Vail Daily column: Anti-vaccination’s big lie dupes converts
Some lies sound truthful because they camouflage deceit. Cloaked in pseudo-scientific jargon, repeated misconceptions win converts. Lies thrive when repeated boldly and loudly.
Parents who don’t get their children vaccinated against measles are hoodwinked. They believe a big lie about immunization’s alleged dangers. These parents link vaccination to autism. A 101 logic course teaches that coincidence isn’t the same as causality. Yes, autism often reveals itself in kids the same ages as those vaccinated. It’s a logical fallacy, however, to conclude vaccines cause this disorder.
Moreover, these parents lack basic understanding of how vaccines work in the body. They spread the lie that multiple immunization shots weaken children’s immune systems. They don’t.
These duped parents either skip vaccinations for their children or put off immunization to later years. Consequently, their children are more susceptible to catching vaccine-preventable diseases after birth, when most vulnerable.
Moreover, children who haven’t been vaccinated aren’t protected by benefits of what’s called herd immunity. This means most of a community needs to be vaccinated to protect those who can’t get immunized because they are new-born or suffer from immune-system disorders that don’t tolerate vaccines.
Measles, once eradicated from the U.S., is making a comeback. Measles is a highly contagious disease. It attacks the respiratory system, causing high fever, heavy coughs and rashes. After a child’s body weakens, pneumonia often overtakes lungs. Or, encephalitis invades and causes death to about 1 in 1,000 cases. Young children are particularly vulnerable to such complications.
In a vigorous critique of pseudo-science against vaccinating, The Wall Street Journal in the editorial “The Weird Vaccine Panic” rebutted naysayers. “The claims about vaccine risks go back to a 1998 article in The Lancet in which British doctor Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism,” reports the WSJ editorial. “But the real menace was Mr. Wakefield, whose findings were proven to be fraudulent and who was on the payroll of the plaintiffs’ bar. The Lancet retracted the article in 2010, and Mr. Wakefield lost his medical license.”
The WSJ editorial says vaccines may carry infrequent side-effects. “In rare cases,” admits the editorial, “they can lead to deafness, seizures, comas or brain damage. As the Centers for Disease Control points out, these outcomes are ‘so rare that it is hard to tell whether they are caused by the vaccine.’”
With scientific research discrediting the case against vaccinations, why do parents still avoid immunizing their youngsters? Blustery, repetitive lies camouflage arguments damaging to health.
Jesus used ancient imagery to make the point that what’s sour in human experience hides behind what’s sweet. Jesus told followers, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). That is, lies often hide behind what’s wholesome. Sinister forces appear respectable and honest. They sound enlightening, spreading pseudo-scientific nonsense about how vaccinations lead to autism.
In 1758, Christians spread similar stupidity against medical science. Small pox ravaged Princeton, New Jersey, when Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards began his six-week presidency at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). After being inoculated, Edwards developed complications because of the pox in his mouth. He couldn’t eat. Completing a mere six-week presidency, he died at 54 years on March 22, 1758. Christians suspicious of vaccinations said Edwards deserved this fate because he dared play God, placing the toxic pox under his skin.
Today, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against measles treat government’s immunization policy as sinister and intrusive. This suspicion of active government makes allies of people whose political convictions sharply differ.
The Republican Party is composed of three major constituencies: Tea Partyers who want smaller government; big business that wants lean federal regulation; and, evangelical Christians who want to protect citizens’ rights from expanding government.
Opposed to vaccinations, these Republicans align themselves with liberal, wealthy Democrats from upscale neighborhoods in Boulder and Beverly Hills, California. Liberals don’t need much government help because they pay their own way. Conservative Republicans don’t want government meddling in their affairs.
The anti-vaccination movement has made significant inroads into Colorado. The previously cited Wall Street Journal editorial reports, “According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the 2013-2014 school year Colorado had the lowest share of kindergartners (81.7 percent) immunized for measles, mumps and rubella. The state documented that 195 exemptions were based on religion, while 3,097 exemptions came from parents with ‘a personal belief opposed to immunization’”
The Constitution protects citizens’ liberties from government’s over-reach. It also provides us with government protection to fight infectious diseases. Restore this common good to children by vaccinating every youngster and allowing few exceptions.
Reject the big lie that vaccinations are optional.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com).