As an encapsulation of all the things that are wrong with WDDTY, its relentless barrage of polio and polio vaccine disinformation spanning over two decades is a superb study in how to be wrong, and remain wrong in the face of new data.
Cranks and charlatans are accorded equal time with “experts” who aren’t, but whose past employment allows them to be presented as brave whistleblowers. The authority of an anti-vaxer is never questioned. The authority of a scientist defending vaccines is never admitted. Studies showing that vaccination works are presented as evidence that it doesn’t, and that it causes damage. Honesty about the risks of vaccines, openly published, is presented as if it has had to be wrung from the hands of a reluctant establishment.
WDDTY are “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine”. And here we see that this agenda takes precedence over concern for one of the most dreaded of all vaccine-preventable diseases.
Poliomyelitis (polio) is an infectious disease which can cause paralysis and death. In the past, outbreaks have seen thousands paralysed or killed. Images of wards full of positive pressure ventilators – iron lungs – are a vivid testament to the seriousness of this disease. In the 1950s a vaccine was developed. Intense political pressure led to this being released before the processes were fully standardised, leading in turn to the “Cutter incident”, probably the worst vaccine damage incident ever. 120,000 inadequately inactivated doses were released, leading to 169 cases of paralysis and 10 deaths. For comparison, the 1952 polio epidemic had nearly 58,000 cases leading to 21,269 cases of paralysis and 3,145 deaths.
Polio has no natural non-primate reservoir. Like smallpox, it is eradicable. A determined effort beginning in 1988 has seen incidence reduce by 99% and the number of countries with endemic polio drop form 125 to just three, but every population in the world is still at risk until the disease is eradicated. The biggest threat to this effort is from anti-vaccinationists and the lies they propagate.
WDDTY is, to quote Ben Goldacre, “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine“, even to the point of inventing deaths from a non-existent vaccine, so it’s no surprise that they are at the forefront of the campaign to keep polio alive.
The tools of the anti-vaccinationist are the staples of so much propaganda: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD).
Fear: Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!
Few things give WDDTY more pleasure than portentous statements about risk, especially when they don’t have to quantify the relative risk of disease versus vaccine.