A Brief History Science vs. Pseudoscience

If there were four people in a room that firmly believed vaccines were necessary and risk-free, it would be a safe bet to assume there would also be eight others, in the same room, who would call them crazy.  Yet, in another room, there could be 16 other people that would call the eight naysayers misinformed, uneducated, or would simply label them fanatics.

But whether or not there is any truth to be found in a common belief that vaccines are linked to serious, and at times debilitating, health issues take a back seat to a larger, more pressing issue.

People seem to have an innate distrust of the scientific method, trained medical professionals, and seemingly all forms of government.  If it was just here in Wyoming, it would be one thing; people of the Cowboy State are notorious for their firm, unshakeable beliefs in small government.

A phenomenon, however, appears to have staked a claim in countries all over the modern world; the thinking that vaccines are not safe, especially for children.  Campbell County is no exception.

In September 2018, County Public Health Officer Dr. Kirtikumar Patel said the sheer number of child vaccine exemptions that have come across his desk is staggering.  At the time, he claimed to have signed around 50 to 80 vaccination exemptions within six weeks; the highest number of vaccinations that he has ever seen.

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Last year, according to the Wyoming Department of Health, there were a total 744 vaccination exemptions signed in the entire state, with 83 of those specifically for Campbell County.

Now, there are only two reasons in accordance with Wyoming law that a parent may exempt their child from receiving otherwise required vaccinations: medical issues (such as a history of experiencing adverse reactions) or religious objection.

For a religious objection, a parent is not allowed to simply say, “I don’t want to have my child vaccinated” and viola, their children are exempt.  No, the parent needs to have an affiliation with a religion in order to successfully submit the waiver of exemption to the state.  Interestingly enough, the state is not permitted to say whether or not a particular religion truly objects to vaccinations, and is required to take people at their word, according to Kim Deti, WDH public information officer.

Because of the way the law is written, and the state government’s inability to assess the authenticity of religious objections, “most people just claim religion,” Patel explained.  But, why is there such a strong movement against vaccines?  Perhaps it’s best to start with a little history.

A little history

Those who object to vaccinations, also known as antivaxxers, are nothing new.  Reports of the anti-vaccination movement have been around since the 1820’s, barely three decades after the first vaccination in human history was carried out by Edward Jenner in 1796.1

Jenner’s story began in Berkeley, England, when he heard milkmaids, infected with cowpox, were somehow immune to the debilitating effects of smallpox.

Utilizing the scientific method, Jenner carried out a series of tests, the first of which was to infect a six-year-old boy with cowpox followed by smallpox. Jenner reportedly saw, first-hand, that the boy remained unaffected by smallpox, and repeated the experiment twelve times on twelve different subjects.  He published his findings titled “Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccine.”  In a nutshell, he established that cowpox prevented smallpox from infecting the human body.

Following Jenner’s revolutionary discovery and subsequent implementation of his findings, the number of smallpox cases significantly decreased.  Regardless, the anti-vaccination movement emerged, some of whom cited woes that compulsory vaccination laws in England, first passed in 1821, were an intrusion on their privacy.

In more recent years, the anti-vaccination movement cites another, more controversial source that purposely misled the public into believing vaccines are linked to autism; the authors of which reportedly faced severe consequences for what would become one of the greatest falsehoods of all time.

The greatest falsehood ever, of all time

When researching vaccines, it’s nearly impossible to avoid running across the name of Dr. Andrew Wakefield who shook the world with a groundbreaking series of studies that linked vaccines to autism.  Antivaxxers across the globe read the information and used the controversial studies, along with Wakefield’s potentially more controversial documentary “Vaxxed,” as grounds to rebel against vaccines.

Wakefield’s series of studies, “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children”, were published in 1998 in the Lancet, a medical journal, and suggested that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism in children.2

The studies gained global attention, and MMR vaccination rates dropped significantly, reportedly due to parent’s concerns over the risks of autism after vaccination.

As is often the way in the scientific community, the study inspired other epidemiological studies.  But there was a slight problem. The separate studies refuted the possibility that the MMR vaccine and autism were linked at all.

Following the discovery, 10 of the 12 co-authors issued retractions on their interpretation of the data compiled in the original studies.  In the retractions, statements were made that a causal link between autism and the MMR vaccine was never established.

In February 2010, Wakefield’s studies were completely retracted by the Lancet following admissions that certain focuses in the paper and statements were not correct.

Investigations revealed that Wakefield and his associates had failed to obtain the necessary ethical clearances for a series of reportedly invasive investigations on the children involved.

