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Posts Tagged ‘anti-vaxxer’

Why Risk of Autism is Such a Strong Driver for Anti-Vaxxer Movement

June 22, 2019 9 comments

As regular readers know, I have written posts about why the modern anti-vaccination movement exists in the first place. It seems that most people, especially those indulge in gratuitous virtue display on social-media, want to attribute it all to parental ignorance, gullibility or stupidity. These dummies are intent on doing so even though the socio-economic and educational profile of those involved in the movement clearly suggests that is not the case. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the anti-vaccination movement is one outcome of a medical system driven by profits.. and let us not pretend that physicians are altruistic people solely driven by a burning need to help others. Also, let us stop pretending that the medical profession still retains the kind of public trust it used to enjoy 2-4 decades ago. It doesn’t and for good reason.

A few months ago, I started writing a short series on why persecution of anti-vaxxers will backfire on believers of scientism. While I intend to, hopefully soon, write more parts for that series- I am going to digress a bit in this post and talk about the twin concerns which seem to be driving the modern anti-vaccination movement. Ana as you will soon see, there is a specific reason behind my decision to not roll this post into the second part of that series. A couple of days ago, I came across a long-form journalism piece in Jezebel (of all places) about the anti-vaxxer movement. In that piece, and in responses to it on social media sites, I noticed a pattern which many (including the author of that piece) were unable or unwilling to notice. To make a long story short, many hip and trendy virtue posers seems to be oblivious to why the risk of autism and auto-immune illnesses is such a potent driver behind the anti-vaxxer movement- especially in USA.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that vaccines causes autism. What I am talking about is much more nuanced and it is recommended that you read the post completely before commenting. So let us begin by talking about Autism or more precisely the history of that diagnosis. In previous eras, children and adults who display symptoms or behavior which are today considered to be part of Autism Spectrum Disorder were considered as “retarded”, “special”,”different,”feeble-minded”, “quirky” etc depending on the nature and degree of their condition. For almost all of human history, such kids and adults were generally treated with varying degrees of compassion and patience. It also helped that prior to age of capitalism, extended social safety nets were able to accommodate and take care of such people. Large-scale institutionalization of such people began only after the mid-1800s and even then only in the allegedly civilized “west”.

My point is that, for almost all of human history, people with what we today lump under the label of autism were not seen as ill or suffering from a disease. They were merely seen as a bit to somewhat different from normal people. I cannot resist the irony of pointing out that people from previous eras actually had a far more humane outlook towards people with such conditions. So how did the label of ASD and rapid increase in its reported incidence come about? Well.. after 1960s, it became basically impossible in the west to institutionalize people with mental conditions or psychiatric diseases. However, unlike serious depression or schizophrenia etc, what we today classify under rubric of ASD wasn’t an illnesses in the traditional sense of that word. To put it another way, there is no consistent neuro-chemical or neuro-anatomical abnormality in everyone (or most people) diagnosed with ASD. Also, you cannot treat it with drugs- at least consistently.

So why does any of this matter? Well.. see, once you classify something as a disease, it has to have a cause. In other words, people started trying to find the cause of what we today know as ASD only after it was reclassified as a disease. It certainly did not help that ASD covers a range of conditions from borderline aspyness to full-blown inability to learn and interact with people. To make another long story short, we still have not been able to develop a robust hypothesis for why some people end up being diagnosed with ASD. While there is is clearly a hereditary competent to these conditions, only 15-20 % of the siblings (at most) of such people also display signs of ASD. In other words, even your hair or eye color exhibits far greater levels of inheritability than ASD. The subtext here is that ASD appears to more developmental than inherited.

Let us now talk about the incidence of diagnosed ASD in the west, specifically USA. According to the CDC, 1 in 59 kids end up being diagnosed with ASD. We can easily round up that number to 1 in 50 or 2%. To make matters worse, about 14% of kids have special educational requirements with almost a third of that being due to learning disabilities. Which is a nice way of saying that about 5% or 1 in 20 kids have learning disabilities severe enough to require intervention and special attention. Did I mention that most people who have children nowadays have only one or two. Are you now starting to see why people are so concerned about anything which might raise the risk of their getting ASD? But it gets worse, much worse, in USA.

