June 27, 2004


MMR, autism and politics (Helene Guldberg, 6/23/04, Spiked)

spiked readers will be familiar with the writings of Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, east London GP and trenchant critic of official health policy. His new book, MMR and Autism: What parents need to know, develops the arguments put forward in his spiked columns around the MMR debacle, where highly dubious scientific claims about the potential damage caused by a triple vaccine have managed to throw the political and medical establishment into turmoil, and knock a major UK immunisation programme off course.

Dr Fitzpatrick persuasively and eloquently demolishes the key plank of the MMR panic: claims of a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. Indeed, any risks associated with the MMR vaccine are virtually non-existent: 'when 500million doses of a vaccine have been given in 80 countries over more than 30 years, and serious adverse reactions are found to be extremely rare, then it is fair to describe it as "safe"', he says. Meanwhile the case for immunisation is indisputable: 'Diseases that had caused devastating epidemics in living memory, and had produced a significant toll of death and disability into the post-war period, have virtually disappeared.'

But while MMR and Autism is a thorough dissection of the scientific and medical issues arising from the MMR panic, the book's scope is much broader than that. 'It is not a self-help manual intended to reassure parents worried about the safety of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, though it might very well do this', states an apt summary by Dr Anthony Daniels in the Sunday Telegraph. '[R]ather, it is a probing analysis of a continuing health scare, one that very soon suggests deep questions of political philosophy in general, and the nature of our society in particular.' Which begs the question - why focus on MMR in the first place? [...]

Fitzpatrick places the MMR controversy in the context of the collapse of traditional left and right politics, and the rise of a more individuated, risk-averse society. As Politics with a big 'P' has ceased to matter so much to people, issues relating to health - and those relating to lifestyle, education and other personal issues - have assumed an increasing importance in people's lives.

And as people have become more preoccupied with their own health and that of their children, the government has adopted a much higher profile on health issues. 'Health policy is no longer concerned primarily with providing services, but is more directed towards provoking individual anxieties and fears about smoking, obesity, and other "unhealthy" lifestyles, and relating to people's daily health concerns through initiatives like NHS Direct', he says.

In this situation, a health panic such as that surrounding the MMR vaccine is not a diversion from politics. It is politics. Like major political battles of the past, this scare has some very real and dangerous consequences - both for the state of debate, and for individuals' own lives.

The whole MMR-autism hoax is just part and parcel of our need to find someone to blame whenever anything goes wrong in the world.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2004 12:49 PM

Mr. Judd;

Thus the popularity of conspiracy theories.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at June 27, 2004 1:25 PM

I didn't read that whole article, and I'm no expert on this issue, but ... pardon my rant ...

(1) The anecdotal evidence linking MMR with autism involves kids with suppressed immune systems, due to illness, etc. That article contained not one occurrence of either "immune" or "immunity". I don't claim to know the current state of all the research on this question, but as somebody with a working brain I do know that unless the studies take into account whether kids are healthy when they get the MMR vaccine or not, they don't refute the anecdotal evidence.

(2) From the FDA: "In its report of October 1, 2001, the IOMís Immunization Safety Review Committee concluded that the evidence is inadequate to either accept or reject a causal relationship between thimerosal exposure from childhood vaccines and the neurodevelopmental disorders of autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and speech or language delay"

(3) If I'm wrong, I'll happily admit it, after seeing the research that takes into account whether the kids were healthy or not when they got the MMR vaccine, and found it had no effect. Please offer a cite.

(4) I have close friends who both have autistic kids and know more about this than I do. I wouldn't dream of saying anything to them as insulting as "our need to find someone to blame whenever anything goes wrong in the world". One friend is even thinking of becoming a special ed teacher -- in between taking care of her 5 kids -- due to what she has learned about her daughter's autism/PDD.

I understand that this issue is perhaps more personal to me than to you OJ or to others who read here. Try not to be so dismissive and cynical all the time, though; some of these people are just looking for facts like we are, because their kid's future depends on it. Those of us lucky enough to have healthy kids should not first assume others are just litigation-happy professional victims.

End of rant!

Posted by: Jeff Brokaw at June 27, 2004 6:00 PM

If there is no God, it cannot be God's will, therefor, it must be somebody's fault.

Otherwise, we are just random specks of dirt in a random and malicious universe.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 27, 2004 6:13 PM

Nice philosophy Mr Schwartz - lets not blame each other, lets blame God!

OJ, it's the witches! The witches!!

Posted by: Robert Duquette at June 27, 2004 8:57 PM

Jeff: With all due respect to your friends, the attack on MMR is entirely post hoc, ergo propter hoc. There is no study design that will satisfy the people who are most exercised about this. However, the burden of proof is on them, and their is no basis for their claim.

In the meantime, people are being scared into skipping innoculations, which is significantly more dangerous.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 27, 2004 10:38 PM

"The whole MMR-autism hoax is just part and parcel of our need to find someone to blame whenever anything goes wrong in the world."

Maybe for some, but I resent that assertion.

The doctors are clueless. The CDC and the AMA appear to be circling the wagons. What would you think?

Posted by: JackSheet at June 27, 2004 10:49 PM

look up fumento. hes written on this hoax and effectively debunks it using all current research. doctors arent clueless, patients just arent listening

Posted by: poormedicalstudent at June 27, 2004 11:34 PM

"The whole MMR-autism hoax is just part and parcel of our need to" kill children. Abortion and the ban on DDT are also part of this story.

Posted by: Uncle Bill at June 28, 2004 9:56 AM

Mother Gaia (TM) is still the front-runner in human sacrifice -- at how many million babes in the womb, pulling ahead of the Flowery Way of the Mexica (Huitzlopochtli, Tezcatlipoca, Xipe Totec, Coatlicue, etc) and well ahead of Baal-Moloch (who preferred infants, just like Gaia).

The kicker is that in the Flowery Way or Baalism, the human sacrifices were so the worshippers could get something from the god. With Mother Gaia, it's so the worshippers can save the goddess. What sort of god is so wimpy that they need to be saved by their worshippers?

Posted by: Ken at June 28, 2004 12:56 PM