by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
Don’t be stupid! Vaccinate—and Vote!
At last, a column that’s not about Trump (or so I hoped)!
What’s more galling? Misinformation; ignorance; plain old stupidity?
I just read that an herbalist was sentenced to jail, because a 13-year-old boy’s parents followed the herbalist’s advice that the treatment for their son’s brittle diabetes was herbs. You know how this ended. Instead of getting proper medical treatment, the child went into heart failure and died.
For over 300 years, Western society has been building a knowledge databank. The world is full of data, evidence, research, analysis, and facts. As a trauma surgeon, I’m an expert in critical- and acute-care surgery. I take my car to a catalytic converter expert; I rely on farmers to use their expertise on when is the best time to plant corn in the Midwest. I believe archeologists are experts on archeology.
Our whole society has evolved and grown based on the knowledge and expertise of experts.
Google is not an expert. Google does not discriminate very well between what is true and what is false. And as a result, there is a lot of misinformation that comes up in a Google search. Like falsehoods about vaccines.
For centuries, knowledge about the use and importance of vaccination has grown. We learned in high school science about the farmer who inoculated his wife and sons with cowpox from his cows—leading to the smallpox vaccine. It has some side effects, but it must be remembered that before the smallpox vaccine was developed, millions of people died from smallpox. It was a scourge, a plague. If you contracted smallpox, you had a 35% chance of dying.
Just over the past 60 years, millions of children have lived and thrived because of vaccines that inoculate us against measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chicken pox, and other scourges. It is estimated that over 33,000 children per year do not die because they’ve received vaccines; over 14 million hospitalizations have been prevented; the U.S. saves over $42 billion a year by adhering to our vaccination program.
But twenty-one years ago British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, that described eight children whose first symptoms of autism appeared approximately one month after they received a measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. Since then, the article has been debunked, Wakefield admitted that he falsified his research data, he lost his medical license, and his assertions about vaccines were proven false.
Yet two decades later, states and localities from Washington to New York to North Carolina are facing measles outbreaks unlike anything seen in ages. Why? Because some people get their “scientific” information about vaccination from a Google search—instead of actual, trained experts.
Which brings me to … Donald Trump
This past week, out of nowhere, President Trump tweeted out that wind farms cause cancer! He’s also hyped the vaccines-autism baloney, and once made a wacko claim that environmentally friendly lightbulbs are carcinogenic. Apparently his wind farm tweet was something he got from a Google search, or from one of his TV favorites.
This made no sense to me. It made even less sense than the week before, when he spent days bashing the late former Senator John McCain. In fact, President Trump showed unusual focus in his relentless attacks on the senator. Now, in retrospect, it’s clear that the personal pain and heartache Trump dished out at the McCain family was designed to distract us from the results of the Mueller investigation—which Trump was still calling “a witch-hunt.”
One definition of a witch-hunt is “a campaign directed against a person or group holding unorthodox or unpopular views.” I would add that witch-hunts are commonly thought of as a useless waste of time. But the Mueller investigation has been the opposite of a witch-hunt. He indicted 34 people and three corporations, proving that Trump has surrounded himself with a band of criminals. Please let me restate that… a band of criminals—Manafort, Gates, Flynn, Cohen, Stone, and more.
I have no idea what is in the Mueller report. Nobody else does, either, except Mueller and his team; William Barr; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. We don’t know if Mueller paints Trump as an innocent man or the boss of a criminal enterprise. What we do know is there is a long list of people who sat down with the FBI or other law enforcement officials and lied. This is extremely abnormal behavior. Most people are nervous and careful when they talk to the FBI. They don’t want to misspeak. Yet these guys misspoke and lied all the time.
The biggest question that I have is, Why did they lie? One of the most curious liars was General Michael Flynn. He was the president’s National Security Advisor. He was a highly decorated, respected general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Yet he lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
There is nothing illegal about a National Security Advisor meeting with the Russian ambassador. So why did he lie? What were they talking about? This is mind-boggling. This is exactly like me lying to my wife about talking to a nurse. I’m a doctor: I’m supposed to talk to nurses! If I’m lying, there must be more going on. The National Security Advisor is supposed to talk to foreign ambassadors; it’s part of his job; so why did Flynn lie? What else was going on?
George Papadopoulos is another curious case. He was a low-level campaign official, the kind of guy we never should have heard of. While in a pub, in England, he told a foreign professor with ties to the Russian government about stolen emails from the Hillary Clinton’s camp. This is before they were released by WikiLeaks. How the heck would this guy know anything? Was this just a drunk trying to pretend that he was more important than he was? I don’t know. I do know that he lied to investigators and went to jail.
I also know that folks are going to tell you not to worry, that everything is going to be all right (kinda like that old Bob Marley song). The Republicans would be happy for us to forget about the whole thing while they hand out tax cuts for the rich, slash worker protections, and force us to breathe toxic, polluted air.
But we need to worry. We need to stay engaged. Throughout our history, we have only moved this country forward when we have worried, fought, and marched for progress.
We need to make sure that Congress holds the powerful, including Trump, accountable. If laws were broken, the guilty need to be punished.
Hunting crooks, not witches
Fortunately, important investigations are also ongoing in the Southern District of New York. The state Attorney General is looking into the Trump Organization, Trump’s personal finances, his family’s investments, the Trump Foundation (already shut down but still under investigation), and more.
And there’s a major investigation into the Trump inaugural committee—which raked in more than a hundred million dollars but reported spending less than half of it. It was overseen by one of Melania’s pals, and nobody can explain where much of the money came from—possibly from foreign governments and political interests—or where half the money went.
These investigations haven’t ended with Mueller Report. Instead, it looks like it’s just the beginning.
Finally, elections matter. You are the only experts on who should govern our country two years from now. And you’re the expert on how to make sure that candidate wins. Vote!