Anti-vaccine studies also threaten homeland security

A just-released Polish study has dealt another blow to the idea that childhood immunizations are linked to autism. This new study, which found no evidence that children who received measles vaccinations are more likely to contract autism, comes on the heels of the recent revelation that the British health paper, The Lancet, has officially retracted a 1998 article it had published that purported to link autism to childhood vaccines. While hundreds of articles have now reported on The Lancet’s retraction and the anti-vaccine movement’s dangerous impact on childhood diseases, there has been precious little discussion of the threat that anti-vaccine fears pose to our ability to fight bioterrorism. In fact, the dangers in this area may be even greater, and our responsiveness to potential acts of bioterror will depend in part on the ability of homeland security officials to address the challenges posed by the vaccine-autism link.

The dangers of the purported vaccine-autism have been clear for some time. On the heels of Andrew Wakefield’s original paper in The Lancet, a host of self-appointed celebrity public health “experts” have claimed, but not demonstrated, a link between vaccines and autism. The noise on this issue has led to second-guessing the need for vaccines, which remain vital for preventing deadly diseases like polio, measles, mumps, and rubella. When people opt out of vaccinating their children, it diminishes herd immunity, the ability of communities to withstand potentially deadly outbreaks.

These outbreaks are not just theoretical, as there have been recent measles flare-ups in the UK, Israel, and the U.S. Since measles is preventable, the main cause of these outbreaks is insufficiently high vaccination rates, which are exacerbated in the U.S. by Hollywood celebrity campaigns against the Center for Disease Control’s childhood vaccination schedules.

Public health officials already understand the importance of breaking the vaccine-autism link and have taken a variety of steps to combat it. For the last decade, public health officials have struggled against an increasingly skeptical public in their efforts to get out the message on the importance of vaccines in preventing disease and saving lives. When I served at the Department of Health and Human Services, we found that the anti-vaccine forces had so demonized the Centers for Disease Control that CDC messages on vaccines had been significantly devalued. As a result, senior officials up to and including the Secretary of HHS had to spend precious time better directed elsewhere fighting back against anti-vaccine messages because of the skepticism with which CDC messages were received.

White our public health officials are working hard to fight back against these problems, homeland security official must also recognize the serious impact of vaccine skepticism on domestic preparedness against biological threats, be they natural or man-made. Our No. 1 defense against many biological threats, including pandemic influenza, smallpox, and anthrax is vaccinations, and it is essential that the public be ready and willing to secure vaccinations in case of outbreaks of these deadly diseases. All of these pathogens represent significant threats. Smallpox is easily spread, has a high fatality rate, and is not treatable after the fourth day of infection. Influenza kills 36,000 Americans a year, and the H1N1 has killed over 10,000 Americans thus far. And anthrax, as we know, has already been successfully used as a biological weapon in the United States, on the postal system attacks of 2001.

Unfortunately, we saw this fall that anti-vaccine notions have moved beyond skepticism towards childhood immunizations and into the realm of vaccines in general. The best, or worst example of this was Bill Maher, who called people who took the H1N1 vaccine “idiots.” Glenn Beck contributed to this problem as well, telling listeners “I’d do the exact opposite of what the Homeland Security says.” And Louis Farrakhan also participated, claiming that the H1N1 vaccine was some sort of population control measure, saying that the goal was to “Kill as many as you can. We have to develop a science that kills them and makes it look as though they died from some disease.”

These anti-vaccine sentiments are not classifiable in any one ideological category, but they have all been enabled, to some degree, by the anti-vaccine skepticism initiated by the Wakefield study in The Lancet. Wakefield has now been repudiated, both by the Lancet and the new Polish study, but the nagging doubts about vaccines he unleashed will be hard to eradicate. In the 12-year period since the initial publication, a great deal of damage has already been done. And this damage, once done, cannot be easily undone. As Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, put it, “It’s hard to unring the bell.” In the years ahead, U.S. planners charged with protecting our nation against biothreats will have to try to unring that bell if they are going to protect us from the worst our enemies have in store for us.

