The movement against vaccination is old—very old. All medical interventions require scrutiny. Like any medical intervention, vaccines require systematic investigation before deployment, and monitoring during their use. Still, vaccines have done more for public health than most Westerners under the age of fifty can imagine.
Inoculation and vaccination have been vilified in many ways, from interfering with the will of God, to being a vast conspiracy to infect [insert ethnic group here] with [insert disease here], to a cause of autism.
There have been “bad” vaccines, and when this has happened, even if the vaccine wasn’t clearly the cause of a problem, it was withdrawn. Other vaccines no longer have a favorable risk-benefit ratio, such as smallpox, and are no longer widely used. But the vaccines in regular use have been tested, retested, and tested again, and found to be very safe.
The modern anti-vaccine movement (or “infectious disease promotion movement”) was birthed in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield published a study in the Lancet, a prestigious medical journal. Based on observations of only twelve patients, Wakefield claimed that the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) somehow caused autism, via some type of colitis. This study led directly to a resurgence of epidemic measles in the UK, and fueled the American anti-vaccine movement, led by such brainless ideologues as Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Jenny McCarthy.
A fundamental misunderstanding of science has never been at the core of the anti-vaccine movement; lies, self-promotion, and demagoguery are the true heart of this destructive social movement. And now it has come out that Andrew Wakefield’s original study, which had already been disavowed by his co-authors and the journal itself, may have been built on a foundation of lies. The Times (no, the other Times) is reporting that Wakefield falsified his data, changing temporal relationships of vaccines to symptoms, making up details that contradicted the data from the patients’ charts, and making up pathology findings.
This goes to the heart of the difference between medical science, medical ethics, and “everything else”. Real medicine is built upon real science, and follows (ideally) a set of ethical principles. When medical practice is based on science, and is deployed with compassion, the art of medicine is at its pinnacle. When quasi-medical ideas are corrupted, whether in ignorance or for personal gain, the harm that can be done on an individual and societal level is nearly unimaginable. People like Wakefield help to break the relationships between patients and doctors, and between public health officials and populations. They cloak their self-promoting idiocy in false compassion. They. Kill. People.
It’s really that simple. People like Wakefield, Kennedy, and David Kirby promote the spread of deadly diseases. The current resurgence in epidemic diseases lays not at the door of poor policy, poverty, or corrupt governments, but at the feet of the dishonest ideologues who stand in the way of the health of your children and mine.