Tuesday ReadsPosted: February 3, 2015
The Midwest and Northeast were hit with another huge snowstorm yesterday, and there could be another one on the way. I may never get my car out of the driveway again. The strange thing is that it is also incredibly cold, in the single numbers again this morning. I’m going to wait until it gets into the 20s before I start trying to get my front door open and start digging out. I’m also struggling with a cold, so I’m going to have to shovel slowly.
The measles outbreak and the vaccine “controversy” are the stories topping the news today, after several politicians weighed in yesterday. I’m going to focus on those stories again today.
First up, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. From Jeffrey Kluger at Time Magazine: Chris Christie’s Terrible Vaccine Advice.
Last I checked, Chris Christie isn’t a licensed commercial pilot, which is one reason he probably doesn’t phone the cockpit with instructions when his flight encounters turbulence. Chances are, he doesn’t tell his plow operators how to clear a road when New Jersey gets hit by a snow storm either. But when it comes to medicine, the current Governor, former prosecutor and never doctor evidently feels pretty free to dispense advice. And doncha’ know it? That advice turns out to be terrible.
Asked about the ongoing 14-state outbreak of measles that has been linked to falling vaccination rates, Christie—the man who prides himself on chin-jutting certainty—went all squishy. “Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” he said. “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”
The Governor then went further, taking off his family doctor hat and putting on his epidemiologist hat. “Not every vaccine is created equal,” he said, “and not every disease type is as great a public health threat as others.”
He was not specific about which diseases fall below his public-health threat threshold, but New Jerseyans are free to guess. Would it be polio, which paralyzed or killed tens of thousands of American children every year before a vaccine against it was developed? Would it be whooping cough, which results in hospitalization for 50% of all infants who contract it and death for 2%, and is now making a comeback in California due to the state’s low vaccination rates? Are we going to have mandatory HSV 2 testing? Or would it be measles, which still kills nearly 150,000 people—mostly children—worldwide every year?
Christie later tried to walk back his remarks about vaccines, but he has a history of pandering to anti-vaxxers. During his 2009 campaign for governor, Christie wrote the following in a letter to supporters:
“Many of these families have expressed their concern over New Jersey’s highest-in-the nation vaccine mandates. I stand with them now, and will stand with them as their governor in their fight for greater parental involvement in vaccination decisions that affect their children.”
Next up, Senator Rand Paul. At the Washington Post, Jose A. DelReal writes: Rand Paul, M.D., says most vaccines should be ‘voluntary.’
“I’m not anti-vaccine at all but…most of them ought to be voluntary,” Paul told Laura Ingraham on her radio show Monday. “I think there are times in which there can be some rules but for the most part it ought to be voluntary.”
Paul pointed to a 2007 effort by then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is also considering a 2016 run for the Republican nomination, that would have required young girls to receive a vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV). That move was sharply attacked by social conservatives who said requiring vaccination against HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease, would encourage promiscuity. The Texas legislature eventually overturned the mandate. Perry later called the order “a mistake.”
“While I think it’s a good idea to take the vaccine, I think that’s a personal decision for individual’s to take,” Paul said, attempting to strike a balance between responsible medical protocols and personal choice.
Like Christie, Paul made sure his own children were vaccinated. But Paul really went off the deep end later on Monday.
Speaking on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” later Monday, Paul said that there should be increased public awareness that vaccines are good for children, but reiterated that vaccines should be voluntary, as he said they were in the past.
“I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” Paul said. “I’m not arguing vaccines are a bad idea. I think they’re a good thing. But I think parents should have some input. The state doesn’t own your children, parents own the children and it is an issue of freedom and public health.”
Parents “own their children?” WTF?! And what are these “profound mental disorders?” Who are these children and what vaccines did they get? I can’t believe the media lets this man get away with throwing out these evidence-free claims.
At The Week, Ryan Cooper explains the immorality of Christie’s and Paul’s positions.
…this entire argumentative frame misses the greatest benefit of vaccines: herd immunity. A population vaccinated to a high enough level becomes largely impervious to the disease by sheer statistics, and that protects the vulnerable ones who can’t be vaccinated, or those whose vaccines didn’t take root. Vaccines are not just about preventing personal illness, but stopping them from spreading. Done systematically enough, it can eradicate diseases completely. The elimination of smallpox, which killed something like 300 million people in the 20th century alone, ranks high on the list of human accomplishments.
