Commentary Magazine


Topic: autism

Common Sense on Vaccinations in California

One doesn’t look for much common sense in a state whose politics is often dictated by fads and liberal myths and run by an aging politician who embodies most of what is wrong with American politics. Nevertheless, California Governor Jerry Brown deserves our applause for signing a mandatory vaccination bill that ended most exemptions for religious or personal reasons for parents of school children on Tuesday. This has prompted an outcry from critics that believe the bill, which allows exemptions based on health, to be a coercive measure that wrongfully interferes with the rights of parents to make health care decisions for their children who would not be permitted to stay in school if they remain unvaccinated. Some argue that the law infringes on religious liberty and may also be illegal because the state Constitution guarantees a right to public education. These are serious arguments that speak to a legitimate worry about expanding the power of government and of infringing on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the vaccination law is a good idea because its purpose — maintaining public safety — is a fundamental purpose of government. Another reason to favor it is the fact that most of the resistance is rooted in irrational myths about vaccines used to prevent infectious diseases that rational observers are obligated to oppose.

Read More

One doesn’t look for much common sense in a state whose politics is often dictated by fads and liberal myths and run by an aging politician who embodies most of what is wrong with American politics. Nevertheless, California Governor Jerry Brown deserves our applause for signing a mandatory vaccination bill that ended most exemptions for religious or personal reasons for parents of school children on Tuesday. This has prompted an outcry from critics that believe the bill, which allows exemptions based on health, to be a coercive measure that wrongfully interferes with the rights of parents to make health care decisions for their children who would not be permitted to stay in school if they remain unvaccinated. Some argue that the law infringes on religious liberty and may also be illegal because the state Constitution guarantees a right to public education. These are serious arguments that speak to a legitimate worry about expanding the power of government and of infringing on religious freedom. Nevertheless, the vaccination law is a good idea because its purpose — maintaining public safety — is a fundamental purpose of government. Another reason to favor it is the fact that most of the resistance is rooted in irrational myths about vaccines used to prevent infectious diseases that rational observers are obligated to oppose.

No measure that does anything to increase the scope of an already bloated state bureaucracy should be viewed with anything but concern. Moreover, given the steady incursions of the federal government against religious liberty via ObamaCare and what may happen in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision to religious institutions that won’t change their beliefs to conform to that new reality, anything that takes away religious exemptions can only be contemplated as a last resort. But if libertarians believe that the fundamental purpose of government is to defend our freedom, we must start such a discussion by recognizing that its first job is to ensure public safety.

No freedom, not even those guaranteed by the First Amendment, is absolute. Our individual rights to make choices for our children and ourselves ends at the point when those decisions directly impact the safety of our neighbors and their kids. And that is exactly what happens when a critical mass of children are not vaccinated.

Opponents of mandatory vaccination laws say that if individuals want to take the risks that go with refraining from vaccinations, they should be allowed to do so. But the basic fact is that, on a societal level, once a critical mass of children are not vaccinated, dangerous diseases that were largely wiped out begin to come back. Mass vaccination creates a “herd immunity” for the entire community since even those who don’t get the shot for various reasons, such as pregnant women, infants, or individuals whose immune system is compromised, get a benefit because the spread of disease is contained. The inalienable right to make a fist ends at the tip of another person’s nose. Thus vaccination is more than a personal option; it is a societal choice.

That brings us to the reason that has driven most of the opposition to vaccines. In recent years, an urban myth about vaccines being responsible for the spread of autism has spread from the margins to mainstream pop culture where it has been championed by various celebrities that have no medical or research expertise. Study after study has proven that there is no link between autism and vaccines. Yet like most such irrational beliefs, the autism myth has survived largely because it fits in with a post-modern mindset that views science cynically and places blind faith in “natural” or “organic” remedies regardless of their merit. It would be unconscionable for those responsible for public health to allow such irrational reasoning to prevent them from acting to ensure the safety of the community. That’s why the decision of some politicians who ought to know better — like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Senator Rand Paul — to avoid taking a strong stand in favor of mandatory vaccination was so discouraging.

