Bill Gates: Anti-vaccine myths ‘kill children’

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

March 18th, 2011

Gary Finnegan
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‘Multimillionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has opened fire on all who pedal “lies” about vaccines. The world’s most influential humanitarian says a fraudulent research paper written by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 has indirectly “killed thousands of kids” by discouraging parents from immunising their children against preventable diseases. In a no-holds-barred interview on CNN at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Gates said billions of dollars will be invested in vaccinating children around the world but expressed deep frustration at the work of anti-vaccination groups which seek to undermine this effort.’

Gates_reut_042507Multimillionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has opened fire on all who pedal “lies” about vaccines.

The world’s most influential humanitarian says a fraudulent research paper written by Dr Andrew Wakefield in 1998 has indirectly “killed thousands of kids” by discouraging parents from immunising their children against preventable diseases.

In a no-holds-barred interview on CNN at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Gates said billions of dollars will be invested in vaccinating children around the world but expressed deep frustration at the work of anti-vaccination groups which seek to undermine this effort.

Modern anti-vaccine sentiment is rooted in the publication of a single discredited research paper, according to the Microsoft founder, who is donating $10 billion through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He said its author, Dr Andrew Wakefield, was compromised by “financial interests in some lawsuits” and no other researcher supports the purported link between vaccines and autism.

Gates noted that The Lancet, which had published Wakefield’s research had since retracted the paper and he pointed to a recent investigation by the British Medical Journal which claims that Wakefield had “manufactured data”. (Part two of the BMJ series reveals how the vaccine crisis was designed to make money.)

Gates attacks Wakefield

In an unflinching attack, Gates said that all other studies have shown “no connection whatsoever” between vaccines and autism:

Dr. [Andrew] Wakefield has been shown to have used absolutely fraudulent data. He had a financial interest in some lawsuits, he created a fake paper, the journal allowed it to run. All the other studies were done, showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.

He went on to herald the success of vaccination in eradicating smallpox and curbing polio deaths, and promised that more diseases could be wiped out in the coming decade:

Over this decade, we believe unbelievable progress can be made, in both inventing new vaccines and making sure they get out to all the children who need them. We could cut the number of children who die every year from about 9 million to half of that, if we have success on it. We have to do three things in parallel: Eradicate the few that fit that profile — ringworm and polio; get the coverage up for the vaccines we have; and then invent the vaccines — and we only need about six or seven more — and then you would have all the tools to reduce childhood death, reduce population growth, and everything — the stability, the environment — benefits from that.

Gates said simple interventions can saves lives, reduce suffering and help more of the world’s poorest people reach their full potential:

There was a survey recently that showed half the kids in Africa, because of infectious disease, have IQs of 80 or lower. That’s cerebral malaria, that’s malnutrition because their brain doesn’t fully develop. And if you want them to be stable and on their own, you have got to make sure that terrible sickness, that permanently hurts them their entire life, is not there.

By and large, it is the one health intervention that can get to everyone. In fact, it is so simple, people often forget what a big deal this is. The 2 million people that would have died from smallpox now don’t think, “Wow, I’m alive today because of vaccinations,” but that’s the case.

Reaction to Gates’ comments

Bill Gates’ comments will be welcomed by the vast majority of scientists and public health officials for whom Wakefield’s paper has been a source of major frustration. A number of autism advocates also hailed Gates’ for showing leadership on the issue.

But his views met with a defiant reaction from anti-vaccine commentators. Anne Daschel, Media Editor at the Age of Autism, a website for people who believe autism is caused by environmental factors, said CNN had used up Gates’ comments as a fresh excuse to attack Dr Wakefield.

It’s not going to work however. Thousands and thousands of parents everywhere will never stop talking about how their normally developing, healthy children went in for routine vaccinations and suddenly got sick with things like seizures, bowel disease, and life-threatening allergies. They stopped talking and lost learned skills and were eventually diagnosed with autism. Doctors call it a coincidence. They can’t explain what happened to these children. The only thing they’re sure of is that it’s not connected to the ever-expanding vaccine schedule.

Daschel called for a study comparing the autism rate in children who are fully vaccinated with children who have never been immunised – a long-standing demand which critics say would be unethical. She criticised CNN medical editor Dr Sanjay Gupta who conducted the interview. Gupta, she says, seemed open-minded on the vaccines-autism link during a 2008 interview with the parent of an autistic girl.

Public opinion catching up with science?

Gates’ public intervention may be a sign that the tide of public opinion is beginning to turn definitively against the vaccine-autism link. The scientific argument was settled long ago but the meme has proven resistant to even the largest doses of evidence. (See Seth Mnookin’s new book The Panic Virus: Fear, Myth and the Vaccination Debate.)

An article in the Independent takes Gates’ point further: people who do not vaccinate “endanger the rest of us”. The author, Amity Shlaes, says that well-to-do parents who decide not to vaccine their children are not just putting other people’s children at risk but also increase the chances of vulnerable people – like cancer patients – of picking up an infectious disease.

Dr Heidi Larson, an expert in public trust in science (who has received Gates Foundation funding) told Vaccines Today in an interview that restoring faith in vaccines will be a slow process based on communication. She called for leaders to put their heads above the parapet and advocate for vaccines as forcefully as anti-vaccine campaigners. Perhaps Gates has been listening…

Check out The Gates Foundation animation ‘Vaccines Saves Lives’

Comments

  1. Debbie Fornefeld

    Debbie Fornefeld

    December 5th, 2011

    My autistic son is 25 years old. God bless Mr. Gates for all he has done and all that he continues to do. He can educate the mainstream, but those parents with autistic children who’ve been fooled into believing that vaccines were the cause may never be enlightened. If you’ve ever been tempted to think that ignorance is bliss, this should be all the evidence you need to prove it is just not true.