Happy World Immunization Week!
As we head into that fabulous summertime, with anti-vaccination groups fighting over who will and won’t get their children vaccinated, the question I’ve often asked myself is, how much of a direct connection does it really make between an unvaccinated child and a vaccine-preventable disease?
And that, my friends, is where everything can begin to fall apart. Last night, Worldwide Immunization Week was observed in New York City and Pennsylvania, where the anti-vaccination movement is probably the most active. I only caught a tiny glimpse of the protests in both places, but those that I did see bore witness to a plethora of signs and signs in English and Spanish demanding that we “vaccinate, we don’t vaccinate.” (If there is a script for a feminist play, this anti-vaccination theme is it.)
The problem is, the anti-vaccination movement’s success has always depended on its ability to maintain what have been called “the anti-factual status quo” — that is, its ability to maintain that our lack of information will somehow make us immune to the flu. I know, it’s amazing. But now, science is saying the exact opposite of that. For that matter, even that tired anti-science trope has been exposed as a total sham in just the past few months. The pro-vaccine campaigner has been reduced to front-page protests, while the word “truth” is used to denounce those who hold it.
While the last few months have been problematic for “some” and the anti-vaccine movement as a whole, it’s also been a great time for “some” in the academic world to continue trying to make anti-vaccination fantasies into reality.
There was the now infamous “Buehler study,” which, while still on hold after being published, claimed that children who weren’t vaccinated were at risk of getting viruses or diseases. The only problem with that study is that the study did not have “valid data”. Like many highly influential papers before it, it was influenced by a small handful of parents whose children weren’t vaccinated, and which fed information to a small handful of other researchers. Even though the study was struck down as “misleading,” someone in the anti-vaccine movement decided it was too late to stop it from being circulated, and on last night’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert, and Demian Bichir were all on the right side of the argument, giving credence to what we now know, as scientific facts are most often wrong, but never are replaced.
Now, there are a growing number of studies that highlight the potential risk that unvaccinated children have for diseases like the flu, and yes, autism, and meningitis. Because so many people are ignorant of the differences between vaccines and disease, vaccine proponents are not necessarily at fault here — but what they’re doing is totally intentional. I worry that many of the unsubstantiated claims coming from the anti-vaccine movement, like the newest sturm und drang over GlaxoSmithKline’s new anti-immunization drug, Ivermectin, are falling on so many fertile research grounds that something is about to go wrong, because the anti-facts will never stop.”
What’s really going on is, by focusing on this “effect” of something that is not a disease, anti-vaccination people are excluding the possibility that vaccines protect children by making their communities healthier. While the anti-vaccine movement has a tendency to focus on specific diseases, focusing less on the prevention of the diseases in the first place, vaccines do work, they do prevent disease. And not all vaccines will make a child immune to disease. For instance, some vaccines don’t have the same effect as others do on children of the same age, and kids vary in age from six months to 18 years, so it’s unrealistic to expect all vaccines are connected.
It’s a very hopeful time to be a child of the American experiment.
Until we can be overconfident about being told when our parents are good parents or when we can say “no”, maybe we can all just relax, and get those flu shots. If we can’t trust science to tell us when it’s time to get those shots, we’re on our own.
Edie Serrano is a TV comedy writer and comedian.
For more from Fox News Watch, click here.