Unlike all other developed countries with some form of universal healthcare and long-term illness/ disability support system- USA has nothing even remotely approaching universal healthcare let lone a social safety net for chronically ill or disabled people. To make yet another long (and sordid) story short, the considerable and artificially inflated expenses of caring for a child with moderate to severe ASD can ruin even solidly middle-class families. It is therefore not surprising that parents in USA (and other “western” countries with mediocre profit-driven healthcare systems) are especially vigilant about anything which might potentially increase their child’s risk of developing ASD. It does not help that the rapid increase in ASD coincided with the expansion of childhood vaccination schedule to Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Chickenpox etc.

It also does not help that usually transient neurological disorders are known to be associated with whole-cell pertussis vaccine. Are you beginning to understand why the anti-vaxxer movement has kept gaining strength, especially in USA? But.. but.. some of you might say “what about the common good” or “maintaining herd immunity”? My answer is as follows: you cannot expect people to care about the greater good of a society which, in turn, ignores (or worse, monetizes) the suffering of disabled or chronically-ill people. Does society in USA make sure that caring for a child with ASD does not pauperize his or her parents? If it doesn’t, don’t expect the affected parents or others around them to play ball. Pretending that their concerns are not genuine or they are stupid is also not likely to get them on your side.

One more thing, pretending that measles or chickenpox are life-threatening in otherwise healthy and incompetent children is not a smart idea and likely to reduce your credibility even further. While both illnesses can put a very small percentage of affected children in the hospital, death or permanent disability from either disease is pretty rare- easily less than 1 in 500 and usually far lower. More importantly, a lot of anti-vaxxer parents (especially in USA) would rather take their chances with a 1 in 500 to 1 in 4000 chance of death than feel guilty about their child developing Autism or learning disorders (2-5%) around the same time as being vaccinated. This is doubly so if they know anybody with a child who first started showing signs of ASD around the same time they were being vaccinated.

Yes.. I know that the first signs of ASD often appear at about the same time as kids getting their routine vaccinations- even if they are not getting vaccinated. But I am not a parent, nor have I been ever at risk of becoming bankrupt caring for a child with ASD. If you ever want to reach these people, you will have to start understanding that their risk assessments are as rational as your own. Bullying, mocking or patronizing them is just going to ensure that some greedy charlatans are going to take advantage of their vulnerability. Then again, most ardent pro-vaxxers are just in it for the virtue display and feeling superior. Here is a novel idea.. make sure that everyone has comprehensive universal healthcare and people with disabilities and chronic illness are well cared for and not exploited for financial gains.

What do you think? Comments?

Persecution of Anti-Vaxxers Will Backfire on Believers in Scientism: 1

March 10, 2019 9 comments

Over the past few months, we have seen a barrage of attention-seeking types, supported by the dying MSM, who claim to defend “science” from anti-vaxxers (link 1, link 2 and link 3). However, as anybody who has read enough about the history of modern medicine knows, there have been anti-vaxxers, of some type, as long as there have been vaccines. Which is a nice way of saying that all the effort expended by all those pro-vaccination supporters is about self-aggrandizement, rather than anything altruistic. See.. the thing is, the first major anti-vaxxer movements petered over a century ago once it became very obvious that specific infectious diseases were caused by specific microorganisms and exposure to an attenuated form of the pathogen or its main toxin would confer functional immunity to those diseases.

In other words, the modern anti-vaxxer movements are NOT populated by rubes who reject the idea that pathogens cause infectious diseases or deny that vaccines elicit an immunological response. In fact, I wrote a couple of posts on this topic in the past where I pointed out that the modern anti-vaxxer movements are an inevitable consequence of profit-driven medicine and that the effects of late-capitalism on the medical system have made it increasingly untrustworthy. Sharp eyed readers might have noticed that I used the plural rather than singular form of ‘movement’ in my previous sentences. As you will see, there is a good reason behind using the plural form and it is very relevant to the rest of this series- specifically the part about how persecution of anti-vaxxers will backfire on believers in scientism.

Let us now talk about the real factors at play in this conflict, and let us be honest about how things are in real-life as opposed to how they should or ought to be.

