Before the advent of vaccination, mankind was at the mercy of invisible little monsters called viruses. Infections of polio, smallpox, whooping cough and measles were so commonplace that they were seen as an inevitable part of life.
The introduction of vaccines proved to be a stepping stone for medical science. The aforementioned diseases should now be a thing of the past, relegated to the annals of medical journals.
So why are they not?
Even this year, numerous cases of children falling ill or even dying due to vaccine-preventable diseases are being reported, evidence that the anti-vaccination movement is active in Malaysia.
Official reports confirm an increase in the number of students who are not given permission to receive vaccinations by their parents.
The Health Ministry confirms that the number of vaccine-preventable diseases have spiked, with measles skyrocketing from 195 cases in 2013 to 1,934 cases in 2018.
While these numbers seem small compared to the overall Malaysian population, it is disturbing that there is a section of society ignoring expert scientific research in favour of unsubstantiated social media posts by housewives.
There are three main arguments made against vaccine:
- It causes autism.
- It contains dangerous ingredients.
- It is not natural.
These arguments have been repeatedly taken apart by medical experts, but it does beg the question, where did these allegations come from in the first place?
The anti-vaccination movement has a predecessor. In the late 18th century, when English scientist Edward Jenner began vaccinations against cowpox, facetious claims were made that the vaccine would turn people into cows.
However, the progenitor of today’s anti-vaccine arguments is the now disgraced Andrew Wakefield and his adversely impactful Lancet study.
In 1998, Wakefield published a research paper co-authored by 12 other scientists, 10 of whom have since disavowed their statements.
This study suggests a link between Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccines and malabsorption of nutrients, consequently leading to increased cases of autism in children.
Wakefield wrote, “I can’t support the continued use of these three vaccines given in combination until this issue has been resolved.”
The problems with his study are manifold. For one, the sample size was only 12 children, an unusually small number.
In scientific studies, it is important to have large sample sizes to garner more accurate data and reduce the margin of error.
Imagine taking out two eggs from a tray of 100. One of the two eggs turns out to be bad. This does not mean that 50% of the whole tray is bad.
Secondly, it was later revealed that Wakefield had behaved unethically during the study and a child had been severely injured during a colonoscopy.
Wakefield had also not disclosed that his funds came from lawyers seeking evidence to use against vaccine manufacturers and he had fabricated information and ignored data that contradicted his beliefs in his study.
He did not put in writing the fact that five of the 12 children were already showing symptoms of autism pre-vaccination.
His study unsurprisingly came under fire and increased scrutiny and in February 2010, the Lancet retracted the study.
After a disciplinary committee found further wrongdoings committed during the study, Wakefield was stripped of his medical doctorate by the British medical register and banned from practising in the country.
Unfortunately, the damage had been done. The British media ran amok with the study and misconceptions were planted globally.
As anti-vaccination proponents continue to accuse his detractors of a conspiracy, scientists have repeatedly found that it is impossible to recreate the results of Wakefield’s study. He has relocated to the United States where he has garnered a sizeable following.
A beast released
Today’s medical professionals continue to watch in horror as near-eradicated diseases make their comeback.
It is bewildering to see so many people misunderstand and spurn one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history.
Data does not lie and shows that the anti-vaccination movement is growing, even in Malaysia. And so are the preventable deaths of children, unfortunately.
Makes you wonder how those responsible for this movement can sleep at night, having released a caged monster onto an unprepared generation.