You’ve probably seen that Bill Gates is leaving Microsoft to devote full time to the charity he and his wife, Melinda, has created. The foundation has done indisputably good works and – now that Gates pal Warren Buffett has chipped in his entire $50 billion fortune – intends to literally redouble its efforts.
One of those efforts is to create and promulgate vaccinations. This post is not about whether vaccinations are a good idea, the best way to fight diseases like malaria, the practicality of continuing to pour millions into the search for an AIDS vaccine – it’s not about any of that. The issue is: Given that the foundation sees mass vaccination as a direct route to better health outcomes for the world’s poor, the foundation (which now means Bill Gates himself) has an affirmative duty – a moral imperative – to make sure those vaccines are as safe as humanly possible.
To quote from a Reuters story on Thursday: “The 52-year-old, whose boyish looks seem at odds with his graying hair, will leave behind a life's work developing software to devote energy to finding new vaccines or to micro-finance projects in the developing world.”
I don’t need to know what kinds of vaccines they’re talking about – and how many will come in multi-dose vials preserved with thimerosal -- to know where the moral imperative is here: There are now so many questions about the safety of some vaccine and vaccine ingredients – particularly thimerosal, the fancy name for a big dollop of poisonous ethyl mercury – that a group with the power and reach of the Gates Foundation needs to make sure it’s doing no harm in its laudable effort to do good.
As recently as three or four months ago, the foundation might have gotten away with simply reciting the mantra that all available studies show no connection between vaccines and autism, vaccines and asthma, vaccines and … whatever. But along came Hannah Poling and the government’s concession that vaccines triggered autistic regression; then came Bernadine Healy, the former head of the NIH, to state that the science simply hasn’t been done to exonerate vaccines; and just last week, David Kirby wrote about the CDC’s Julie Gerberding and her multiple concurrences with the complaint that the CDC’s central vaccine safety study is, well, worthless.
At the moment there is NO good science, in other words, to reassure the Gates Foundation that its quest to save the world via vaccination is as safe as it might have thought. Now comes Bill Gates, at an opportune moment indeed, to devote full time to the foundation that bears his name and (along with the PC) will be his legacy. He ought to order a comprehensive look at the risks as well as the benefits of vaccines, and it ought to be his first order of business.
Because, you see, it’s a moral imperative. It’s also imperative that Warren Buffett weigh in on this. You can’t give away $50 billion without taking at least some interest in whether it’s doing more harm than good; that, too, is a moral imperative.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism