So, the research that supposedly linked the MMR jab to autism has finally been discredited. About time too. The distress caused to parents has been immense and children have been exposed to the far greater risk of measles by not having the vaccine.
I don’t particularly blame Dr Andrew Wakefield who made the original claim. He clearly believes in what he says. Probably the worst you could say about him is that he’s not a very good scientist who isn’t prepared to listen to his peers.
It is the media that has blown the subject out of all proportion – there’s nothing like a good health scare story to boost circulation and viewing figures. Of course, the hide behind the ‘balanced report’ argument. Dr Wakefield says this, but Dr so and so disagrees. Trouble is, it makes it sound as if the scientific community is split down the middle on the issue, when in fact for every Dr Wakefield, there are hundreds if not thousands of his colleagues who disagree with him.
Part of the problem is that no doctor will never give a complete 100% reassurance on any issue. Quite rightly, everything in life has some risk attached, no matter how small. What we’ve become really bad at is assessing how great the risk of any action might be and weighing up the risks of inaction. The fact that teachers are being warned not to get involved in school trips illustrates this perfectly – we want everything in life to be guaranteed risk free.
The web is also part of the problem. People think that they can research any subject from the comfort of home. Worse still, they are too ready to believe what the ‘discover.’ Fluoridation is a case in point. Apart from causing every ailment and malady you can imagine, some sites tell you that fluoride was used by the Nazis to make concentration camp inmates more malleable. So that is why the people of Birmingham are such a docile lot? Because they’ve had fluoride added to their water supply for over 20 years? Yeah, right, so that would explain Claire Short and Jasper Carrott.
The reality is that we just don’t know enough to make a rational decision on many of these issues. We may think we have enough information from the media, when of course the media’s job is to reflect the views if its readers/viewers. So if we are intuitively against the prospect of GM crops, for example, the media is more than happy to tell us how perilous it is. I’m happy to hold my hands up and say I don’t know enough about the subject to give an opinion either way.
The prospect of more and more of these issues being fanned into flames in the future is depressing. As is the fact that people are more ready to believe what an obscure website tells them than the Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson. Or am I just incredibly gullible?