If, like the facts about smoking or drinking, individuals were able to make decisions about vaccines that would affect only their own health rather than that of the community as a whole, they would be within their rights to oppose vaccines. But that is not the case. Allowing increasing numbers of unvaccinated children into schools is a prescription for more outbreaks of measles like the one that happened at Disneyland late last year that influenced the California legislature to pass the law Brown signed yesterday.

It is to be hoped that the vaccination law survives legal challenges and that similar tough measures will be adopted elsewhere. The cost of allowing diseases that should be wiped out to come back is simply too high for us to allow irrational arguments or even legitimate concerns about government power, to endanger the health, if not the lives, of all Americans.

 

Read Less

Conspiracy Theorists Rule Congressional Autism Hearing

Who is better equipped to solve a major medical mystery, a handful American lawmakers or thousands of highly trained scientists worldwide? Unfortunately for Americans, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform decided that it was the former. The committee held a hearing billed as a conversation with experts on the growing rates of autism, but it was rife with anti-vaccination diatribes and conspiracy theories from members of Congress and their carefully chosen anti-vaccination witnesses. One congressman, Indiana Republican Dan Burton, let loose a rant filled with misinformation and conjecture about the safety of vaccines and their ability to harm children and adults. He told those at the hearing,

Vaccinations have an important place in our society. One of the best health regiments in the history of mankind: people live longer and live better and have less disease because we have vaccinations. What we have always opposed is putting toxic chemicals and metals in the vaccinations. Thimerosal contains mercury. When I was a boy, we used to have mercury in thermometers. They said if you break that thermometer and the mercury gets on your hands, that’s toxic.

Read More

Who is better equipped to solve a major medical mystery, a handful American lawmakers or thousands of highly trained scientists worldwide? Unfortunately for Americans, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform decided that it was the former. The committee held a hearing billed as a conversation with experts on the growing rates of autism, but it was rife with anti-vaccination diatribes and conspiracy theories from members of Congress and their carefully chosen anti-vaccination witnesses. One congressman, Indiana Republican Dan Burton, let loose a rant filled with misinformation and conjecture about the safety of vaccines and their ability to harm children and adults. He told those at the hearing,

Vaccinations have an important place in our society. One of the best health regiments in the history of mankind: people live longer and live better and have less disease because we have vaccinations. What we have always opposed is putting toxic chemicals and metals in the vaccinations. Thimerosal contains mercury. When I was a boy, we used to have mercury in thermometers. They said if you break that thermometer and the mercury gets on your hands, that’s toxic.

But thimerosal has not been present in vaccines (save a few influenza shots) since 2001. Burton went on to discuss the dangers of a chemical that haven’t been used in vaccines in more than a decade. Thimerosal is not the same chemical found in thermometers, and the conjecture by Burton on its safety was an uninformed and dangerous attempt at understanding science that has already been settled by qualified professionals at the CDC and elsewhere. Burton went on about thimerosal, stating,

Ever since 1929, it [thimerosal] has not been completed tested. They continue to use it in vaccinations. It wasn’t so bad when a child got one vaccination or two or three. But when they get as many as 28 or 29 before they go into the first grade, it really hurts them. It creates a cumulative effect. The brain tissues do not chelate it. It stays in there and it causes severe, severe problems. 

If Burton had taken the time to visit the CDC website instead of cherry-picking experts (whom he later discusses) he would have discovered how thimerosal works in the body:

Thimerosal does not stay in the body a long time so it does not build up and reach harmful levels. When thimerosal enters the body, it breaks down, to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate, which are easily eliminated.

