Anti-Vaccination Beliefs Spark Epidemic

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.

plague masks to ward off miasmaAs 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.

The intrepid Jamie Bernstein corners Andrew Wakefield

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.

It said

“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.


Filed under General Thoughts, In the News

15 responses to “Anti-Vaccination Beliefs Spark Epidemic

  1. Maybe they are aiming for “homeopathic vaccination”… if the vaccination compliance rate is sufficiently diluted, the herd immunity will be that much stronger!

  2. Sam

    I’m just curious, isn’t it better to have some obligations in government level to force society on action regarding welfare and prosperity? I think too much democracy is not making any good for society.

    • brucehood

      I have to agree – after all, in the UK, we can enforce a mental health section act on someone if they represent a danger to themselves and others…. heh wait a minute…. that sounds familiar….

  3. I do wish I had one of those plague outfits to wear on ‘bad hair days’. They are the shizzle.

  4. Arno

    “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.”
    Seems Jamie is a little too friendly for Andrew there. The guy deliberately manipulated his data for economic purposes. He didn’t want to help people, he wanted to enrich himself, irrespective of the consequences to others. And this makes him just as evil (yep, I have no other words for it) as McCormick. Hell, Wakefield is even worse, due to the horrifying long-term consequences, the much larger scale of the effects, and due to the fact that he was a doctor: someone that we have reasons to actually trust. He abused this trust, both of the scientific community and the public at large.

    • Yes, a lot of people said I was being too “friendly” toward him at the beginning of the letter. I did that in an attempt to get him to read further. Starting off with “Dear Mr. Wakefield, You kill babies” might be more accurate (and make me feel better!) but would likely cause him to throw it out without reading the rest.

  5. The ripple effects are broad and deep. I coordinate a program for young children with Autism. I also provide diagnostic evaluations. I often have to share with parents the reality of a Autism diagnosis. They often, in the emotionality of the moment, want to assign blame. They are sometimes misguided by the illusion of causation. However, when we talk these things through, they often acknowledge that they knew things were awry well before the vaccine.

    What is amazing is the depth of fear that penetrates even well educated parents. My program is an ABA-VB evidenced based program. Some of my staff are young teachers of child bearing age. Despite the data (that I enthusiastically share with them) and despite the disrepute of Dr. Wakefield, the fear of causation clouds judgment and leads to decisions with little regard for the heard. “Yes but…” is what I hear – also “What if…?” When it comes to vaccines, many insulas are excited. A lot of error correction is necessary – and the epidemic of Autism (real or not) elicits agency detection — something or someone is to blame. This vaccine paranoia has generalized it seems. Our intuitive errors are destined to destroy us (forgive the anthropogenic, agency assigning melodrama).

    • brucehood

      Thanks for sharing that Gerald… I used to see it when I worked with brain-damaged babies… parents clinging to any hope and who can blame them.

  6. “Way to go Jamie. How to crush a man’s ego. Brilliant! I bet he felt gutted.”

    If only his parents had insisted that he have his Gutting Immunity Treatment (GIT) vaccination when he was a nipper….

    Oh well, too late now. He is one.

  7. Great article! Jenny McCarthy should read it, and she should get that ace letter at the end. Man, people need to realize that just because a study says something (Wakefield) doesn’t mean it’s undeniable truth. Research methodologies can be terribly flawed and biased.

    On a more serious note, it really is disturbing that so many people believe in the link between autism and vaccines because it hurts people. Unnecessarily illness and spreads communicable disease which could be prevented! For shame! Thanks for making sure more people become aware of the dangers here.

  8. Rox

    I believe the USA is now suffering badly from outbreaks of measles for similar reasons.,

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