An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.
His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.
Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):
The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
Vaccines are dangerous to children.
The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.
On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety.
The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well-grounded.
Senator Elizabeth Warren supports vaccines, one of the few politicians who makes her point of view very clear. Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts is currently either leading or close to leading the field to become the Democratic Party nominee for President in 2020. Her support of vaccines should be an important consideration for those who want politicians who are pro-science.
This article isn’t going to be about Senator Warren’s progressive bonafides, because, I don’t usually blog about politics, except in the context of science support or denialism. Vaccine denialism is the bailiwick of the left, right, libertarians, and various other nutjobs and crackpots. These people want to go back to the time of dirt roads, children working when they’re eight, no rules, no regulations, and other such 1700s thinking.
For those of us who care about vaccines, the fact that Elizabeth Warren supports vaccines is important. So, let’s take a quick look.
Another one of those pseudoscientific tropes from the anti-vaccine religion has reared its ugly Bigfoot head – glyphosate causes autism. And, of course, the anti-vaxxers believe that vaccines are filled with that nasty chemical, so by some weird transitive logic, they think that vaccines cause autism because of glyphosate.
Of course, the belief that “vaccines cause autism” has been thoroughly debunked by powerful, robust, repeated clinical and epidemiological studies. It is “settled science” (and read the link, so that you actually understand what is meant). Now we have the oft-repeated myth that glyphosate causes autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The evidence that supports that claim is fairly weak, possibly nonexistent.
Even if it did, and most scientists are highly skeptical of the claim, we still know that there is almost no glyphosate in vaccines. And once again, even if there were and even if glyphosate causes autism, we know that there is no link between vaccines and autism. None.
A few years ago, Emily Willingham, Ph.D., whom I consider to be one of the leading ASD scientific experts on this planet, wrote a hysterical and scientifically skeptical article about all of the popular causes of ASD – Dr. Willingham noticed that there were new claims about what causes autism. Parents need to blame someone for their child’s neurodevelopment, so that’s how vaccines got into the crosshairs.
Along with the thoroughly debunked “vaccines cause autism,” a related trope is pesticides cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The evidence that supports that claim is fairly weak, possibly nonexistent, but that’s what we do here – examine the evidence.
For reasons beyond the scope of this blog and my interests, parents need to find blame for why their children may have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. A few years ago, Emily Willingham, Ph.D., whom I consider to be one of the leading ASD scientific experts on this planet, wrote a hysterical and scientifically skeptical article about all of the popular causes of ASD. Older mothers. Older fathers. Depressed mothers. Fingers. Facial features. Facial features?
I don’t have it in me to write about everything wrong with this “documentary” – to be honest, I heard not one single bit of science-based fact presented with respect to the MMR vaccines and autism spectrum disorder. The fraudumentary mostly presented lies, misinformation, anecdotes, and, notably, no real science. Worse yet, it tried to make Wakefield into a hero – maybe even a deity of some sort.
So, let’s be clear – this movie is about Wakefield. Not children. Not identifying real causes for autism. Not anything important.
Almost all legitimate science researchers who focused on autism never bought into the vaccines link. Not only was there no evidence of this imaginary link (thanks to the cunning fraud Andrew Wakefield), when scientists went looking for a possible link, they never found one.
However, investigators have been searching for legitimate underlying etiologies for ASD – the hypothesis that genetics cause autism has been the center of research for years.
Each day, I have plans to write about something other than another anti-vaccine myth, like we give our kids too many vaccines. But like Al Pacino said in The Godfather, “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Now I get pulled into another anti-vaxxer myth.
Unfortunately, my wonderful, well-researched, 15,000-word article about the existence of Sasquatch will have to wait for another day. Yes, it makes me sad.
Seriously, the “too many vaccines” trope pushed by the anti-vaccine religion is one of the most annoying in the discussions about vaccines. Their bogus claim is that we give children too many vaccines too early in life, and that causes all kinds of harm.
Per usual, the anti-vaccine zealots lack any robust scientific evidence supporting their claims, but you know those people – there’s no trope, myth, or meme that they won’t employ, irrespective of evidence, to push lies about vaccines.
I have three daughters, and my oldest one, we’ll call her Catherine, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder many years ago. This is our story, one that has little to do with vaccines, except that I never once thought that there was a relationship between her autism and vaccines. Not once.
I have rarely mentioned Catherine online not because I was ashamed of her autism – she deserved her privacy, and I did not want to be someone who used my personal life story as a “cause” for the science of vaccines.
Then, two things happened. First, while commenting on an article I wrote a few years ago, someone said: “you don’t understand autism because you do not have autistic children.” The former statement is false because it doesn’t take having an autistic child to understand autism. The latter statement is also false because I do have a child with autism.
Second, I finally read Peter Hotez’s book, Vaccines did not Cause Rachel’s Autism. For those of you who don’t know Dr. Hotez, he is one of the leading researchers in vaccines, and he has written hundreds of peer-reviewed papers on infectious diseases (and vaccines) along with numerous books on infectious diseases. He is a real authority on vaccines, public health, and vaccine-preventable diseases, and as they said on Wayne’s World, “we are not worthy!”