Despite scientific evidence, vaccination is a contentious issue that’s draining our country of health

The next media spectacle, as far as vaccination controversies go, is likely to be Capitol Hill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) this week chided President Trump to be “supportive” of the “vaccine moms” and accept their claims that vaccines aren’t safe. He cited their belief that “the process of putting the vaccine, which is basically a large piece of mercury” into our bodies, etc.

Yet, the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have all said they can’t prove an independent link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.

Meanwhile, a third of Americans incorrectly believe some or many vaccines are harmful, according to a recent Kaiser Health poll.

Now, the vaccine fault line is ready to detonate once again. Doctors have noticed an uptick in measles at the Disneyland theme park in Southern California, and a case is expected in the District as well. The story blew up after The Orange County Register published letters from parents of children vaccinated against the vaccine saying, incorrectly, the disease can cause brain damage and seizures.

The publicity appears to have brought to the surface a new anti-vaccine conspiracy theory that falsely alleges that the FDA is approving unsafe vaccines to boost profits for manufacturers, weakening the already weakened consumer protections.

Why are we still caught in this madness? How can it be that — in a country that has dramatically dropped diseases like measles, polio and many others — the public still has to debate whether a relatively harmless MMR vaccine is unsafe?

O’Toole: Let the evidence speak

We have learned through research that all vaccines — including vaccines against the four most common childhood diseases, common flu shots, dental checkups, and vaccinations against allergic reactions — are very safe. Studies show that vaccines are both highly effective and highly protective in preventing disease, particularly infant, childhood and adult diseases.

My work on vaccine safety goes back to the late 1990s. I have personally done medical epidemiology research on our nation’s measles outbreaks; worked to expose a vaccine-to-rubella (T-Rx) medication that tied a rare and deadly case of spinal meningitis to the MMR vaccine, a study on vaccine preventive against vaccine allergic reactions; and have done research on possible vaccine safety recommendations.

Worrying about measles — which is contracted from somebody not vaccinated — is a big mistake, as is this latest panic over the vaccination debate. Like most people who are vaccinated, I am very happy with the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

But there are a small number of people who want to create problems with the vaccine, and have the scientific means to do so. Their goal is to further diminish public confidence in vaccines, and to create broader fears about a dangerous vaccine.

Most vaccines are safe and highly effective. But when we hear about a rare, but still serious, case of autism, most healthy people turn on vaccines themselves — not because they believe in the link to autism, but because they believe a ban could have prevented such a serious, yet rare, ailment.

Why do some people believe that the best way to keep their children healthy is to try to derail vaccines for all children? Because they are hearing and reading it from others.

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