1] Public trust in the medical profession, especially in USA, has been dropping at an increasing rate over past two decades. Regardless of what you want to believe, it is hard to escape the fact that public faith in “credentialed experts” of all types has been steadily going down over past 2-3 decades. And let us be honest about something else- this loss of faith is grounded in very solid reasons. It takes too much effort to keep believing in priests.. I mean”credentialed experts”.. who have made repeatedly been shown to wrong, greedy and incompetent. By now, almost every person in USA has had personal experience or knows somebody directly who has suffered due to dogma, greed or sheer incompetence of physicians who behave as if they are incapable of making mistakes. And the effect of such behavior and attitudes on their overall credibility is cumulative.

How many of you would willingly place your trust in people who have repeatedly displayed their ability to believe and promote bullshit, derive their livelihood via cartelisation of their profession and are generally incapable of accepting their past mistakes? Why, then, would you expect people with skin in the game aka parents to blindly trust any guidelines or recommendations these “credentialed experts” with no skin in the game come up with? And let us be honest about something else.. “revised guidelines and recommendations” during the past 20 years have almost exclusively been used to sell increasingly more expensive drugs and other medical services without a corresponding increase in life-expectancy. And this leads us to the second issue- namely, the risk-benefit ratios for each vaccine.

2] Too many losers.. I mean supporters of scientism.. believe (or pretend to) that all vaccines are wonder drugs with almost no side-effects and almost universal efficacy. The reality, as usual, is more complicated. While there are vaccines with almost 100% efficacy and almost non-existent serious adverse effects (Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoids, oral and injected polio vaccines, Mumps and Rubella component of MMR, Hepatitis A and B vaccines etc), not all vaccines with almost universal efficacy are free of a small risk of serious side effects. Two of most well-known vaccines (Vaccinia-based smallpox vaccine and Rabies Vaccines- even the latest ones) are known to cause serious side-effects in about 1 in 1000 to 10,000 recipients. That is why we stopped vaccinating the general population against Smallpox a few years after it was eradicated in the late-1970s and also why the Rabies vaccine is usually used for post-exposure treatment in humans.

Now you know why only veterinarians, bat cave explorers, people who travel in wild areas of poor countries and people who work with the rabies virus are vaccinated pre-exposure, and everybody else is vaccinated immediately after exposure. This is also why the yellow fever vaccine, which is also very effective, is used so sparingly outside countries and localities where that disease is endemic. Long story short- even extremely effective vaccines can have adverse effects at unacceptable rates in areas where the disease is not prevalent. For example- vaccinating everybody in USA with the smallpox, rabies and yellow fever vaccines would cause more deaths and illness than those diseases cause under current long-established guidelines.

3] Not all vaccines are highly effective. Yearly influenza shots are a very good example of vaccines whose real-life efficacy rarely exceeds 50%. In most years, their efficacy is closer to 30%, and it often dips as low as 10-20%. Did I mention that influenza stains at the start of an epidemic are often not the same as those near the end? Pretending that yearly influenza vaccination protects people from that disease at a higher rate than wearing a magical charm or talisman is scientifically disingenuous. Maybe, someday we will have an efficacious vaccine for all strains of influenza that can infect humans or attenuate the disease. However, as things stand today we don’t have one and it is stupid to keep pretending otherwise.

And then there is the issue of established and efficacious vaccines, which nonetheless, could use some improvement. For example- the cellular pertussis vaccine has pretty good efficacy (85-90%) but is known to make a few children ill enough to require hospital care. The acellular version, while displaying far fewer serious side effects, is a bit less efficacious (60-80%). Clearly, we should try to develop a better pertussis component in the DPT vaccine with more efficacy and fewer side effects. Also, a better system for identifying kids who will react poorly to the cellular version of that vaccine is required. The Measles component of the MMR vaccine provides a pretty high degree of complete protection (over 85%), however about 1 of 10 vaccinated children can still develop a very mild form of the illness if exposed to that virus.

Let us, therefore, not pretend that the Measles competent of MMR is close to 100% effective. The same is true for Chickenpox vaccine- which provides total protection for about 80%, while providing protection against moderate to severe disease to the other 19-20%. Note that I am using numbers and percentages based on standard multiple-dose vaccinations schedules. In the next part, I will go into the efficacy and effectiveness of these and other vaccines from a public health standpoint. As you will see in that part, some vaccines are far more consequential from the public health standpoint than others- which is a fancy way of saying that some are more important than others.

What do you think? Comments?