Anti-vaccination – a left wing disease?

Wired has published a dazzling and timely story on the rising toll of childhood diseases in the U.S. due to the increasing numbers of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Author, Amy Wallace, correctly notes that this issue has bridged those on both sides of the political spectrum (we’ve observed vaccination being framed on the far right as some sort of tool of one-world health care, a division of one-world government); but the inescapable fact is that the anti-vaccination movement’s ringleaders are firmly on the liberal-left-Hollywood side of politics, which is a disaster for public health. Here’s how her article begins:

“To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the coinventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a ‘biostitute’ who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: ‘Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.’ Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: ‘Greed.'”

It doesn’t matter that RotaTeq protects children against the Rotavirus, whose symptoms of severe diarrhoea lead to some half-a-million deaths per year, there is simply no reasoning against the anti-vax movement’s belief that big pharma is evil. So while many Democratic politicians would be appalled if asked to denounce evolution as a tool of “big science,” they appear happy to minister to the idea that vaccination is not scientific. As Wallace notes:

“There are anti-vaccine Web sites, Facebook groups, email alerts, and lobbying organizations. Politicians ignore the movement at their peril, and, unlike in the debates over creationism and global warming, Democrats have proved just as likely as Republicans to share misinformation and fuel anxiety.

US senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Chris Dodd of Connecticut have both curried favor with constituents by trumpeting the notion that vaccines cause autism. And Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a scion of the most famous Democratic family of all, authored a deeply flawed 2005 Rolling Stone piece called “Deadly Immunity.” In it, he accused the government of protecting drug companies from litigation by concealing evidence that mercury in vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids. The article was roundly discredited for, among other things, overestimating the amount of mercury in childhood vaccines by more than 100-fold, causing Rolling Stone to issue not one but a prolonged series of corrections and clarifications. But that did little to unring the bell.”

Wallace and Wired, by contrast, have produced a model of science journalism – the article needs to be read for one of the best descriptions of how virulent measles is once one person is infected, and for how elegantly and economically it manages to dispel so much patent nonsense put out by the anti-vax loons. We can only hope this article gets the National Magazine Award it so richly deserves, that it shames Arianna Huffington and her friends (who have turned the Huffington Post into a venue for all manner of anti-vax vapidity), and that those on the liberal left stop patting themselves on the head for not being creationists, and realize that left-liberal irrationality might actually do more harm than Bush’s war on science ever did.

Our favorite surgeon blogger comments here

4 Responses to Anti-vaccination – a left wing disease?

  1. WonderingWilla says:

    I listen to Air America a lot and there is definitely a vein of anti-vaccination, suspicion of evidence-based science regarding health. RFK Jr is an especially disappointing example since he’s right on in so many arenas on questions directly political. But let’s not ignore Glenn Beck’s recent exhortation against the swine flu vaccine and I think Limbaugh did as well.

    On the mommy forums, which hold some sway anyway, I find it breaks down like this: politically liberal crunchy parents, fundamentalist Christians who are GOP, I assume, and the far out libertarians. A number of the libertarians whom I’ve come across discussing this topic on-line are also Catholic. Or maybe it’s the same woman using different screen names, who knows.

  2. […] a surprise that Gosney’s anti-vaxx sentiments are reflected by anti-vaxx people on his side of the ideological spectrum […]

  3. The Man says:

    Given its stated goal “to correct scientific misinformation in the media” Stats should, as a service to its readers, cite the research supporting the notion that an anti-vaccination view is held, predominantly, by people on the left. IMO innumeracy and lack of critical thinking skills are uniformly distributed across the political landscape, but I am willing to be convinced that the facts are otherwise.

  4. N.Div says:

    Na, Rush Limbaugh was just saying he thinks that Swine Flu was overblown – he was not questioning the safety or efficacy of the vaccine. Same is the case with Beck. Fundamentally, they are right wing nut jobs and don’t want to be told they must do this or that by the government, but they’re not drawing connections between vaccines and Autism.

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