Autism, Vaccines and Human Nature

Autism, Vaccines and Human Nature  By Lisa Jo Rudy

For decades, the magical team of Penn and Teller have been traveling the world, making TV programs, and entertaining Vegas audiences with a show that specifically and effectively debunks the idea that “seeing is believing.” The Amazing Randi has offered $1000000 to anyone that can demonstrate paranormal abilities under laboratory conditions – a prize which is still outstanding.

Despite these high-profile efforts to convince the public that seeing is not believing, many, many people believe wholeheartedly in scientifically unproven phenomena ranging from UFO’s to ESP to communication with the dead. Many of those people will tell you flat out that scientific studies can’t possibly trump the fact that they experienced those phenomena themselves. Some will even say “seeing is believing,” and they will mean it.

Despite a basic understanding of probability, untold millions believe, wholeheartedly, that they will beat the odds in the lottery or at the casino. Millions are presented with convincing studies and public education campaigns that make it crystal clear that smoking, poor diets and lack of exercise lead to life-threatening illness – yet they believe that they will beat the odds.

Knowing all this, I can’t help but feel that doctors and researchers have a strenuous uphill battle on their hands as they strive to explain the science behind vaccines, and the math behind risk analysis.

I just received a book called Do Vaccines Cause That?! by Drs. Martin Myers and Diego Pineda. The purpose of the book, as I understand it, is to demystify vaccines – and thus to make it clear to parents that the risks inherent in avoiding vaccines are far, far greater than the risks inherent in having their children vaccinated. To make the book friendlier, the authors include cartoons – and the publisher created a fun, engaging cover and selected a relatively large font. This really does make the book easier to read, and friendlier to approach.

Flipping through the table of contents, I was impressed by the chapter titles. “Vaccine Side Effects and Risk Perception: What if My Child Is the One in a Million?” and “Cause or Coincidence: How Do I Tell Whether or Not a Vaccine Caused That?!” While the use of exclamation points and question marks may be a little overwhelming, the topics, I thought, were right on.

But when I actually read the chapters, I found that the book was going in a direction quite different from what I expected. The question “What if My Child Is the One in a Million” is unlikely to be resolved, for example, by the authors’ discussion of relative risk. Of course it’s true that we’re taking a greater risk by driving our child to the doctor for a vaccination than we are by allowing the doctor to inject our child. But if our knowledge of relative risk really influenced our behavior, casinos, cigarettes and Keno games would have long since perished from the Earth.

If we live in the world, we can’t avoid cars. We CAN avoid vaccines. So… the real question here is not “what’s riskier than vaccines?” but rather “is there any reliable way to know whether my child is likely to have an adverse reaction to vaccines, and if so – will you, my pediatrician, use that technique to ensure the safety of this shot?”

It’s one thing to involve your child in the daily risks of modern life. It’s another to knowingly and deliberately subject your child to a medical procedure that (at least according to some) could lead to serious consequences. I know, I know – risk analysis tells me there’s virtually nothing to worry about. But were I, today, faced with the question of vaccinations for a newborn infant, would I be comfortable in “just saying yes?” Being a human mother living in today’s world, I’m not sure the choice, even for me, would be simple.

 

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