Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Easy Measly Lemon Squeezy

Measles on the rise, as we all predicted

I say 'we all', by which I meant anyone even the slightest bit informed about how medicine and vaccinations works. And I don't mean trained doctors and scientists, I mean anyone who's ever had a vaccination explained to them when they were old enough to form memories, which in this country should be anyone over the age of 3. But that's one of the most fascinating things about modern society, in that there's no limit to the idiotic things people will believe just because it corresponds to their gut instinct or prejudice (this is less of a blog, more a therapeutic rant for me, by the way).

The measles rise is undeniably due to the MMR scare a decade ago which still hasn't gone away really. The original claim, made on the basis of very little evidence by a doctor who was on the payroll of an anti-vaccination lobbying group, was that there was potentially a link between the MMR jab and the incidence of autism in children.

Already, there was something about this which bugged me (I was 16 at the time, so not exactly as well informed as I am now, and I'm not thoroughly informed now so this, as always, may be wrong). Autism is a very poorly understood disease, nobody really knows (or they didn't know then) what causes it, what the epidemiology is and what to do about it. So, if I was a doctor who wanted to make some spurious but hard-to-disprove link between the MMR jab and some scary illness, Autism is exactly what I'd choose. It's also worth noting that, although I'm not a virologist or expert in infectious diseases, I'm not really familiar with a mechanism by which a weakened version of a very common virus (or three) can cause hitherto unknown cognitive development impairments.

Logically, if it's the vaccine which causes autism, and a vaccine is just a weakened form of a virus with the purpose of giving your immune system a safe period to develop antibodies to prevent future infections, then surely the stronger form of the virus will be even more effective at causing autism? I had mumps as a child (it was unpleasant) and as far as I know, I don't have autism. I think I got measles too, same applies. I doubt I had Rubella, I was always led to believe that's a girl's disease. Not being sexist, just thinking back to my primary school years where such sweeping claims were common.

As Ben Goldacre points out in his regular column, on the back of a recent debacle over some mad journo squawking about the 'dangers' of MMR, the media's irresponsible behaviour with scaremongering and 'presenting a balanced argument' has potentially condemned many hundreds of children to death (he didn't say that, this is my perspective). This story has been blogged about to death, but what are the root causes of these wild opinions people have?

Journalists, as has been pointed out so many times, don't understand science as well as they should when you consider their tendency to comment on stories about it (LHC, anyone?). They need to give a 'balanced' argument, which, as Goldacre points out, takes in the the two extreme viewpoints, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. This, in many cases, is bollocks. There are still some people who believe that the Earth is flat, most people believe it's round, but we haven't had a debate on TV, where the outcome is that Earth is something of a rugby ball or dome. That's because all the evidence is on the side of the spherical Earth, and that's the same of the MMR 'debate'; there's no evidence to support it, so why in God's name are people jumping to the wild conclusion.

There seems to be two main undercurrents that I can detect; distrust of the big, evil pharmaceutical companies, and the classic cliche 'Think of the Children!!!' (parents not wanting to do anything that endangers children in other words). To start with the latter, measles, mumps and rubella are more dangerous and damaging than autism. Granted, autism is less well understood, but then does that make it the worst disease? We have more treatments for cancer than for colds, but which one would you rather have? Unless parents are saying they're unwilling to care for an autistic child because it will be too much work, in which case your concerns are null and void as, and the reactionary idiots must surely agree, being a parent is not conditional. I don't mind so much if people still aren't willing to risk the MMR 'for their children's safety', if they are consistent with this view. So that means no taking them in cars (road accidents), aeroplanes (crashes and very high doses of radiation possibly leading to cancer), mobile phones (tenuous link to tumours), alcohol (they can't have it, not the children, clumsy parenting is dangerous), broccoli (high in carcinogens), pencils (could jam it in their eyes), Lego (swallow it and choke) and anything else which has even the slightest chance of causing illness or damage.

The other problem is distrust at the big pharma companies. Granted, they're not looking out for people's interests, they're after money. And they do have a habit of inventing illnesses they can then treat with new meds. But I think there's a world of difference between being treated for a fictional disease and not being treated for a real one. If the big companies are just pushing MMR jabs on people as a money making exercise, why does it work? People seem to think it's just a money-making ruse, but why? Car companies are big and profit hungry, but nobody accuses them of surreptitiously making axles out of plywood or using whoopee cushions as air bags. it would be a lot cheaper for them and they'd make a lot of profit, so why don't they? I got a C for my business G.C.S.E., so I may be wrong, but I bet one of the golden rules of any business is DON'T KILL CUSTOMERS! And MMR is so much more expensive than giving children three separate courses of vaccination, isn't it?

If the MMR was given to a child who then developed measles, we'd never hear the last of it. Similarly, if a child was given MMR and then developed some obvious horrific side-effects, there would be no end of mob rallying. So any parent who refuses to have their child vaccinated 'for their safety' is an idiot. I don't have children myself, but I hope to one day, and damn right they'll be vaccinated, with MMR. For similar reasons, if my child's clothes caught fire I'd pour water on them, I wouldn't let them burn because there's a slim chance they could drown.

Rant over, back to work.

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