A brief history of vaccines and anti-vax responses: the anti-vax movement

Published on April 3, 2022   33 min

A selection of talks on Vaccines

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This is the beginning of part 2 of our study of anti-vaccine movements over the years.
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This concern about infectious diseases slowly but progressively waned throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Pretty soon vaccines themselves, at the beginning of the 1970s, started to be regarded as a bigger threat of danger than infectious diseases themselves. We saw this in the 1970s and 80s with the fears and an anti-vaccine movement that emerged surrounding the DPT vaccine. DPT stands for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus which are three childhood diseases that are vaccine-preventable. A small study linked the DPT vaccine with neurological complications. These neurological complications today we would call autism, but at the time they were just known as neurological complications. A small study in the United Kingdom linked a high fever from the pertussis component, the whooping cough component, of the vaccine with the initiation of neurological complications or autism. What's known as reactogenicity, is the high fever that's caused by a vaccine, which is simply an indication that a vaccine is working. It's triggering the immune system as desired. But in some people, the perception that high fever was causing autism, was taken as a reality and as truth. This triggered waves of news stories around the world, and people started to link these neurological complications with the DPT vaccine. The problem with this is that the DPT vaccine is given multiple times through childhood and autism is identified through childhood, and people started to link those two things together. This was particularly exploited by Gordon Stewart, who was a vaccine sceptic, and he started to espouse the idea that the DPT vaccine caused what we would today call autism. The rates of DPT vaccination plummeted. One of the consequences of this was that the pertussis component that was causing this reactogenicity or these fevers was required to be diluted so that it didn't cause as severe of a fever. That wasn't enough to assuage the public to allow the DPT rates to increase. Instead, there was legal action taken throughout the world. In particular, there was a major trial that occurred in the United Kingdom in which both the anti-vaccine sceptics who were claiming the cause of neurological complications or again, what we would call autism, and those who were on the scientific and medical front that were advocating for the DPT vaccine, both had their day in court. In this case, quite literally. In a 500 page verdict, the judge concluded that there was no link between the DPT vaccine and neurological complications. Essentially, the DPT vaccine had been completely cleared of any concerns that it might cause autism.
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A brief history of vaccines and anti-vax responses: the anti-vax movement

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