Sitting in another hour lecture to complete my CME (Continuing Medical Education), my mind began to wander. I began by thinking about how many of these classes I still had left to sit through before the end of the day. Then I wondered how many hours I had left for the actual conference. Then I wondered about how many hours I’ve actually spent in my career sitting in conferences or in front of a computer screen doing CME. It’s true that doctors spend an amazing amount of time reading and learning. Medicine is constantly changing and making advancements and as physicians, we are consistently struggling to keep up. If you were to also include the time that we spend in college, postgrad, medical school and residency, depending on specialty, we are talking about a lifetime of sitting, studying, and engaging our brains to the betterment of patient care.
I remember my first year of medical school and recalling how much it sucked. In college, I managed to coast through some difficult subjects, so I figured medical school would be more of the same. When I got through my first exams, after studying more than I ever thought that I was capable of, I only barely managed a passing grade. So after that rude awakening, I studied even harder for the second set of exams. I may have done marginally better, but it came at a cost. I became sleep deprived, anxious, paranoid and wished nothing but ill will towards my teachers. And this was only the beginning. It only got worse from there.
As physicians and scientists, that’s all we do. Study. When there is doubt, rest assured that there is a sleep deprived nerdy doctor or scientist in the background studying, trying to figure out a solution. And that’s how medicine and our understanding of the world around us improves. We continually and perpetually study. The point of all of this studying is to garner proof – proof of a missing variable. The world isn’t full of magic, but rather a series of unseen variables. So, when I hear that people are still in denial about the effectiveness of vaccines or the possible link to autism, it baffles me.
A recent study printed in the Annals of Internal Medicine has reaffirmed what we have known to be true. There is no link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism. The study was conducted over a 10 year period in Denmark, following hundreds of thousands of patients. But as sure as I can say that the world is round, I’m sure that the anti-vaxxers out there are skeptical of this fact. Willful ignorance is a better term for it.
It’s 2019, and I still know that there are people that believe that the Earth is flat. Flat! And what is the basis for this argument? Flat-Earthers believe more in their perception of the world rather than the science of it, which they believe to be conspiracy. They don’t believe the world that extends beyond 30 miles in front of them. This is essentially the same logic that anti-vaxxers use. Most anti-vaxxers are either scared into believing this nonsense, with the constant bombardment of misinformation that they willfully read and believing in the anecdotal stories of their friends, or they unfortunately had a personal experience that led them to this conclusion.
As is so often the case, people want a tangible reason for their problems so that something can be done to correct it. Blame is typically one of the first reactions when a tragedy occurs. With parents of autistic kids, specifically in the context of the MMR vaccine, they can’t disentangle the coincidence of autism development with the vaccine use and so, they blame the vaccine and thereby propagate the lie. Despite a glutton of evidence against it, they refuse to believe it, believing instead in their own anecdotal perception.
I spent an evening actually watching one of these anti-vaccination propaganda movies, called Vaxxed. It was directed by the guy that is directly responsible for the boom in the anti-vaccination campaign, Andrew Wakefield. For those of you who don’t know, he is the gastroenterologist that made the initial claim that there was an association between the MMR vaccine and autism and published an article on it, which was later discredited. He was also discredited and ultimately stripped of his medical license for unethical behavior and dishonesty. The movie itself is focused on conspiracy theory and an elaborate cover-up which has no bearing in the actual science. It’s more entertainment than documentary. And that’s the point. What people take as fact is actually misinformation disguised in a clever, entertaining movie, which is the worst possible form of propaganda. The movie employs half-truths, lies cloaked in a kernel of truth, to sham you into believing in the whole lie. Half-truths are the foundation for any good lie and are unfortunately more powerful than volumes of intimidating, intangible facts.
So, antivaxxers are very quick to tell you that having infection is natural and healthy. Yes, infection is natural. So is dying from that infection, particularly when it is as virulent as the measles in a developing child. They will also argue that organizations like the CDC lie, that not enough has been done to study the effects of vaccines, that vaccines are only making the population sicker. False, false, and false. While I don’t know if the CDC is pushing a fake agenda, I have no reason to believe in the contrary. In addition, every other global organization out there, like WHO, is also pushing the vaccine agenda. Are they in cahoots? Not mention that the cost of treating one sick child with measles is astronomical when compared to giving one healthy child an MMR vaccine. So ultimately, it’s cheaper to prevent rather than treat measles. Vaccines are one of the most heavily studied subjects these days, particularly now since the false Wakefield study. And finally, the population isn’t getting sicker. On the contrary, life expectancy has doubled in the past 150 years, with one of the main reasons being vaccines.
According to WHO, the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is one of the top 10 global health threats for 2019. This is on a list that includes climate change and antimicrobial resistance. All around the world, you will find outbreaks of measles, a supposedly dead disease, as a result of vaccine hesitancy. And while measles is not necessarily aggressive in a fully developed adult, it is a nightmare for children and extremely contagious.It is irresponsible and reckless to place an unvaccinated child in a room full of other children, which is why there is now a movement to make it mandatory to all school children.
Ultimately, people are going to believe what they want to believe. To all the nonbelievers, or better yet, the disbelievers, who willfully ignore all the evidence that science garners on their behalf, I ask you to take a leap of faith for the betterment of humanity. I willfully acknowledge that not everyone can take a vaccine, but if it’s appropriate for you, I ask that you take it. And while science does not have everything figured out, there is enough there to make a sane and logical conclusion with regards to taking a vaccine. Trust me when I tell you that it has been studied well enough.