The Editor’s Desk: Science fact, not fiction

An outbreak of measles in the Lower Mainland could easily have been prevented.

There’s been an outbreak of measles in the Lower Mainland, with 13 people (that we know of at this time) confirmed as infected with the disease. This wouldn’t be a story — literally — if those who not only contracted measles in the first place, but then shared the virus with others, had been vaccinated against the disease: a simple procedure which is offered free here in B.C.

The father of a boy who contracted measles in Vietnam, then spread it to his two brothers and several schoolmates, has admitted that when his sons were younger, he and his wife at the time made a decision not to have their children receive the Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccination, because he believed that there was a connection between vaccinations and autism. The piece that made this claim, and its author, have both been thoroughly discredited by science, but not before the theory had spread like … well, like a virus.

The father says now that he understands there is no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, yet when he and his sons travelled to Vietnam recently he once again declined to get them vaccinated against measles (even though they received other vaccinations prior to their trip). The result is that several people are now suffering from a disease that is painful at best, deadly at worst, and almost completely preventable.

Anti-vaxxers, as they’re called, are immune to science (although not immune to measles, as this recent outbreak shows). And when I say “immune to science”, I mean immune to real science, the kind carried out by real scientists and doctors who have no agenda to push other than try to keep people healthy. They will believe actress and model Jenny McCarthy, who as far as I know has no scientific or medical qualifications, when she claims there is a link between vaccines and autism, but will disregard or dismiss research from bodies such as The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.K. National Health Service, which have all researched the matter and concluded there is no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.

When push comes to shove, I’m going to go with the research by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, not the “research” by someone who sprang to fame as a Playboy Playmate. Why anyone would do otherwise frankly baffles me, then makes me angry when I hear that people have been infected with a potentially lethal disease because someone chose to ignore science and put their faith in a thoroughly debunked theory and those who still cling to it.

“But measles isn’t usually deadly!” the anti-vaxxers cry. “You’re fear-mongering! Most people just suffer through it for a few days and then get over it!” This isn’t quite the winning argument its proponents seem to think. Setting aside the fact that measles can lead to brain damage and death, telling someone who has contracted a painful disease that it’s essentailly no big deal ignores the fact that they are currently suffering.

And choosing not to be vaccinated puts innocent people at risk. There are some people who cannot receive the MMR vacccine, such as very young children. Try telling the mother of a one-year old in Vancouver who was days away from getting his MMR vaccine when he was exposed to the measles virus, and had to spend his first birthday in isolation because no one knew if he would develop the disease, that your right to ignore science and safety trumps her son’s right to be healthy, and see how far you get.

In 1980, 2.6 million people worldwide died of measles; that number was reduced to 73,000 in 2014. Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2006, but it continues to flare up, most recently in Washington State earlier this year, almost always when it is introduced to a community with a low vaccination rate. Vaccines save lives. Believe the science, not the hysteria; we’ll all be safer.

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