A shot of willful ignorance

Saturday March 30, 2013

The anti-vaccine crowd was dealt another blow on Friday after a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics concluded there is no connection between autism and vaccines.

The study is the latest in more than 20 that reaches the same conclusion.

"This study shows definitively that there is no connection between the number of vaccines that children receive in childhood, or the number of vaccines that children receive in one day, and autism," said Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer at Autism Speaks.

"These results indicate that parental concerns that their children are receiving too many vaccines in the first two years of life or too many vaccines at a single doctor visit are not supported in terms of an increased risk of autism," wrote the authors of the study.

They also noted that "The possibility that immunologic stimulation from vaccines during the first one to two years of life could be related to the development of (autism spectrum disorder) is not well supported by the known neurobiology of ASD, which tends to be genetically determined with origins in prenatal development, although possible effects in early infancy cannot be ruled out completely."

Parents have been concerned over the number of vaccines children receive in their first two years of life: Twenty years ago it was nine vaccines and today it is 14. The studies authors said children are actually exposed to fewer antigens today than 20 years ago because modern vaccines are more sophisticated than their predecessors. Because they are more advanced, children are exposed to a total of 315 antigens.

"That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the billions of microbes -- from bacteria to yeast -- that babies encounter in their first hours of life," wrote USA Today’s Liz Szabo.

Vaccines have been under attack since 1998, when a study by Andrew Wakefield of Royal Free Hospital in London, published in the highly regarded Lancet, concluded there was a link between vaccines and ASD. The study was retracted in 2010, long after many researchers argued that not only were its conclusions false, the study was an out-and-out case of fraud.

Nevertheless, the myth that vaccines cause autism persisted, and even following this study, will still persist.

The National Vaccine Information Center, which bills itself as an advocacy group that questions the safety and efficacy of vaccines, claims "The vaccine injured community is composed of people, young and old, who are suffering from a spectrum of chronic illness and disabilities ...."

They include autism, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, mental retardation, seizures, multiple sclerosis, learning disabilities and developmental delays.

"The litany of effects is interesting, given that ... none of them has actually been linked to vaccines in real medical studies," noted Slate’s Phil Plait.

As Plait writes, the benefits far outweigh any perceived risks of vaccinations. "If you live in the U.S., try to find someone who has polio. Or go anywhere in the world and see how many folks suffering from smallpox you can find."

Despite the indisputable scientific evidence severing the link between autism and vaccines, well-meaning parents continue to put the health and welfare of their children at risk of debilitating life-long illness and even death.

That is evidenced by the appearance of diseases nearly eradicated, such as rubella, mumps and whooping cough.

The hysteria against vaccinations is also stopping many parents from asking for the HPV vaccine, which has been proven to prevent cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men.

Is the anti-vaccine sentiment just another symptom of the anti-science craziness that appears to have conquered the minds of many Americans? These are the people who don’t believe in global climate change and evolution and treat all scientists with suspicion.

This attitude is dangerous, not only to the future of life as we know it but also to our children and our grandchildren. This unhesitating willful ignorance would be laughable if it wasn’t so frightening. It’s too bad there isn’t a vaccine for anti-science, but even if there was, many people would still avoid it like, well, the plague.


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