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Carol Anne Costa: Measles, Megaphones and Morons

Thursday, February 05, 2015


Nearly a decade ago, in my view, two of the key people responsible for reigniting, in a big way, a hysteria on the dangers of vaccines were none other than the tag team duo of Don and Deirdre Imus. And, let me add, they had a huge megaphone and used it mightily to set off alarm bells for every new parent within the sound of their voices. The cries of, "Thimerosal, mercury, poison, vaccines, autism...bad, bad, bad”  littered so many of the morning's airwaves, my attention too, was captured and shook my previously held immunization understandings to the core. After all, I had infants and toddlers in my life; “whoa, this is scary stuff”, I thought. “Could this be real?”  I am quite certain I am not the only one who contemplated this doom and gloom on the drive to work. The panic crept out over more and more media outlets, as well as the emerging internet. The horror stories were everywhere, a mere Google search and click away. Did I mention social media was just ramping up? The alarm seeped into the world like a properly delivered injection, and the reaction noise was loud and getting louder - trumpeted by folks with access to media megaphones, as they pleaded to the public " Danger Will Robinson."  But, we know now they were wrong, as real science and medicine wrestled the bad message to the ground. Yet, the folks who wrestled the bad science from the debate did not and could not combat the loud celebrity sirens still resonating in the ears of the public. After all, they were just boring doctors and researchers, a far cry from the "American Idol" and reality TV stars who have direct impact on a great segment of the populous.  Quick question: How many times have you watched a kidnapping drama when at the point of reasoning with a perpetrator thought, “why did they give the bullhorn to that jackass?” Let’s be honest so much of this panic found its beginnings on a radio show run amuck, which should have been called “anxiety in the morning.”   


Doctor no more, Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study published in The Lancet , a pretigous Brittish medical journal, which revealed a link between vaccinations and autism was the pastor for the cause and his disciples carried the fear forward with zeal. His study tracked the immunizations and reactions of 12 children and linked vaccinations with autism to the absolute terror of parents everywhere. The frightening part of this push was, at the time, Wakefield was heralded by many self proclaimed experts and they sounded just credible enough to scare the hell out of people and they did. The study and subsequent media attention began a snowball effect of declining vaccination rates and created the groundswell of anti vaxxers who sounded their whistles, and invoked what we know now, was quackery and moronic science, put forth by a debunked fool, as his research is now described as fraudulent. 

Although the study was subsequently debunked by science and medicine, unpublished byThe Lancet and Wakefield's medical license suspended the crusade continued and Don and Deirdre were not alone. The Thiomersal fright, perpetuated by troop of famous anti vaxxers grew and grew. And, we all know what is in the antivaxxer quiver; the power of appearances, traditional media access and millions of social media followers, so their ideas get injected directly into the public debate, again as their celebrity status brings false credibility. The red carpet anti vaxxers include: Alicia Silverstone of Clueless, Jim Carrey of Dumb and Dumber, the not so grown up, Rob Schneider, The Donald, Jenny McCarthey and the pièce de résistance, Charlie Sheen. Another quick question, If The Donald had stock in Thiomersal would he be on this list?” hmmm. 

We live in a celebrity society which contains many pitfalls and this “don’t poison your kids movement” is a big one. These people used quack science to describe the link between mercury preservatives in vaccines and autism in order to scare people into their anti vaccination nation.  And, worse, they used celebrity and media access to shout it to the hills. Anyone up for a trip to Disneyland? If I close my eyes I can picture Walt Disney creating the ride of your life and at the end you're dumped into a vaccination clinic. Oh, I know, it would be called “Ring Around the Rosie.” Tag line, “It’s all fun and games til somebody dies.”  

Freedom, Fame and Foolishness

The contentions, held up by the anti vaxxers as a battle cry for freedom and parental choice got traction. And, we are paying for that traction today, as measles a sneaky and dreadful disease makes a deadly comeback. Even though, we as a society virtually eradicated the highly-contagious respiratory infection, the gains against the disease are being swallowed up  each day, with every unvaccinated child romping through Disneyland and sitting next to your child in school.

Our herd immunity is being culled and we are all at risk. Herd immunity is the way even those who are too young for the vaccination, allergic to the vaccine or those who have suppressed defense systems and are precluded from taking the vaccine remain safe. You know, that pesky science...  

Moving Backwards

So we sit here in 2015 in the dubious position of 20 steps forward and 100 steps back with so much damage done, as we have an official outbreak. Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Whooping Cough, Polio, Meningitis, DPT immunizations among others are all wonders of modern medicine which have drastically reduced infant mortality and serious illness in our society. These diseases know no political affiliation, race, gender, religion they simply wait to attack the human body.

Modern medicine and science have given us the tools to combat these dreaded diseases, as well as smart people dedicated to the study and practice of medicine and science. The CDC has an updated list of vaccine ingredients available online, the compostions of the vaccines are accessable for parental reasearch, you know, compilied by scientists.  The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has a vaccination trivia game

to improve understanding of the immunization process. It is rather sad when the people who are charged with the task of diagnosis, prognosis, research and hands on medicine are background noise. Wake up, listen to the real stars of medicine and let us keep our vaccinations top notch in the Northeast. Dont be afraid to tell the actors to act, comedians to make us laugh, the politicians to govern and the Donald to do whatever it is he does, listen to the science and tune out the noise. 

Talk to the the doctors, researchers and scientists, ask them, press them; believe me, they want your questions. Celebrities and pandering politicians belong nowhere near this conversation. The measles are back and although we don't know patient zero, we do know that the people who sounded the alarms based on stupidity not science are morons with megaphones. To them I say, “Just shut up.” 

Carol Anne Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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