Reports of the death of 8 aid workers in Pakistan committed to eradicating the Polio virus through vaccinations worldwide is nothing but appalling. These deaths result in part from the spread of misinformation about efficacy and side effects of the vaccine on children, and the parallel to the vocal anti vaccination movement seen in countries such Australia and the United States is striking.
The Polio virus (poliomyelitis) has been the subjected to extensive eradication efforts since 1988 through a global vaccination program, much in the same way the Smallpox virus was successfully fought in the mid 20th century. In the 1950’s Polio existing in almost every country and caused over 500,000 cases of death or paralysis.
The virus is 99% eradicated worldwide, with only Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan harboring endemic strands of the virus. Angola, the DRC and Chad had managed to reduce reported cases to zero but have recently suffered setbacks caused by reintroduction due to importation from the three remaining endemic countries.
Children under the age of 5 are those predominantly effected by the virus.
Civil conflict in the 3 remaining endemic countries continues to uphold the implementation of a global herd immunity against the disease. The primary strategy imposed to interrupt vaccination in these countries, as reported by the World Health Organisation and it’s partners in the program, are of misinformation about the efficacy and the harmful effects of the vaccination (particularly, that the vaccine causes sterility) and forceful interruption of the effort.
As tragically demonstrated, this interruption can be by violent means.
Recent statistics in Australia show that the number of people not having their children immunised is increasing. This is particularly so with the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccination. The decrease in vaccination rates comes at the same time vocal anti vaccination groups gain traction and trust amongst parents seeking information about the vaccine.
The main culprit of the misinformation about MMR (or the main purveyor of truth in the face of conspiring governments and pharmaceutical companies, if you stand in the anti vaccination proponent’s shoes) is one Andrew Wakefield. Mr Wakefield published a paper in 1998 which concluded that the combined MMR vaccination carries a risk of causing autism, and is regularly held up by the movement as proof of it’s claims.
However, testing of Mr Wakefield’s data and conclusions by other scientists led to the overwhelming finding that his methods were not only fraught with unscientific data compilation, cherry picking data to suit his conclusions, medical records and data were tampered with by Wakefield, and that he stood to gain financially from his conclusions.
A fully referenced overview of his research and findings was reported in the British Medical Journal, which can be found here.
In 2010, the Lancet retracted the paper, a rare move by any journal, saved only for the most egregious cases of erroneous papers.
And yet, he continues to give advice to parents against the vaccination, and provide fodder for anti vaccination groups to disguise their agenda when providing ‘unbiased and balanced’ information to parents scouring the Internet for trusted information. The Australian Vaccination Network is one such group which provides this type of information whilst protesting that any attempt to contradict them, point out the errors in their arguments or stop their misleading and deceptive actions, as a conspiracy against them or an attack on democracy and freedom of speech.
Even their name is misleading. The Minister for Fair Trading in New South Wales has recently ordered for the organisation to change their name or face deregistration.
In the United States, similar organisations use celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy to promote their message in a haze of unscientific, feel good mantras about what is best for children.
Whether it is militant groups in the Middle East and Africa or apparently trustworthy organisations in the western world, the spread of information only leads to the realisation of an avoidable risk of illness and mortality amongst children, whether they are unvaccinated or yet to be vaccinated.
This post has been written hastily and largely without references. I am happy to provide references within a reasonable time if requested.