I would like to begin by expressing my conflicts of interest, laying my cards on the table so to speak. I work as a research scientist for a major pharmaceutical company known as CSL Ltd. I have an autistic nephew who I love dearly. I believe in vaccination, I think it’s the most important tool we have to date when dealing with human morbidity and mortality. I believe whole heartedly in the scientific approach. I am incredibly frustrated with the rising movement of anti-vaccine advocates who are hell bent on blaming the problems of the world on vaccines and the ‘evil’ pharmaceutical companies that produce them. I think a new movement needs to start, educating the population on the forgotten benefits of vaccination and to stamp out some of the scare campaigns and miss information that is spreading like a disease over the internet.
The internet: a blessing and a curse.
Ahh the internet, where would we be without it, a world of knowledge at our fingertips. Currently for conventional scientific and medical discoveries, information is communicated by journal publications. These publications undergo intense peer review by other experts in the field. The authors must also communicate conflicts of interest (as I have done above) no matter how trivial they may seem. This level of scrutiny does not exist with content found on the internet. Anyone with computer and a modem can have their content ‘published’. I think people have a responsibility to fact check things they read on the internet, to question its validity, especially if is to do with health advice.
Some common myths about vaccination
Recent government figures show levels of childhood vaccination has fallen to dangerously low levels in parts of Australia and this is reflected worldwide. Not surprisingly the diseases that these vaccines prevent are on the rise (go figure). Here is a list of 4 common myths about vaccination circulating around the internet to date:
- Vaccines cause autism: This myth originated in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield, a former doctor published a fraudulent research paper claiming he had discovered a link between the administration of meals mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the onset of autism. Not only did he have several conflicts of interest, omit findings from his own experiments and conducted experiments unethically, he falsified data, a cardinal sin in science. Needless to say he was caught out and basically banished from practicing science or medicine ever again, but the damage was already done. It is suggested immunization rates in Britain alone dropped from 92% to 73% after Wakefield’s paper was published. A number of studies have since been published de-bunking Wakefield’s conclusions. So, no link between vaccines and autism.
- Vaccines contain toxins: A classic line used by anti-vaccine advocates, some claims are blatantly untrue (there is no anti-freeze in vaccines) or are simple scaremongering (Cells extracted from a foetuses in the 1960’s to establish a cell line does not translate to, ‘aborted foetuses in vaccines!’). An important thing to remember is that toxicity is in the dose. Chemicals in vaccines are in trace amounts and could never reach toxicity. A pear has 600 times more formaldehyde than a vaccine (we should stop eating pears right!). Also, vaccines are NOT injected directly into the bloodstream (a classic line).
- Vaccines will overwhelm kids’ undeveloped immune system: The amount of immune challenges that children fight every day in the environment is significantly greater than the number of antigens or reactive particles in all their vaccinations combined
- I got the flu from the flu shot: No. You didn’t. You propably had a cold. The influenza vaccine is developed using an attenuated, inactivated, split version of the virus. Immunity to influenza takes approximately 2 weeks. Side effects may include low-grade fever and slight muscle aches. Symptoms of the actual flu can be much, much worse.
Andrew Wakefield and Jenny MacCarthy (celebrity anti-vaccine advocate) are using their influence to spread fear and miss-information regarding vaccination and this is having a direct effect on the health and wellbeing of people. Communication in science has never been more important, a worldwide effort is required. Scientists and doctors need to get involved to publicly explain how vaccination works, its safety and efficacy. We should reflect on the past and teach people about the crippling effects of diseases such as polio which is threating to re-emerge if vaccination isn’t maintained. The younger generations are becoming complacent; a lot of people would never have heard of an iron lung let alone seen one, vaccination in some ways has become a victim of its own success. If we need movie stars to sell the concept then so be it. Get Tom Cruise jumping up and down on a couch professing his love for MMR vaccine! The revolution should begin with intelligent individuals such as you, reading this blog.