The rest of his diatribe can be as easily broken down by the FAQ section on the CDC website as well. The question-and-answer portion of the hearing was equally cringe-inducing. Forbes’s Steven Salzberg has an excellent post on the hearing, explaining its danger to public health:

Congress has every right to conduct oversight into medical research at the NIH and the CDC.  But when Dan Burton, Bob Posey, and others decide in advance what the science says, and abuse their power to demand “answers” that validate their badly mistaken beliefs, people can be harmed. Over the past decade, the anti-vaccine movement has successfully convinced millions of parents to leave their kids unvaccinated, and the result has been serious outbreaks of whooping cough, haemophilus, measles, chicken pox, and mumps around the U.S. and Europe.

Some anti-vax parents claim that these childhood illnesses aren’t so bad.  I wish they would talk to the parents of young children who have died in recent whooping cough outbreaks.  These illnesses can be deadly.

When Americans elect representatives to Congress, they are looking for lawmakers, not pseudoscientists. Fortunately, Burton is retiring at the end of this term; unfortunately, however, this hearing lent legitimacy to a movement of anti-vaccination activists who constitute a considerable danger to public health both nationally and internationally. 

Read Less

Vaccines Necessary in the First World, Not Just the Third

Yesterday at the UN several groups, including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss their commitment to, and the strides made, campaigning to end polio worldwide. Yesterday Rotary announced,

The side event — “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” — brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.

Millions have been pledged towards the effort and we are slowly watching countries become polio-free. Unfortunately, polio and other preventable diseases could (and already are) facing a resurgence thanks to dangerous parenting fads in the West.

Read More

Yesterday at the UN several groups, including Rotary International, the World Health Organization, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met to discuss their commitment to, and the strides made, campaigning to end polio worldwide. Yesterday Rotary announced,

The side event — “Our Commitment to the Next Generation: The Legacy of a Polio-free World” — brought together leaders of the remaining endemic countries, and representatives of donor governments, development agencies, the GPEI partners, and the media to underscore the urgent need to finish the job of global polio eradication. Although the wild poliovirus is endemic only in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, other countries are still at risk for re-established transmission of the virus through its “importation” from the endemics.

Millions have been pledged towards the effort and we are slowly watching countries become polio-free. Unfortunately, polio and other preventable diseases could (and already are) facing a resurgence thanks to dangerous parenting fads in the West.

For several years, rumors have spread through all-natural, hippie parenting circles that vaccines contain chemicals that cause autism. They maintain, despite a total lack of scientific evidence, that children have been disabled and incapacitated by mercury and other preservatives in vaccines. The one scientific study that might have made their case was discredited last year and its results thrown out. Despite this, many famous parents, including Jenny McCarthy (of MTV fame) and Mayim Bialik (TV’s Blossom) have publicly lambasted vaccine research while declaring their children to be unvaccinated. Unfortunately, these conspiracy theories have hit the political mainstream as well. During the primaries this year Rep. Michele Bachmann repeated rumors she heard from an audience member at a debate about vaccine safety. In 2008, both candidates for president spread vaccine misinformation, claiming that the science was still undecided on the link between vaccines and autism.

The millions of dollars raised and spent by governments and organizations to end polio worldwide is money well-spent. Unfortunately, one epidemic could undo the decades of work making this vaccine available to every child in the world. We’ve already seen outbreaks of deadly and entirely preventable diseases like whooping cough and the measles, and instances of diseases with vaccines available have increased as immunization opt-outs rise. While it’s admirable that these groups are working to make vaccines available in the most remote villages in the world, parents in Portland and other liberal epicenters are setting medical science back fifty years in the United States.

All children, regardless of their parent’s scientific ignorance, need and deserve access to vaccines that were developed not just for their own sake, but also for the sake of public health. After these groups manage to get vaccines to children in isolated villages in Pakistan, perhaps they should schedule a stop-over in on their way home to explain science to self-described “educated” parents. Public health groups should be emphasizing the importance of vaccines in Pakistan and in Park Slope lest their efforts become undermined by parents in the latter.

Read Less




Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.