DR. MITCH: Why Are The Anti-Vaxers Back In The News: Enough is Enough!
It's truly distressing to hear the anti-vaxers again. In this case Robert De Niro and Robert Kennedy Jr have not only claimed that vaccines are dangerous but they have supposedly offered a reward for anyone proving that vaccines are safe. If it wasn’t so serious, it would be laughable.
Let's start off by being clear: there is no valid scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism. There is no valid scientific evidence that thimerosal, an antibacterial agent that contains a form of mercury, causes autism. Even if thimerosal was guilty, it’s been removed from almost all pediatric vaccines, so this is a non-issue.
In fact, there is strong evidence that autism is not related to vaccination or to that preservative. That's the science and it is indisputable.
So why do these wild claims persist?
Note that these claims are not made by scientists or doctors. The excuse from the anti-vaxers is that we’re all part of a huge conspiracy, but does that really make sense? Doctors, scientists have their own children vaccinated. Would they do that if they were taking part in a vast conspiracy to hide the “truth” about vaccines?
The simple reality is that numbers, statistics, have to be understood. I respect Mr. DeNiro as an actor and as a director but I am not aware of his scientific qualifications. Things aren't as straight-forward as they might appear to someone who doesn’t understand the difference between “association” and “causation”.
For example: autism is most often diagnosed around the age when the MMR vaccine is given. That’s an association. This association remains whether a child gets the vaccine or not. Just because two events happen at the same time doesn't mean that they are related. You have to prove that there is a relationship and then show a cause for that relationship. That’s causation and we have tried to find a cause and effect between being vaccinated and then developing autism but we haven’t been able to show it. Furthermore, if something causes something to happen we should be able to show how. We have tried to figure out how vaccination could cause autism but we can't.
And that's why these anti-vaccination people are wrong. Not because of some vicious and evil conspiracy but because of science which is how we have moved away from superstition and blood-letting in medicine.
What’s even worse than spreading fear and falsehood is that by convincing people not to keep their vaccines up to date or vaccinate their children, the anti-vaxers are allowing preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles to harm countless children. We've had serious outbreaks of both diseases leaving disability and death in their wake. We’re actually having an outbreak of mumps right now in Quebec.
The truth is that nothing in life is ever 100% safe. Even water can kill. You have to weigh the evidence and compare the proven benefits to the documented risks. When the benefits outweigh the risks as they do in most cases for most vaccines, the choice should be a simple one.