On Fools, Reality and Failure to Protect One’s Children

Posted on June 17, 2013

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Bad “science” and stupid decisions are bad for kids’ health

Last week, we talked about the folly of relying too much on prayer instead of science to save children from horrible, but often curable, diseases.  The result: too many children die unnecessarily, as if they were trapped somewhere in the 19th century.

But there is another kind of folly that leads parents to make ignorant decisions:  what I would call the tinfoil-hat crowd, for lack of a better term, people who reject actual science in favor of that brand of paranoia which holds that Big Pharma is out to get us, and the government is either incompetent or in their pocket.

Here is the result:  in New Zealand, Ian and Linda Williams decided not to vaccinate their children, and very nearly lost their 7-year-old to tetanus.  He recovered, but only after more than three weeks in an induced coma and on a ventilator in Intensive Care; his tracheostomy scar will be a permanent reminder.   To their credit, the parents now realize what a mistake they made, and have gone public to alert other parents to the danger:

“The mistake that we made was that we underestimated the diseases and we totally over-estimated the adverse reactions….  We felt terrible.  He was in such pain due to us and our decision-making process so that’s why we went to the papers in New Zealand – we just wanted to get our experience out there.  It was very obvious we had made a mistake.”

Amazingly, Mr. Williams already had a science degree.  One would hope that he might have been trained in the scientific method and in properly evaluating conflicting information.  So what was this “decision-making process” that arrived at such an ill-advised decision as to not vaccinate their kids… a basic, scientifically-derived, scientifically-proven, virtually essential health practice today?

Like many of us, the Williams parents consulted the Internet.  He says:

“If you google vaccines you get a lot of pros and a lot of cons, and you start to read all the cons and they start to weigh on you and you start to believe all the things that are said.  It looks like a fifty-fifty argument… There are a number of myths out there, and it’s really easy to get sucked in.”

Some of the myths that Williams was sucked into were the alleged vaccine-autism link, the use of mercury in vaccines, and that “vaccines are promoted by drug companies purely for profit.”  Williams made the rookie mistake so many Internet “researchers” do:  placing the same analytic value on the rantings of conspiracy-theory websites, that they do on actual controlled scientific studies in peer-reviewed journals… not to mention centuries of history featuring devastative epidemics, and decades of experience with the benefits of vaccinations against those diseases.

For parents Googling vaccinations, pay attention to these easily-found links:

Fact:  at least in the US, the mercury-containing preservative Thimerosal has not been used in childhood vaccines (except some flu shots) since 2001.

Fact:  the Measles-Mumps-Rubella vaccine is given at 12-15 months.  The first signs of autism emerge at about 15-18 months.  Therefore, some parents of autistic children have observed that their child was diagnosed with autism soon after a vaccination.  However, this does not prove any causal relationship.  There have been multiple independent studies by physicians’ and pediatric groups that have all found no causal link.  Another fact:  since the MMR vaccine scare first came up in 1998, Britain has seen measles cases surge, giving them Europe’s second-worst measles infection rate in Europe (Romania is worst).  That’s what you get when you don’t vaccinate.

Fact:  yes, pharmaceutical companies are for-profit ventures.  Analytic thought:  how much profit will they see if they only produce ineffective or harmful drugs and treatments?  Profit requires safety and efficacy.  The FDA and the law also require proof of safety and efficacy, and if problems later emerge, FDA approval will be withdrawn.  No more profits.  Big Pharma has a very strong profit-driven motive to not harm patients.

I think some of the problem with our decision-making process today is that:

1) We fail to correctly evaluate the source of information, giving conspiracy theorists as much credence as actual scientists.  We seem unable to ask the right analytical questions or to identify reliable, current, reputable information.  This is the danger of the Internet; anyone can publish anything, and you must properly judge the value of it.

2) In desiring to shield our children from any possible side effect, we prefer to rely on the fact that everyone else’s children are vaccinated, when in fact too many are not (as Britain’s example shows).  Some diseases – like tetanus or MRSA – are endemic in the environment and can be contracted from an ordinary cut anywhere, anytime, and have nothing to do with contagion.

3)  Our younger generations, who are now parents, have no.  friggin’.  CLUE what real disease and real outbreaks are like.  They did not grow up with little friends in leg braces or back braces from polio, or hearing about deadly smallpox outbreaks in the world.  As a result they vastly underestimate the dangers of disease or the real value of vaccinations.

A look at the dangers of the smallpox vaccine is quite an eye-opener:  scarring, transferring the vaccine to others (yes; the vaccine can be contagious), necrosis at the vaccination site, fetal death, encephalitis, rashes, corneal scarring, and rarely, death.  About a third of recipients became ill enough from the vaccine to miss school or work.  But virtually everyone got vaccinated anyway, because the alternative – risking an actual smallpox infection – was very real, and far worse.  And that’s what our modern parents have lost sight of.

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