Yes, You Should Get Your Child the HPV Vaccine

The following is a Facebook response I crafted to a woman who was opposed to the HPV vaccine because she felt that the risks of the vaccine did not outweigh the benefit. Since it was lengthy, I share it on my own profile, and my friends asked that I make it public. Subsequently, I was asked to make it into a blog post. So here we are.

I find this argument interesting, but I wonder how much of it comes from a sense of complacency. It seems a little bit like a skewed risk assessment more than anything, borne out of complacency.

This isn’t an insult. Let me explain. If I don’t vaccinate my child against measles, that child could be exposed to measles tomorrow (hypothetically) and contract measles. The consequences of not vaccinating my child could be immediate, and I would have no control.

If I don’t vaccinate my child against HPV, he’s not coming down with cancer tomorrow. However, it is possible that through his own sexual activity (though not necessarily consensual and not necessarily intercourse), he could be exposed to HPV in the next few years and then, in 20 or so years, the HPV infection could lead to cancer.

So the risk of HPV-caused cancer seem distant, and there are plenty of rumors about the HPV vaccine (which, by the way, are false).

If I don’t vaccinate my child against measles, he could be one of the 60-600 people infected in the U.S. this year. (My own state saw 79 cases this spring/summer–so the threat was real.)

If I don’t vaccinate my child against HPV, he could be one of the 16,500 men (and 39,800 people) who gets cancer in the United States. There is no Pap smear-like test for oropharyngeal cancer, penile cancer, or anal cancer currently, so we wouldn’t know he had cancer until he became symptomatic.

But even with Pap smears, 4,000 women die in the United States right now from cervical cancer alone–almost all of which is caused by HPV. Before the vaccine, 450 children died every year from measles. So in reality, a girl is 10 times more likely to die from HPV-related cervical cancer than her grandparents were from measles. That alone seems to make it worth preventing, and doesn’t mention the damage done to a woman’s body if her cancer is caught early or in the pre-cancerous stage. The risks go beyond death into infertility, pain, suffering, etc.

The data we have, now, is that HPV infections have been reduced by 90% in places like Australia and they are way down, despite our low uptake rate with the HPV vaccine, in the United States. One study of more than a million girls in Scandinavia showed absolutely no serious side effects from this vaccine.

The other issue is how diseases are contracted. Tetanus is also a behavioral illness. Just don’t get a dirty puncture wound, and you will be fine, right? It isn’t infectious–yet every state requires this vaccine for school entry.

Of course we require this vaccine. You can’t really avoid tetanus by just being careful.

And you can’t really avoid HPV by being careful or abstinent before marriage. Unlike HIV, HPV is not passed along via secretions. It lives on the skin. If someone wears a condom, he can still pass on HPV. Deep kissing can pass on HPV. Non-consensual sexual contact can pass on HPV. A virgin can get HPV on her wedding night from a spouse who caught it before marriage. It is much more like contracting tetanus than we think, and for many people, they have absolutely no control over whether or not they contract it.

So I wonder–does it still seem worth the risk to pass on this vaccine?

Advertisements

Pro-Vaccine World Tour

On Friday, I found myself protesting an anti-vaccine bus. A decade ago, I could not have imagined even writing such a sentence, but there I was.

Some backstory, first.  (Scroll down if you don’t need the backstory.)

In 2011, amidst a growing measles outbreak among some unvaccinated Somali-American children in Minnesota, Andrew Wakefield flew into town and held a private meeting with them. Who knows what was said in this meeting since the people in attendance were parents of autistic children who are convinced of the vaccine connection and Wakefield–a defrocked pediatric gastroenterologist. I mean, what could he say? Who knows, but it was history.

Until April of this year when measles made a predictable comeback to the same community. Wakefield didn’t come back, but there was plenty of anti-vaccine outreach into the Somali-American community to convince them not to trust public health officials (to the consternation of many Somali-Americans). The Washington Post also reported talk about white parents of exposing their children purposely to measles and convincing Somali-American mothers that there was no measles outbreak, that it was all a trick concocted by public health.

And that’s all bad enough, but the anti-vaccine community in Minnesota has been actively working on translating Wakefield’s 2015 fraudumentary, Vaxxed, into Somali for further indoctrination. I’m not done. We were all disheartened when Tribeca announced (and eventually retracted) that Vaxxed would be screened, but now the film is available on Amazon Prime and a tour RV/bus (it’s an RV, okay?) containing Polly Tommy and her friends is making its way through the country and recording stories of so-called vaccine-injury (usually autism).

