Jan 28th 2016

Zika, Vaccines and Climate Change: Convergence of Right and Left Extremism

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

"...... there is no evidence, none, zero, absolutely nothing, to link vaccinations with autism. It is a myth, a fallacy, factually incorrect."

"Vaccines save lives, millions of lives, and prevent untold suffering and misery."

"Opposing vaccines is foolhardy, dangerous, irresponsible...."

The GOP has evolved (ironically, a process they would deny) to be the proud political party of anti-intellectualism, harking back to the Dark Ages with a never-ending campaign against evolution, tired rants denying the reality of climate change, and a medieval understanding of human reproduction. But sadly this anti-science bent is not restricted to right wing ideologues, but instead has also infected the far left. While manifesting itself with symptoms in different areas of science, the underlying disease is the same on both extreme left and right: ignorance of the scientific method and the reliance on faith over fact.

In the case of liberals gone bad, vaccines offer the most prominent divergence from reality. The anti-vaccine movement gives us the clearest picture of how the far left and extreme right have become one stubborn bloc of boneheads impervious to the inconvenience of objective truth.

In a rather odd twist of fate, the anti-science rants from the right about climate change and the far left campaign against vaccines meet at a common point of ignorance about tropical disease. Consider two people circumnavigating the globe at the equator from the same starting point but moving in opposite directions; the two points furthest apart converge at the end where the journey began; so too here with anti-science zealotry on left and right: so far apart they merge together in a bond of extremism. Nowhere can this circle of delusion be seen better than with the emergence of the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that can cause devastating brain damage in newborns.

Brazil has seen about 4,000 such cases of microcephaly since October as a consequence of the rapid spread of Zika. U.S. officials warn us that this "once obscure virus" is spreading rapidly across Latin America and the Caribbean. So much so that the Center for Disease Control has issued a travel warning, urging pregnant women to avoid more than a dozen countries in which Zika can now be found. If you think you are safe here in North America, reconsider: the World Health Organization concludes that the Zika virus will spread to the United States. In North America alone, about 200 million people live in areas conducive to the transmission of the virus.

Why Zika now? As with the emergence of West Nile in the United States, we are witnessing the inevitable march north of tropical diseases as a direct result of a warming planet. The number of diseases coming our way, or already here, is as frightening as it is real. That climate change would impact the transmission of infectious and tropical diseases has long been predicted from the very first reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Those predictions are now our new reality.

So the GOP denies the indisputable truth of global warming as Zika moves north; and the far left denies the extraordinary benefits of vaccines, which would obviously include a vaccination against Zika (research is being done). Tell the mother of a child who could be saved with a vaccine that we should not develop one because vaccinations are harmful. What we have here is the perfect convergence of ignorance mixed with political extremism, wrapped together in a bundle of delusional wishful thinking.

Enough Already

Climate change is real and caused by human activity; consequently tropical maladies are moving north. Vaccines, ever more important with advancing diseases, have proven beyond any and all doubt to be extraordinarily efficacious. Vaccines are the most important, effective, and safest medical advance in all of human history. Vaccinations have led to the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of polio. Anytime you might have even a twinge of a thought against vaccinations, think of the millions of people who suffered terrible disability and death prior to the development of vaccines for these horrible diseases. And the millions of people now free from those scourges because of vaccines.

And no, making a personal decision to eschew vaccines is not benign. If enough people do not get vaccinated, the entire community may suffer because "community immunity" becomes jeopardized. When a critical number of people in a population are immunized, even those unable to get vaccinated, like infants, the elderly, pregnant women, or immunocompromised patients, gain protection from the spread of contagious disease. In some cases, if immunization drops below a certain percentage of coverage even those vaccinated are offered less protection. In 2000 measles was nearly eradicated in the United States; with a drop in immunization due to unjustified concerns about vaccines, the United States is witnessing this year the largest measles outbreak since 1996.

The deep, terrible irony of the anti-vaccination movement is that the incredible success of vaccines has caused the uninformed to forget how important, successful and safe vaccination programs are; and how vital vaccines are to preventing horrible diseases from reemerging. And reemerge they do, as measles has. Measles is highly contagious and spreads rapidly among the non-vaccinated. There is no treatment for measles, only prevention. Ignorance, false claims to expertise and scientific illiteracy are threatening our children's health.

These preventable outbreaks should remind us that every year vaccines save 3 million lives among children younger than five years old every year by preventing diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and measles; if adults are included, vaccines save up to 6 million lives annually. If you oppose vaccinations you are willfully condoning the death of an additional 3 million children every year. The Third Edition of the State of the World's Vaccines and Immunization reports that, "Between 2000 and 2007, the number of children dying from measles dropped by 74% worldwide, from an estimated 750,000 to an estimated 197,000 children. In addition, immunization prevents sickness as well as lifelong disability, including measles-related deafness, blindness, and mental disability."