Tevi Troy, the former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. He has advised companies regarding domestic preparedness.

  • michael0156

    Tthe author errs again in saying hat Dr Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 study, with 12 other authors, was repudiated. It was not. Tthe Lancet had previously investigated this study because of Brian Deer infamous liar of the Sundat Times. The lancet found all of the charges to be untrue and stood by Dr Wakefield and the others and the science behind the study. The study, by the way, did not conclude that MMR caused autism. The study did declare it was too small to draw conclusions, other than that more investigation was needed.

    The Lancet withdrew the study based on the findings of the General Medical Council against Dr Wakefield. The charges he was found guilty of were differences of opinion about ethics and the necessity of medical procedures. The science of the study was not attacked and the GMC declared it’s investigation was not into the science of the study. The Lancet disingenuously decided to withdraw the study out of political considerations, not scientific ones.

    The infamous 12 authors who retracted the interpretation of the study also stand by the science and say so in their retraction. What they attempted to retract was soemone else’s interpretation of the study that MMR caused autism. That was never Dr Wakefield’s position as lead author and never a conclusion of the study.

    Tthe author’s claim that anti-bioterrorism efforts are being hampered by the anti-vaccine movement is not true. Bioterrorism attacks will not be directed against the USA with any germ we are vaccinated against. This would really be an act of idiocy by a terrorist organization.

  • michael0156

    The USA leads the world in percentage of kids vaccinated and # of vaccines given. No one knows what autism is, experts can’t agree on acceptable diagnostic criteria, yet these same experts all agree that vaccines cannot be the cause of autism. what evidence do they have to support this? No evidence… Yes folks, they have no evidence. Whenever you read about the epidemiological studies on vaccines and autism you will always hear the “EUREKA!” cry “We have found no evidence that vaccines are linked to autism”

    Such bullshit… Epidemiology is studying records, not kids. It’s studying records without objectivity, without scientific method and with a plan to not find evidence. All of the studies referred to by the original author are epidemiology that did not follow scientific method. Ssome of them are outright lies and manipulation.

    The USA is a leader in some other statistics… the leader of the developed world in infant mortality… in child mortality… and in autism

    hmmmm… we have the highest vaccination rate and the highest infant/child mortality rates and the highest autism rate… does one have anything to do with the other? Let’s clinically study children using a toxin free vaccine schedule. Call your elected representatives and demand such studies to resolve the questions with real independent science, not the industry sponsored garbage that has so far been used to deny parents and children the protection they need and the current victims (families and regressively autistic kids) the help they deserve

    Since 1990 autism has risen 33 fold in the USA. NOTHING explains this better or has a better correlation than vaccines. Mmandatory vaccinations have dramatically increased and the toxins/novel toxins in them have also increased SINCE 1990. Novel toxins have been introduced through the genetic engineering of bacteria to produce antigen. By coincidence gene altering bacteria to produce substances used in our food has also dramatically increased during this time period. Some of these toxins will cross over the intestinal barrier to cause problems in the human body. The most publicized proof of this is the 1989 tryptophan poisoning which cause the autoimmune disease named eosinophilia myalgia syndrome. the same gene manipulation is used to produce “natural” flavors and the enzymes added to corn starch to make High Fructose Corn Syrup. We have also added a number of gene-altered plants and animals to our food supply each with their own inherent, untested, unknown and toxic changes.

    Is it any wonder we lead the developed world in those mortality stats and autism?

    What can be done? Demand independent studies of vaccines &, vaccine toxins suing toxin-free vaccine. Recognize autistic disorder and cover it in all health insurance. Begin research on the phenomena of regressively autistic children to improve their lives and prevent adding kids to living this life of misery and subjecting the parents and siblings to taking care of them

    let’s investigate the only likely cause of autism, vaccines, with clinical studies…. not big Pharma’s epidemiology, designed to protect drug money from paying for the damage of autism