People are entitled to their own views, but not their own science

Posted February 12th, 2015 at 11:47 am (UTC-4)
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This little bottle has caused a whole lot of controversy

This little bottle has caused a whole lot of controversy

When preparing for any show, regardless of topic – one always tries to disavow themselves of any preconceived ideas or notions about the subject matter. This would prove to be particularly difficult this week, with the show’s subject: vaccines in America – should they be government mandated?

At times, America prides itself on being a “world leader,” especially in the realm of health and science. It seems like the U.S. has taken a giant step backwards in recent months: highlighted by the ever increasing number of measles cases quickly spreading across the country. The story started inside mainstream media with reports from Disneyland, the origins of the outbreak.

But what followed the initial news of the outbreak has been a rekindled debate about parental rights vs. mandated government vaccines. As is the case with many things in the United States of America, the laws vary from state to state. Some states allow parents to simply opt out of the vaccine. Others make it a requirement for access to other public institutions, like school.

None of which has stopped people from taking to the airwaves and declaring their opinions, loudly and often politicizing the issue. Senator Rand Paul (A medical doctor himself) said live on an American cable channel that he had delayed his children’s vaccines because there were “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”

After being eviscerated in public for his comments, the Senator quickly got to a doctor for his Hepatitis A vaccine – and was sure to tweet the picture.

Chris Christie (another potential presidential candidate) was asked about vaccines and said, “It’s more important what you think as a parent than what you think as a public official.” Later that day, his press office released a statement that began: “To be clear: The governor believes vaccines are an important public health protection and with a disease like measles there is no question kids should be vaccinated.”

Real estate mogul/reality TV star/potential presidential candidate Donald Trump simply remarked how very large the needles are on Fox News.

All of which to say: America has the luxury of debating an issue that many countries may not. In an interview on “Hashtag VOA” Dr. Stephen L. Cochi, a senior advisor to the CDC, said simply “Measles as well as other routine childhood vaccines are safe and effective.” He continued, “Parents should do the right thing and make sure their children are protected.”

Then why is this headline in the Los Angeles Times: “Measles parties’ a bad idea, California public health officials warn”?

At this point, I should take a moment to explain what a “measles party” is. In the same way Dr. Pepper is a soft drink made in the U.S. and not really a doctor, many parents in California are reported to be exposing healthy children to the measles virus in an attempt to create a “natural immunity.” According to the LA Times, while no parties were confirmed to have taken place, “some parents, reports said, even arranged to pay strangers for licked lollipops, saliva or other items from infected children.”

We literally just got over an Ebola outbreak that didn’t outbreak anywhere near the U.S. but was covered wall to wall with the word “fear” getting bigger on the screen each day. How did we get to the point where we’re buying measles saliva? Is that even a term? What planet am I living on?

I’m obviously writing this piece in an over the top attempt to attract attention to a debate that does have merits on both sides: we just seem to only hear from the extremes.

Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center methodically talked the show through the issue … “Everyone’s life is important and doctors should be partners to the parents.” Fisher is an advocate of “consent and understanding” – advocating education for parents everywhere who may be nervous about the issue. It is important to remember, and Fisher makes it clear, “These companies (drug companies) cannot be held liable in a civil court of law,” which is one of the issues that lends weight to the parent who finds themselves distrustful of either the drug companies or the government.

Indemnification for drug companies will always be a requirement for them to continue and develop vaccines. Without that indemnification (protection from lawsuits) the companies would not be able to continue and manufacture these vaccines on a massive scale. A global scale.

And that’s what we all need to keep our eyes on … the globe. Medical history has been made in the past century by doctors’ like Henderson, Hilleman, Sabin, Salk and Enders. Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association said on the show “Follow the science, science has to be the winner.”

I’ll take it one step further: people are entitled to their own views, but not their own science.

Cal Perry
Cal Perry is an TV executive and host of the show "Hashtag" at the Voice of America. Prior to joining VOA in 2012 Cal was the Middle East correspondent for Al Jazeera English. Cal began his career at CNN where he served as Baghdad Bureau chief and as an International correspondent around the globe.

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