“bad air”) as the major cause of cholera epidemics. During epidemics, people would walk around with “plague masks” shaped like a birds beak, stuffed with special herbs to cover the smell of corpses and disease as well as combat the miasma. However, in 1851, John Snow, a London physician figured out how cholera epidemics spread through poor sanitation by tracing the outbreaks back to a single water pump in Soho and thus the field of epidemiology was born and the miasma belief disappeared.
Epidemiology is the statistical science for studying disease in the population. It addresses large scale studies looking for the factors that contribute to illness. It was through large scale epidemiology studies, that scientists were able disprove claims that giving children the triple vaccine caused autism. As many of you are probably aware, this claim was made in a paper to “The Lancet” written by Andrew Wakefield that triggered a mass hysteria that vaccination was unsafe. Despite the fact that the study was flawed, contaminated by conflicts of interest and subsequently disproven by good epidemiological studies, once the whiff of doubt has been expelled, the smell lingered on. Even though Wakefield has been struck off the medical register for unethical research, people are still frightened of giving their children vaccines even though this puts them at a greater risk.
Anti-vaccination hysteria has now sparked a whooping cough epidemic in Marin County, California according to a recent article in the New York Times. Marin County is ranked no. 1 in the Bay Area in 2009 for parents choosing not to vaccinate their children on the basis of a “personal belief exemption”. That is shocking and in my opinion inexcusable. It tantamount to playing Russian Roulette with your children and ever other kid in the neighbourhood – especially newborns who are too young for vaccination.
What’s worse, and again sadly familiar, is that these beliefs are held by highly educated parents. According to the article, Caroline Lawson, the mother featured in the piece is an MIT graduate who prefers to treat whooping cough with herbs, homeopathic remedies and craniosacral therapy, as well as antibiotics. Why not pop on a plague mask as well? At least it will also be fun for the kids.
Here is a picture of Andrew Wakefield at an anti-vaccination rally in Chicago earlier this year.
I just had to add this to the post after discovering that the wonderful Jamie Bernstein, who is pictured here with Wakefield, handed him a note. I bet he thought that he had got lucky with her phone number until he read it later.
“Dear Andrew Wakefield,
I know that you truly believe that what you are doing is helping people and that the ends justify the means, but I just want you to know that the things you are doing –- the actions you have taken in the past have hurt people –- killed people. Your work has scared and manipulated parents into not vaccinating their children, putting them and their entire community at risk, all in the name of safety. Children have died because of you. I just want to make sure that you fully understand that.
Way to go Jamie. How to crush a man’s ego. Brilliant! I bet he felt gutted.