First They Came for the Anti-Vaxxers
By Bretigne Shaffer
Earlier this year I spent a few days at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with my daughter who was having an EEG done. On our way home, I learned that there had been an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant bacteria while we were there, that it had infected seven people and killed two of them. My daughter and I were fine – the infection having been limited to people using a particular kind of duodenoscope.
When the story hit the news, I fully expected nationwide outcry similar to that inspired by the recent measles “epidemic” that began at Disneyland. That outbreak killed no-one, yet set the country on fire with calls for mandatory vaccination and even prison sentences for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Drug-resistant “superbugs” kill nearly 15,000 people a year in the US and a recent report predicts that they could kill as many as 300 million people by 2050. Surely this far more deadly health threat would lead to similar widespread outrage and calls for those even remotely responsible to be held accountable.
I expected to see editorials calling for anyone who engaged in the overuse of antibiotics to be shunned by society; doctors who prescribed them unnecessarily (around 50% of all prescriptions by some estimates) to be censured and perhaps lose their licenses; parents who asked for antibiotics every time their child had an ear infection – despite the fact that the vast majority are not bacterial and are unaffected by antibiotics – to be thrown in jail for endangering the rest of us. But I saw nothing along these lines. Why not?
The manipulation of the conversation around vaccines in the mainstream media has been nothing short of a tour de force. If you read only mainstream publications, you might come away with the impression that outbreaks of measles are the most serious public health crisis since the Black Death. You might think that those who do not vaccinate are uneducated, superstitious, “anti-science” zealots who get their information from daytime talk shows. You might even start to feel outrage at these people who – for no good reason at all – have decided to endanger everyone else by refusing to do what every doctor knows is perfectly safe, effective and the socially responsible thing to do.
The presentation of this issue has been a study in just how easy it can be to generate mass hysteria around a particular threat – even while much more serious threats inspire no such response. It’s as if every mainstream reporter has been given the same playbook to use in putting together their articles about vaccines – a playbook designed to elicit the above response from the public. I’ve tried to imagine what this playbook must look like and I think I’ve come up with a pretty decent facsimile. Here it is, along with my own annotations:
1. Make it clear that parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are only getting their information from Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carey and other celebrities with absolutely no scientific credentials.
Pretend that doctors and scientists who are critical of vaccines – doctors like Dr. Suzanne Humphries, Dr. Robert Sears, Dr. Kenneth Stoller, Dr. Robert Rowen, Dr. Janet Levatin, Dr. Stephanie Cave, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, Dr. Meryl Nass, Dr. Jay Gordon, Dr. Jane Orient, and many of the members of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, CDC researcher Dr. William Thompson, and all of the doctors and scientists listed here and here – don’t exist. Because really, if you don’t write about them, they don’t.
2. Always equate the views of the CDC, medical journals and pharmaceutical company spokespeople with “science.” Some people will try to tell you that science is a method, not a conclusion, that scientific truths cannot be determined by consensus or by appeal to authority, but you can just ignore them.
As one (self-proclaimed) scientist put it:
“In my personal and scientifically backed opinion, the war against disease is a hundred fold more important than the mum-led war against vaccines. Do you want your child to die a slow, painful, agonizing death? If not, then shut the f*** up with your so called ‘facts’ you got from Yahoo Answers and get your kid vaccinated.
“I am going to sound derogatory, but if you don’t have formal education in at least biology, you have no role to talk about the way vaccines should be done.” (Sic.)
In other words, if you don’t have the same training we do, you don’t get to be part of the discussion. Even when the topic of that discussion is whether or not we get to forcibly inject things into your bodies and the bodies of your children. Just shut up and trust the scientists. But not these scientists – they are all anti-science scientists. Only trust these ones.
3. Remind your readers that, however heart wrenching or tragic, anecdotal accounts are just that. They are not scientific, they don’t say anything about relative risk, and should play no role in influencing your opinion about vaccines.
Until you want to tell them the heart wrenching story of how author Roald Dahl lost his daughter to measles, or about the death of a young girl from rotavirus that inspired Dr. Paul Offit to develop a vaccine for that disease.
Anecdotal accounts of people suffering from vaccine-preventable illnesses are fine. Anything else though is just irrational. Take for example the thousands of stories from parents whose children were perfectly healthy until they received one or more vaccines and then suddenly lost the ability to speak, to walk, to feed themselves, or who started having seizures, stopped breathing or died. Many of the parents in these cases report that their doctors insist the vaccines had nothing to do with their child’s injury, even when no other explanation is apparent. Indeed, the vaccine manufacturers and the CDC insist that most such cases are simply coincidences and have nothing to do with the vaccines. But given the well-documented degree of conflict of interest and fraudulent practices within the CDC and the medical research community as a whole, many parents are understandably skeptical of such claims...
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