Columns for The Lufkin News

The Anti-Vaccination Movement is Fake – and Dangerous – News

Posted Jan 14, 2018 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Most vaccine-preventable diseases of childhood are at or near record lows. Vaccines prevent the deaths of about 2.5 million children worldwide every year. Yet some highly contagious diseases like measles and whooping cough still pop up where enough people are unvaccinated.

In the United States, compliance with childhood vaccinations remains quite high overall. At least 90 percent of children are getting the recommended vaccinations on time for many diseases – but not all, and not in all locales. Maintaining a high percentage of children vaccinated is important. Herd immunity occurs when a certain threshold percent of a community (such as a school) is vaccinated, reducing the probability that those who are not immune will come into contact with an infectious individual. For highly infectious diseases like measles, 90 to 95 percent of a community needs to be vaccinated to provide herd immunity. That is why vaccinations are required for our schoolchildren.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, students are required to have seven vaccinations in order to attend a public or private elementary or secondary school in Texas: Diphtheria/Tetanus/Pertussis (DTaP/DTP/DT/Td/Tdap), Polio, Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR), Hepatitis B, Varicella (chicken pox), Meningococcal (MCV4), and Hepatitis A. Texas law allows physicians to write medical exemptions if they feel the vaccine(s) would be “medically harmful or injurious to the health and well-being of the child or household member.” All well and good.  Texas law also allows – ill-advisedly – “parents/guardians to choose an exemption from immunization requirements for reasons of conscience, including a religious belief.” The “belief” of the anti-vaccination movement is based on lies and is only “religious” in its cult-like following of a dangerous (and discredited) Pied Piper, Andrew Wakefield.

A 2017 Washington Post article states, “A leading conspiracy theorist is Andrew Wakefield, author of the 1998 study that needlessly triggered the first fears. (The medical journal BMJ, in a 2011 review of the debacle, described the paper as “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically.”) Wakefield’s Twitter handle identifies him as a doctor, but his medical license has been revoked. The British native now lives in Austin, where he is active in the state and national anti-vaccine movement.”

The political noise made by these charlatan zealots has been difficult for legislators to ignore. This disturbing movement has been gaining traction especially in certain private schools in Texas. In one such school, the Austin Waldorf School, reportedly more than 40 percent of the school’s 158 students are unvaccinated. This is mindboggling ignorance in a “school” where tuition ranges from $11,450 to $17,147 a year.

Baylor College of Medicine professor Peter J. Hotez, MD, PhD, Founding Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development is truly on the front lines of the battle being waged by the anti-vaccination movement. The fact that Dr. Hotez is both a world authority on infectious disease and a parent of an autistic child hasn’t stopped the anti-vaccination movement from attacking him. It does, however, make their attacks even more sad; they have no facts to back up their case, so they just get mean (for example, saying he is in denial that vaccination caused his daughter’s autism).

This insidious – and disproven – idea that vaccines are linked to autism continues to rear its ugly, dangerous head, despite what Dr. Hotez calls “rock-solid proof” to the contrary published in peer-review journals like the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association), the British Medical Journal, and by organizations like the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The data that originally was claimed to show a link between vaccines and autism was later found to be falsified. In other words, the anti-vaccine crowd is fueled by conspiracy theories and truly fake news. (Though not known with certainty, it is believed genetics and environmental exposure during early pregnancy may play a role in development of autism.)

The problem with conspiracy theories is that facts don’t matter. Those who try to argue based on facts are automatically considered part of the conspiracy. Unfortunately, President Trump was rumored early in his presidency to favor a proponent of this ‘vaccines cause autism’ theory to chair a new commission on vaccines, lending credence to the lies. Thankfully, those commission efforts appear to have stalled.

Some argue against vaccinations on the basis of parental rights. I’m so sorry, but you do not have the “right” to endanger others’ children. It is a time-honored role of government to provide a safe, healthy environment for its citizens. Just look at the public health disaster in Flint, Michigan, where the government abdicated its responsibility.

Texas needs to stop allowing nonmedical “conscientious” exemptions in our schools. Your “right” to ignorantly and dangerously keep your child from receiving vaccinations stops at the schoolhouse door. California made it tougher for parents to opt out of vaccination compliance and vaccination rates increased. Texas should do the same.

In this New Year and upcoming legislative session, may the Texas Legislature resolve to pass legislation limiting nonmedical exemptions. Here’s hoping they can ignore the cacophony of lies and claims of “rights” of those who try to stop them. Those liars endanger all our children, and that is not a right they should have.

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

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