Texas has an exemplary record in advancing modern medicine. Its institutions devoted to solving cancer and heart disease — the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor Scott & White, and on and on — are world class. But it is also the home of a defrocked medical doctor whose 1998 study has been described as “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically.”
So, despite Texas’ reputation as a leader in medical achievement, it’s not a major surprise to find that a small-but-apparently-growing number of its residents are receptive to the much-debunked link between vaccination and autism. More importantly, those supporting this myth have, according to the Washington Post, closed in on enough votes in the Texas Legislature to give parents a clear shot at being able to choose whether to skip now-mandatory vaccinations for their youngsters. Already, the lawmakers have improved choice chances.
This is not a new story, but the national medical community agrees that renewed currency and acceptance of a theory that has more bullet holes in it than a rustler’s behind has the potential for causing serious widespread damage. Vaccines are estimated to save as many as 2.5 million children worldwide annually. For those of us who have been around long enough to remember when polio fears were widespread, returning to those days on a wholly made up, rejected concept is madness.
Even scarier is that Andrew Wakefield, the debunked British theorist now living in Austin, Texas, seems to have the ear of Donald Trump, reportedly meeting with and receiving “tremendous support” from the president.
How large is this insane movement? Outside Texas, it is strong in Washington, California, Colorado and Oregon. The community in Texas is rather organized, the Post reports, and in the last school year there, nearly 45,000 pupils declined vaccination on grounds the state accepts. That’s up from 2,300 in 2003-04.
I remember vividly the concerns my parents had about their four children when it came to the measles and polio in particular. There were no vaccines, and the regime for avoiding polio, for instance, inhibited our activity during the heat of the summer — no swimming pool, no movies, no prolonged running about between noon and evening. That was all the prevention we had, and though my kid sister had a touch, she got lucky.
What a wonderful relief it was that my children didn’t have to face such restrictions and that their mother and I were freed of worry about their death or paralysis from an incurable disease. I related all this to my son and his wife when I learned that a newborn grandson in California was at that time the victim of her reluctance to accept immunization as an option for a healthy childhood. That’s been resolved in favor of the grandson.
While the autism theories have been now generally rejected, the anti-immunization folks have begun to turn their attention to contentions about the number of deaths attributed to vaccines. According to the National Vaccine Reporting Center, there have been only 397 deaths attributed to the measles vaccine since 1990, with one-half of those being children age 3 or younger. Of the millions upon millions vaccinated, only about 7,600 have had severe reactions.
In 1994, polio was declared eradicated in the Americas.
The vaccine for it has been altered on occasions when there was thought to be some risk associated with the first dose. And, of course, the original Dr. Jonas Salk vaccine was replaced by the oral vaccine developed by Dr. Albert Sabin.
The lack of historic perspective among younger Americans is nothing short of amazing. Not to understand what the odds are against one who goes without immunization into this world is to deny the existence of medical advancement and to play Russian roulette with tens of millions of lives, especially those of the nation’s children.
Dan Thomasson is a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.