To the Editors:
Thanks for your concise, to-the-point editorial about autism and vaccination. I have been watching the autism-equals-poisoning controversy unfold on a number of online discussion boards for some time now, and have been deeply concerned about the extent to which it has undermined confidence in the overall efficacy and safety of vaccination. Although many anti-thimerosal crusaders only publicly express concern about the preservative, there are also many who oppose vaccination per se. Recently on an online list, a mother admitted that her anti-thimerosal stance was only for "public consumption," and that in fact she didn't foresee ever getting another vaccine for herself or her family (1). This kind of thinking is not uncommon. Controversy is perpetuated by anti-vaccinationist demagogues (2) who are regular participants in anti-thimerosal PR efforts, and who regard the thimerosal issue as a nail to be driven into a coffin eventually containing all vaccination programs worldwide. I have witnessed a number of casual conversations about ways to obtain religious exemptions for schoolchildren, where it was clear to me that the parents' "religious objection" consists of little more than a conviction that vaccines are dangerous, followed by an assertion that God doesn't want them to endanger their children. (3) In light of the recent resurgence of polio and measles, and in light of the ease of mobility that is a daily reality of modern life, the potential consequences of further spread of this mindset are very disturbing.
29 June 2005
(1) See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EOHarm/message/8775: "My stance is this: for 'public consumption' I am just anti-mercury. No one can argue with that."
(2) See http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Autism-Mercury/message/143132 for a shining example of anti-vaccinationist demagoguery on a list ostensibly devoted to autism.
(3) See http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/Autism-Mercury/message/141661 for one example; search archives for the phrase "religious exemption" to find many more examples.