Last month, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported the first case of
This development demonstrates that even
Most of those diagnosed with the disease did not receive the measles,
In the U.S., most children receive the
A survey released earlier this month by the CDC showed almost 80 percent of parents are uncomfortable with the concept of childhood vaccination. Among the reasons provided, roughly 30 percent cited the potential for learning disabilities, such as
Some of the fear of vaccination is driven by disease-driven litigation tied to junk science.
The landmark research linking the MMR vaccine to autism was initially published in 1998 by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet, a respected British medical journal. Other researchers' inability to replicate his findings spawned further investigation. Subsequent inquiry into Dr. Wakefield's research demonstrated that his subjects were recruited by a plaintiff's lawyer preparing a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers.
Additionally, not only had Dr. Wakefield received payment from these attorneys two years prior to initiating his research study, but he also had a patent application for a rival measles vaccine. In addition to the numerous conflicts of interest, Dr. Wakefield's research was also found laden with altered data. Finally, the Lancet took the unprecedented step of retracting the original published peer-reviewed article.
The best medical research suggests no link between vaccination and autism. Nonetheless, the absence of data has not stopped families from pursuing their claims of disability through available legal channels.
Lawyers intent on creating a mini-industry out of lawsuits against vaccine makers have threatened the supply of vaccines to the American public. Many drug companies in the U.S. were pushed out of the vaccine business in the 1980s from large settlements related to whooping cough-tetanus-diphtheria (DTP) vaccine reaction lawsuits. In response, Congress in 1986 created an alternate legal system of "vaccine courts," compensating patients financially based on known vaccine-related side effects. Payments on the judgments of these tribunals are funded by a tax levied on each vaccine.
Despite the lack of solid research confirming a causal link between vaccines and autism, there are petitions from more than 5,000 families pending before the courts, arguing otherwise. However, as per the common scientific axiom, the plural of "anecdote" is not "data."
In February, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the legality of the federal law that created this no fault, nonjuried tribunal system, which shields drug companies from product liability lawsuits. In a 6-2 decision, the court reaffirmed the success of these vaccine courts, whose judgments are based on known science rather than fickle juries, which are often swayed by personal stories of hardship.
Writing in the majority opinion, Justice
While scientifically baseless claims of disability have no weight in these courts, they have had a monumental effect on the lay public.
The response following Dr. Wakefield's initial study in the
According to the UK Health Protection Agency, their equivalent to the CDC, the U.K. now faces endemic levels of measles within its population, allowing for the continuous spread of the disease.
In a viral age, the persistence and prevalence of vaccine misinformation among the public may take some time to correct. However, regaining the health protection afforded by effective vaccination programs will take longer.