Friday, 22 August 2008

MMR - a paediatrician's daughter rants

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA. *MAJOR headdesk* God, if I could consign Andrew Wakefield to the 8th circle of hell, I would do it in less time than that which separated Phelps and Cavic in the 100m butterfly. For God's sake, people, the study 'linking MMR to autism' was done on TWELVE, read that, TWELVE, children. Autism would show up around the time of the MMR vaccine because *that's when it becomes evident ANYWAY* - the study needed to look back at the child's history to see if there had been slight developmental differences that would have indicated the presence of autism. Later studies have found that to be the case. For those of you about to argue 'rapidly rising rates of autism', you need to think about how diagnostic techniques have been improved and how the autistic spectrum has been expanded to include syndromes like Aspergers.

For those of you worried about Wakefield's repuation, don't:

Nine months before Andrew Wakefield and London's Royal Free hospital medical school unleashed a global scare over the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, they filed, on June 5 1997, the first of a string of patent applications for theoretically vastly profitable products which could only succeed if MMR's reputation was damaged. These included a purported safer measles vaccine - a potential competitor to MMR - and treatments for bowel disease and autism. All were based on claims that measles virus in MMR was at fault.

I'm not an expert in these things, but I'm thinking that might tank his study. Shame on Lancet for poor peer review - 12 is not a number you use to start a general panic, and it was down to them to determine if Wakefield had competing interests. Someone should have been asking some questions. The press is also to blame here: the investigative reporting should have been done in 1998, not 2004.

But in the end, it's down to us to ask questions about what affects our lives. I really wish the general public would learn to question numbers and applications of the scientific method more often - you can't make decisions about the issues that have an impact on your life without knowing how to read surveys, percentages and so on. Michael Blastland's summer school is a great place to start.

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. ~Aaron Levenstein

So get savvy and get asking.

I'm not sure why Americans, in particular, don't stop and think, "Wait, I got MMR - it has been licensed since 1963. Suddenly, in 1998, it's linked to autism? Absolute pants. Had there been a real link, it would have been noticed far sooner than 3.5 decades later." It's time we stopped unconditionally believing what we're handed by the media and started digging, asking questions about agendas or following our noses when things seem fishy. With the internet, research is as easy as it has ever been. DO IT.

You'll find that Edward Jenner invented the first vaccine by inoculating his children against smallpox (now eradicated, thanks to...vaccination) with cowpox. Those of you opting out on religious, philosophical and 'every other kid is vaccinated' grounds will discover the precious importance of 'herd immunity' - which means that at least 85% (and in the case of some diseases, over 90%) of the children (herd) need to be vaccinated for those diseases to be held at bay. In the States, the percentage of fully immunised children is 77%. Hmmm. It would appear that banking on herd immunity is a bit like playing Russian roulette with 4 bullets chambered.

When the means is readily available, it's NOT someone else's responsibility to make sure your child doesn't suffer a devastating childhood disease - it's YOURS. And not just for the sake of your child, but for the sake of those in your midst who are immuno-compromised: the elderly, the very young, the transplant patient, the cancer patient.

Vaccines are safe and getting safer - they're safer today than when we had them. They'll be safer tomorrow. God knows, they've always been safer than chancing a dance with a disease like rubella or diphtheria. Don't believe me? Look at the developing world.

Ironically, it's the efficacy of MMR and other vaccines that has allowed parents to think "my kids don't need it", because they have absolutely NO memory of just how devastating a disease measles can be. Worried about a non-existent risk of autism? Watching your child suffering with encephalitis after catching the measles or unable to move after catching poliomyelitis because you didn't get them vaccinated will cure you of that.


Is that a risk you're willing to take?

1 comment:

Ruth said...

THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!!! You know, I had no idea until recently that this study had been disputed because there was hardly any media coverage of it... hmmm they'll start a scare based on a dodgy report, but they'll not report when it's disputed.... wonder how many parents out there still think the MMR is linked to autism based on this report...... and in any case, whilst I get on my disability band wagon, autism is a condition you can live with, sure it can be tough going, but we're learning more and more about it all the time. I've seen plenty of people with Asperger's in jobs. Don't risk your child getting a disease by basing your views on a report with dubious statistics. Getting off my high horse now....