Friday, January 30, 2015
How can smart people be so dumb?
I've written about this topic before. Because my own kids are adults and I didn't watch "Oprah," I had been quietly oblivious regarding the entire anti-vaccination movement until I went to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My first clue that idiots existed who believed vaccinations were evil was having to walk through a crowd of protesters by the main entrance to the Clifton Road campus (the complex that usually shows up when the CDC is on the news; it's where the building housing the Director's office is located). Maybe on some level it had registered that there were people who thought the mercury compound in some vaccines caused autism, but I'd never realized how vocal they were -- or how wrong. By the time the idea that the thimerosal used as a stabilizing agent caused autism gained wide traction, the pharmaceutical industry had discontinued using it. To this day I'll hear or read someone ranting about the mercury in vaccines as though it's still being used when it was discontinued over a decade ago.
Anyway, the thing that has me baffled lately is how smart people can manage to be so dumb, so woefully and willfully ignorant. Because you know who's most likely to decide they don't want their kids vaccinated? It's the upper middle class college educated helicopter parents, the ones who freak out if the nanny screws up and gives the kid a non-organic celery stick. Yep, it's the same demographic as the people who protest the Keystone Pipeline and drive hybrid vehicles. They totally believe scientists when it comes to the topic of global climate change. But when it's their own kids and they're ask to protect them against diseases that still have crippling side effects and significant mortality rates? Suddenly they're doubters. When public health officials map the statistics for vaccination rates, the highest numbers of non-vaccinated kids always show up in the more affluent areas, the locations where the majority of the parents are supposedly well-educated. It's bizarre. The same people who freak out if their child gets a sugary snack at school are willing to take a chance on their kids contracting a disease with a 1% to 5% mortality rate.So far as I know, there haven't been any deaths associated with the Disneyland outbreak, but you don't have to be a statistician to recognize that as the number of infections goes up, so does the probability of someone dying.
When I was listening to NPR the other morning, a public health official from California mentioned that one thing they had to do was educate doctors in general on how to recognize measles. Because the disease has become so rare in the U.S., many family physicians have never seen a case. I think that's probably one of the major factors in the anti-vaccination movement, too. If you've never seen full-blown measles (or survived it), you have no clue just how nasty it is. Then again, I've never personally seen a lot of stuff, but I'm still willing to believe it exists. The stupid, it burns.