Ok, slight diversion before I get to why I think there are more anti-vaxxers on the left.
Back in 2006, I went to the first YearlyKos event. I was a latecomer to the whole DailyKos… thing… but my particular concerns had to do with the Iraq War and its immense costs and the attacks on Social Security, and women’s and GLBT rights. Plus, people around me were going mad, MAD!, I say! More and more right leaning people began to lean more and more right. They were getting religious, self-righteous, judgmental. They took it upon themselves to police social activities, making sure everyone stuck to a unnerving and suffocating conservative viewpoint. These pod people were everywhere in the suburbs and it was difficult to find people who were more rational, less militaristic and willing to think for themselves.
So, I went to YearlyKos I because I thought I had finally met my cohort. I’m pretty sure we were love bombed there by the media, the organizers and the politicians. (If you were there, tell me what you think in the comments) We love bombed each other as well. We went home thinking we were the smartest, most enlightened people on the planet and no one else in the world was as savvy as we were. That all changed at YearlyKos II in 2007 for me. As I sat in that convention hall in Chicago watching John Edwards film-flam the crowd like PT Barnum and watching the people around me falling for it lock, stock and barrel, I felt that familiar tinge of alienation.Yep, the left can get suckered in just like the right if you use the right words. The next morning at breakfast, my membership in the corporate R&D industry made me no longer welcome. But that was OK in a way because the last thing I wanted was to spend too much time with yet another group of people who could be flattered into losing their minds.
Yesterday, as I read some of the comments on the NYTimes article on anti-vaxxers reaction to the measles epidemic, I was struck by how many commenters were identifying anti-vaxxers with the left. I guess the left is starting to lose its shine as being the people most likely to spot a con when they see it. Some of these commenters made the link to anti-vax attitudes and the lack of trust in pharmaceuticals in general. I think I touched on that yesterday from the perspective of “physician, heal thyself”. Big Pharma has to clean up its act as a greedy, irresponsible purveyor of things that make you sicker. Except, drugs can actually make you well. I know and the pharma industry knows that it’s one of the best regulated industries in America. Of course, it won’t stay that way if the FDA isn’t kept in tip-top shape. Maybe we can take that up with the Republicans running the government right now. If the FDA ability to function effectively goes sharply down hill in the next two years, you can blame it on them. But I digress.
Big Pharma shares only part of the blame. The other part of the blame is caused by the class action industry. There has never been a side effect that they didn’t love. The class action industry has been responsible for many drugs being pulled from the market. Maybe you think that’s a good thing. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But there have been some medications that have had profound quality of life benefits for patients that are no longer available because the class action industry has made it sound like every time a patient takes them, they’re risking heart attacks or cancer. We saw the front page banner headlines and those of us who can actually evaluate risk were shocked by how badly information was interpreted and distorted. Sometimes, this is in the pursuit of a story, sometimes, it’s in pursuit of monetary award.
It is worth noting that Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who discovered the fictitious link between the MMR vaccine and autism, wrote his infamous, retracted paper at the behest of class action lawyers who were hoping to cash in big when terrified parents sued vaccine manufacturers. Says BMJ author Brian Deer, a journalist hired to investigate the Wakefield claim:
Deer said Wakefield “chiseled” the data before him, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.”
To head off suits like these, the number of ADME/T models that groups like mine had to create and run to try to weed out bad early stage drug candidates grew enormously over the past two decades. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, although, as I said the other day, the models have their limitations. And there were many times I saw promising projects killed because the animal model had a borderline liver assay or some other anomaly. Ok, fine, cancel the project early so that no harm comes to anyone down the line and the company doesn’t lose billions in lawsuits.
But the publicity surrounding these suits can make the general public think that the industry is putting out dangerous products. And the legal industry has an interest in keeping that fear going. It suits them very well, thank you very much.
It would be naive for the people on the left to think that the interest groups on their side don’t use fear, uncertainty and dread to get what they want- just like interest groups on the right. I’m all in favor of regulation but I am not in favor of using fear of harm as a bludgeon to reach into what are considered “deep pockets” whenever a drug interaction isn’t perfect.
That fear, uncertainty and dread has been reaching a crescendo for a couple of decades now. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to get drugs approved by the FDA. That’s part of the reason why so many of us are out of work right now. The block buster drugs discovered in the late 80’s and 90’s went off patent and couldn’t be replaced by newer drugs. The FDA insisted on an ever higher number of safety profiles and drug companies became skittish when the drugs that did get approved were quickly taken off the market for adverse reactions. It has crippled the industry, caused the price of drugs to soar and driven up the fear levels in people on the left who were influenced by the Ralph Nader crusaders.
I’m not going to say that there haven’t been imperfect drugs. But the idea that every adverse interaction is a result of negligence or malice is deliberately misleading and is now getting into the heads of people who can’t evaluate risk. Couple this with the helicopter parenting frenzy that makes every mother personally responsible for any harm that happens to a child once the umbilical cord is cut and you have a perfect storm for anti-vax activity.
Your status as a parent depends on the lengths to which you will go to protect your child- from everything. You don’t let them out of your sight for a moment, don’t let them ride their bikes to school, don’t let them eat anything with sugar, and you don’t put vaccines in their bodies that were manufactured by the sleazy, careless drug lords. It’s a competition of sorts, as any mother in the suburbs will tell you. How far will you go to protect your child from harm? Is it enough to keep vaccines out of their blood stream? Is anything good enough, protective enough, safe enough??
Parents are going to be naturally untrustworthy these days. You can get arrested for letting your kid play outside by herself. Now, add to that the fear of science and medicine that has been planted by the advocates of the class action industry that everything that goes into your body is designed to kill you for excess profit. Measles are just the tip of the iceberg.