Is there anything useful to be said about the really-not-controversial controversy over children's vaccinations?
Governor Krispy, arriving with his wife Mary Pat for lunch with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne on Tuesday, was finally a little less talkative.
I've been thinking we really have to say something about the vaccination scandal, but what? We could point out that the pandering to ignorance and hysteria being indulged in by candidates like the GOP's Kris Krispy and Rand Paul is beneath contempt. Really, choosing to pander to right-wing know-nothings on a public-health issue by people who have no excuse for not knowing better . . . well, words fail me.
I suppose you could argue that it's every parent's prerogative to subject his/her own children to all the infectious diseases they like. You could if you were crazy, that is. Then I guess if you're crazy, you accept that those same parents have the right to put other people's children at risk.
Because as long as the psycho parents were limited in number and concentration, they could cynically benefit from the numerical prevalence of functioning-brain parents who were having their kids vaccinated. But as the pathology spread, holes began to develop in the immune safety net, which is especially dangerous with a disease as infectious as measles. And so, son of a gun, measles is back! Surprise, surprise!
Even scarier, the immunization psychos can't be talked to.
The other day on the radio, I a guy say, sensibly enough, that you can't talk expect to get a hearing if you approach these people by denouncing them as imbeciles. This fellow offered as an analogy a child who thinks there are monsters under the bed; you can't begin talking to the young un by telling him he's an imbecile. True that, but does anyone draw confidence from this as a reasonable analogy? If it is a reasonable analogy, then we're in worse trouble even than I thought, and I can't begin to tell you how much trouble I thought we were in.
Because how else do you talk to the psycho parents? It's not as if they're open to reason. I heard another fellow on the radio point out, again quite logically, that to people who have decided to believe the anti-vaccination lies, being confronted with facts just deepens their commitment to the lies. They regard you and your so-called facts as part of the conspiracy the fact -- perhaps even as proof of the conspiracy.
It's hardly surprising that NJ Gov. Kris Krispy is the thick of the pandering. It speaks to who and what he truly is: a bestial and degraded specimen of humanity, a creature who'll say just about anything if he thinks there's some personal advantage to be gained. Then there's that genius Rand Paul. I don't even want to talk about him.
Amid the zillions of words being spilled on the subject, there have been some of interest. I thought Paul Waldman made a fabulous point the other day in a washingtonpost.com "Plum Line" post, "What Chris Christie gets wrong about vaccine deniers," which began (links onsite):
Chris Christie is in England, because like so many candidates before him, he knows that the way to show American voters that you will make wise foreign policy decisions is to demonstrate that you have, in fact, visited another country. And while he’s there, he managed to make news by taking a position that is not only controversial but spectacularly wrong, on the topic of the spreading measles outbreak caused by unvaccinated children:And today, feeling as desperate about the subject as you may have gathered I'm feeling, I thought there might be a ray of light in a post listed on newyorker.com, "Talking to Vaccine Resisters," by Seth Mnookin. And Seth, we're told, "is an assistant professor of science writing at M.I.T. His most recent book is The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy. So, this is just what we need, isn't it? To know how to talk to vaccine resisters?
“Mary Pat and I have had our children vaccinated and we think that it’s an important part of being sure we protect their health and the public health,” Christie told reporters here Monday. But the likely Republican presidential candidate added: “I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”And it gets worse: Christie said, “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official.”
No, no, a thousand times no. It’s great that Christie vaccinated his children, but it’s also completely irrelevant. And what he thinks as a parent is absolutely not more important than what he thinks as a public official. Want to know why? Because he’s a public official. That means that he has a responsibility for the health and welfare of the nine million people who live in his state. I am so tired of politicians who say, “My most important title is Mom/Dad.” It isn’t. When you decided to run for public office, you accepted that there would be times when you’d have to act in the public interest regardless of your family’s interest, or your friends’ interest, or the interest of the town you grew up in. When you took the oath of office you made a covenant that you’d work on behalf of the larger community. The fact that you’re a parent can help you understand other parents and their concerns, but it doesn’t change your primary responsibility. . . .
Well, hold on a minute.
Professor Seth runs through, for the benefit of anyone who didn't know, why "a dangerously high percentage of parents are choosing not to vaccinate against a disease that has killed more children than any other in history":
There are myriad reasons why these parents are willing to put their own children and the people around them at risk. (While the measles vaccine is overwhelmingly effective, infants don’t receive their first measles, mumps, and rubella, or M.M.R., shot until their first birthday, which means they’re vulnerable during the precise time when a measles infection is most dangerous.) Some continue to believe a fraudulent, retracted study by a disgraced gastroenterologist that posited a connection between the M.M.R. vaccine and autism. Others argue that “natural” immunity is somehow safer or better than vaccine-induced immunity, a bizarre and dangerous notion that ignores the fact that millions of lives have been saved by vaccines. There are parents who are convinced that children receive too many vaccines too early in their lives—despite the fact that the total viral load in pediatric vaccines today is a fraction of what it was thirty years ago. And there are those who simply say that vaccines don’t feel safe to them.And Professor Seth runs through, for the benefit of anyone didn't know, the problems in communicating with the people described above:
Efforts to combat these mistaken beliefs have made one thing clear: it’s much easier to scare people than it is to dispel fears, regardless of how dangerous and untrue they are. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to successfully communicate with parents who are anxious about vaccines. Unfortunately, the public-health community has very little clue as to how to do so—and they’ve been going about it the wrong way for years.What's more, Professor Seth tells us how he knows, personally, that we've been screwing up really badly in talking to these people:
After my book “The Panic Virus,” about the vaccine-autism controversy and the modern-day anti-vaccine movement, came out in 2011, I was often asked to participate in panels and workshops about the best ways to confront vaccine hesitancy. I quickly became frustrated: the dearth of reliable data often resulted in a bunch of people relying on their intuition to determine the best way to convince parents that they shouldn’t rely on their intuition.Professor Seth goes further. He breaks down the kinds of things we need to know in order to be able to talk to these people:
In 2012, when the American Academy of Arts and Sciences asked me to participate in another of these sessions, I got together with the Harvard School of Public Health’s Barry Bloom and the University of Washington’s Edgar Marcuse and proposed that the workshop focus on assembling a research agenda that would provide answers to a series of fundamental questions, including: How do parents learn about vaccines? To what extent does vaccine hesitancy result from a broader distrust in government? When are parents most receptive to information about vaccines? What are the best ways to present science-based recommendations, and what are the best ways to address specious fears?Now, you're probably thinking, we're getting warm. Now Professor Seth, having torn us to shreds for the way we've been trying to talk to the vaccine resisters, is going to tell us how it should be done -- the very thing we thought he would tell us based on that title, "Talking to Vaccine Resisters."
Well, not exactly:
A small number of academics are already trying to answer these types of questions.Oh.
Doug Opel at the University of Washington School of Medicine has videotaped pediatric visits in an effort to understand how physicians actually communicate about vaccines, and Saad Omer at the Emory Vaccine Center has conducted studies on how schools, health-care providers, and state-level legislation effect vaccine uptake. Heidi Larson of the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene and Julie Leask from the University of Sydney’s National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance are among a handful of others also doing excellent work.
But much more research is needed. High-quality social-science research, especially when it involves longitudinal studies designed to measure how people’s attitudes change over time, is expensive—but given that it costs upwards of ten thousand dollars to contain every single measles infection that occurs, that’s money well spent.
You thought there was more? Nope, sorry. Please check to make sure you have all your belongings before you exit the facility.
So, to sum up, what we have learned about "Talking to Vaccine Resisters" is (a) that it's hard, and (b) how not to do it. Thanks, Seth.