To Vax or not to Vax

There are very few controversies in the psychological community that manage to capture not only the attention but the passion of the unaffiliated person. However, we can see that, with the release of the controversial documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, the debate of vaccines’ potential involvement in the source of autism is perceived as a personal issue of many parents medical professionals alike. With the medical community urging parents that vaccinations are necessary for preventing the spread of disease and the homeopathic community urging parents that vaccines are not only unnecessary but also dangerous, it can be increasingly difficult for people to discover the truth about vaccines and their connection to neurodevelopmental disorders. As we analyze two contrasting academic journals, Dr. AJ Wakefield’s Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children and T.S. Rao’s The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud, we can conclude that, while the anti-vax community uses sound reasoning to come to their conclusion, there simply isn’t enough evidence to conclude that vaccines cause autism. Rather, most evidence suggests that vaccines pose no threat.

The retracted Wakefield et al. journal is believed to be one of the foundations of the modern anti-vax movement, suggesting that, post-vaccination, eight out of twelve children studied suffered from behavioral issues connected to the MMR vaccine: “In eight children, the onset of behavioural problems had been linked, either by the parents or by the child’s physician, with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination. Five had had an early adverse reaction to immunization (rash, fever, delirium; and, in three cases, convulsions). In these eight children, the average interval from exposure to first behavioral symptoms was 6·3 days (range 1–14). Parents were less clear about the timing of onset of abdominal symptoms because children were not toilet trained at the time or because behavioral features made children unable to communicate symptoms” (Wakefield et al.). This article takes a definitive stance against vaccinations, claiming that they show clear signs of harm. Considering that this evidence appears to be conclusive, how can anyone disagree?

T.S. Rao’s The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud points out the flaws of Wakefield et al.’s research immediately: “Despite the small sample size (n=12), the uncontrolled design, and the speculative nature of the conclusions, the paper received wide publicity” (Rao). This article points out the inconsistencies with Wakefield et al.’s research, and provides contrasting information, revealing that the research team lacked the ethical clearance to conduct such an experiment, and that they were held guilty of scientific misrepresentation, using trustworthy and plentiful citations to back up their claims against the research team. Since Wakefield et al.’s logic was proven to be faulty, why was its legacy so great? Rao explains: “Scientists and organizations across the world spent a great deal of time and money refuting the results of a minor paper in the Lancet and exposing the scientific fraud that formed the basis of the paper. Appallingly, parents across the world did not vaccinate their children out of fear of the risk of autism, thereby exposing their children to the risks of disease and the well-documented complications related thereto. Measles outbreaks in the UK in 2008 and 2009, as well as pockets of measles in the USA and Canada, were attributed to the nonvaccination of children. The Wakefield fraud is likely to go down as one of the most serious frauds in medical history.” Put simply, Wakefield’s team relied on scare tactics to gain popularity and support without the use of proper scientific technique.

Though Wakefield’s Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children seems to be rooted in sound reasoning and logic, this is overshadowed by the fact that their research was improperly conducted in the first place. Rao’s The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud, on the other hand, uses reputable citations derived from studies more professional in execution. Both articles, however, are written in an eloquent manner and use various citations to prove their points. Both are relatively scientific in execution and are more analytical than emotional. Despite this, however, we can see that Wakefield et al.’s stance on anti-vaccination is illogical when we analyze more sound data. Any scientific document that relies on scare tactics and is rooted in bias disgraces the foundations of science, and T.S. Rao’s journal is quick to point this out. While the anti-vax community seems to have good intentions, their beliefs are derived from faulty evidence and mass hysteria. In reality, we must approach research with an open mind and a strong focus on ethics and the search for truth, which is a fundamental area that Wakefield failed in.

 

Works Cited

Rao, T. S. Sathyanarayana, and Chittaranjan Andrade. “The MMR Vaccine and Autism: Sensation, Refutation, Retraction, and Fraud.” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Medknow Publications, 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136032/.

Wakefield et al., AJ. “RETRACTED: Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis,  and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children.”, vol. 351, 28 Feb. 1998, pp. 637–641., www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(97)11096-0/fulltext.

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