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April 08, 2014 7:21 am

EDITORIAL: For the good of all, science must triumph over vaccination fears

Written by Tom Lawrence

Bad money chases out good, Sir Thomas Gresham famously said in 1558, commenting on how people chose to disperse coins made of inferior material and hoard those of greater value.

The same thing goes for ideas, it seems to us. Among the weaker information that has been passed about in recent years is a fear of vaccinations for children. Since 1998, sparked by a deeply flawed study released by a corrupt English researcher, millions of people have grown wary of vaccinating their children.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield published the paper on vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, claiming they were linked to children developing autism. The reaction was immediate and it has endured, as reportedly 20 percent of Americans still believe that.

However, Wakefield’s “research” has been thoroughly rejected, especially since it has been learned he was taking up to $674,000 in payments from lawyers suing vaccine manufacturers and eager to besmirch the industry.

Wakefield has been stripped of his medical license and removed from Great Britain’s General Medical Council. Thankfully, he appears to be as spent force, although the damage his misinformation caused is still being felt — Great Britain was forced to deal with a measles epidemic in 2012 and 2013.

In the United States, measles hit a peak in 2008, with more recorded cases than in any year since 1997, the year before the false data was released. Ninety percent of the people with measles had, you guessed it, not been immunized.

The vaccine scare also caused problems here in Park County.

Public Health Nurse Manager Bill Crampton told the Park County Commission last month that persuading people to be vaccinated increasingly has become difficult, and he pointed to Wakefield’s falsehoods as a primary reason.

“The bad news stays and people just won’t buy the science that proves him wrong,” said Crampton.

However, despite generations of fear and ignorance, which has been sadly fueled by the likes of “Playboy” model and TV personality Jenny McCarthy and her crusade against vaccines, things are getting better here, he said.

Park County Public Health vaccinated about 110 more people this flu season compared to the one before. More than 2,900 people took a flu vaccination, Crampton told the commissioners.

He said it took a public information campaign to turn the issue around, with vaccine advocates fighting the good fight.

We don’t wish to needle people who have a contrary position, but we do think the science is clear. Vaccines reduce disease and save lives. Nothing is perfect, but their use has been overwhelmingly positive.

People who are persuaded otherwise and send their children to school and other places are spreading the risk around. That’s when their misguided private beliefs become a point of public interest.

The state of Wyoming and the Powell school district require students to provide written proof of immunization within 30 days of enrollment.

Waivers are permitted for religious or health reasons, but if there is an outbreak of a disease considered preventable by vaccine, such students “shall be excluded from school attendance” until the risk passes, according to state law. They are not considered suspended or absent, however.

That just makes sense. We cannot endanger other people because of personal beliefs or a lack of confidence in modern health practices.

This is nothing new. Such fears have existed since 1796, when scientist Edward Jenner developed the use of cowpox to combat smallpox, which had killed millions and disfigured millions more.

Jenner’s revolutionary concept was met with fear and derision but in the end, ignorance was rejected and science triumphed. We can only hope the outcome is the same in this century.

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