Enter self-described Pro-Vaccine Troll, Craig Egan. Craig asked his Facebook friends and fans if he should follow the Vaxxed RV/bus/it’s an RV à la Grateful Dead. $10,000 in GoFundMe donations later, he was pulling into Minneapolis and following the Vaxxed vehicle.

On the day the measles outbreak was finally declared over.

End of backstory.

Everyone wants to know what it was like confronting the Vaxxed jalopy, and so I thought I would write out my story. The day before, I wanted Craig to get a real sense of what we are really fighting for–preventing kids from getting sick. So I took him to Children’s Minnesota to meet Patsy Stinchfield and Joe Kurland, who worked directly with the measles cases and with system-wide infection prevention. He interviewed them on video (and they interviewed him back):

At this point, we still had no idea where the bus was going to be. The anti-vaxxers in Minnesota were being purposely coy about where they were filming. Even though it was the day before and we had had feelers out for weeks trying to figure out where it would be, we didn’t know. But one journalist got confirmation of where it would be, and I called him Friday morning and was lucky enough to find out. This is where I admit that we tipped off a few reporters, as well. When I arrived, Craig, his girlfriend Sharon, Joe Kurland, a few mothers, and a reporter were there, being filmed by an anti-vaccine mom standing at a distance. I waved hello because I am polite.

Not much happened other than some good conversation on our end and worried looks shot our way from theirs. Joe decided to do a Facebook Live video.

Eventually Patsy Stinchfield arrived and Joe left. She pointed out the Sunday Mail journalist Ian Birrell was over at the RV. He had interviewed both of us in the week prior, and we were both impressed with his depth of knowledge concerning science and the anti-vaccine movement–especially Andrew Wakefield in particular. I knew he had connected with Polly Tommey, and he allowed her to interview him aboard their transport.

Because Patsy is brave and I want to grow up to be just like her because she is also smart and pretty and amazing, she decided she wanted to get up close to see the Vaxxed wagon. A number of people had been staring at use almost the entire time we had been there, and they didn’t look happy that we were walking closer. I held out my hand and introduced myself to a few people, only because I wanted to convey to them that I was not there to belittle or harm them. I feel like giving people your name helps you connect as people rather than representatives of some opposing side. Most of them shook my hand and told me their names, too. They were polite.

One woman, however, did refuse to shake my hand. I felt a little like Angela Merkel, and hey–that’s not bad company to be in. She also would not tell me her name. I don’t know if she was afraid of what I would do with her name (honestly, I am terrible with names, so forget is the correct answer) or if she was just being hostile.

She wanted us to say something about the names written on the bus. (The names are supposed to represent people who have been injured by vaccines. I did notice how many of the names were written in groups by the same hand, and it seems an improbability to me that anyone would have multiple people from the same family who suffered a true adverse reaction to a vaccine.)

In any case, we didn’t reply as she wanted, and she expressed her displeasure. She wanted us to know that the names were important, so I tried to prove I was listening to her by paraphrasing what I believed she was saying, but that also made her angry. I supposed she didn’t like my paraphrasing. I was trying, though! Perhaps she was just spoiling for an argument.

She told us that if our brakes went out in our cars, we would want to warn other people. Patsy commented that brakes are a good analogy, except that with vaccines, we need everyone to use their brakes or else we are all in trouble. We can’t allow people to opt out of brakes. This unnamed woman told us that we couldn’t use a car as a comparison because the human body is not a car. Craig pointed out to her that the car/brake analogy was hers, but that didn’t satisfy her. I’m also not really a huge fan of arguing about analogies. The thing about analogies is that they are always imperfect. The only thing that is exactly like the thing is the thing. So we moved on.

Another woman then approached us. She did give us her name (I am not going to disclose it here), shook our hands, and told us that she was vaccine injured. Patsy asked what happened, and she said she had a stroke after the flu vaccine.

I’ll just pause briefly for an evidence aside. The flu vaccine is, in fact, associated with a temporary drop in the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Unpause.

She disclosed some other information to us that isn’t pertinent to anything and I don’t think is appropriate to share publicly. It was a calm, polite conversation. No minds were changed. She probably doesn’t like us.

We returned to our picnic table, and Ian came over and chatted with us briefly. His photographer took a photo of us. He asked us not to smile, but he was standing next to an adorable baby who kept waving at us.

As we stood there, someone we called Frisbee Guy walked past and said, “I’m with you guys!” I guess while I was at the bus with Patsy, a family on a Surrey bike pointed at the Vaxxed vector and shouted, “They are the ones who caused the measles outbreak!”

Craig presented me with a check for Voices for Vaccines. He donated a third of his GoFundMe proceeds, which was incredibly generous.

