Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Needle and the Damage Done

So what fun would it be to write about parenting, where disagreement and strong opinion abounds, if you didn’t at least wiggle your toes in the pool of controversy every now and then? We parents practically live to tell other parents that they are doing it all wrong.

She’ll never potty train if you do it like that.
Co-sleeping? That is craziness.
You mean you don’t have a family bed?
Wait, you wouldn’t send your kid to a public school, would you?
You are letting her play with plastic?
I can’t believe you are still nursing.
Wow, can you believe she never nursed?
Oh, we only buy organic food.
Ten minutes of television a day, and that’s it!
You just HAVE to buy the “My Child Can Read” DVDs!

And on, and on, and on. I mean, it even starts with HOW the baby is going to be born. Drugs or no drugs? Doctor, midwife, or doula? Home birth? Tub birth? Scheduled C-section? Maybe you go for the hypno-birth. Ask any mom, and some dads, about that subject and then gird your loins for an hour or two of really heated discussion.

Well, yesterday’s controversy du jour was served up in the form of a retracted article in a British medical journal. What is so controversial? No one but doctors and grad students read those things. And who cares about the British ones, we are American! Well, this is not just any medical journal article. This was a medical journal article about autism.

Now we are starting to see some blood pressures rise.

In 1998, The Lancet printed a paper authored by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and 12 others that linked the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine to autism. Since then, 10 of the 13 authors have renounced the conclusions and subsequent studies have found no link between vaccines and autism.

The CDC has this to say about vaccine safety:
“…evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that "the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines an [sic] autism." CDC supports the IOM conclusion.”

Last week, a British medical panel ruled that Dr. Wakefield “failed in his duties and acted against the interest of the children in his care” during the study. The AP has a nice little summary of the censure and some unethical practices associated with the study. Wakefield may not be allowed to practice medicine in the UK soon.

All this caused The Lancet today to fully retract the study from published record, basically saying: “our bad.”

The issue here is much larger though. Since the study came out, Britain has seen a study rise in Measles cases. Sure they are still on a relatively small number of cases (under 200), but this is a disease that, before vaccination, used to afflict hundreds of thousands a year.

In recent years, Jenny McCarthy, actress, model, autism awareness advocate, hot mom, and (hey, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want) a complete quack, has gone on a publicity tour promoting the link between vaccines and autism. A lot of people are jumping on her boat. McCarthy has sold a lot of books and appeared on a lot of talk shows talking about vaccines and autism. And she is also a fan of Dr. Wakefield and his research. McCarthy’s non-profit, Generation Rescue, even put out a statement of support for Dr. Wakefield. It reads, in part,
"The recent decision by the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom against Andy Wakefield shouldn't surprise anyone who understands the stakes, profits, and reputations at risk in the debate over vaccines and autism. The sole purpose of the GMC's ruling this week is to try and quell the growing concern of parents that the expanding vaccine schedule and the remarkable rise in autism are correlated."

McCarthy seems to be a strange one. She clings to what looks to be junk science, but then rejects good science and reputable organizations like the CDC, the AAP as somehow conspiring to give kids autism. She shuns some published studies to seems to embrace the anecdotal and then coincidental.

Okay, now this is where I try to empathize. As far as I know, I am not the parent of an autistic child. Olive has not even had her MMR shot yet (though we do plan to give it to her on schedule). I can not imagine what it would be like to be faced with the prospect of dealing with autism day in and day out. There are hundreds of thousands of parents who deal with this every day. If I was one of those parents that felt my child was taken from me, that just wanted an answer, I would probably be pointing my finger at everything I could. And yes, bringing my daughter into the doctor’s office and watching her get shot after shot after shot seems strange and dangerous. I mean, we dress her in organic cotton clothes because we don’t like pesticides, but we are pumping her full of manufactured vaccines? Yes, the rate of autism has spiked since the MMR vaccine was introduced. But this does not prove a causal relationship. You can't ignore the observations of parents, or individual cases, but you need to look at a body of evidence to draw conclusions. Dr. Geri Dawson, the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks provides a great summary of the scientific findings on Autism and vaccines -- and one worded far more sesitively than my own uninformed rantings -- can be found on here.

More research on a possible link between thimerosal,mercury, or the MMR vaccine should be welcomed and encouraged. But my fear is that fear surrounding vaccines can be dangerous. By turning our back on vaccines that protect our kids from horrible diseases to try and protect our kids from another horrible disease, we may just be cutting off our nose to spite our face. Would you want your kid in a daycare with a group of unvaccinated kids? Want them to share a sandbox? The measles really suck. As do the mumps. We might not have been around to see their hay-day, but in the last 150 years measles killed 200 million people. The last outbreak of rubella was in 1964-65 when 20,000 infants were born with birth defects like deafness because they were infected with rubella while in utero. These are diseases we now have beat. Let’s not let them come back.

When I was on paternity leave I watched a television program called “The Doctors” (Tagline: America's Medical Dream Team) where a panel of really good looking docs sit in front of an audience in scrubs and lab coats (did they just come running in from surgery or the office?). It is like “The View” but they talk about urinary track infections and menopause less. They had Jenny McCarthy on and great debate ensued. You could almost see some of the doctors on the panel restraining themselves from yelling “CRAZY!” And McCarthy was doing her best not to yell “SCIENCE, SCHMIENCE!” At some point someone, I think a pediatrician, calmed everyone down. I’m obviously paraphrasing here but he said, look, we have tons of research on vaccines. They go through an enormous amount of testing. The medical community is pretty darn sure that there is no link. However, there is a whole TON of stuff in the environment that we haven’t studied – let’s move on and try to find a link.

I couldn’t agree more.

I also fear that the campaign against vaccinations seems to me to be chasing windmills. It is taking the focus away from the disease and getting more badly needed money to research possible treatments and causes.

Soo, I’ve probably pissed some people off. But that is okay. I piss people off every day. We can still be friends. Yes, Leanne and I are following the recommended vaccine schedule for Olive. We think it is the best choice for us. Yes, I understand that you may not be following it for your child and you think you are making the best choice for you.

I promise, I’m not a horrible person.

But Jenny McCarthy is still a quack.

P.S. If you would like to support Autsim research and awareness, please considering donating to Autsim Speaks

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