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The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine, Gardasil, is the subject of two bills in N.Y. State to make it mandatory for school kids. Concerned parents claim this would usurp their role: “Who knows best about my kid? Some stranger in the Department of Health or me?”

Before the measles vaccination program started in 1963, an estimated 3-4 million Americans got measles each year. Wide-spread use of the vaccine led to a 99% reduction. When outbreaks occurred in 2019 among unvaccinated children, exemptions from measles vaccination were reversed.

HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that causes a number of frequent cancers (cervical cancer, throat cancer, etc.). The HPV vaccine is the first-ever vaccine to prevent human cancer, a huge milestone in immunology and oncology.

It is important to vaccinate a high percentage of the population. This results in the ‘herd effect’: even the remaining few un-immunized are protected. Diseases like polio and smallpox hardly exist anymore due to mandatory vaccination programs.

However, we are now witnessing growing anti-science movements. Anti-science has been co-opted by politicians eager to take advantage of constituents’ fear. Examples of anti-science include evolution deniers, climate-change deniers, flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, even those that believe the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory can create black holes.

YouTube is where the Flat Earth movement started. Videos included international conferences and debates such as “Flat Earth vs. Scientists!” Flat-earthers are self-avowed conspiracy theorists, skeptics and apparently number 2% of Americans. NASA, they propose, was founded to keep the “big lie” under wraps with fake pictures from space, and indeed faked manned space shuttles. “Science has had its chance…” says Mark Sargent, a Flat Earth leader.

Is this harmless? Conspiracies, like the “climate change hoax” promulgated by Donald Trump, can be dangerous. It could accelerate climate change with truly catastrophic consequences.

Anti-vaxxers endanger us too. They recruit parents who are subjected to scary stories, like the autism scare (1997), when Dr. Andrew Wakefield suggested that the MMR vaccine led to autism. The paper was retracted due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts of interest, and ethical violations. Wakefield lost his medical license. Several other studies found no link between any vaccine and the likelihood of autism. Yet the anti-vaxxers claim there is a “lack of studies.”

The Gardisil mandate bill is not likely to be taken up by the NY State Legislature, let alone voted on. Pediatricians on Long Island strongly advise getting the vaccine. They don’t all think it should be mandated for school. Yet, stories of intimidation and even stalking of pediatricians by anti-vaxxers are real.

A retired science high school teacher thinks “They don’t want evolution taught in school. They don’t want vaccines. On Facebook, they say they aren’t putting that poison {vaccines} into their kids.” Not surprisingly there is a growing home-schooling movement.

In order to fear a disease, it needs to be real. You have to know someone who had it. There are very few people left alive with the paralysis of polio.

HPV causes cancer after many years. It is not an immediate threat. As it is related to sexual activity, there is a social stigma. Those afflicted often will not speak about it.

Most people have no primary care physician. They use urgent care facilities. They do not have a physician they trust to get answers about vaccines.

Vaccine manufacturers and the government could launch a PR campaign. But neither are trusted. It was different in the 1950s when the government, and Jonas Salk, supported by FDR (a victim of polio himself), were seen as heroes.

Online statements from flat-earthers and anti-vaxxers are clear: scientists are not to be trusted. And yet without medical science, we would not have antibiotics, cancer therapeutics, decreased infant mortality, organ transplants, immunotherapy for cancer, or vaccines! Vaccines prevented 10,000,000 deaths on this planet from 2010 – 2015 (WHO).

The progress of the last century or more is ours to lose.

David N. Posnett is a medical doctor with 40 years of research experience in immunology and oncology at Rockefeller University and Weill Cornell Medicine. He is a resident of Springs.


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