Now-debunked vaccine movement has caused immeasurable harm

Kerri Houston Tolozcko Senior Fellow, Frontiers of Freedom
Font Size:

This week the prestigious British journal of medicine, The Lancet, “full retracted from the public record” a flawed and now completely debunked study published in 1998 that claimed a link between childhood vaccines and autism.

This notion created the anti-vaccine panic—and movement—that left millions of children unvaccinated against preventable disease. But not only has this junk science negatively impacted the distribution of childhood inoculations; it has also had a serious impact on availability of swine flu vaccine.

Deciding whether to seek the swine flu vaccine should not be a tortuous decision. Nearly 700,000 Americans died of flu in 1918 before vaccines were available, and in 2009 the H1N1 flu spread rapidly. The CDC estimates there at least 23 million cases of swine flu in the U.S. with over 98,000 patients hospitalized and more than 4,000 deaths, with 248 cases of pediatric death since August.

The problem has not been deciding whether to get the vaccine, but where to find it.

Manufacturers have shipped as much vaccine as possible despite challenges in the production process that included isolating the virus and creating an ideal delivery mechanism—it always takes months to produce usable vaccine.

To help vaccine manufacturers ensure a rapid, steady and effective supply, many utilize “adjuvants.” Safe and effective, adjuvants boost the body’s immune response to a vaccine’s active ingredient, reducing dosage requirements and increasing the quantity available to the public.

To that point, vaccine manufacturer Novartis has noted publicly that if adjuvants were used in the production of H1N1 vaccine, production would be able to quadruple and protect four times more Americans from this deadly flu.

In Europe, the H1N1 vaccine is made with adjuvants, but because of public pressure on our government from now the fully discredited anti-vax movement, it is not utilized here. Instead, American vaccine manufacturers must produce greater amounts of stock for each dosage and cannot use multi-dose formats.

The Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other agencies in the U.S. and Europe long ago concluded there are no dangers inherent in adjuvants. Our government has acknowledged the importance and safety of vaccine enhancers and initially requested ample stock of adjuvants from American vaccine makers. Unfortunately, fear-mongering from the anti-vaxers caused it to exclude these important agents from H1N1 stock.

Asked in a Senate hearing last fall why HHS decided against utilizing its supply of adjuvants, Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for Preparedness and Response at HHS clearly attributed the decision to anti-vaxers by noting, “[W]e didn’t really want to rock the public confidence in a new vaccine with adjuvant.”

Science has repeatedly disproven claims by anti-vax activists, and this week’s study withdrawal is truly the mother of all retractions. Our government’s concern that anti-vax activists could scare people from getting immunized led it to decide that not using adjuvants was the safe route.

But indeed, the opposite is true. This decision reduced the supply of H1N1 vaccine as well as the speed of its effectiveness. Less vaccine; more flu.

Although new cases seem to be winding down, H1N1 is still a serious and deadly disease. A statistically invisible fringe movement with an agenda not supported by any scientific research should not be allowed to dictate health and safety to the public.

It is past time for adjuvants to be recognized as a technology trusted to safeguard our population and our supply of vaccine, both for H1N1 and other diseases.

Since the advent of Salk vaccine in 1950s, polio cases in the U.S. have gone from about 18,000 per year to virtually none. The measles vaccine decreased incidence of this disease and its accompanying blindness by 95 percent. Prior to the pertussis vaccine, as many as 10,000 children died horribly from Whooping Cough every year.

When my first child was born in 1984, I planned to vaccinate her but still had what I thought was the requisite new mom conversation with my pediatrician about vaccinations. That was, of course, before I knew the “anti-vax” movement was full of kooks.

My daughter’s pediatrician had also served as a medical missionary in Africa. After asking my vaccine question, he replied, “If you’d ever seen a child take months to die by coughing up his insides—trust me—you wouldn’t ask.”

The motivation behind promoting these false results by the UK’s Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the study’s main author, is unknowable. The numbers of children who have died or suffered needlessly because of this irresponsible study is not.

And Americans who want a swine flu vaccine deserve ready access.

Sound science should not be trumped by false fear. Our government needs to take a stand by educating the public and deploying enhanced vaccine technologies so that those who need and want the vaccine can get it.

Kerri Houston Toloczko is Senior Vice President for Policy at the Institute for Liberty and director of its Center for Health Security and Access.