As a scientist, I am driven by statistics. My job involves studying large datasets, such as those of medical trends. It’s a vocation that encourages my biases and biases. My bias is negative; it has a tendency to scan for evidence of things not being right. In my work I expect to find evidence that contradicts settled hypotheses. Evidence is key to my job, just as it is important to the work of a journalist – and, as people who write for a living are ever aware, there are limits to what information we can give that is actually true. Yet I struggle to understand how someone can fail to see that the compelling data, compiled by regulators and others, all point towards the very real dangers posed by a virus that is causing 30,000 deaths each year worldwide. It’s a disease that kills 90% of people with it. “There are no vaccines for measles,” says Bruce Arthur in what may be his final column for the Toronto Star. You have to wonder how far he’ll take his fight before bringing it to his newspaper. On Monday his final, vituperative column, published in the Toronto Star, left this childless 32-year-old relatively convinced his daughters are too old to be vaccinated. “I’m certain one day,” he writes, “they’ll join a new cohort of children in a world turned upside down by the measles outbreak that’s hit Toronto the hardest and where, for two-thirds of the families, a death would be the worst outcome, not just because they might be the only one who survived, but because the odds are against them.”
It is undeniably true that a group of parents is leaving their children vulnerable, though most groups have their members who just don’t want to vaccinate. But I disagree with Bruce on one key point: the killer disease in question is measles, not the mumps. They’re a cross-pollination of sorts, but they cause different types of death and different types of disabilities. Bruce has to acknowledge that, but he never brings up the issue. Even worse, he calls vaccines a social evil. He writes, “Imagine what it must be like for a mother who’ll never see the inside of a hospital again.” I’m very interested in what the mother thinks, Bruce, but that isn’t all it’s like. One of the parents who was the subject of that column had to take a job in the US, because the immunisation and the fear in the community had gotten so bad. It was made even worse because Canada was left out of the recent international movement to require vaccination for Canadians travelling outside our borders. Bruce complained about the parents to the Ottawa Citizen, saying he was astonished that the government would do this to people. From the outside looking in, I’m with Bruce: people should have to get government permission to decide whether they want to vaccinate their children. But the wider population needs to understand the odds of an unvaccinated child suffering death are exceptionally high. After all, if you’ve had measles in the past five years, you’re about one in seven million. If you’re unlucky enough to be immunised and contract the virus, you’ll have a tough time getting it again. But if you miss that protection, your chances of getting measles is one in 12 million. You’ll be lucky if you have a shot once a year. If you do your duty, you’ve done your best, Bruce, and don’t need to be doing this to you. The thing is, for some people, it may not be possible to do your best. On the day Bruce’s column was published, a couple’s 18-month-old daughter died after contracting measles in India. The last thing in the world they would have wanted was to keep their child from going to school, but because the parents neglected to get her immunised, they left her to starve to death. No parent wants to deal with that, Bruce, but know your duty as a journalist is to the reader.
Copyright: Project Syndicate