Tag Archives: Andrew Wakefield

Is it just me, or…have celebrities got too much control of the media?

April 15, 2016

Is it just me, or…is that deluded British scientist, Andrew Wakefield, really becoming popularised again in the media by yet another…celebrity?

Fact: the MMR jab does NOT cause autism.

When considering the entire story…how Wakefield’s 1998 unfounded paper started a horrendous backlashing of uninformed people from stopping their children getting vaccinated from measles, mumps and rubella based on falsified research, I can’t help asking now, after all this time and the countless hours of campaigning the medical community has done to rectify this really silly mistake, how is it that uneducated celebrities have really got a hold of the attention of the masses on this one? (And yet, I still can’t see how Trump has made it this far, so…maybe it IS just me).

First and foremost, it’s difficult to believe that anyone wouldn’t just quickly Google the World Health Organisation’s website and get the stats on just how effectively it can be shown how vaccines save lives and have eradicated many diseases globally.

Part of the problem is that government regulated mass childhood immunisation (MCI) programmes are controversial because they only work if a large percentage of the population complies (we call this phenomenon ‘herd mentality’), potentially compromising a child’s consensual rights. On the other hand, dissenters such as those with strong anti-conformity or religious convictions (some of whom object to the perceived permissiveness of the HPV vaccine for sexual activity in teenage girls!) might compromise the livelihood of hundreds or thousands of children by spreading often deadly viruses that could otherwise have been prevented. But eradication of preventable or deadly viruses is a priority for the WHO as they are committed to stopping the needless suffering of children. And in that regard, the WHO does not require any explanation as to why immunisation is a public health priority. Mass immunisation is a proven success. The WHO helped eradicate smallpox with an aggressive vaccination program despite anti-vaccinator arguments that better hygiene and clean water were responsible. Also, other successful vaccination programmes, for example the 1995 introduction of the varicella ‘chickenpox’ vaccination in the USA, reduced annual cases from roughly 4 million to less than 400,000 per year.

Another problem is unreliable information and celebrities abusing their ‘celebrity’ by spewing uninformed propaganda into the media. Many parents these days glean vaccination information from these and various other unreliable Internet ‘medical’ sites. Additionally, unreliable media coverage, stemming from celebrities such as former Playboy Jenny McCarthy, connecting the MMR vaccination with autism caused a serious reduction in vaccine uptake in the late 1990s which in turn ended up high jacking the WHO’s mission of measles eradication. So will once again the government and local authorities need to convince parents there is not a better alternative to vaccination now that mega-celebrity Robert DeNiro is questioning it?

I can’t help but look at the education levels of the anti-vaxxers  in the celebrity community. Specifically: McCarthy (failed to graduate Uni) and Robert DeNiro who attended prep school, but dropped out at 16 to pursue acting. When did our culture become so in awe of these poorly educated celebrities who claim to know more about science than actual doctors or the WHO? Does an acting career and extreme wealth now trump research, education, facts and peer review?

Regularly, when considering immunisation, people are more willing to give into something they perceive as risky if they believe there is no alternative action (Spier, 2001). California’s recent foray into making this generalization work well for them has been working well for the Netherlands (with a high vaccination uptake) for some years as they have operated on an ‘opt-out’ only policy. And yes, there are problems with vaccinations (it’s rare, but my next door neighbour died from a Flu jab) and the WHO, an organisation that operates as the health arm of the United Nations imposes significant political pressure on itself to meet targets such as polio eradication. Additionally, both failure to meet targets and clearly communicate its objectives, for example the negative media coverage the WHO received during the H1N1 pandemic, causes an expensive cycle of programme doubt which initiates a new and unnecessary need to re-market vaccination programmes from the beginning. With diseases like polio still needing global eradication, there is no time to re-market measles as viruses like HIV and malaria are beginning to take global precedence. Let’s not let measles slip back into this category.

Vaccination has become an unnecessarily political debate that stops programme momentum and causes harm primarily to its youngest victims. From personal observation, when my child was 1, she contracted chickenpox whilst living in the UK as the NHS does not vaccinate against varicella. Getting anti-vaccination information from the NHS was nearly impossible. However, once retrieved, its argument is medically sound, yet the Department of Health’s decision to not enforce this vaccination is politically motivated due to the post 1998 MMR media fall out. As a parent, one would never want to see her child needlessly suffer when modern medicine has made this illness preventable. Clear communication and education from government and the WHO from the onset – whether it’s a relatively new vaccination like varicella or for a pandemic like swine flu – is key in parental support and advocacy of vaccination programmes and local/global uptake.

Don’t get me wrong, I get that university isn’t for everyone and that’s not my point. For example, I married someone who didn’t attend and who is highly successful, obviously the two things are not necessarily related. But using the media as a global platform to espouse your own, unfounded, personal beliefs or doubts lacks that certain je ne sais quoi…shall we call it that educated edge, and is just plain irresponsible as a revered celebrity. I also understand how some could say then that blogging is in the same category. Kind of. However, any way you look at it, it’s hard to dispute the hard facts of science, especially in the form of verified research and effective medicine. From a sound point of view, one must side-step politics and even personal convictions and surrender ‘faith’ to the system believing that medical and technological advancements will prevail in the future thus preventing deadly viruses.

Today’s tally: Science = 1; anti-vaxxers = 0.

Notes:  Spier, R. E. (2001). Perception of risk of vaccine adverse events: A historical perspective. Vaccine, 20, 78–84.