A Divide That Will Not Be Bridged

Offit said he doubted Britain's decision to strip the 53-year-old Wakefield of his medical license would convince many parents that vaccines are safe.
"He's become almost like a Christ-like figure and it doesn't matter that science has proven him wrong," Offit said. "He is a hero for parents who think no one else is listening to them."

Wakefield told The Associated Press Monday's decision was a sad day for British medicine. "None of this alters the fact that vaccines can cause autism," he said.
                                          Huffington Post article on Wakefield being struck off 

Notice here that the backtracking that occurred immediately after the ruling on what his case series showed, etc., had been fully dropped for the bold statement by Wakefield that vaccines cause autism. Never mind that there's an abundance of science to show this is not the case.  Offit characterizes it accurately. These parents will follow Wakefield wherever he chooses to lead them. It doesn't even matter if their ideas line up squarely behind him all the way; a ballpark approximation is close enough for them. It's enough that he too sees a global conspiracy.

The Huffington Post article already has over a thousand comments up on it, both sides of the divide slugging away at each other. Many are familiar faces to the autism related threads over there. Nothing new really is being said between the two camps, although I admit that some of the posts by the regulars on the wackawoo side, if their delusions weren't as serious as they are, would be amusing.  It's hard, though, to see anything amusing about people who want to bring down the vaccination program, who see bogeymen behind every immunization yet push crazy treatments and offball ideas, who use jargon yet make clear that their understanding of that jargon is akin to Damon Wayan's character in In Living Color all those years ago.

Give them the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are noble; they want safe vaccines and to "save the children." Their way will harm thousands of children and save not one from autism because autism isn't caused by vaccines. Just as bad as this, though, is that the legitimate claims by people who do suffer adverse reactions to vaccines will not be taken as seriously; calls to make sure that vulnerable populations are identified so they can avoid vaccination will go unheeded, and even if these subpopulations (like those with egg allergies) are safely identified, they will not have the protection of herd immunity because individuals like those attending the rally tomorrow in Chicago would deprive them of it.

This is not a divide that can be bridged. It is not one that should be. Choosing woo, pseudoscience and conspiracies over science, evidence, and rationality is a foolhardy choice, at best. At worst, it is calamity.


farmwifetwo said...

I don't find Offit to be any more reassuring than Wakefield.

"I made the vaccines, therefore I know all about autism"... Yeah.. I've met those so-called autism professionals... I find they know the least about autism.

Also, over the years I've become more and more cynical about "studies"... or shall I say "questionaires"... or statistics that are twisted to suit someone's theory... Where's the science?????? Damn engineer, I actually know what stats are and how they work....

It's the same as my Ped telling me that my high bp, lack of O2 twice that we know of (little boy), had nothing to do with my kids autism. Yet, just a few days ago there was an article on acidic cord blood http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/05/14/babies-umbilical-cord-acidic.html and weeks ago about the dangers of too many ultrasounds on infants - little boy had 8 of them... YET, the psychometrist, and psychiatrist both said "that would do it"...

As long as professionals don't listen to parental concerns, take them seriously, and use science not questionaires, have drugs pulled off the shelves daily that were suppose to be safe, people continue to ignore their advice. But, this feeling of being railroaded, being treated like uneducated white trash (school's good for that one), makes people lose confidence quickly....

And, they have.

FWIW - ours were on time, plus catching the chicken pox, and getting the menigitus shot. Eldest had nasty reactions to both MMR shots and we were brushed off - which made me lose trust quickly.

Sirenity said...

Well written Kim.
I agree that there comes a point where a reasonable and ethical person has to acknowledge that this divide is necessary and just.
I agree that these ... persons screaming for vaccines to disappear are doing a great deal of harm to the very same group (ie children) that they profess to be protecting.

Farmwifetwo: I can't agree with much of what you are saying. The only vaccine inventors I have heard of professing to have expert knowledge on autism is Andrew Wakefield.

Part of the problem is that parents, with absolutely no background in science (and many with no ability to think critically) are insisting that their opinions be part of science (demanding questionnaires is a great example)and these same parents have access to studies that they do not understand and do not know how to verify.
Then they decide what that study means by using their own perception rather than an understanding of the facts. I do agree that some professionals need to learn some bedside manners-but their lack of manners does not make them wrong.
The professionals HAVE listened to parental concerns-there have been many studies based on these parental concerns. An incredible amount of funding, time and patience has been expended to address those concerns. The result? Scientifically sound data that these same parents now refuse to hear.

Keep up the good work Kim. People need to hear voices like yours.

Alexander Cheezem said...


Offit doesn't claim to be an autism expert. He claims to be a vaccine expert.

A more accurate paraphrase of his stance would be, "I made the vaccines, therefore I know a lot about vaccines."