Mike the Mad Biologist

Or at least, antivaxxer idiocy isn’t correlated with political leanings. Last week, in response to a post by Chris Mooney I argued that liberals weren’t more likely to refuse vaccination, despite the stereotype that vaccination denialism is more prevalent among the left (that’s always struck me as a ‘limousine liberal’ type of canard). Kevin Drum, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, and Josh Rosenau all chimed in. Chris Mooney, with an assist from Brendan Nyhan, discusses two more polls that indicate political affiliation has little to do with vaccination denialism. First, the response to anti-vaxxer starlet Jenny McCarthy:

In late 2009, USA Today/Gallup asked a question about Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax views:

Did Jenny McCarthy’s statements (she believes her son developed autism after getting a common childhood vaccine) make you more likely to question the safety of vaccines for children, or did her statements not make you more likely to question the safety of childhood vaccines?

…So here are the results: Liberals (41% not aware, 38 % aware but not more likely, 21 % aware and more likely); Moderates (48 % not aware, 28 % aware but not more likely, 24 % aware and more likely); Conservatives (49 % not aware, 28 % aware but not more likely, 23 % aware and more likely).

These results basically suggest that there’s little or no political divide in terms of who falls for Jenny McCarthy’s misinformation. Notably, liberals were somewhat more aware of her claims and yet, nevertheless, were least likely to listen to them. But not by a huge margin or anything.

Pew in 2009 asked if childhood vaccines should be required or left up to parental choice (which isn’t a great question). The response:

69 % of Americans thought they should be required (vs 82 % of scientists), while 28 % would leave it to parental choice (vs 17 % of scientists).

What’s interesting here is that Pew also provided a political breakdown of the results, and there was simply no difference between Democrats and Republicans. 71 % of members of both parties said childhood vaccinations should be required, while 26 % of Republicans and 27 % of Democrats said parents should decide. (Independents were slightly worse: 67 % said vaccinations should be required, while 30 % favored parental choice.)

It seems this issue hasn’t been politicized (yet). Now, if only more people would get their flu shots…

Comments

  1. #1 Johnny
    April 30, 2011

    My personal experiences are that the medical profession asks but provides no ‘in your face’ rationale for the vaccines (afraid of lawsuits, maybe?). On the other hand, the opponents of vaccinations speak quite freely about their beliefs. Arguing with them is like converting a birther to reality. Given the dearth of real (scientific) research by the average person on any subject we end up where we are, with no political lines as politicians do not address it forcefully either.
    Thank you all for the discussions here in the community! Now how do we get a factual, informative discussion into mainstream ‘news’ without equal time to the opponents with no meaningful facts?

  2. #2 Mary
    April 30, 2011

    See, for me the issue isn’t that the same number of left and right deniers behave this way. It’s that the left *thinks* it is more science-friendly on issues like climate, evolution, etc. They rely on science for those issues. But on this they diverge. More interesting to me would be those numbers: what’s the delta on left science issues besides vax vs those for vax.

    I attended a CDC meeting in Somerville–our back yard–and it was loaded with both left and right anti-vaxxers. The room was full of conspiracy theorists, libertarians who were certain they were all about to be forced to vaccinate, and crunchy Cambridge moms who were certain they had the troof.

    By the way, the number of reality-based individuals at this meeting was small, despite being so adjacent to so many supporters of science. It was very hard to be one of a small handful of those folks in that room. Science did not come out to stand for this and help the CDC. I was rather pissed off by that.

  3. #3 Eric
    April 30, 2011

    I believe Childhood vaccinations should be mandatory absolutely. I also believe Jenny McCarthy is wrong. On the other hand, I’ve never had a flu vaccination. not out of fear that I will suddenly become autistic or anything though.

    Funny anecdote, I work for a small architectural firm, years ago I recall seeing small posters around the office complex stating “Can you afford to catch the flu?” advertising flu shots for $15. Well everyone in my office paid their $15 and got their flu shots, but me and one other.

