I read the article “Vaccination: the unending controversy” with great dismay. While healthcare professionals have labored painstakingly for years—and never harder than this last year—to stress the urgency of vaccinations, all it takes is a single gadfly in the ointment of common sense to plant doubt in the minds of the easily frightened or woefully uninformed. Even the headline of the piece demands redressing: Vaccinations are only “controversial” because of conspiracy theorists; their narrative is only “unending” because of those who profit, one way or another, by perpetuating myths.
Chana Gabay, who bills herself as a Medical Scientific translator and editor, states that “A dispute has arisen on the issue of vaccines,” but fails to mention that the quarrel hardly resides in the medical or scientific community. Barring a few rare and typically minor complications, scientific evidence shows that vaccines are safe. The most highly regarded medical and scientific organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization, encourage vaccination and deem it safe practice. More than 90% of surveyed physicians agree with current official vaccination recommendations and say they would apply them to their own children. A 2014 survey from the Pew Research Center found that 86% of scientists with the American Association for the Advancement of Science also believe that childhood vaccines should be mandatory. While Chana Gabay tells people, “There is a lot of information on the internet and you need to know what information to rely on,” what she should be responsibly telling them is to seek factual information from experts.
When it comes to protecting the health of not only children but entire communities, people are not entitled to their opinions; they are entitles to educated opinions. Those who avoid vaccinations are either ignorant of the grim details and facts associated with infectious diseases, which they and their children can easily avoid, or they have bought into the fake news and injurious mythos of anti-vax conspiracy theories. The fable that measles vaccines are associated with autism was thoroughly debunked by scientific research. Twelve years after publishing a study that turned some parents against the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, because of an implied link between vaccinations and autism, the British medical journal The Lancet retracted the paper. In a statement published on Feb. 2, 2010, the journal’s editors said that it was now clear that “several elements” of a 1998 paper published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues were “incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation.” Wakefield’s U.K. medical license was subsequently revoked as a result of unethical behavior, misconduct and fraud.
As winter approaches, children and the elderly should be protected by adherents of common, accepted medical and scientific wisdom and get vaccinated. Parents should know that one out of every 20 children with measles contracts pneumonia, the most common cause of childhood death from measles. About one child out of every 1,000 who contracts measles will develop encephalitis, or swelling of the brain, which can lead to convulsions and leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.
Flu vaccinations are equally important. In the U.S., there have already been flu-related deaths in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana and California. While flu activity overall is currently low in the U.S., public health officials recommend that everyone gets a flu shot before case counts ramp up. Last year’s flu season lasted 21 weeks, the longest in a decade for the United States. Influenza killed about 80,000 people in the 2017-2018 season, according to figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sadly, the hoax perpetuated by people who know dangerously little about medicine and science, continues to find its way into the Jewish community, where a tiny but visible minority have joined the anti-vax cult. As an observant Jew and medical expert, I find this perplexing and deeply disturbing. At Touro College and University System—the largest body of medical and health-science schools in the country under Jewish auspices—we consider it our job to educate not only our students but the general public about this issue. Childhood and seasonal vaccinations against preventable infectious diseases are some of medicine’s greatest triumphs. Anyone who says different is dangerously misinformed.
Dr. Alan Kadish is the President of New York Medical College and Touro College