Not long ago, I was talking with a young couple, a relative and his wife, who were expecting their first child sometime next spring. After inquiring into how the pregnancy was going, plans for the birth and offering some congratulatory chitchat, I asked about their thoughts on vaccinations. Not that surprisingly, the father-to-be replied that they were intending to vaccinate, but what was surprising were the reasons he articulated for doing so.
To paraphrase his reply, he said that it was ‘tough out there’ if one doesn’t vaccinate a child. Not tough in the sense that the child might suffer from illness, but that the societal pressure is difficult to resist. The issue wasn’t whether vaccines were safe or necessary, but a fear of being ostracized and isolated. Presumably they were referring to pressure being exerted by medical authorities and schools, and perhaps even extending to friends, work colleagues and family as well.
It was an eye opening response for me: two well-educated professionals living in a progressive community who feared the consequences of opposing the commonly propagated credo about childhood immunizations. Certainly, it was a testament to the pervasive reach of message promulgated by the public health establishment.
Reflecting on the conversation a few days later, I was reminded of a time when as a young person I first experienced the force of public opinion and the sense of isolation brought about by running contrary to it. I was much younger than this couple, and it was a different era as well as about a different issue altogether.
Early 1963 at the age of 9, I went to live with my maternal uncle and his wife. A businessman and an educator, they were refugees from Nazi Germany who held quite progressive political opinions. Jewish lefties or ‘pinkos’, in Nixonian parlance. My aunt, in particular, was very involved with the anti-nuclear movement and passionate about the cause of world peace.
She would talk about an obscure country called Vietnam, and how our government had been involved with a coup against the government there and was supporting an unpopular dictatorship. I heard a lot from her about the false assumptions of the domino theory, civilian casualties at the hands of US trained South Vietnamese troops, and the desultory results of their military efforts.
This was all years before most people in this country probably even knew there was a country called Vietnam, let alone that we involved in a conflict there. It was also well before any politicians - except Senators Fulbright of Arkansas (of Fulbright Scholarship fame) and Ernest Gruening of Alaska - had either the understanding and/or the courage to speak out about the war.
In those early years, I would accompany my aunt on marches where people would throw red paint on us, jeering us with taunts of 'commies!' and other epithets. Some in the community where we lived found these beliefs anti-American and suggested maybe my aunt and uncle return to Germany.
In school, during discussions on current events and politics, I would parrot what I had heard at home. Those who heard me speak, students and teachers alike, mostly thought my opinions were ridiculous and unpatriotic.. They implied I was making it all up or taken in by communist propaganda.
To most people, it seemed that the question was not whether our government was involved in nefarious international intrigues or that elected officials were deceiving the public. It was a matter of patriotism. Publicly objecting to US government policy was simply unpatriotic. “Our country right or wrong” was the catch phrase of the time.
Obviously, we know what happened. As time went on, the lies of the Johnson administration and the abject failures as well as the horrors of the war effort became exposed. Huge numbers of people - common citizens, veterans and politicians alike - began to speak out about the war, saying pretty much the same things that my aunt was saying years earlier. By 1967, at the enormous antiwar marches on the Pentagon and at the United Nations, I would be joined by many of my classmates and neighbors who once believed our family was on the radical fringe. The common wisdom had changed.
In the end, neither my aunt and uncle nor I suffered any significant negative consequences for speaking out. No jobs were lost; no one was thrown out of school. This wasn’t Nazi Germany after all, and the family ethos was that speaking out was profoundly patriotic.
Curiously, when it comes to doing the same about vaccinations the same may not be said. People can lose jobs or be barred from entering schools, and apparently suffer public shunning, if they act on their convictions and against the policies of the public health establishment.
Here is an interesting statistic from one of those studies we are always hearing about. When researchers presented people with information that contradicts a belief they hold, only 4% of them considered the possibility that their belief was incorrect. 96% of them – 96% of us – do not consider the possibility that their – our – belief is incorrect.
The story of the Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweiss is a good example of this phenomenon. You may recall that during his lifetime Semmelweiss could not even get his medical colleagues to disinfect their hands before delivering babies despite clear evidence that doing so to would reduce the incidence of childbed fever and mortality.
It would seem we are hard wired to hold onto our personal versions of reality. So much the worse if we are being fed information with the expressed purpose of reinforcing our beliefs…
Consider the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, an academic gastroenterologist who graduated from a University of London Medical School in 1981. Wakefield became a surgeon specializing in gastroenterology, and pursued research in inflammatory bowel disease. He received a fellowship to study small-intestinal transplantation in Canada and later was made a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists. Over his career, Wakefield has published over 140 original scientific articles, book chapters, and scientific commentaries.
