Posted: September 15, 2017 at 8:49 am   /   by   /   comments (2)

If you really, truly believe something, and someone provides you with evidence that your belief is false, there’s a good chance your reaction will be angry, defensive, even slightly fearful. While your mind processes these emotions, your mouth will recite the reasons this new information is ludicrous, and slowly, you’ll begin to feel better.

It’s a natural physical reaction, not just reserved for the close-minded, but a well-established defence system put in place to keep our realities in order when faced with upheaval. It’s a wonderful quirk of our brain function that has been dubbed the backfire effect: try using facts to dispel a long-held belief and the believer will dig in irrationally.

It’s the reason a new, well-intentioned bill introduced to the Ontario legislature won’t work.

We have established by now that the fear of vaccines is misguided and dangerous. Misguided because much of the information that has parents protecting their kids from dangerous side effects is in fact misinformation. Vaccines, while they do have occasional mild side effects, are far safer than exposing kids and wider society to a potential outbreak of measles or other life-threatening viruses that the existence of vaccines has all but eradicated.

And the idea that vaccines cause autism has been so thoroughly refuted it’s hardly worth mentioning, but the anti-vaxxers (the name for groups of parents who fear the effect of vaccines on their children) maintain this argument. They’ve dug in.

The fact is, Andrew Wakefield, the former research scientist who made the link to autism, has since been charged with fraud for the research study he published which drew that connection. It was revealed to be a hoax, a dangerous one from which Wakefield would have personally profited. The Lancet, the medical journal that published his research, issued a retraction in 2010. Wakefield has since lost his medical licence.

Dangerous because of those effects: a rash of parents refusing to provide their children with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has led to outbreaks of measles across North America. It’s a nasty disease that could kill, especially immune-compromised children who can’t receive vaccines for medical reasons.

While Canada has stopped short of forcing parents to vaccinate their kids, there are some safeguards in place to prevent unvaccinated youngsters from exposure. Students can only attend classes in Ontario if they produce proof of immunization against certain diseases, with MMR on the list along with polio, whooping cough and tetanus.

But parents whose fears over autism and other vaccine myths run deep have an out: they can obtain a non-medical exemption, and continue allowing their kids in schools.

So Ontario’s Health and Long Term Care minister Dr. Eric Hoskins tabled a bill last week that would send anti-vaxxers to school to learn about the myths and facts surrounding vaccines before being allowed such an exemption. The trouble is, government pressure to vaccinate is part of the anti-vaxxer mythology. Being obliged to attend such sessions, it’s likely these parents will only dig their heels in deeper, causing Hoskins’ plan to backfire.

Comments (2)

  • September 18, 2017 at 11:11 am Wendy

    A child ingests a simple peanut and dies hours later and the conclusion from the medical community and masses at large is allergy induced anaphylaxis with no questions asked. …yet a child gets a vaccination and dies hours later and “crickets”….except for the parent demanding answers. …no one seems to blame the vaccine which has been injected directly into the child bypassing the natural immune process. … education is definitely warranted. …but to who….?

  • September 17, 2017 at 10:33 pm Rita Hoffman

    Amendments to the Immunization of School Pupils Act in Bill 87, adding “education sessions” for parents who wish to exempt their children from vaccination, passed in the Ontario legislature on May 30, 2017. The regulations were updated on September 1, 2017, to include the sessions and a new exemption form. The total number of tax dollars going to pay for these sessions remains to be seen.

    Regarding the claim that dangerous side effects attributed to vaccination are “misinformation”, one only has to read the manufacturers’ package insert for any vaccine to realize that there are, indeed, potentially dangerous side effects to all vaccinations. It is important for everyone undergoing this medical procedure to have informed consent, and it is wise to read these inserts prior to being vaccinated.

    Dr. Andrew Wakefield was never “charged with fraud for the research study he published.” There were 13 co-authors of the 1998 case study of 12 children with “chronic enterocolitis and regressive developmental disorder.” The study never stated that the MMR vaccine caused autism, and it urged further research. Wakefield may have crossed a line by suggesting at a press conference that single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella be used until it could be proved that the combination vaccine was not causing the distressing symptoms in increasing numbers of children. Wakefield and co-author Professor John Walker-Smith were found guilty of professional misconduct by the UK General Medical Council and they both lost their medical licenses. Walker-Smith was able to appeal the GMC’s decision against him, which was quashed in 2012 and his medical license was re-instated.

    Until science proves, without a shadow of a doubt, the cause of autism, vaccinations have to be included in the list of suspects.

    I do agree with the columnist’s opinion that education sessions will likely backfire, causing “these parents” to “dig their heels in deeper.”

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