Sunday, January 15, 2017

9.5 - Outrage of the Week: TheRump considering panel desired by anti-vaxxers

Outrage of the Week: TheRump considering panel desired by anti-vaxxers

In a post on my blog a bit over two years ago I - I think rather gently - went after the so-called "anti-vaxxers." These are people who are opposed to vaccinations, either of all children or just of their own, on the grounds that the vaccines, or to be more exact a preservative used in them called thimerosal, is related to a variety of neurological disorders, mainly autism. I called such folks "wrong scientifically and wrong ethically and wrong practically."

The baseline claim, which has been flatly rejected by the scientific community, is that because thimerosal contains a mercury compound, that vaccinations cause mercury poisoning with causes autism.

A few months later I gave the Clown Award to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has long campaigned on a claim of a connection between thimerosal and autism, after he used the term "holocaust" in reference to this imagined link. Kennedy insists he is not against vaccination but continues to spin tales of massive conspiracies among government, Big Pharma, and the medical profession to "hide the truth" about the "holocaust" he claims they have caused.

The fact is, there is no sound scientific basis for any of it.

The whole business arose in the early 1990s, when there was an increase in autism, or, more properly, autism spectrum disorders. People in and out of the medical community were looking for an explanation.

Around the same time, there was a push for more children to be vaccinated earlier and over a shorter time. Aha! said some, embracing the false notion that coincidence equals causality. It's the vaccinations that are causing autism! We know mercury is poisonous, so that must be the cause!

The notion really got going in 1998, when British researcher Andrew Wakefield published a paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine, the one for for measles, mumps, and rubella. It has continued as a fringe belief ever since.

There are, however, a few inconvenient truths for those true believers:

First, it developed that Wakefield's data were fraudulent. In 2010, he was found guilty of professional misconduct by Britain's General Medical Council and his license was revoked.

Next, there is not a single documented case of a connection between vaccinations and autism. Or between thimerosal and autism. Or even between mercury and autism.

In fact, the typical symptoms of mercury poisoning are significantly different from those of autism and under scans the brains of people suffering from mercury poisoning are very different from the brains of autistic people.

What's more, except for flu vaccines, thimerosal has not been used in vaccines in the US for over 15 years - even as the rate of autism in children has more than doubled over that same time.

Bottom line: There is no sound basis either in science or logic to connect vaccination in general or thimerosal in particular to autism. Period.

What there is a sound basis for, on the other hand, is the contention that these fantasy fears have created the community of anti-vaxxers with the predictable result of increases in diseases for which vaccines are routinely available. A 15% increase in whooping cough in the US in 2015, clustered in areas where the rate of vaccination had declined. Some 200 cases of measles that year in a nation from which the disease had been declared eradicated 15 years earlier.

The persistence of this fantasy about the dangers of inoculation is going to cause children to die of preventable diseases - while not saving a single one from autism.

And it promises nothing good to note that among those who question the safety of vaccines is the Great Orange One himself. He claims he's not an anti-vaxxer, just a "slow vaxxer" - that is, have the inoculations spread out over a longer period of time, even though that increases the risk to the children by failing to protect them when they can be. His reason for this is, this is a quote, is that "children are not small horses."

But despite his claim of being "pro-vaccination," TheRump met with the disgraced and discredited Andrew Wakefield and a group of other anti-vaxxers at a donor event in Florida in August.

Subsequent to that event, Wakefield said that one of his two federal priorities as an activist if I can disgrace that honorable term that much is to set up an independent board on vaccine safety.

Well, guess what: TheRump is thinking of setting up a commission on "vaccine safety and scientific integrity." According to who? According to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who met with TheRump on January 10 and came out of the meeting not only saying TheRump was planning on such a commission but that he wanted Kennedy to chair it.

TheRump's team demurred, saying the Great Orange One is "exploring the possibility" of such a committee, but "no decisions have been made." But considering TheRump has repeatedly questioned vaccination and has repeatedly publicly embraced the fringe skeptics who have lost themselves in their fantasies while denying the evidence, that is to put it mildly not reassuring.

The fact that such a committee is even being considered is an affront to reason, a slap in the face of scientific research, an insult to the medical and public health communities, and a danger to the health and well-being of the nation's children.

The possibility that such a committee could be headed up by someone who has termed the practice of childhood vaccination as having caused a "holocaust" is even worse and serves to point up the nature of the delusional, anti-science, fact-free world we appear to be entering as a nation.

And that is not only an outrage - it is frightening.

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