On some issues, there’s no Middle. This is one of them.
Last week, on radio at CKNW, my producer and I were perusing topics when I flipped past the measles outbreak in Washington and Oregon.
As of press time, there are 47 confirmed cases since January 1st in the Pacific Northwest. That’s more than one confirmed case per day. Of the 47 cases, 41 are unvaccinated – and 34 of those are children between the ages of 1 and 10.
The reasons behind the anti-vaccination (anti-vaxxer) decision by the parents involved in the current outbreak remains a mystery.
My son was born around the days of Jenny McCarthy on Oprah talking about how the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine caused her son’s Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and the Dr. Andrew Wakefield research paper (now discredited as fraudulent) claiming a link between MMR vaccine and autism and bowel disease.
Being a first-time mother was terrifying enough, and this added a next level of fear I certainly did not need. My journalist roots kicked in, and I committed to research the hell out of the topic.
Even armed with enormous amounts of fact-based information in my head, I was nervous. By the time of my son’s first pediatrician appointment it quickly became crystal clear that the “to vaccinate or not to vaccinate” debate has NO Middle.
My son’s highly-sought-after physician, a woman in her 60s, opened our first appointment with “if you refuse to vaccinate your child, I will not accept him as a patient.”
To this day, I am grateful for her bluntness. She gestured toward a photo of two smiling boys, obviously twins, telling me “these are my sons – they are vaccinated.”
In that moment, given that statement, I agreed that we would follow science and fact-based research, and yet still…I was nervous as hell.
She took my hand and asked: “Do you honestly think that I would spend 25 years of my life as a physician knowingly giving children autism?”
Over my decade plus of parenthood, I’ve made it a mission to stay on this topic, even after my son was vaccinated. Having literally lost count of studies read, and conversations had with those vehemently against vaccines. It is a mission of mine to debunk the arguments of anti-vaxxers with FACTS.
Back to radio last week…
We decided to bring on Dr. Peter Jay Hotez, a scientist, a researcher, a paediatrician and author. Hotez is the founding Dean and Chief of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine in the Department of Pediatrics.
He shared that he had just released his new book called “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism: My Journey As a Vaccine Scientist, Paediatrician, and Autism Dad”.
The interview with Dr. Hotez was fascinating – click here to listen – and when I emailed him to thank him for joining me on the show, he warned the backlash from the militant anti-vaxxers would be vicious.
He was right.
One excerpt from an email received:
“Dear Jody, I have listened to your interview with Dr. Hotez – not once but three times – and I am absolutely floored at the amount of misinformation that came over the airwaves. I have never seen that much fraudulent pseudosciences packed into 15 minutes in my life. Sadly, almost ever sentence can me documented to be “false.” – an irrefutable blatant lie. I guess at times ignorance is bliss. – but it is not an excuse.” I will list just a few “FACTS” that should have been obvious to you – had you bothered to do your research.”
It goes on for pages, with anti-vaxxer “facts” backed up by YouTube videos. One showcased a talk by Del Bigtree, a TV producer making money on films about how vaccines cause autism. This person also sent a BBC article with an apparently anti-vaxxer headline…but when you read alllllll the way to the end, it actually supports facts. The real kind.
Many militant anti-vaxxers will reference Robert F Kennedy Jr. as their source of information. Last year, Donald Trump was said to be looking to him to head a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity — that’s still not happened. He has been held to task on numerous occasions. I will quote one:
Kennedy said he wants to ensure “vaccines are subject to the same kind of safety scrutiny and safety testing that other drugs are subject to.”
They are, in fact, subject to greater scrutiny than drugs. Much greater, in fact. The Center for Disease Control, or CDC, spends tens of millions every year on exactly that.
Perhaps his most outrageous claim was about the Hepatitis B vaccine and how it “had fewer than five days of safety testing.” In fact, subset software vaccinated individuals have been monitored for 30 years after vaccination.
The “ping” of my emails continued through the weekend, at all hours, with most of the vitriol surrounded by cut-and-paste hollow arguments, and links to YouTube videos (read: no science).
If there is Middle to be found on this topic, which I doubt will stop the barrage of hate in my email inbox, it’s that study after study has shown vaccines are not the root cause of the rise in ASD.
Shouldn’t we focus on research to find what IS causing it? What is the motivation of anti-vaxxers to attack anyone who chooses to protect themselves, their children and their neighbours from deadly diseases?
Anti-vaxxers would have us believe that it is Big Pharma paying off scientists and physicians to inoculate needlessly. The fact is these scientists and physicians vaccinate their kids and grandchildren.
People, please, you trust the CDC when they tell you romaine lettuce will make you sick. We’re talking about the lives of your children – don’t cherry pick when to trust science.
Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.