The study also states that, "In 1988, polio was endemic in 125 countries and paralyzing an estimated 350,000 children every year (close to 1000 cases a day). By the end of 2007, polio had been eradicated in three of WHO's six regions - the Region of the Americas, the European Region, and the Western Pacific Region. Following implementation of the rubella elimination strategy in the Americas, the number of reported cases of rubella declined by 98% between 1998 and 2006. By 2000, 135 countries had eliminated neonatal tetanus and by 2004, annual deaths from neonatal tetanus had fallen to an estimated 128 000, down from 790,000 deaths in 1988."

If you oppose vaccinations, try to justify that position with the reality that in the absence of vaccinations polio would paralyze 10,000 children every year; German measles would cause birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 kids, and diphtheria would be a common cause of death in school children. Anytime you have an urge to oppose vaccination, think of your kid dying of diphtheria. If you oppose vaccinations, you willingly accept that 10,000 kids each year become paralyzed with no reason.

Fact vs. Fiction: How the Left Was Lost

Any Google search will show that the left has linked vaccines to autism. This bizarre claim comes from just one paper published in 1998 in the medical journa lLancet, subsequently withdrawn for suspicions of scientific fraud, and fully discredited by later study. Repeat after me: there is no evidence, none, zero, absolutely nothing, to link vaccinations with autism. It is a myth, a fallacy, factually incorrect. Yet tens of thousands of parents risk their children's health by withholding critical vaccinations. Many parents still to this day insist that vaccines cause autism, even in the complete absence of any evidence to support the claim with the withdrawal of the original paper. You might as well claim that vaccines cause baldness. I am bald, and I have had many vaccines, ergo...

No, no, I've got the perfect claim: vaccines are ineffective and dangerous but prevent global warming. In that we combine belief in something for which there is no evidence and disbelief in another other for which there is indisputable proof. Perfect.

Vaccines save lives, millions of lives, and prevent untold suffering and misery. Would anti-vacciners deny a pregnant woman a Zika vaccine? Vaccines are safe and effective, as proven by billions of doses given with no harm. The efficacy of vaccines is beyond dispute with the eradication of some of humankind's greatest scourges and the precipitous drop in diseases once common. Of course absolutely nothing is 100% safe and effective; sitting on your couch with a helmet does not guarantee an airplane tail won't fall through your roof and kill you. But the awesome, amazing benefits of vaccines vastly, incredibly, outrageously outweigh any potential risk.

Opposing vaccines is foolhardy, dangerous, irresponsible, and just plain ignorant. Much like right wing opposition to climate change. Right and let extremism converge.

Please, please, please stop this misguided and misinformed anti-vaccine campaign and the absurd denial of climate change. Just say Zika and West Nile if you get weak. If you want to oppose vaccines, go to an island, with plenty of high ground, with all others of your ilk and witness the devastation as preventable diseases ravage your population while waves erode your beaches with rising tides. But leave the rest of us rational people to the task of saving lives with the greatest medical advance ever seen in human history while we try to stop further warming of the planet.

Dr. Jeff Schweitzer is a marine biologist, consultant and internationally recognized authority in ethics, conservation and development. He is the author of five books including Calorie Wars: Fat, Fact and Fiction (July 2011), and A New Moral Code (2010). Dr. Schweitzer has spoken at numerous international conferences in Asia, Russia, Europe and the United States.Dr. Schweitzer's work is based on his desire to introduce a stronger set of ethics into American efforts to improve the human condition worldwide. He has been instrumental in designing programs that demonstrate how third world development and protecting our resources are compatible goals. His vision is to inspire a framework that ensures that humans can grow and prosper indefinitely in a healthy environment.Formerly, Dr. Schweitzer served as an Assistant Director for International Affairs in the Office of Science and Technology Policy under former President Clinton. Prior to that, Dr. Schweitzer served as the Chief Environmental Officer at the State Department's Agency for International Development. In that role, he founded the multi-agency International Cooperative Biodiversity Group Program, a U.S. Government that promoted conservation through rational economic use of natural resources.Dr. Schweitzer began his scientific career in the field of marine biology. He earned his Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He expanded his research at the Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Irvine. While at U.C. Irvine he was awarded the Science, Engineering and Diplomacy Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Dr. Schweitzer is a pilot and he founded and edited the Malibu Mirage, an aviation magazine dedicated to pilots flying these single-engine airplanes. He and his wife Sally are avid SCUBA divers and they travel widely to see new wildlife, never far from their roots as marine scientists..To learn more about Dr Schweitzer, visit his website at http://www.JeffSchweitzer.com.

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