January 30th, 2013

planet

Problems with alternative vaccine schedules

I read a good article recently on The Problem With Dr Bob's Alternative Vaccine Schedule that really puts into words some of the issues I've seen with the anti-vaccine movement. Most of you know that I try to get vaccinations per my doctor's recommendation, and make every attempt to make sure my child is vaccinated on schedule. I always attributed my attitude to the fact that I'm an engineer/scientist and believe that there's something to be said for trusting experts on these things... my friends and family fly on airplanes so of course I'm trying to make them as safe as I possibly know how, and would be horribly insulted by anyone accusing me of covering up a safety hazard to make a quick dollar. And that's just what I hear vaccine rejectionists doing. And it grates on me.

But anyway the article also addressed two more key points: first, I've heard rejectionists say that they've spent so many hours googling that they know WAY more about vaccinations than doctors, and that doctors should be required to have in-depth knowledge on any possible ingredient in a drug they'd inject into a child. Personally, I give my kid cereal that's got ingredients that I don't know the makeup of, so it seems weird that I'd expect a doctor to hold the same body of knowledge as a pharmaceutical researcher. Here's the take added by the article:

Although Sears is correct that doctors do not often review all of the studies on vaccine science, safety, and efficacy, he ignores the expert committees that do, specifically the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Committee on Infectious Diseases, which advises the American Academy of Pediatrics.... their advice to doctors has served us well; during the past century, vaccines have helped to increase the lifespan of individuals in the United States by ∼30 years, with an excellent record of safety.


In other words, by telling your doctor he doesn't know as much as you, you're really telling a LOT of doctors they don't know as much as you, even collectively, like you'd take them all on if left in a room and defeat the years of schooling with the late fees you paid at the library reading anti-vaccine books. I just find that hard to believe.

But here's what really gets me:

Sears often takes the position that, if parents think that a vaccine is problematic, then the vaccine is problematic. He believes that parents' fears should be indulged by offering alternative schedules, not countered by scientific studies, and he fails to explain that good science is the only way to determine whether a vaccine causes a particular adverse event. Instead, Sears alludes to evidence on both sides of any issue, failing to distinguish studies on the basis of their quality, internal consistency, or reproducibility and failing to distinguish those that are accepted by the scientific community from those that are not.


A while back I blogged about my thoughts on the Pluto classification, how so many people in America felt like if their gut told them Pluto was a planet, that if it's the way they were raised, then it should not change. The more I think about it, the more similarities I see among anyone who rejects the opinions of the scientific community. Now, Pluto clearly isn't a big deal, it's not dangerous for you to believe that Pluto is a planet just like Mars. But the whole idea that people can just decide as individuals what is scientifically correct is what I'm finding problems with.

I'm a protestant, I've read the stories about Martin Luther declaring that people must decide for themselves what the right path to heaven may be, that God speaks to us and no higher-up person with his flaws can decide what you should believe. But that's religion. Science is science.

Yes, we should look out for ourselves, do research and reading, it doesn't hurt. But individuals need to think very seriously about what they're doing when they go against the entire scientific community, giving no credit to the institutions formed to collect research and distribute opinion. That's what gets dangerous. And these books that say "oh decide for yourself, whatever you feel in your gut is right must be right for you" are feeding into the danger.