Vaccination. A subject that has the conspiracy theorists frothing and ranting. And a subject which shows superbly what happens when pundits are confronted with a phenomenon which threatens to impact upon their lives, rather than one they can talk about in the abstract. That difference appears to have had a miraculous effect on Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips, writing in the Murdoch Times today.
“Anti-vaxxers threaten the Covid fightback … Public education, rather than compulsory inoculation, is the way to defeat epidemic irrationality”. We must look upon vaccination as A Very Good Thing. However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, those who have followed Ms Phillips’ past pronouncements on the subject may allow themselves a moment of surprise and relief: it was not always this way.
Melanie Phillips was very much on the other side of the fence when it came to the MMR jab and the behaviour of one Andrew Wakefield, who we can no longer call a doctor as he has been struck off. In the days when Ms Phillips was a Daily Mail pundit, she was very much in his corner, whether she knew what she was talking about or not.
In 2003, under the headline “MMR - The Truth”, readers were told “For three months, award-winning Mail writer Melanie Phillips has investigated the MMR controversy. Her findings, reveal how officials have concealed major evidence, how 'neutral' experts are paid by the drug firms and research that could prove the doubters right all along”.she doubled down. “MMR safe? Baloney. This is one scandal that's getting worse … Urgent questions about the vaccine's safety remain unanswered. The doctor who raised those questions is being subjected to what appears to be a witchhunt … we have clouds of obfuscation, an ignorant cacophony of catcalls - and an unresolved public health problem”.
In the Guardian, Ben Goldacre called her out for failing to understand the subject. So back she came: “I was attacked in these pages by Dr Ben Goldacre, who said I did not understand how science worked. On the contrary, it is Goldacre who is ignoring the evidence, and his errors go to the essence of the MMR controversy”. There was more.
“Like the government, Goldacre believes clinical findings are trumped by epidemiology, which he says is ‘evidence-based’ medicine. But the attempt to refute Wakefield by epidemiology is a category confusion”. What would Covid-19 be, other than an epidemic, the kind of thing where an understanding of epidemiology might prove useful?
But now that vaccination is the key to regaining some form of normality, there is a screeching U-Turn and Melanie Phillips declares it to be A Very Good Thing Indeed.
Which is one way of avoiding overrunning the buffer stops at Upminster. As it were.