    Everyone who got their flu shot, but me and one other, also got the flu.

    The following year when the posters appeared, the running joke was “Can you afford to catch the flu?, its only $15″

    of course none of that invalidates vaccines, and it may very well be that had those friends not gotten a vaccination that their symptoms would have been worse. I dont know.

  4. #4 Tony
    April 30, 2011

    I know Wakefield’s work has been censored, retracted, banned, debunked, etc. Do you know if this study still stands?

    Pediatrics. 1998 Mar;101(3 Pt 1):383-7.

    Acute encephalopathy followed by permanent brain injury or death associated with further attenuated measles vaccines: a review of claims submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

    Weibel RE, Caserta V, Benor DE, Evans G.

    SourceDivision of Vaccine Injury Compensation, National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, Health Resources and Services Administration, Public Health Service, Rockville, Maryland 20857, USA.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVE: To determine if there is evidence for a causal relationship between acute encephalopathy followed by permanent brain injury or death associated with the administration of further attenuated measles vaccines (Attenuvax or Lirugen, Hoechst Marion Roussel, Kansas City, MO), mumps vaccine (Mumpsvax, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), or rubella vaccines (Meruvax or Meruvax II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), combined measles and rubella vaccine (M-R-Vax or M-R-Vax II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), or combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (M-M-R or M-M-R II, Merck and Co, Inc, West Point, PA), the lead author reviewed claims submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

    METHODS: The medical records of children who met the inclusion criteria of receiving the first dose of these vaccines between 1970 and 1993 and who developed such an encephalopathy with no determined cause within 15 days were identified and analyzed.

    RESULTS: A total of 48 children, ages 10 to 49 months, met the inclusion criteria after receiving measles vaccine, alone or in combination. Eight children died, and the remainder had mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits, and movement disorders. The onset of neurologic signs or symptoms occurred with a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9. No cases were identified after the administration of monovalent mumps or rubella vaccine.

    CONCLUSIONS: This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a complication of measles immunization.

  5. #5 Mokele
    April 30, 2011

    Tony – the sample size is far too poor. Come back with an N or 10,000 or more, minimum. Don’t bother doing science if you won’t do it right.

  6. #6 nsib
    April 30, 2011

    Mokele,

    If you’re going to critique a study, at least do it right! Sample size isn’t an issue here, since they looked at two decades of NVIC records, which should tell you right there half of what’s wrong with the study.

    Tony,

    That study looks like a classic case of the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. They went looking for a pattern, any pattern at all, and found one. But from the way they looked at the data there’s no way to tell if it’s just noise or not.

  7. #7 Narad
    May 1, 2011

    I find it rather curious that anyone would think there might be a political correlation in the first place. I’ve never seen anything to suggest that politics enter beyond the matter of trying to ensure that “exemptions,” construed to encompass everything from public education to private employment, are magically and frivolously available. (This extends to speculation about which countries to emigrate to, apparently at will, when the climate becomes too draconian.) It’s entirely single-minded and frequently fanciful as to the actual legal situation.

  8. #8 Ross Coe
    May 1, 2011

    Its been 15 years since my child became autistic with seizures. I’ve spent time almost every day searching for answers, and have been on plenty of sites like this that berate anyone who questions whether vaccines have even minor issues. What i found is that denial is a cure for skepticism if not a panacea. Its ludicrous to believe vaccines have no issues. Even more ludicrous to poll average people about Jenny McCarthy. A honest person would want to sum things up by saying we are stronger if we fight autism together instead fighting each other. We will have a tough time though now that a new tactic used in the U.S. is to give blanket protection to vaccine producers instead of having high expectations of them. Now, one could hope, this protection will allow them opportunity to spend money on perfecting vaccines, and ending the autism pandemic, but I believe they won’t. Their denial is all its taken to get away with it so far, and governments we elect and pay have decided who’s side they’re on. It will be business as usual, or worse, as they have little to fear if new vaccines cause more death and destruction. So those of you who so easily support them, will have your opportunity to have a child or grandchild damaged for life. We’ll see how you like it, and see how you’ll scream for answers and justice then.

