Friday, April 19, 2013

Vaccines and Social Media

In line with Monday’s warning to keep current on medical advice, the news brings evidence that many people continue to be misinformed on a very important subject, immunization.  It is incomprehensible that some parents still believe the discredited study from the 1990s linking vaccines with autism.  It is simply not true, and I will provide many links to reputable sources to clarify this point.

Up to date information provides the following:  “An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study's author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study -- and that there was ‘no doubt’ Wakefield was responsible.”  As a result in May 2010, “his license to practice medicine in Britain has been revoked. The General Medical Council found that Dr. Wakefield was guilty of serious professional misconduct.”

Why would a medical doctor, a professional, publicize and promote misinformation?  The above article goes on to explain: “He gained an enormous amount of fame and money from being able to point to a cause for [autism]. He became a celebrity doctor” with celebrity friends.  Fame and fortune are strong motivation, but the question is not why it was done, but how to repair the damage.

The study is once again in the news in the US because nearly one-third of parents still put some faith in it, withholding or reducing their children’s exposure to vaccines, and call on their social networks, friends and social media connections, seeking out like-minded people to reinforce their erroneous views.  This article describes the problem while reinforcing that “experts recommend that babies and young children routinely receive vaccinations against a host of common (or once common) infectious diseases, such as measles, mumps, whooping cough, chickenpox and hepatitis.”  Instead of listening to the experts, they rely on their friends to justify their decisions.  Perhaps they don’t appreciate how serious these diseases are because we haven’t confronted them for a number of years – thanks to immunization.  According to one study:  “There’s no better tool than social media to spread information—and misinformation—about controversial topics quickly and efficiently,” and they found that negative opinions about vaccinations are more influential.
Where could this lead?  It may lead to the very problems faced in the UK where the study originated.  With a recent measles epidemic in Swansea, a debate arose as to whether the media is to blame for misreporting the original findings along with Dr. Wakefield for promoting his opinion in news conferences.  The publicity caused the parents to make poor choices and now they are living with the consequences.  This BBC video explains that there is no difference of opinion among scientists and medical experts on this subject.  It was one “maverick” promoting his views for his own benefit.  

Isn’t it sad that with so much emphasis today on protecting our children from gun violence, parents, through ignorance and misinformation, are exposing their children to serious illness by disregarding proven medical advice?   Following advice of social networks rather than medical experts shows a failure in both critical thinking and parental responsibility.

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