In the past week there have been news reports from both sides of the vaccine controversy. CBS Evening News recently reported on the “First ever vaccine-autism court award” and from Reuters an article appeared yesterday entitled “No link found between vaccine mercury and autism.”
The controversy about vaccines and autism started over 10 years ago when Andrew Wakefield along with others published their research in The Lancet. The authors described a population of individuals who had bowels symptoms with autism spectrum disorders and they suggested a possible link with the MMR vaccine. Since that time, The Lancet has retracted its article under claims of ethical violations, which Dr. Wakefield denies.
After all this time and despite numerous reports on both sides of the issue, the controversy seems no less adversarial. How information is reported, by whom it is reported, even when it is reported often has a “spin” to it that is disconcerting. The medical community is rightfully concerned (in fact, all of us should be concerned) that if children stopped being vaccinated there would be an increase in potentially life threatening diseases. However, if you are a parent of a child and you have to decide about vaccinations, the world condition and health of strangers is typically not foremost in your awareness.
The fact is that media “spins” information. Sometimes purposefully and other times unintentionally, but the spin is there. Currently, there is a campaign to increase people’s sense that vaccines are safe and children need the vaccinations. For most children, that may very well be true. Unfortunately, the media often takes one bit of information to report and totally ignores the real situations where research doesn’t go and can’t go– to the level of the individual.
Research studies, by design, look at groups, not individuals. They have to control for so many different factors to make conclusions, that the specifics about a unique individual may not be considered. When a parent claims that their child was affected by a vaccine, who’s to say they weren’t? We don’t have research studies for every condition and combination of precursors or predispositions to certain conditions (nor is that even possible).
In an ideal world the vaccination issue would be black and white. There would be no ambiguity about such major decisions. In fact, it wouldn’t have to be a decision at all, because it would be a ‘no brainer.’
However, it doesn’t work that way in the real world. Each and every day we have to weigh the pros and cons of situations to make decisions that are right for us as individuals as well as part of communities.
Every family should consult with their physician to talk about all the concerns they have. They should do research on their own that examines both sides of an issue, not just the side that supports their preconceived opinions. I realize that’s a bit easier said then done. I’m only suggesting that as people look into the issues, they don’t only focus on the ideas, research, commentaries and opinions that are the same as their own. Like I said in my last blog, what we focus on gets amplified. So, if you only focus on one side of the coin, it’s hard to see the other side.
Physicians should be open to listening and honestly providing all the information that is available to their patients. Just as a physician considers personal and family history when making other decisions with a patient, it is also relevant to consider such information when advising parents about vaccinations. There may be options in particular situations where concerns are valid and vaccines are still recommended. Certainly things to consider may be dosage, the timing of the vaccinations, the specific vaccination, the number of vaccinations, etc.
The world is not black or white. There is no right answer for everyone.
There is a right answer for each of us.