In 1798, Edward Jenner, an English physician, published a small pamphlet that forever changed the course of medicine. The pamphlet described how vaccinations could prevent infectious diseases. But more than two centuries after his lifesaving breakthrough, which has sidelined some of the planet’s worst scourges, how is it that a leading physician at one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, a scion of a legendary American political family, and the U.S. president-elect all can raise public doubts — without basis in science or evidence — about modern inoculations and their demonstrable health benefit?
Vaccines, to be sure, carry risks. So do all medical treatments. Some proponents may overstate their effectiveness. Their harms and benefits have been studied extensively by credible experts, and that research continues. It’s published and available, often online for free. What’s beyond issue is that vaccinations protect the public health, and the evidence for their widespread, consistent, and sustained use is beyond debate. For inoculations to reach their maximum effectiveness, it’s vital, of course, that more not less of us get them to build and maintain “herd immunity.”
We’re almost two decades past the fraud, refutation, and retraction of a rotten medical journal article that utterly misrepresented scientific research about some vaccines. Its harms live on, including when its fabulist views find echoes in a Cleveland newspaper blog post by an M.D. at the notable Cleveland Clinic, or when the incoming leader of the free world engages in another of his dumpster-fire quality meetings with Robert F. Kennedy Jr., both disputing later as to whether it will result in a new presidential panel reexamining vaccinations. The Washington Post underscores that such a panel already exists, and, by the way, Stat, the online health information site, has provided a short, informative look at how the president can affect vaccinations.
I certainly see in my practice the huge harms that bad medicine can inflict on patients, including babies and children. But, as I’ve written, we’re seeing outbreaks of mumps, measles, whooping cough, and other diseases, and this is simply unacceptable because these illnesses are preventable with a quick jab, as the Brits call vaccine shots. No parents should be sentenced to sit bedside and see their children suffer great discomfort, disfigurement, disability, and even death that infectious diseases can wreak on us all, if we, out of fairy tale belief, throw ourselves back to the 18th century or earlier and discard or discount effective vaccination.