In America, we pride ourselves in valuing the right for everyone to express their opinions. But in the case of science, there are facts and scientific evidence, and there is concern when our newly elected president's tweets about vaccines disregard science. What kind of trail of destruction and damage can this cause us? While he may not be able to directly affect policies, his rhetoric can be very harmful for all of us.
As many already know, President Donald Trump met with Robert F. Kennedy Jr recently about potentially putting together a commission to study "vaccine safety and scientific integrity". Kennedy has in the past argued that a preservative in some childhood vaccines is linked to autism spectrum disorder, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Trump has similarly tweeted a link between vaccines and autism.
Never mind the abundance of scientific evidence that has completely debunked this myth, since the study by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 in which he MADE UP data to fit his agenda. The paper was eventually retracted by the journal Lancet and removed from the published record.
Never mind that the benefits of vaccines to society have been shown in a manner so dramatic as to play a role in the doubling of life expectancy over the past 100 years.
Never mind the horrifying cases of meningococcal meningitis, a disease against which we now have a vaccine, in which children previously lost their life or their limbs. Because of vaccinations, the incidence of terrible diseases like measles and polio are so low that nobody can remember the awful and horrific effects of these diseases.
In the modern world, there are plenty of people who don't get their kids vaccinated. But if enough people don't vaccinate their children, we lose "herd immunity". Part of the reason that vaccines are so successful is that everyone in society plays their part in achieving "herd immunity"— the pathogen has nowhere to spread to, and it will eventually disappear. The most well-known case is that of smallpox. But today, we hardly ever see diphtheria, or tetanus, or polio either.
In fact, diseases have been proven to reemerge when not enough people are vaccinated as demonstrated by recent pertussis and measles outbreaks. The people who would be most harmed by this are those who truly can't receive a live vaccine, such as those with immunodeficiency diseases.
I am not saying that vaccine reactions do not occur. Yes, there are cases in which people can be allergic to a vaccine, or a vaccine can have a side effect, such as a rash or high fever or even seizures. While the possibility of an adverse reaction is miniscule, we vaccinate a lot of people and inevitably there will be reports of side effects.
On the other hand, vaccines do not cause autism. I understand that bad things can happen and we often grasp at straws to find a cause. So when a child is diagnosed with autism and a vaccine is administered near or around that time, it is easy to blame the vaccine. But this is more coincidence than there being any evidence of a causal relationship. Properly designed and conducted scientific studies have unequivocally shown this. Vaccine recommendations based on these studies can be found on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
In this day and age of instant information, some media no longer vet information to ensure that it is true. Unfortunately, this is left to the consumer. And there is plenty of information out there that is wrong. People naturally are attracted to read material that supports their own beliefs making it very difficult to change a person's opinion.
Vaccines have been proven over and over again to prevent disease, and to ensure that our children grow up healthy, to become healthy adults. At the same time, they have been proven over and over again to be safe. For a person in power with no expertise in the subject to tweet that vaccines cause autism, is irresponsible, reckless, and dangerous.