Yesterday Health Day News reported that The Lancet, an international medical journal, had retracted a study originally published in 1998 which had been led by researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. This particular study had far reaching implications as it linked the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (the MMR) to the development of autism in children. If you are a parent who has a child with autism you are most likely familiar with the name of Doctor Wakefield and his theory that the MMR vaccine somehow causes autism. My son is now fourteen so by the time I heard about this study, my son had already had this shot and had been diagnosed with autism.
I was a witness to this controversy from the beginning and watched it rage out of control until parents were attempting to sue their child's pediatrician or the vaccine companies themselves. The time and cost of such litigation was astronomical. In 2003 the British Medical Journal reported that legal aid funds were no longer forthcoming for parents in England wishing to sue based on the claim that the MMR shots had caused their child's autism. This decision was based upon the lack of any research to support a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Another casualty in this war about vaccines has been the health of children. Many parents were frightened by Wakefield's research and declined to vaccinate their children. As a result we are now seeing a resurgence of measles, once thought to be eradicated. This medical news report states: "It is now thought that 2 to 3 per cent of American school children are under-vaccinated because their parents are opting out on principle." In England there are reports of hospitalizations and even deaths caused by this resurgence of measles.
It cannot be disputed that there has been a cost in time, money, personal anxiety and fear, and the health of our children due to this vaccine controversy. So what can we learn from this?
As I mentioned previously, I was a witness from the beginning to the "vaccine wars" as some people dub this controversy. I had joined many on-line support groups after my son was diagnosed with autism. And one theme kept coming up over and over again. There were many parents who were looking for a cause for their child's autism or special needs. If you think the vaccine controversy is limited just to autism, think again. There are organizations out there who are linking the vaccines to things like asthma and ADHD as well.
When I first heard about the scares of the MMR vaccine I must admit, I felt frightened. Many parents were telling these stories about how their children became physically ill and/or regressed after having their shots. Many of these people were my friends and acquaintances on-line. All of a sudden these support groups became a place of hostility and divisions were created between "believers" and "non-believers." The whole vaccine controversy became more akin to a religious crusade. Logic and research was thrown out the window. Facts became less important than emotions. As a result I felt more and more helpless. If I chose to cast doubt in either direction I was considered a potential threat or even an enemy to a cause. As I write this now, I feel tremendous anxiety of offending people who still fervently believe that the MMR vaccine had hurt their child. All I can say is that I believe that they believe. No words, logic, or research will sway some individuals from what they feel happened to their child.