In the 1990’s, when circumstantial evidence came to light suggesting that there may be a connection between Crohns disease in children and exposure of their mothers to measles during pregnancy, Wakefield began investigating whether there was indeed scientific evidence to support this connection. The scope of his research was broadened to include exposure to measles a child may have under what he termed ‘unusual circumstances’ and the development of Crohns disease. In utero exposure was, of course, one unusual circumstance. Another was exposure via the measles vaccine.
His research pointed toward the fact that there was a link – perhaps a causal one – between the measles virus and pediatric Crohns. Not that every case of exposure resulted in Crohns, but there was evidence indicating an increased risk. After his article was published in 1995, Wakefield began to be contacted by parents of autistic children who claimed that they witnessed the onset of neurological regression after MMR vaccines, and in addition their children had similar severe bowel issues.
The implication was that exposure to the measles virus via vaccination was a common link between the development of autism and bowel disturbances. As a result of this input, Wakefield created a team of 13 researchers including neurologists, pathologists, child psychiatrists and John Walker Smith, one of the early leaders in the field of pediatric gastroenterology.
The team investigated 170 children, all of whom had inflammatory bowel disease along with the autistic symptoms. They found there was a positive triangular correlation between the vaccine, gastroenterological problems and neurological symptoms. They also saw that if the digestive symptoms were addressed, the children’s behavior would improve. This was especially so in regard to improved sleep.
From their experience, the most effective treatment was with a gluten-casein free diet. The gut-brain connection was difficult for many professionals, gastroenterologists and psychiatrists alike, to recognize because it crossed over into another specialty. But since 1998, when the clinical study was published, understanding about the link has increased.
This is perhaps best exemplified by the work of Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who saw clinically how the state of the digestive system influenced the emotional and mental states of a person. She coined the term ‘Gut and Psychology Syndrome’ and developed a ‘GAPS diet’ to treat these conjoined digestive and neurological problems. The GAPS diet itself was based an earlier one, first introduced in the 1950’s, known as the ‘Specific Carbohydrate Diet’ that was developed to treat Crohns patients.
Wakefield’s team published their findings as a clinical study. It basically was a series of cases with accompanying observations about the common thread that ran through them. That common thread was developmental and neurological regression after vaccines along with gastrointestinal problems.
It is important to note that neither Wakefield and his team, nor the parents were anti-vaccine advocates. Even after the study, Wakefield did not advocate against vaccines as such, but against multiple vaccines such as the MMR.
Based on his findings, Wakefield began to review the safety studies about the MMR and was, in his own words, ‘appalled at the quality of this research’. He realized that basically there was no one minding the store when it came to protecting the public in regard to vaccination side-effects or injury.
In 1999, the dean of the medical school where Wakefield had conducted his research convened a press briefing during which he spoke of the results of his study and said that he could no longer support the use of multivalent vaccines such as the MMR, advocating instead for the use of single vaccines.
It was from this point that things started to go wrong in his professional life. Six months after announcing his conclusions, the British government withdrew the license for importation of single vaccines into Great Britain. The department of health, unbeknownst to him, also tried to close down his research.
Wakefield published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and the findings of his own research were replicated in studies around the world. He also agreed to act as an expert witness in litigation against the vaccine manufacturers. Despite this litigation – or because of it – the government passed legislation to indemnify the pharmaceutical companies.
In 2001, Wakefield lost his position at the Department of Medicine at London’s Royal Free Hospital. He was told that he had conducted ‘poor science’. Several years later he was the subject of an investigation of a freelance journalist who claimed that Wakefield had falsified his data and had announced his findings with the ulterior motive of profiting from producing his own vaccine. Based on these claims, the British Medical Council began a formal investigation that ultimately lead to Wakefield losing his medical license.
Realizing that his own professional prospects were now nil in Great Britain, Wakefield moved to the United States in 2005. Fearing similar fates, 10 of the 13 members of his research team renounced their work, though the pediatric gastroenterologist John Walker Smith refused to do so and fought the allegations in court. After a very lengthy and expensive effort, Walker Smith was totally vindicated.
Today, Wakefield is quite active working as an advocate of for autistic children and their parents. In 2011, he published ‘Callous Disregard’, detailing his research and what he describes as the ‘inside story of the vaccine-autism connection’. A year later, he published ‘Waging War on the Autistic Child’ about a trial case involving a family with five children on the autistic spectrum
We all owe a great debt of gratitude toward individuals like Andrew Wakefield and an increasing number of medical professionals who speak out about the calamitous vaccination policies now being enforced in the United States and many other nations.