I’m pretty sure every graduation and motivational speech I’ve ever heard ended with the same message: one person can make a difference. I find that we often scoff at that sentiment. Writing this blog has become an outlet for me to share, and hopefully educate and motivate others to vaccinate themselves and their families, but in the world of vaccines I feel like a small blip on the radar. Am I really making a difference? Whether I am or not, this is a topic that I am passionate about and if only one person chooses to vaccinate because of my words, then I consider it to be a success. But how can one person make a difference on a larger scale? Does it really happen? Is it really even possible? Well I am here to tell you that it most certainly is. You may be expecting a positive story about a vaccine champion who helped save lives by encouraging communities to vaccinate, but this story is not one that has such a happy ending. In fact, the words of one man had quite the opposite effect.
If you follow the ongoing vaccine “saga” in this country, you probably know the name Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield, a former British surgeon and medical researcher, famous for his fraudulent and now discredited claim that there is a link between the administration of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the appearance of autism and bowel disease, is a prime example of one person making a “difference.” Unfortunately, the “difference” Wakefield made has left tragic repercussions not just in the U.S., but world-wide as low vaccination rates have brought about a reemergence of childhood diseases that had nearly been eradicated, endangering young lives in the process. Since the publication of Wakefield’s research in 1998, (which has since been retracted) no one has been able to replicate his data. In fact, the Autism Science Foundation says it best: “There is no data to support an autism vaccine link. There never has been. Vaccines don’t cause autism.” The Foundation goes on to reiterate that the research is very clear, providing the results of multiple study findings that show absolutely no link to autism.
Despite the loss of Andrew Wakefield’s medical license, repeated assurances from doctors that vaccines are safe, and scientific data that virtually eliminates any link between vaccines and autism, people are still afraid because of the words and actions of one man. Vaccines save lives, plain and simple, but it only took one person to cause a level of panic and fear that still exists more than a decade later, putting children at risk of developing vaccine-preventable diseases. Remember, one voice can make a difference. Make sure your voice is used to help save lives and promote the importance of vaccination.