This title is taken from a meme I came across on Facebook one day on why unvaccinated children are dangerous. Obviously, the implication is that because I don’t have the same education and training as a doctor or public health official that I don’t have enough knowledge to question vaccination. It doesn’t matter that I have read numerous medical and science journals, news articles, books on epidemiology, and Vital Statistics reports from the past few decades, because if my conclusion is that vaccination has minimal benefits, I am automatically labelled paranoid, ignorant, irrational and a danger to the public. But let’s look at this from a few other angles too.
If a parent reads a couple of webpages from the CDC and asks her pediatrician if vaccines are safe and then agrees that vaccines have saved humanity, then she is a rational, scientific, well-informed citizen. It doesn’t matter that she really hasn’t done any in-depth research, she is rational, scientific and well-informed simply because she agrees that vaccination is essential.
Now if someone who does happen to be a practicing medical doctor or scientist releases research to the public that shows that vaccines may have dangerous side effects or should be administered in a different way than the CDC has set forth, he is labelled as a fraud, a quack, and a self-interested charlatan.
And of course, if a doctor or public health official tells us that vaccination has eliminated dangerous diseases and saved millions of lives, she is seen as logical, intelligent and trustworthy.
If one of the big reasons you trust vaccination is because doctors and public health officials assure you it is highly safe and effective, then ask yourself the following questions:
- It’s 1870 and a significant cause of maternal death is puerperal fever in the days following childbirth. A few doctors on the fringe such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ignaz Semmelweiss have performed research which shows a dramatic decline in maternal deaths when doctors wash their hands before performing vaginal examinations on laboring mothers. This is counter to current medical theory which states that puerperal fever is caused by “miasma” (bad air) or in imbalance of humors in the patient’s body. The vast majority of doctors say that hand washing is a radical and unnecessary measure in combatting puerperal fever. Would you allow yourself (or your wife) to receive an examination from a doctor who hadn’t washed his hands?
- It’s 1950 and you have a loved one with severe depression. Psychiatrists have limited options for dealing with mental illness, but they are very excited about a new method called psychosurgery, particularly a procedure called a prefrontal lobotomy. It involves performing surgery to remove part of a mentally ill person’s brain in hopes of alleviating the symptoms or curing the condition. There has been a lack of objective data and long-term follow-up on patients who have undergone the procedure and some data that does exist shows a high rate of complications, including epilepsy, brain damage, and death. However, the medical and psychiatric communities are enthusiastic about the procedure and are recommending it very frequently to patients with different diagnoses, and a doctor involved in research was recently awarded a Nobel prize in Medicine and Physiology. Would you allow your loved one to undergo a prefrontal lobotomy?
- It’s 1957 and you and your spouse are expecting a baby. Doctors advise an x-ray scan of the mother’s abdomen to assess the size of her pelvis and check the position of the baby. However, a British doctor named Alice Stewart has recently released research showing that children who were x-rayed in utero have a two-fold increase for childhood leukemia. Obstetricians and nuclear scientists reassure the public that pre-natal x-rays are very safe and that Stewart’s findings are inaccurate. Would you allow your unborn baby to be x-rayed?
This isn’t about how well-informed people are. When it comes to vaccination, the criteria for being trustworthy is to agree with the herd, not be well-researched. When we accept information based on whether it gives the answer we want, we are heading down a scientific slippery slope. After all, if you don’t believe there could ever be any possible explanation other than the one you currently ascribe to, then there is no room for innovation or progress.