A pediatric attending recently provided a great way to respond to the anti-vaccine folks, as she responded to an ad claiming a link between rates of vaccination and and rates of autism:
Just because 2 rates have risen in the same 25 year span does not mean that either causes the other. It also doesn’t imply directionality – so one could actually argue that we give more vaccines because rates of autism are rising, if you’re going to argue by this groundless line of reasoning. Please note that there are MANY other exposures that impact children that have had equally large rises in the last 25 years:
1. Mention of sex on TV
2. Computer screen exposure
3. Mean environmental temperature
4. Number of both contraceptive and fertility methods used by parents
5. Celebrity DUIs
6. Airbrushing techniques in ads
7. Obesity rates
8. Number of websites on the internet
9. Decrease in funding for PE, music, and extracurriculars in schools
10. Decrease in legwarmers sold per capita
There are many intelligent people really trying to learn the cause of autism as well as mechanisms of preventing this devastating disease, and there have been some promising developments. We don’t know the cause yet – that may be hard, but it is true, and also true of many phenomenon and diseases that we encounter. It is so important not to hamper these efforts by forcing their focus only in one area. We have to trust in the process of true, grounded,inquiry – making a hypothesis based on some substantive reasoning, and then working hard to test that hypothesis, and if one line of inquiry does not pan out, moving on to other possibilities. Please don’t fall prey to this line of reasoning.
I like the way she makes the point that by focusing on vaccines — something that science has really done its best to rule-out with multiple good studies — it’s preventing research and funding from going toward finding out the true cause of the rise of autism.
At the same time that the anti-vaccine crusaders focus all their might on vaccines, they ignore the reasons that we have vaccines in the first place. They have not seen (and neither have I) the scourge of widespread polio, measles, congenital rubella, or even neonatal meningitis that used to kill or maim tens of thousands of American children. Diseases that still take the lives of children in the third world — that mothers in the third world would give anything to be free of — now make a comeback because of misguided care and misguided suspicion.
The whole thing reminds me of the increased rates of HIV in the gay population, as my generation doesn’t see friends dying left and right of AIDS anymore.