Culture, Science & Faith

Politicizing Vaccination

The Leftmedia tries again to paint Republicans as anti-science.

Feb. 4, 2015

Republicans hate women, children, puppies, rainbows and especially Science™. If you didn’t believe that, witness the latest kerfuffle over vaccines. Once the province of doctors’ offices and parenting blogs, vaccines have come front and center in the political arena over the last few days, and the Leftmedia are using it to bash the GOP.

Two likely 2016 presidential contenders, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, answered questions about vaccines in the wake of the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland. They both might have been better off with a “no comment” than to wade into such a “gotcha” issue for a Leftmedia hungry to discredit anti-Science™ Republicans.

Though Christie extolled the benefits of vaccination, he said there must be “some measure of choice” in the matter. Paul argued that most vaccines should be voluntary: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.” That thought came after he relayed scary but discredited anecdotes involving “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

The Republicans’ comments followed Barack Obama’s pontification on the issue: “You should get your kids vaccinated. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

That’s a shade different from Obama’s stance in 2008, however, when he said, “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. … The science is right now inconclusive, but we have to research it.” Perhaps he settled the science during his first term.

Likewise in 2008, Hillary Clinton and John McCain pointed to vaccines as a possible cause of autism. McCain said there was “strong evidence” of a connection, and Clinton promised to “make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”

As for “investments,” Obama’s latest budget cuts $50 million from a vaccine program for the underinsured. That’s inconvenient.

So now that we’ve established a bipartisan problem, we’ll make a few observations.

Science is rarely “settled” – that’s the point of scientific inquiry. As we often note, climate change is likely happening, but the science is not at all clear on its cause or extent or what we can do about it. Whether eating eggs or too much salt is bad for you has been the subject of years of rigorous debate. Vaccines were created thanks to research and study – and there’s no reason to end such work, or to deny that we don’t know everything.

That said, fears about vaccine risks are often overblown. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The claims about vaccine risks go back to a 1998 article in The Lancet in which British doctor Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. But the real menace was Mr. Wakefield, whose findings were proven to be fraudulent and who was on the payroll of the plaintiffs’ bar. The Lancet retracted the article in 2010, and Mr. Wakefield lost his medical license.”

And it’s indisputable that vaccines have been remarkably effective in virtually eradicating communicable diseases that once claimed numerous lives. Measles was declared eliminated in 2000, but international travelers brought it here again, where it spread at Disneyland among the unvaccinated.

Let’s be clear that some children cannot receive vaccinations due to illnesses such as leukemia, and there are indeed perfectly legitimate reasons to forgo vaccinations or to space them out. Parents should research the issue and be as knowledgeable as possible. That includes finding a trustworthy doctor.

Those who opt out of vaccines benefit from what’s known as herd immunity. In other words, as long as about 90% of people are vaccinated, the “more-enlightened” few may choose to avoid doing so and suffer little consequence. But there is a mathematical limit to this gamble, and it’s often upper-class liberals who are rolling the dice.

Wealthy schools in Los Angeles now feature vaccination rates as low as South Sudan. As a result, there’s a resurgence of measles and whooping cough. The California counties surrounding San Francisco (which went for Obama by 84% in 2012) also have especially low vaccination rates.

But remember, it’s Republicans who are anti-Science™.

Some on the Right do oppose government mandates for vaccinations, but the vast majority of conservatives still vaccinate (and all 50 states have varying degrees of mandate). Most of the time it’s not actually an issue of personal liberty; it’s one of public health and individual responsibility. As 19th century physician Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” The choice to refuse vaccination – when rooted in vain conceit rather than medical reality – endangers others.

Vaccinations are a very good idea, and, because many people lack common sense, the use of state power through carrots and sticks is not excessive. It was Thomas Jefferson writing in the Declaration of Independence who said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

Finally, the issue for both sides of the political aisle boils down to trust in government. Whether it’s global warming, NSA surveillance, IRS audits, ObamaCare or vaccinations, many Americans just don’t think government officials are playing it straight or telling the truth. Most of the time, this distrust is founded in legitimately bad experience. ObamaCare in particular can be blamed for the rising mistrust in medicine.

Unless and until that trust is restored, a growing number of people will eschew good health choices, and, as a result, we may be looking toward a future full of diseases we only thought we had beaten.

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