  9. #9 Andrew
    May 1, 2011

    Until my son was diagnosed with autism, I didn’t pay much attention to the question of vaccine safety, but now I feel I have to care – because every time an “pro-vaccine-safety” (ie pro-disease) advocate lies about the supposed connection between vaccines and autism, he is lying about my son, and wasting resources that could be used to help him and others. If the folks who make money on those lies (or who have been misled into supporting the liars) don’t like the facts, I don’t particularly care.

  10. #10 Narad
    May 1, 2011

    A honest person would want to sum things up by saying we are stronger if we fight autism together instead fighting each other, but I’d rather just indulge my antivaccine hobby.

    Fixed.

  11. #11 Renee
    May 2, 2011

    Re: 9 (Ross)

    The more time people waste going after the red herring (vaccines in this case) the farther away we’ll be from prevention or treatment. You’re the one that’s making things worse.

  12. #12 kermit
    May 2, 2011

    Ross Coe: “Its been 15 years since my child became autistic with seizures.”

    I am very sorry to hear that; both for your sake and your child’s.

    “I’ve spent time almost every day searching for answers, and have been on plenty of sites like this that berate anyone who questions whether vaccines have even minor issues.”

    I doubt if any of those sites berate anyone who claims that vaccines “have minor issues”. We know they sometimes do; some particular vaccines have been known to cause serious damage and even deaths. Also, they sometimes use weakened but live vaccines, and a certain percentage of people will get the disease. But this is justified if it reduces your chances overall. (Some folks have suffered because they were belted in during a car accident, but many, many more were saved because of it.)

    “What i found is that denial is a cure for skepticism if not a panacea. Its ludicrous to believe vaccines have no issues.”

    Again, nobody has said that. But vaccines are not associated with *autism*.

    “Even more ludicrous to poll average people about Jenny McCarthy.”

    Why? The purpose of the poll was not to determine any truth about vaccines, but whether or not there was a significant political association with certain beliefs.

    “A honest person would want to sum things up by saying we are stronger if we fight autism together instead fighting each other.”

    Absolutely. But people like you who insist on blaming at least some autism on vaccines, when you are contradicted by the best evidence, are hindering the fight against autism.

    “We will have a tough time though now that a new tactic used in the U.S. is to give blanket protection to vaccine producers instead of having high expectations of them.”

    If seat belts manufacturers had been successfully sued for the few people injured by them, then the rest of us could not benefit from them.

    “Now, one could hope, this protection will allow them opportunity to spend money on perfecting vaccines, and ending the autism pandemic,”

    Vaccines and autism are unrelated.

    “but I believe they won’t.”

    …despite all the evidence. I don’t know what your motivation is, but it is derived not from reason and evidence, but emotion. You are not helping your child, nor any other.

    “Their denial is all its taken to get away with it so far, and governments we elect and pay have decided who’s side they’re on. It will be business as usual, or worse, as they have little to fear if new vaccines cause more death and destruction.”

    They are not denying the evidence, as you are, but only your unfounded accusations. Your crying “wolf” makes it harder for reasonable patient advocates to act when there are problems.

    “So those of you who so easily support them, will have your opportunity to have a child or grandchild damaged for life. We’ll see how you like it, and see how you’ll scream for answers and justice then.”

    I will not scream for revenge against imagined causes. I will want to know that I have the real culprit or institution.

    Sometimes – no matter how frustrating it is – the answer is “We don’t know yet.” But we do know that it is not vaccinations.

  13. #13 Chris
    May 3, 2011

    Mr. Coe, my son had seizures as a newborn before he had any vaccines, and about a bit over a year later more seizures while suffering from a now vaccine preventable disease. He is also disabled. Vaccines are not the only cause of seizures, and actually a very minor cause of seizures.

    Have you yet figured out why measles caused Roald Dahl’s oldest child to lose her voice?

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.