John McCain starting to back away from vaccines?

28 Aug

I’m a bit hesitant to blog about political figures from other countries. I don’t know an awful lot about John McCain other than he was a Vietnam (I think) veteran and was a POW for awhile. I know the Bush team sledged him pretty badly in the run up to Bush’s current term and I know he tries hard to cultivate a old-fashioned-take-no-shit-youngster attitude. I neither like him nor dislike him.

However, back in February he did irritate me quite a lot when he said:

[Autism]….is on the rise amongst children, the question is what’s causing it. And we go back and forth and there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines.

It irritated me because firstly, there’s no evidence its ‘on the rise’ in the sense I think he meant it. There’s no way of scientifically telling from current studies if it is or not. In fact, the best science done so far on the issue (Shattuck, 2006) states:

The mean administrative prevalence of autism in US special education among children ages 6 to 11 in 1994 was only 0.6 per 1000, less than one-fifth of the lowest CDC estimate from Atlanta (based on surveillance data from 1996). Therefore, special education counts of children with autism in the early 1990s were dramatic underestimates of population prevalence and really had nowhere to go but up. This finding highlights the inappropriateness of using special education trends to make declarations about an epidemic of autism, as has been common in recent media and advocacy reports.

In other words, because autism has not been tracked well up until now, there is no way we can say with any degree of confidence that is increasing. It may be, but most scientists think that instead of an _increase in autism_ , we are seeing an increase in _accurate diagnosis_ of autism.

Secondly, McCain’s statement irritated me because, of course, there is _no_ evidence, strong or otherwise, that indicates autism is caused by preservatives in vaccines. And certainly McCain totally failed to provide any kind of evidence for this silly statement.

However, as election time draws nearer, it seems McCain’s statements are growing a bit more (he said with no trace of irony) conservative. Maybe someone explained the facts of life to him: after having someone of less than stellar brain power in office for the last eight years, it might be a good idea to evaluate things properly, rather than just sound off and come across as Dubya Part II.

Here’s what he said recently:

We don’t know what causes [autism]. There’s a huge debate going on now about vaccinations. And I’ve read and studied and gotten briefings, and I don’t know all the answers.

Thats quite a lot more circumspect than ‘there’s strong evidence that indicates that it’s got to do with a preservative in vaccines’. A simple statement of facts. After all, its true – we _don’t_ know what causes autism. And there _is_ a debate going on about vaccinations. And guess what? John McCain _doesn’t_ know all the answers.

I’m guessing McCain’s team have suggested to him that if he doesn’t want to be known as the also-ran who hyped up unfounded fears of vaccinations in the middle of a measles epidemic sweeping through the country he’s attempting to lead then it would be a good idea to engage his brain before opening his mouth.

2 Responses to “John McCain starting to back away from vaccines?”

  1. Another Voice August 30, 2008 at 02:56 #

    John McCain does have a very distinguished military record, he is highly decorated. He sent around five years as a POW. He was a pilot, his plane was shot down. In the crash he broke both arms and one leg, he was taken prisoner, never given medical attention but survived the beatings at the Hanoi Hilton and provided leadership and example to the other prisoners. While he is a fine man, from what I am hearing he has already lost the election. President Bush has positioned the Republican party at a very low point in popularity.

    Separating himself from comments regarding Autism may be the least of his worries; he needs to separate himself from the highest ranking member of the Republican party. I am hearing people say “I am too bushed to even think about voting Republican”; not a good omen for Senator McCain. Plus the other candidate, Senator Obama, is really good.

  2. Navi August 31, 2008 at 21:00 #

    it’s election season, autism is a buzzword, and candidates will talk out of their rear ends…

    politically, I had far more respect for him in 2000 than I do now…

    On the previous comment – polls show him and Obama neck & neck… so the jury’s still out on who will win in November

    All of that said, his comments don’t surprise me.

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