That is why this is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. The appalling selfishness inherent in the idea of “vaccine choice” was starkly illustrated in a recent CNN story. After the measles outbreak at Disneyland, CNN talked to a family whose 10-month old baby had contracted the disease. They’re terrified he’ll pass it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who has leukemia and can’t get the vaccine — but might be killed by the disease. Here’s the response of a refusenik parent:
CNN asked Wolfson if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got another child gravely ill. “I could live with myself easily,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I’m not going to put my child at risk to save another child.” [CNN]
In other words, it’s okay to cause the death of another child if your kid wants to go to Disneyland. And that’s leaving aside the risk to Wolfson’s own kids, who are put at risk by his atrocious parenting.
Every person depends on society to function. From public roads, to sanitation, to clean water, to the very economic system itself — your day is made possible by millions of other people doing their small part to maintain our civilization. When it comes to violently contagious diseases, it is not possible to speak meaningfully of choice divorced from the needs of those people.
Here’s a little more on Dr. Wolfson from Terrence McCoy at The Washington Post: Amid measles outbreak, anti-vaccine doctor revels in his notoriety.
“Don’t be mad at me for speaking the truth about vaccines,” Wolfson said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. “Be mad at yourself, because you’re, frankly, a bad mother. You didn’t ask once about those vaccines. You didn’t ask about the chemicals in them. You didn’t ask about all the harmful things in those vaccines…. People need to learn the facts.”
But whose facts is he talking about? Every respectable expert totally disagrees with him and his anti-vaccine movement and, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, urges parents to get their kids vaccinated. And Wolfson himself, who has quickly become something of a spokesman for the anti-vaxxers, is in no way an expert on vaccines or infectious diseases. He’s cardiologist who now does holistic medicine.
What the experts say: “The measles vaccine is one of the most highly effective vaccines that we have against any virus or any microbe, and it is safe, number one,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS. “Number two, measles is one of the top two most contagious infectious viruses that we know of…. So you have a highly infectious virus and you have an extraordinarily effective vaccine.”
Despite the measles outbreak that has spread to at least 14 states, Wolfson’s advice to parents is:
Wolfson actively urges people to avoid vaccines. “We should be getting measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, these are the rights of our children to get it,” he told the Arizona Republic. “We do not need to inject chemicals into ourselves and into our children in order to boost our immune system.” He added: “I’m a big fan of what’s called paleo-nutrition, so our children eat foods that our ancestors have been eating for millions of years…. That’s the best way to protect.”
Should kids have polio too?
McCoy also wrote recently about Andrew Wakefield the British doctor who started the vaccine panic:
If the [measles] outbreak proves anything, it’s Wakefield’s enduring legacy. Even years after he lost his medical license, years after he was shown to have committed numerous ethical violations, and years after the retraction of a medical paper that alleged a vaccine-autism link, his message resonates. Facebook is populated by pages like “Dr. Wakefield’s Work Must Continue.” There’s the Web site called “We Support Andrew Wakefield,” which peddles the Wakefieldian doctrine. And thousands sign petitions pledging support….
Wakefield’s defenders frequently harbor a deep distrust of government. “They often suggest that vaccination is motivated by profit and is an infringement of personal liberty and choice; vaccines violate the laws and nature and are temporary or ineffective; and good hygiene is sufficient to protect against disease,” said a 2008 editorial in Nature.
And in Wakefield, who still preaches the gospel of anti-vaccination from Texas, such individuals find a true martyr — a man who has sacrificed everything to take on powerful pharmaceutical companies and the biggest villain of all: the government. Those who came to hear him speak in 2011 at Graceview Baptish Church in Tomball, Texas, left messages of encouragement, according to the New York Times: “We stand by you!” and “Thank you for the many sacrifices you have made for the cause!” Another person, suddenly aware that a reporter was in the midst, warned the writer she better be careful. “Be nice to him,” the woman said. “Or we will hurt you.
“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one,” J.B. Handley, co-founder of a group that disputes vaccine safety, told the Times. “He is a symbol of how all of us feel.”
Read much more about Wakefield and his discredited research at the WaPo link.
Meanwhile measles continues to spread from coast to coast. Here’s a map of reported cases at the NYT.
What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!