If anyone doubts that scientific theory is a political tool, they need only look at the anti-vaccination movement. Vaccination, the process of introducing dead disease cells into a body so as to trigger the development of disease-fighting antibodies, has been successful at effectively eliminating many devastating illnesses throughout the United States. The argument against vaccines typically falls into one of three categories: 1) vaccines cause autism; 2) the mercury-including vaccine preservative thimerosal causes autism; and 3) vaccination triggers more illness than it prevents.
Due to those concerns, people against vaccination have attempted to exploit legal exceptions for religious doctrine as a way of getting around mandatory immunization.
During the last Presidential election, the candidates of the four largest parties had all supported “anti-vax” efforts. The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, actively promotes the anti-vax arguments. The Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, did not agree with the anti-vax arguments but accepted their inherent right to refuse vaccination. The Republican Party had a candidate, Donald Trump, whose suspicions about the process have been repeated. The Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton, stood firmly on the ground of the overwhelming majority of the scientific community and rejected the anti-vax position… this time, because it was politically convenient, after embracing the anti-vax stance in the past.
Vaccines are directly associated with basic fears of safety for ourselves and our children. They make for strong political fodder. Where politics is in play, conspiracy often follows.
One absolute fact which enhances the anti-vaccination stance: vaccines are not without risk. While the majority of people suffer no ill effects from them, issues absolutely do arise. Allergic reactions, sometimes fatal, have been encountered. Some vaccines have been tainted with live viruses or foreign substances. Injury and death, while very rare, absolutely do occur during immunizations.
At issue, then, is not the notion of potential damage from vaccines… that is accepted from all quarters… but rather the likelihood of damage, and the type of damage to be expected.
This is where autism comes into play.
A marked rise in the diagnosis of autism reached the national attention in the early 1990s. A causal link was sought, and one was potentially found: the rise in mandatory and suggested vaccinations throughout the country. A few years after a nationwide increase in vaccinations was forced, a nationwide increase in the diagnoses of autism occurred.
For those who incorrectly believe that correlation proves causation, a culprit had been found. The problem is that any such declaration was based on faulty logic.
Other events which had happened across that time period were increases in the accuracy of testing and increases in the defined spectrum of behaviors which were categorized under autism. Gradually, many people who had previously simply been called shy or antisocial were being declared autistic. This, unsurprisingly, inflated the numbers of autism diagnoses.
What had been introduced, however, were twin lures: hope and blame. Hope for a quick cure, and an easy target for blame. After all, if the vaccine – and, specifically, the trace amounts of mercury which might be present in a vaccine – were the cause, simply refusing to vaccinate would diminish future autism cases. Moreover, by isolating the cause as mercury researchers could begin work on a cure. Lastly, proof of mercury being the autism trigger could allow for lawsuits to help offset the added costs of caring for an child with special needs.
Research was done. In controlled studies overseen by government groups and prestigious research groups alike, no connection was found between autism and vaccines. In some independent studies, however, a link was absolutely determined.
This is where we stand today. The anti-vax movement has organizations which appear just as professional as the CDC’s web presence. They have studies to back up their positions just as does the CDC. On the surface, both sides remain as potentially valid as they did in the early 1990s.
The continued rejection of the anti-vax positions by the CDC, however, have given rise to the belief that it’s due to a Big Pharma / Government agreement, an effort to hide “the truth” from people. After all, if “the truth” were revealed, the multi-billion dollar vaccine industry would collapse!
Vaccines, while profitable, are comparatively small moneymakers for the pharmaceutical industry. The idea that an effort might be made to hide negative side effects from a cholesterol drug, a weight-loss drug, a sexual performance aid or an anti-Alzheimer’s drug is not unreasonable. The risks to a company may be deemed worthwhile for the massive profits available. It is very unlikely that most companies would risk billions of dollars in profits in order to pursue a few million.
There’s one overriding problem for the anti-vax movement, though: time. Theories, when tested, bear results. This has been one of the great contentions of those who are suspicious of the projections of catastrophic climate change: show the evidence. Demonstrate, independent of verifiable shifts in variables, a trend. The advocates for climate change have been able to show that trend; the question there is about the variables used in the calculation of that trend.
In the anti-vax movement, there has been similar time to chart a trend. That trend indicates that autism rates are higher, not lower, for non-vaccinated children. The stated belief of Jill Stein and Donald Trump aside, the prior stated belief of Hillary Clinton, doesn’t matter. The evidence is firmly on the side of vaccinations.