Bachmann Scores Points, But Ignores Science

by Shannon Rasp September 14, 2011 02:05 PM

Yesterday morning on the Today show, Republican candidate for the presidency Rep. Michelle Bachmann questioned the safety of Gardasil, a vaccine that protects against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer. Sigh. Haven’t we been here, done this?


According to Bachmann, after Monday night’s debate in Florida, a woman came up to her and tearfully thanked her for verbally attacking Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2007 executive order to vaccinate all Texas girls for HPV. The order included an opt-out clause and was never enforced, eventually being rescinded.  The woman, claims Bachmann, told her that her daughter received the vaccine and she “suffered from mental retardation afterward.


“It can have very dangerous side effects,” said Bachmann. “This is a very real concern, and people have to draw their own conclusion.” (Later on Tuesday, Bachmann admitted that she had “no idea” if the vaccine causes mental retardation.)


Needless to say, this claim has been repeated all over American media, reinvigorating anti-vaccine activists, who never met a vaccine they trusted. Even though vaccines in general – and Gardasil in particular – have been proven time and again to be safe and effective.


The American Academy of Pediatricswould like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation,” O. Marion Burton, the academy’s president, said in a statement. “There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.”


Bachmann has used the health and safety of millions of American women in order to gain points in a tight Republican race, with no thought given to the science behind the vaccine and no information other than the supposed claims of one unnamed stranger. It’s irresponsible and unconscionable, and she should be ashamed. Political races are all about scoring points, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of lives.

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Childhood Vaccinations and Fear: Can Doctors Bridge the Knowledge Translation Gap?

by Marlisa Allen November 17, 2010 03:38 PM

If a wealth of vaccine information is readily available, why are there still so many under-immunized or unimmunized children?  The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends a month-to-month vaccination schedule for all children 0-6 years old.  The ACIP lays out clear guidelines for recommended time frames in which vaccination series should be given, as well as, the benefits, safety, risks and after care recommendations of each vaccine in order to optimize a child’s immunity protection.  And, it is because of the introduction of vaccines, these detailed schedules and recommendations in the United States that vaccine-preventable disease levels are at or near record lows.  However, under-immunized children still remain leaving open the potential for disease outbreaks.


I believe this is a classic case of a breakdown in knowledge translation.  Parents are obviously either not aware of or fully informed about the wealth of information regarding vaccines available to them because parental fears and misconceptions about the safety and efficacy of vaccines still exist.  Available information does not automatically equal knowledge uptake and absorption. Thus, it appears as though the parents of young children need a better delivery vehicle in order to expose them to this information.


For example, the hypothesis that the MMR live virus vaccine and vaccines containing mercury causes autism is a very well known debate in the pediatric health community. And, even though this issue has been well researched, refuted, and studies and results published in peer reviewed journals, there still remains strong parental support for this theory.  To date, no causal link has been found that any childhood vaccination leads to autism, yet some parents still refuse to vaccinate their child(ren) citing this very reason.


Why? Well, one reason could very well be that some parents just choose to believe in urban legends and/or conspiracy theories over scientific fact. As I stated before, just because information is available does not mean that information will be absorbed and accepted.  Or, it could be that most parents really don’t understand what they read and/or hear about this debate and their lack of true knowledge and understanding about autism and vaccines cultivates their fear, which in turn, dictates their behavior.  So, there lies a gap between what parents know and believe because even with the wealth of information available to them, parents continue to choose not to have their children vaccinated based solely on either a lack of understanding or a lack of information.


I believe doctors are the answer.  Doctors can bridge that gap between available information and knowledge uptake/absorption in concerned parents. Studies have shown that a doctor’s vaccine recommendation to a parent during their child’s office visit improves vaccination rates.  I am convinced this is because doctors have the ability to serve a dual purpose: they are a reputable source of information to parents that can also address questions and concerns regarding vaccinations all in one office visit.  Knowledge translation and absorption is paramount to keeping children vaccinated on schedule.  Without parental uptake of knowledge regarding the benefits and safety of vaccines, fears and negative perceptions will persist and childhood vaccination rates will decline.  I am a mother myself and I believe asking questions and getting answers is the responsibility of a good parent. But, I also believe parents need to take the steps necessary to make informed choices for their child’s health.  Do not let fear and misconceptions trump the facts.  Your child’s health and well being are at stake.

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Jenny McCarthy, Pediatrician? I Don't Think So

by Shannon Rasp September 8, 2010 09:55 AM

It recently made the news that media queen Oprah Winfrey has thrown her support behind former Playboy Bunny and virulent vaccination opponent Jenny McCarthy by offering her a column on Winfrey’s highly-trafficked Web site and an eventual talk show.


McCarthy, whose child was diagnosed with autism (which might actually be Landau-Kleffner syndrome) in 2005, has become a prominent mouthpiece of the anti-vaccination movement, saying that thimerosal in vaccines caused her son to be autistic.  There is no scientific proof of this, and in any case, thimerosal hasn’t been used in vaccines since 1999 (with the exception of some HIB and flu vaccines).  But that hasn’t stopped McCarthy from going on television and leading marches, calling for parents to stop vaccinating their children until the pharmaceutical industry develops “safe” vaccines.


Unfortunately, a sizeable minority of parents have chosen to take McCarthy’s advice instead of that of every credible medical organization in the world.  Parents all over the United States are refusing to vaccinate their children, and as a result, children are now contracting (and sometimes dying from) preventable diseases like rubella and tetanus.  California is currently experiencing an outbreak of whooping cough that has already killed at least five infants.  Who is responsible?  Uninformed parents and their patron saint of pseudoscience, Jenny McCarthy.


David Tayloe, president of the American Academy of Pediatricians, told Slate, “If you give her a bully pulpit, McCarthy is going to make people hesitate to vaccinate their children. She has no scientific or medical credentials … but she’s given all these opportunities to make her pitch about vaccines.”


Luckily, McCarthy isn't the only celebrity who has weighed in on the debate.  Penn & Teller, the edgy illusionists, pop culture commentators and comedians, shared their take on the vaccination debate on their Showtime series.  You can see it here - but take care, as the language is definitely NSFW.


Winfrey’s backing will give McCarthy credibility she doesn’t deserve.  It will also allow her to spread her propaganda to a much larger audience, which could have increasingly tragic consequences.  There is a macabre site online that purports to keep track of the number of deaths McCarthy’s reign of terror has caused.  As of July 16, 2010, that number stood at 521 (it began tracking the number in June 2007).  If McCarthy’s dream of her own talk show is realized, look for that number to rise – quickly.

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