Another entry into the “what has our government turned into” category. It doesn’t revolve around law enforcement or terrorism, even though both of those are bad enough. No, this is an appointment to a position of power by a person supremely unqualified (anti-qualified? is that a word?) to hold it.
An anti-vaccine advocate, Stephanie Christner, has been appointed to the FDA Advisory Committee on Vaccines and Related Biological Products. She is the consumer representative. This is horrible. Studies have repeatedly exposed anti-vaccine rhetoric as hoaxes. We now have outbreaks of measles and pertussis, diseases which were though to be well on their way to extinction years ago, because of anti-vaccine hysteria.
Dr. Christner claims her daughter died as a result of vaccinations. There is little to support that claim. If she truly believes that vaccination is dangerous, what chance is there that she will be a decent advocate for their use?
Anti-vaccination people infuriate me more than any other proponent of “junk science,” more than climate change deniers, more than AIDS denialists, more than young-earth creationists. The harm they do can be measured in children and adults affected in the here and now, and costs incurred to control the spread of disease today, rather than the uncertain future. Of course, the truth is that most of these deaths occur in the developing world. But there have been outbreaks of measles in the U.S. and the U.K. in the past few years.
There is a reason vaccines were developed: these childhood diseases can cause permanent damage or kill. Most at risk are newborns too young to vaccinate and people who cannot take the vaccination for medical reasons. Previously, such individuals were covered by “herd immunity,” which occurs when a large enough percentage of the population is vaccinated. Outbreaks in recent years have demonstrated how that immunity is undermined by fearful and selfish parents.
I say this because one of the most common excuses is a fear of autism. I have an autistic son. There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that his vaccines caused that. And even if it had? I would still have vaccinated. The danger posed by diseases such as measles and pertussis is too large to ignore. To not vaccinate is to ignore a civic duty, to abrogate responsibilities to society at large.
Not vaccinating children is a luxury available only in societies such as the United States that have heretofore had a strong history of vaccinating against diseases. If no one you grew up with got rubella because they got vaccinated, it is very easy to pretend that rubella does not exist anymore, and that vaccines are superfluous. This poses a threat to the well-being of children now, but it poses even a much greater threat to potential children down the road: children whose mothers contract rubella during pregnancy can suffer extreme fetal abnormalities. What lies in store for all of those girls who will grow up unvaccinated? I have always said that when my sons bring home potential (female) mates, I will ask “Have you been vaccinated for rubella? If not, why not? When can I make an appointment for you to it?”
The cases that anti-vaccination advocates put forth as demonstrating the dangers of vaccinations are all “after the fact” evaluations of children that suffered harm. Correlation is not causation. And I know, from personal evidence (I know, it’s anecdotal, and the plural of anecdote is not data), that when you have a child that develops a serious health condition you look for anything to explain what happened. Vaccines are an easy culprit.
I’m just waiting for — and dreading — polio returning to the United States. Polio has not been eradicated in the Middle East, for example, and with air travel it is entirely possible for diseases to jump continents. At least anti-vaccine nuts can’t dismiss polio as just another “childhood disease”: there are too many stories of people dying and being permanently paralyzed by the disease.
Which brings us to our next outrageous piece of anti-vaccination news: local leaders in Pakistan have outlawed the vaccination of children. This is fallout from the CIA using the vaccination of children to obtain DNA samples to determine the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Vaccinators have been jailed, even killed. Pakistan remains one of the places in the world where the polio virus still thrives.
That the CIA could use a ruse as doctors to try and elicit information is unethical beyond belief. It beggars the imagination that doctors could cooperate with such a program, but then again, doctors have assisted at executions in the U.S. and helped torture detainees at American facilities.