Vaccines and the ‘Trump effect’

 

Sir, – “In an age when information is readily available, it can be difficult to interpret what material is trustworthy and what facts can be distorted” (Aoibhinn Ní­ Shúilleabháin, “Citizens, ask not what science can do for you”, February 23rd). These words should be heeded when we read the musings of US president Donald Trump on the possible correlation between childhood vaccinations and the development of autism. Dr Muiris Houston (February 21st) quotes a tweet of his: “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases.”

Such a claim has been discredited and one of its major promoters Andrew Wakefield, has been struck off the medical register in Britain. Prof Kingston Mills, a distinguished immunologist of Trinity College Dublin, warned of the possible “Trump effect” of his claims as reported in your editorial (February 20th).

This false claim about vaccines could easily influence Trump’s supporters who, like many of us, may not be in a position to check primary sources. Something such as this happened in 2003. The World Health Organisation Global Polio Eradication Initiative was well under way in Nigeria when political and religious leaders in Kano, Zamfara and Kaduna states brought the vaccination campaign to a halt by advising patients not to allow their children to be immunised, suggesting the vaccines were contaminated by antifertility agents, HIV and cancerous agents.

The effects were dreadful, with a resurgence of polio and a ripple effect on to other countries as far apart as Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump could easily cause a huge public health problem because many diseases are kept in control nowadays by “herd immunity”, an adequate number of the population being immunised. With air travel, the agents of disease can be rapidly spread globally. – Yours, etc,

MARY HENRY, MD

Dublin 4.