Thursday, May 26, 2005

Bugs, Blair and Balls

In Britain there is something of a fuss over MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccinations, with the uptake rate now perhaps as low as 72%. When I was a child, to the best of my understanding, basically everyone had the MMR vaccination - it was just a completely normal thing. Now, however, Britain risks measles and mumps epidemics because significant numbers of parents are refusing to have their babies vaccinated.

The reason for this appears to be the existence of a couple of "studies", linking the MMR vaccine in one case to Crohn's disease, and in another to autism. The results of the first (and quite old) study have since been ruled out by later, better research, and the second study was, well, shoddy. The Fins have since completed a very large and comprehensive piece of work that finds no such problems with the vaccine.

Nevertheless, people are stubborn and ill informed and (something about this sounds awfully familiar) large numbers of them are prepared to risk their children, and those of others, to serious diseases, because of this ignorance. It doesn't help that the leader of the nation (again, something is ringing a bell here) is one of those helping perpetuate the nonsense. Yes, that's right, Tony Blair has decided it's OK to expose his precious little cherub to these old-school infections. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised, given what Iraq has taught us about Tony's opinions regarding standards of evidence.

There is a short and funny piece about this by Ben Goldacre in the Bad Science section of today's Guardian. It's partly funny because I don't recall ever seeing someone use the word "balls" in a U.S. newspaper. Maybe it's because so few U.S. news sources have any. Here's a snippet (with apologies to my humanities-graduate friends (including my wife) who don't fall under this statement)
"Because, sadly, the natural world does not quite share my sense of retributive justice, nor does the paramyxovirus that causes mumps. If it were infecting only the innocent unvaccinated offspring of humanities graduates with no understanding of risk, I'd pretend to be sad on their behalf. But no. There were 8,104 cases of mumps confirmed in the UK last year, up from a combined total of 3,907 for all the previous five years, chart fans.

But mumps cases last year were predominantly in young adults, because young adults as a herd have the lowest immunity. And one in five young men who get mumps can expect orchitis, a new joy for fans of infected and inflamed testicles. If your balls hurt and you're infertile, you might wish to thank, for their peculiar interpretation and eulogising on the dangers of MMR: Andrew Wakefield, Nigella Lawson, Libby Purves, Suzanne Moore, Lynda Lee-Potter, The Daily Mail, Leo Blair's tight-lipped parents, and, let's be fair, every single national newspaper."
Makes you cross your legs just reading it.
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