An 8-month-old Pakistani girl has tested positive for polio in an area where militants have opposed vaccination, a World Health Organization official said. The infant, identified as Tanzila, is from Ali Gram in the Swat Valley, where Islamic fundamentalists have beaten polio vaccination teams and the last confirmed case of polio was in 2003, said Dr. Khalid Nawaz of the World Health Organization. Threats to health workers and fighting between government security forces and militants have disrupted vaccinations, he said.Tragic. Polio is a grainy black-and-white photograph in a grade school textbook, of a room full of children in iron lungs, with a caption to the effect of, "THERE NOW, BUT FOR SCIENCE AND ACTION THEREUPON." It isn't something that's supposed to be happening to 8-month-old Pakistani girls in the twenty-first century. Yet here we are.
And here, it seems, we'll continue to be. At least Pakistan has violence. What's our excuse?
Earlier in July, Orac had reported that measles were, after fourteen years, once again endemic to the United Kingdom. Now this week comes a report that measles cases in the United States are the highest they've been in more than a decade. And the blame rests squarely with pseudoscience.
Growing up, whereas polio was the stuff of history, measles were the stuff of pretend. Old cartoon characters caught measles. Kids in stories would paint little red dots on their faces and claim measles so they could stay home from school. Hell, that's all I knew about the symptoms of measles--little red dots--and I wasn't even sure about that. I guess there was fever? Did it make you cough and sneeze? Did the little red dots itch? We didn't know, because we never caught it. Measles were the perfect imaginary ailment: a real-life contagious disease that anyone could catch. . . but no one ever caught it.
I have vaccination to thank for that.
But now, antivaccinationist cults are undermining one of the greatest advances in preventative medicine since soap.
Of the 131 cases of measles reported by the CDC in the United States in the first seven months of this year, 122 were unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status. The high incidence of the unvaccinated is disturbing enough. But what really enrages me is the fact that at least nine cases were vaccinated against measles. Vaccination rates in those communities are low enough not only to permit sizable outbreaks, but low enough for the virus to overcome herd immunity.
Public health is truly a public matter. We are in this together. Those who fail to vaccinate aren't just putting themselves and theirs at risk; they're putting us and ours at risk.
Pseudoscience is a scourge wherever it's found, but seldom are its ill effects so immediate and obvious as in the realm of public health.
Vaccines are safe and effective. Anyone who says differently is either grievously misinformed or an Avatar of Woe. The antivax mouthpieces have no excuse; it won't be long before Jenny McCarthy and David Kirby have real blood on their hands.
Speaking thereof, the Huffington Post saw fit to publish the AP's measles article in the same section ("Living," ironically) where they give Kirby and other pseudoscientists a soapbox. If that's some attempt to make amends, it's far too little, too late.
My (soon to be) sister-in-law and her husband had a baby recently. They'll be getting him fully vaccinated. At least there's that.