Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Haymaker For A Hay Maker

Few tales have humbled me as an elected politician more than the curious case of Leo Blair's MMR jab.

As we are reminded by the ever-excellent Dr Ben Goldacre in his book, Bad Science (accompanying his weekly column in The Grauniad and his blog) the MMR scare did not begin with Andrew Wakefield's study in The Lancet in 1998; it had just gotten going in 2001 when Tony and Cherie were asked whether baby Leo had had the jab. Somewhere between their refusal to confirm or deny and Sylvia and Carole Caplin's perceived influence and vocal opposition to MMR, 2002 was the year MMR leapt out of the hands of the science correspondents and into the grubby little protuberances of the columnists.

The results we all know about; reams of evidence showing no link between MMR and autism going ignored by meeja hors assuming smoke as proof of fire, while vaccination rates plummet and more and more children needlessly face death and disablement. Indeed, today brings us news that there are over 200 cases of measles in Wales at present, as average vaccination rates of just 82% (against the 95% herd immunity threshold) have allowed outbreaks to take hold from Llanelli to Llandudno.

I was therefore furious to read in yesterday's South Wales Echo that Neil McEvoy, Leader of the Plaid group on Cardiff Council and a Deputy Leader of the Council, is considering taking his daughter abroad to get the single mumps jab.

Now don't get me wrong, the decision is one for Neil and Neil alone and it's not the gross negligence that failing to immunise at all represents. But that argument swings both ways; if it's Neil's decision and Neil's decision alone, why the hell am I reading about it in the Echo? I mean, didn't using your children to make a political point pretty much go out of the window with John Selwyn Gummer?

But what's more, by endorsing all the anecdotal evidence (and how I wish Dogbert's pronunciations on that were available on YouTube) you reinforce the cycle of fear that's gotten us where we are already. That's not the act of a supposed leader of his community, particularly one whose community includes some of the poorest parts of Cardiff where parents can't even dream of taking their children abroad for vaccinations and where health levels are already appalling. It's also not the act of someone who shares with all of us the responsibility of acting as a corporate parent for looked after children.

I hope Neil's comments don't have that effect, not least because I can remember what it's like to be on the other side of the coin. I was born just too early to receive MMR and as a result, I got all three; rubella at six months, measles at one year and mumps as a six-year-old. Mumps, of course, I remember vividly, and let me tell you, it is by no means flu with a kick. And heck, I was the lucky one, recovering with no long-term damage. I have school friends who cannot say the same. I'd very much prefer it if my children did not end up in that position too.

1 comment:

Lyndon said...

I'm appalled at McAvoy's comments. My youngest child is four weeks old and will be unprotected against measles for another year. Irresponsible and moronically ignorant comments like this are putting his life at risk.

If councillors know absolutely f**k all about a subject, as McAvoy clearly does on this issue, they should keep their gobs shut.

As a Plaid supported I'm frankly disappointed, I'd expected better from the leader of the Cardiff party.