Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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March 25, 2014

The foolish anti-vaccine cause

In a feat that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago, the anti-vaccine movement has managed to breathe life into nearly vanquished childhood diseases.

It took all the ingenuity and know-how we are capable of to find safe, effective ways to dramatically diminish diseases like measles and whooping cough in the developed world; it took all the hysteria and willful ignorance we are capable of to give them a boost.

A developer of the measles vaccine, Dr. Samuel Katz, says the question “is not whether we shall see a world without measles, but when.”

Not if Jenny McCarthy has anything to say about it. The former Playboy model and current co-host of “The View” is a leading light of the anti-vaccine movement. She has a boy with autism-like symptoms that she is convinced were caused by the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). You can credit her passion for her child, sympathize with her heartbreak — and still cringe at her wholly irrational cause.

It is only natural that parents who see their young autistic children slip away at about the same time they receive vaccinations make the mistake of confusing correlation and causation. And it is only human to want to believe that a tragedy is a morality tale with readily identifiable villains, in this case the drug industry and the medical establishment. None of this makes the so-called anti-vaxxers any less wrong, or doggedly impervious to evidence.

No amount of discrediting makes a difference. One theory was that a preservative in children’s vaccines called thimerosal was causing autism. But the U.S. removed thimerosal from most childhood vaccines in 2001. If the theory had been sound, this should have reduced cases of autism. It didn’t. Cases have continued to rise, and the same held true in Canada and Denmark after eliminating thimerosal in the 1990s.

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