Ultimately investigative journalist Brian Deer exposed the entire study for what it was, a fraud.  It was found out that Wakefield and his associates had allegedly falsified facts for financial gain and had purposefully chosen data that suited their case, while claiming the data contained within the study was completely randomized.3

Wakefield and co-author John Walker-Smith were discredited.  To date, Wakefield alleges in his documentary that he was made an example of by the pharmaceutical industry and continues to stand by his work and his “findings.”  Which brings us to the final pieces in the vaccination history puzzle: the facts vs. the conspiracy.

Fact or conspiracy?

Wakefield’s studies were completely retracted and proven to be false time and time again; yet there is still a movement against vaccines that firmly believe the government covered up his findings and believe that vaccines are, in fact, related to autism.  Why?  Perhaps social media is to blame; a single post with terrifying vaccination statistics, often unproven and false, can go viral and spread across the internet like wildfire.  Local public health officials remain astounded at the number of statements made on social media that are taken as truth.  There is some truth to be had in the statistics that are pushed upon others by antivaxxers, but it is blown far out of proportion.

For example, the adenovirus vaccine does carry the potential for serious, severe side effects; however, many other medications carry the same, if not an even greater, risk.  Tylenol, one of the more commonly used medications, is widely viewed as one of the most dangerous drugs ever made.4  National databases reportedly show that acetaminophen overdoses are responsible for around 50,000 emergency room visits and is responsible for nearly 450 deaths every year.  Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the United States.

On the contrary, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is minute.

Antivaxxers have also made another, more extreme, claim based on pseudoscience that the HPV vaccine, particularly Gardasil, is killing teenage girls.  Reportedly, there are hundreds of documented deaths attributed to the HPV vaccine; however, the link between the two has never been fully proven and is anecdotal at best.5  One could make the same kind of connection between a man eating a cheeseburger and subsequently dying of a heart-attack two or three weeks later.

Look to science, not pseudoscience

In the cheeseburger case, medical experts would most likely attribute the man’s death to high cholesterol, poor diet, and not exercising.  If the same pseudoscience-based logic utilized by antivaxxers in vaccine cases were to be applied to the cheeseburger case, then a different conclusion would come to light.

Pseudoscience would draw a correlation between the cheeseburger and the man’s death; the cheeseburger killed the man.

The CDC does state that some deaths among people who received an HPV vaccine have been reported; yet, the CDC has only been able to determine that the deaths occurred after the person received the vaccine.

But, consider this: from the millions upon millions of HPV vaccine doses that have been administered in recent years, approximately 124 deaths have been reported to the CDC.  Of those reported deaths, only 53 deaths were able to be verified and none of the cases have been positively connected to the HPV vaccine.

The rest of the cases and reported deaths are considered hearsay by the CDC.

Seek the truth

Just as antivaxxers implore others to “research the truth,” so do I.  Everything you could ever wish to know about vaccines is publicly available in medical journals, scientific studies, and within the CDC.  There are thousands of articles and sources out there that claim to have utilized the scientific method to prove vaccines are inherently dangerous, but consider the provided information (and the information in this article) critically.

Also, remember the following definition:

Pseudoscience is defined as a collection of beliefs or practices mistakenly regarded as being based on scientific method.

Just because everybody you know believes in something, doesn’t necessarily make it true.

By: Ryan R. Lewallen for 82717

    Sources   

1.  Stern, Alexendra M., Markel, Howard. The History of Vaccines and Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges. Health Affairs. 2005.

2.  Rao, T.S., Andrade, Chittaranjan. The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud. Indian Journal of
Psychiatry. 2011.

3.  Godlee, Fiona. “The fraud behind the MMR scare”.
British Medical Journal. 2011

4.  Bloom, Josh. “Is Tylenol ‘By Far the Most Dangerous Drug Ever Made?’”. American Council on Science and Health. 2017

5.  Gorski, David. “Death by Gardasil? Not so fast there…”.
Science-Based Medicine. 2018.

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About The Author

Ryan Lewallen is County 17’s government and crime reporter and a contributor to 82717 Life Magazine. A U.S. Air Force Security Forces Veteran, Ryan is a Wyoming native who has been reporting for County 17 since 2017. Before that, he attended Gillette College in pursuit of a microbiology career and paid his dues in the oil fields of Campbell County. Feel free to submit your news tips and story ideas to Ryan@County17.com or shoot him a text at (307) 689- 6622.

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