For months now, I have been mulling over in my mind, writing a number of posts on the anti-vaccination movement, both historically going back to the days of Joseph Lister and the original cowpox experiments, and the recent anti-vaccination movement in this country.
At this outset I will reveal my biases about vaccination in the interests of so-called “fair and balanced reporting” our modern catch phrase in the media that claims impartial reporting in the various media. I am a physician first and a psychiatrist second. I believe in the “common weal,” the common good as a physician who believes in the value of public health prevention. Otherwise we would have open sewer channels in the streets of congested urban areas as in the times of Charles Dickens, and horse droppings in the streets, public sewer systems and so on. I still hold comprehensive, accurate and impartial food inspection systems are vital to a society’s health. I thoroughly believe in public health screenings in public schools, for instance for vision, for aggressive mammography screening programs for women for breast cancer. I believe firmly in the concept of “herd immunity,” as vital to public health efforts. I support the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation’s efforts to vaccinate the vulnerable populations of the Third World, countries with almost nonexistent public health systems, to vaccinate populations to eradicate malaria.
I recall years ago moving back to the desert Southwest of this country less than 20 years ago, to spend a few years being close to my then near elderly parents and help my sister square them away as their health needs began to be paramount and restrict their long adventurous world wide traveling lifestyle. In that area of the country the a notable few of the states with a long cultural-political history of resentment and resistance to ‘outside interference” by the American federal government, supported the anti-vaccination movement. I was taken aback by the annual outbreaks of the measles, whooping cough and other preventable diseases in the young. My pediatric friends and colleagues would joke even in the nearly distant days, that their so-called modern, economically booming state was a “third world country” [some of them used far less flattering descriptions] in which the herd immunity had been lost in certain pediatric populations, not just the resented immigrant populations, and that preventable infections such as measles, chicken pox, and even the dreaded polio of my childhood, had annual outbreaks with the resultant inevitable few horrific consequences of deafness, brain damage, etc., and even death. I remember being aghast that such a thing could happen.
It was then I began to be aware of and study the anti-vaccination movement and its incredible irrationality based on near fanatic ideology, false evidence and the growing anti-scientific attitudes in this country that in my previous Ivory Tower academic practice, had largely escaped me in the first decade and a half of my practice world.
This article will serve as the introduction of a series of essays of observation, reporting and my own observations and conclusions about the anti-vaccination movement in this country. I will take I am sure, controversial positions and make assertions that are inflammatory to those who hold that the vaccination public health effort long established in the yellow fever experience of American companies and workers digging the Panama Canal in the early 1900’s, the preventive nation wide effort against the scourge of polio that I dimly remember as a young preschooler and elementary school student of the dawn of the vaccination movement in the USA. I remember that I was not allowed to go to public swimming pools for fun in those days as the misplaced fear was that polio was somehow spread in pools. As a kid, that pissed me off as the kids would say. But I remember my parents’ fear that I might somehow catch the dreaded scourge that would place on in leg braces or an “iron lung.” It was indeed terrifying as we had no idea what it was, how it was spread and until the Salk and Sabin vaccines were available, we had no treatment. Scary stuff back then for sure.
In those days the commencement of the anti-polio vaccination public health campaign, took place in every school in America. Every child was vaccinated. There was was not widespread opposition to it that I am aware of even now. And it worked as polio was virtually eradicated, until now…
This very week, the World Health Organization declared that North and South America, have been eradicated of German measles and rubella. This variety of measles is not the worst form of “measles.” But in pregnant women it is a dreaded and dangerous scourge. It can regularly cause grievous birth defects in the fetus of an expectant mother, and cause many birth defects, chief among of which is congenital hearing loss and deafness. I have in the last number of years of my career as a state hospital psychiatrist had the privilege of working with yet another population largely new to me, being the attending psychiatrist for the state wide psychiatric unit for the mentally ill deaf adults and the occasional adolescent for our entire state. I have been wonderfully introduced to the deaf culture, sign language and other delightful new areas attendant to the deaf in this role. The patients were unique and a joy to work with. But quite a number of them acquired their deafness from in utero exposure to German measles and were born deaf or had it as children an lost their hearing. I saw first hand the tragedies bourne out of ignoring this measure of preventing German measles.
I will go on in this episodic series of articles on the history of the science of vaccinations, which I will endeavor not to make too pedantic, boring and “academic,” to the reminding the reader of the benefits versus risks of vaccinations (and there I vow to bend over backward and present that material as I see it, as even handedly as I possibly can), and provide history of the anti-vaccination movement and its persistence today. I will, as fair warning to the reader, compare this now fairly widespread ‘belief system,’ as yet another manifestation of the anti-intellectual and anti-scientific ideological cultural movement in this country that has been around for over a 150 years and which is common to fundamentalist views going from religious quarters in this country, to the fanatical fundamentalist movements in other regions of the world whose anti-learning ideologies forbid education of women, demote modern knowledge in general, except it seems, in the areas of explosives, bomb making and modern weaponry, use of dangerous technologies such as dirty bombs and biological warfare, a modern toxic hypocrisy that poses danger to all.
I will further examine at least one modern western anti-vaccination movement originating in Britain with the long defrocked physician Andrew Wakefield of the United Kingdom, who allegedly submitted over a decade ago, inflammatory and later proven false scientific data connecting vaccination and autism. This wrought incalculable damage and was later proven to be false, causing the British Medical Journal to retract his data as false and falsified, caused him to lose his medical license. Typical of a certain kind of stubborn personality he showed no shame in his efforts and even recently in this country, in the state of Texas of all places, sue the BMJ alleging all kinds of defamation etc. I will give a ‘spoiler, ‘ right now; he apparently selected this out of his own country venue to bring suit as apparently it was a tactical legal maneuver to secure a sympathetic legal hearing for his cause, but two weeks ago or so, his case was thrown out! In all these specific examples as I cover them in detail, I will provide links to these sources and let the reader be the judge.
I will further along the way, provide what I think is necessary and also fascinating history of the anti-vaccination movement that goes back to the days of Lister and the use of cowpox against the scourge of smallpox. That will establish my aim to set the origins of the anti-vaccination movements in the camp of true ignorance which continues very unfortunately to this so-called modern day.
I realize this is a most contentious topic and I welcome comments from all viewpoints though I will exercise my chosen role as the author of this blog to ‘moderate’ the comments and present them fairly but with a request for civility in discourse.