Let’s make vaccines great again

Robert Kennedy, Jr. is an activist, author, and attorney specializing in environmental law.  He is the son of Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, a former U.S. attorney general, and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy.  Kennedy is president of the board of Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit focused on protecting and enhancing waterways worldwide.  He has written a book about the damaging effects of vaccinations due to thimerosal, and to round out his extensive medical resume, he has written two children’s books.  By all means, with this broad background, it is crystal clear why President-Elect Trump tapped him to head up a government commission on vaccine safety.

“They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three … and three months later their brain is gone,” Kennedy said in 2015.  His comment, “This [giving vaccinations] is a Holocaust,” is terribly offensive.  He later apologized, saying “I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to … convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism.”  At least he is passionate! I look forward to more inappropriate ‘impromptu’ statements because it will definitely keep D.C. hopping.

The bottom line is the POTUS, and his appointees have no place in health care decision-making.  They are not physicians; they do not have the decade plus of necessary education and training.  The government machine lacks the basic knowledge and skills to make health care better on their own. Otherwise, they would have accomplished it by now.  It is like asking an archaeologist for stock market investment advice.  Ideally, health care decisions should be between a patient and a physician.  Physicians and patients need to be in control.  After yesterday’s surprising yet possibly fortuitous event, we could be well on our way to advancing our physician-patient-centric agenda.

Adding to the vaccination debate, Dr. Daniel Neides, MD, medical director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, ignited a firestorm when he published a blog post spewing anti-vaccine rhetoric.  Dr. Neides’ describes a “difficult” recovery after receiving an influenza immunization to add insult on top of injury.  I lost a healthy 12-year-old girl to influenza A last flu season, so I find his non-scientific propaganda rather offensive. Most of us would agree the potential “damage” from vaccination is far more desirable than the death of a child.

How far should a medical director of a large, well-respected scientific institution be allowed to veer off the path of mainstream medical science? A medical doctor employed at a large, prestigious medical institution has an obligation to his patients, his colleagues, and the general public at large.  At the very least, Dr. Neides represents the Cleveland Wellness Institute and should adhere to their evidence- based standards.  For him to continue spreading falsehoods about vaccinations, toxins, preservatives, and additional nonsense in the future would be appalling.  He should categorically be relieved of his position as medical director.

These misrepresentations endorsed by both gentlemen can be easily countered using scientific evidence.  Research has absolutely refuted any link between vaccinations and autism.  While immunization effectiveness leaves some room to be desired, vaccinations remain one of the pinnacle achievements of 19th, 20th, and 21st-century medicine.  Devastating diseases, such as measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and polio have almost disappeared.  The WHO certified global eradication of smallpox virus, with a mortality rate of over 30 percent, in 1979 following extensive vaccination campaigns throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Genetic factors are the most likely cause for autism spectrum disorders.  Twin studies have estimated the genetic heritability of autism to be as high as 60 to 90 percent.  In most cases, there is no family history of autism, so these de novo mutations probably occur spontaneously, leading many to search for external causes.  A crucial distinction in all scientific medical literature is the difference between correlation and causation.  Autism is not caused by vaccinations any more than it is by our water system (an area in which Mr. Kennedy should be familiar). The diagnosis of autism is correlated with many things: over-supplementation with folic acid in pregnancy, advanced paternal and maternal age, contracting influenza during pregnancy, having back to back pregnancies, and low birth weight infants or a history of jaundice, however, these may not necessarily cause autism.

Vaccinations save lives.  In 1958, there were 763,000 cases of measles in the United States; after the introduction of the vaccine, the number of cases dropped to fewer than 150 per year.  These are indisputable scientific facts.  Anti-vaccine propaganda has led to reduced immunization compliance and occasional disease outbreaks, such as the measles outbreak at Disneyland and the current multi-state mumps outbreak, encompassing more than 8 states.

Neither of these two individuals has demonstrated they have the educational background nor the expertise to diagnose autism, weight in on vaccine safety issues, or be in charge of health care decision making.  It is alarming to watch them promote anti-vaccine agendas while attaining prominent positions in the mainstream health care world.  The silver lining might be that those of us interested in truth, science, and the sanctity of the physician-patient relationship are now on higher moral ground with quacks at the helm.  The brightest future for physicians involves being in charge of our practices, our patients’ health, and our lives.  The more non-scientific rubbish produced by influential “leaders” of medical institutions and government agencies, the closer physicians are to achieving those goals.

Niran S. Al-Agba is a pediatrician who blogs at MommyDoc.  

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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