In an interview with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta in Davos, Switzerland, Microsoft founder Bill Gates spoke about his goal of eradicating polio by 2012. Gates’ foundation has pledged $10 billion to provide vaccinations to children all over the world, over the next decade.
Especially notable was Gates’s response to Dr. Gupta’s mention of Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s discredited 1998 study claiming a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Said Gates:
Well, Dr. Wakefield has been shown to have used absolutely fraudulent data. He had a financial interest in some lawsuits, he created a fake paper, the journal allowed it to run. All the other studies were done, showed no connection whatsoever again and again and again. So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.
The past decade has seen something very sad indeed, the undermining of public understanding that, as Gates puts it so simply, ‘vaccines are important.’ Wakefield’s 1998 study set off what will go down in the history books as an international public health disaster. The British doctor’s claims of an autism-vaccine link were not based on science but were manufactured and, as sadly discovered, made while he was receiving payments from lawyers representing families pursuing anti-MMR lawsuits. The more one reads about this case, the more one sees how financial motives came to outweigh any regards for public health.
As Gates says at the end of the interview:
By and large, it [vaccination] is the one health intervention that can get to everyone. In fact, it is so simple, people often forget what a big deal this is. The 2 million people that would have died from smallpox now don’t think, “Wow, I’m alive today because of vaccinations,” but that’s the case.
Sadly, some individuals are not alive, or not as healthy, as they might be, because they did not receive vaccinations—because, on learning about Wakefield’s ‘study,’ so many parents began to doubt and fear what would happen if their child was immunized. Gates’s comments are one further step in a changing of the tide about public mistrust about vaccines. For the sake of our children and their health, let’s hope more people can speak out publicly about what vaccines do not do—cause autism—and what vaccines do—save lives.
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