Saturday 22 October 2016

If movie stars have 'deeply personal' issues on medical science, they should learn facts

Lorraine Courtney

Published 20/04/2016 | 02:30

'De Niro’s statement ignores the fact that, according to broad medical and scientific consensus, vaccines are very, very safe.' Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire
'De Niro’s statement ignores the fact that, according to broad medical and scientific consensus, vaccines are very, very safe.' Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

According to the latest figures, one in 10 infants here have not received all the necessary vaccines to guard against childhood diseases. Understanding why this is happening isn't hard.

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It's the result of dedicated campaigning by anti-vaccination activists who offer a compelling ideological mix of pseudo-science and parental instinct.

After all, what kind of parent deliberately gives their child something that would hurt them?

It's happening because when it comes to vaccines, story often trumps science and an anecdote from a friend can hold more weight than a recommendation from a doctor.

The discredited British doctor and anti-vaccination activist, Andrew Wakefield, is back too this month with a new documentary. It's called 'Vaxxed: From Cover-up To Conspiracy'.

Robert De Niro has decided to pull the anti-vaccination documentary from his Tribeca Film Festival line-up, after initially defending its inclusion.

De Niro (pictured) has a child with autism and released a statement saying that the issue is "deeply personal to me".

His wife believes their son, now 18, changed immediately after having the MMR jab.

But De Niro's statement ignores the fact that, according to broad medical and scientific consensus, vaccines are very, very safe. His statement also suggests that the jury is still out on vaccines - it's not.

Wakefield's contention that the MMR vaccine has a link to autism has been utterly discredited.

The now-retracted paper linking the MMR vaccine and autism was published by Wakefield and a dozen co-authors in 'The Lancet' in February 1998.

It provided case histories for just 12 children. A 2004 'Sunday Times' investigation identified undisclosed financial conflicts of interest on Wakefield's part, and all of his co-authors withdrew their support for the study's interpretations.

The paper was rescinded by 'The Lancet'.

Wakefield had also held the patent for an alternative vaccine.

He was stripped of his medical licence in 2010 by the UK's General Medical Council for ethical violations and failure to disclose conflicting financial interests. His results were never replicated in any other study; 15 different studies have been conducted since 1998, involving thousands of children, and each found conclusively that the MMR vaccine is not linked to autism.

Wakefield is no longer a doctor - but he has turned film-maker. This time, he throws in the prediction that, if MMR usage continues, half of all America's boys will be on the autistic spectrum by 2032.

Wakefield has already caused enough controversy and he rightfully doesn't get a respectable platform like Tribeca Film Festival to spread his bad science further. There are plenty of fringe quackery platforms for that.

There is no big pharma or government conspiracy to push vaccines. The only false narrative is that of Wakefield and his supporters.

To screen the film at Tribeca would provide a false sense of balance around an issue that doesn't have two equal points of view.

It's simple: vaccine opponents fail every test of science and logic. All reputable science says that vaccines don't cause autism.

Lending a microphone to the loudest proponent of a discredited idea wouldn't have been ethical.

South Dublin GP Dr Tim Hinchey meets a parent concerned about the MMR vaccine in his practice at least once a month.

"I talk about it with them, giving them background into the unwarranted scare and possible side-effects of the vaccine.

"I make them aware of the hundreds of studies into the vaccine, including the Danish study which had a quarter of a million children and found no link with autism. I discuss the drawbacks of Wakefield's study, discussing the fact that it had more authors than children," he says.

"I always tell parents that the car journey to the surgery is probably the most dangerous part of their child's day when receiving a vaccine."

One in 10 infants here aren't currently vaccinated, which, in herd-immunity terms, is a disaster.

But we've forgotten what it means to have a childhood epidemic sweep across the country. Measles, which in 2000 had been declared "eliminated" in the US, is now staging a comeback.

In a single outbreak last year, traced back to one infected visitor at Disneyland, California, 183 people contracted the disease.

I dread the day there is an epidemic, the news that a child has died.

And while I can sympathise with parents of autistic kids - who would grasp at anything that could illuminate the darkness surrounding their child's condition - I have a sad feeling that this confusion isn't over yet.

Irish Independent

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