Jeni Barnett spent the best part of an hour earlier this year talking utter bilge about MMR on her LBC radio show. When Dr Ben Goldacre posted a clip of said bilge on Bad Science, LBC threatened to sue for copyright infringement.
In the current hysterical climate, where a comedian can be banned from the airwaves for three months for leaving crude answerphone messages to the grandfather of one of his conquests, or the daughter of an ex-Prime Minister can be sacked on the spot for a stupid comment made, off air, to a colleague, I am surprised that Barnett hasn’t come in for more stick.
This is a woman whose only medical qualification is “as a mother”, who monopolised the airwaves for a good three quarters of an hour telling her listeners that MMR gave children cancer, seizures, autism and would kill them; that it was cruel to give injections to a “tiny baby” and that the baby’s immune system was too weak for vaccinations. I wondered how many needles would have to be poked into the tiny baby if it got seriously ill and was taken to hospital. Quite a few, I suppose. Perhaps Barnett would be happy with that.
After reading this, I was tempted to quote some poetry, specifically the lines:
Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision
Like a sniper using bollocks for ammunition
Virtually every vaccination myth and outright lie I have ever heard, collated into a 45-minute segment on LBC Radio. LBC apparently has 852,000 ABC1 listeners who are apparently upmarket, intelligent and mature. In Greater London, uptake of the MMR vaccine has plummeted to close to 50%, way below the numbers needed for “herd immunity”. Because the measles vaccine isn’t 100% effective, a certain proportion of children must be immune in order to protect both those who cannot be vaccinated for whatever reason and those for whom the vaccine hasn’t worked. Whilst this figure can be partly attributed to children recently arrived in the UK from countries where the vaccine isn’t widely available, it is also due to upmarket, intelligent and mature parents who have fallen for the myth hook, line and sinker.
There is no evidence whatsoever that MMR causes autism. Yes, it has side effects and these can be serious. But these side effects are far, far rarer than the side effects of mumps (sterility), measles (1 in 300 will die) and rubella (serious consequences for the foetus if caught by a pregnant woman).
I am only a lay person who has looked at the evidence with as critical a mind as I can muster. There is no debate, there aren’t two sides of roughly equal power opposing one another. Rather, on one side we have the enormous bulk of evidence and the statistics that prove that vaccinations have saved lives and that they have transformed childhood. Even sixty or seventy years ago, the childhood illnesses that Barnett shrugs off so readily were literally deadly serious. Children were paralysed by polio and deafened or blinded by measles. Childhood was once a time of anxiety, pain and all too frequent loss. We don’t live in those times any more.
On the other side, we have a few people (and they are mercifully few, regardless of what they claim) who refuse to acknowledge any evidence which contradicts their view. Sadly these people tend to be upmarket, intelligent and mature adults who have access to the Internet and phone-in shows on LBC Radio, who shout down anyone who tries, gently or otherwise, to show them why and how they are not just wrong, but dangerously wrong.
I didn’t have vaccinations for measles, mumps or rubella, because I was allergic to something in the vaccines. At the time, herd immunity wasn’t high enough to protect me, so I had measles, mumps and rubella. Barnett may dismiss them as a natural part of childhood, but I beg to differ.
UPDATE: I hardly ever see Google Ads, so these made me giggle.
PPS: This scene is a thing of the past, mostly thanks to vaccination. It’s a ward in California full of iron lungs.