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‘Nurses have stood firm in the face of MMR hysteria’

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Different people believe in different things. Take dinosaurs, for example. Some people believe that millions of years ago dinosaurs existed. Others believe that the earth is only 4,000 years old and dinosaurs, along with fossils, geology and history, are some kind of plot to discredit Moses.

Just in case someone writes in to correct me, they also believe dinosaurs were dragons and sea monsters that were rendered extinct by the Great Flood. Not very good sea monsters then were they, if more sea somehow overwhelmed them? No amount of rain would get rid of a shark – put them in a car park and they would struggle – but a flood? Anyway, I’ll move on.

People can believe in what they want to, right? As long as their belief system doesn’t cause harm, what does it matter if they are creationist or Muslim or Jewish? Hell, they can start their own religion that believes in spaceships or talking sheep if they want to.

I have always felt that what people may or may not believe is less interesting than why they come to believe it.

Take the MMR vaccine. Ten years ago Dr Andrew Wakefield published – under the often-forgotten heading Early Report – a paper proposing a link between MMR and autism in The Lancet. It was published under that heading due to concerns of the peer reviewers about the research and was run alongside what was later described as a ‘brief but devastating critique’ by two US vaccine experts.

Dr Wakefield has since been accused of suppressing data and acting ‘dishonestly and irresponsibly’ by the General Medical Council. He may be struck off the register.

Yet, according to last week’s The Sunday Times, Dr Wakefield is being supported in establishing a clinic in Texas funded by some rich people including rubber-faced actor Jim Carrey.

To most people the MMR debate – like that over dinosaurs – is over. The MMR vaccine saves lives and there is no evidence of it doing harm. These are facts. If you call them something else, it is because you have a belief that is important to you and requires support. And that’s fine unless, as I mentioned, that belief does harm.

One of the surprising things we learnt from the MMR debacle was that a lot of people can be made to doubt facts quite easily.

For a while, villagers were lighting torches and running up the hill looking to destroy public health programmes.

As a community, we can be vulnerable to emotive, unfounded ideas. MMR is unsafe was an example. There may be others. In the main nursing can take pride in the fact that it stood firm in the face of hysteria last time. Long may that continue.

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe’s opinions? Just click the more by this author link at the top of the page.

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