Friday, December 20, 2013

Is US Becoming a Third World Country?

Lack of science literacy, which I have commented on before, is more than knowing that gasoline explodes and should be handled with care.  Not understanding science and medicine leads to serious problems.  Children are dying.

When we look at news reports from less-developed countries about how superstition and religious zealots stand in the way of good medicine, we may feel a mixture of sadness and superiority, sadness because people, especially children are sick and dying for no good reason, superiority because Americans know better.  Reports from Nigeria tell us that gunmen “suspected of belonging to a radical Islamic sect shot and killed at least nine women who were taking part in a polio vaccination drive.”  The attack “signaled a new wave of anger targeting immunization drives in Nigeria, where clerics once claimed the vaccines were part of a Western plot to sterilize young girls.”  Elsewhere, polio vaccines find violent opposition because “some mullahs have preached against it, claiming falsely that the oral vaccine leaves Pakistani children sterile.” 

Americans would never act like that, or would they?  Fear of Autism from a long-ago-discredited report claiming a connection with MMR shots leads many parents in the US to oppose the vaccinations.  Recently this has led to a tripling of measles cases in the US, where the disease had been nearly wiped out, as it was brought in by travelers from overseas.  For the facts showing that the supposed MMR-Autism connection is untrue, see my April 19, 2013 comments.

Flu shots are wrongly associated with all kinds of bad side effects.  If that were true, it seems strange that doctors and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would recommend flu shots every year.  Conspiracy theorists will say that they are in league with the drug companies who make the vaccine, that they are willing to put the health of many people at risk just to make a profit.  Here is a link to a site addressing those concerns.  It dispels 25 of those myths that keep people away from the flu vaccines, decisions which contribute to the deaths of thousands.  The CDC lists influenza as the 9th leading cause of death in 2011 with over 50,000 cases.

Similarly, parents refuse to get their preteens HPV shots.  On December 4 Katie Couric aired a show on this.  She admitted getting her daughters vaccinated, but for the sake of good television presented both sides of the issue.  Prior to airing, the show “teaser creates the false impression that the vaccine can kill, despite the fact that no evidence supports that conclusion. It also puts forth the idea that there is a controversy around the vaccine. There is certainly a vocal minority asserting that the vaccine is dangerous, and social conservatives who vilify the vaccine due to religious beliefs, but these are not real controversies.”  Such TV shows excuse their format as presenting both sides of a controversy.  On one side we have medical evidence, on the other side opinions of non-experts.  There are not two sides, only the truth.

Finally, some parents are denying newborns Vitamin K shots for fear of Leukemia.  Again they have been giving erroneous information, as this link makes clear.

When we see stories of children dying in third world countries due to lack of vaccinations based on false assumptions, misinformation, religious prejudices and ignorance, we have every right to feel sad – but superior?  I don’t think so.

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