As I drove home, I heard a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio give an in-depth (and really well-covered) report on the end of the measles outbreak and the Vaxxed cohort’s dealings. If possible, please listen rather than read the MPR report, as it is abbreviated in print.

If you live in Minnesota, please use the contact form on this blog to reach me and to learn how to combat the anti-vaccine movement. The next measles outbreak will happen if we do not act now.

Lessons learned:

  1. There is only one Craig Egan.
  2. Anti-vaxxers want to argue. Kind of. Not about car brakes.
  3. Read the dimensions on Amazon products carefully.
  4. Eric Clapton became a terrible person while I wasn’t looking, so I can’t tell you who I thought looked like him. (I now denounce that opinion. He was much handsomer than Clapton.)
  5. The Vaxxed tour is devolving into the end of the Spinal Tap tour. All they need is their miniature Stonehenge.
  6. Pro-vaxxers are awesome, and they are often huggers.

 

How we create vaccine hesitancy

We have responsibility in the rising tide of vaccine hesitancy. Granted, most of the responsibility belongs to the charlatans and the grifters in the anti-vaccine community. But all of us have created a world where being afraid of vaccines only makes sense.

How did we do this? It was not our tone, and it wasn’t our failure to talk about the science. Instead, all of us agreed to view healthcare as a consumer commodity and took the expert opinion away from our doctors and gave it to the patients.

What do I mean? Take a look:

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 4.36.36 PM
Facebook post from Minnesota Star Tribune captioned with: “Armed with the right questions, you, too, can become an empowered patient ready to make informed decisions.”

I found that post while scrolling through my Facebook feed, and the caption caught my eye more than the article. For the record, the ten questions the article suggests you ask your doctor are very good and would have you relying on your doctor’s expertise.

The caption is problematic because it alludes to “empowered patients” and “informed decisions.” (People who dwell in the vaccine advocacy world likely instinctively bristle at the term informed decisions.) For far too many parents, such statements translate into a belief that they need to inform themselves ahead of time in order to get the medical care they want, and that the power and responsibility over their children’s medical care is solely the parent’s.

Dr. Jennifer Reich, in an article titled “Of natural bodies and antibodies: Parents’ vaccine refusal and the dichotomies of natural and artificial,” makes this point perfectly:

In fact, vaccine resistance lies at the intersection of two ideologies: one that expects parents to intensively invest in their children and the other that calls for individuals to become savvy consumers of technology and health interventions.

Oftentimes mothers, who make the majority of vaccination decisions, feel the duty to demonstrate their love for their children by learning all they can about healthcare choices, from feeding to sleep safety products to vaccines. They stand in sharp contrast to their grandmothers, who for too many years acquiesced to all medical advice and didn’t presume to demand more information from their doctors. In fact, many of us spent a lot of energy cajoling our grandmothers to ask their doctors why they were being prescribed Xanax in lieu of allergy medication or to ask for more testing of their heart health.

As I grow older, and the generation just behind me is wading through the too much pediatric information readily available to them, I see how the lessons we tried to teach our grandmothers needed to be titrated for the next generations–the generation of girls growing up under Title IX who were not accused of attending college only for an MRS degree. Even as we still live in an era of rampant sexism, 20- and 30-something women may not recognize how much more empowered they are than the Greatest Generation of women.

And when you do not see the path that was trod behind you, a doctor who tells you that he is not comfortable with your decision to eschew vaccines might seem paternalistic, which is why so many anti-vaccine parents accuse doctors of bullying. After all, aren’t you informed, just as society tells you to be in order to prove your skills as a decent parent? Isn’t it your commission to seek out empowerment in all things parenting, but in especially healthcare?

Perhaps you already noticed that the way doctors try to empower patients differs from the way parents think they are supposed to become empowered. It is true that information is power, but only good information is good power. And the best place to find good information? The experts. In other words, empowered patients know how to get the best information from their doctors.

Anti-vaccine charlatans wedge themselves into that tiny sliver of space that exists between informing yourself and getting information from your doctor. They convince parents that doctors are untrustworthy, bought, uninformed, and all manner of negative adjectives. Once parents are convinced, empowerment becomes a struggle between parent and doctor.

But empowerment ought to ease a parent’s mind rather than ramp up anxiety about becoming informed and understanding immunology. Empowerment ought to be a collaboration between doctor and patient, where patient feels free to ask questions at will and trusts that the doctor will give the best medical answers available at that time.

If we want parents to be vaccine confident, we need to assure them that they don’t need to know everything. We need to talk less about informed decisions and more about asking good questions and finding a trustworthy doctor.

Myths of the Minnesota Measles Outbreak

As of Friday last week, 68 people had been sickened by measles in the state of Minnesota since April 11. To put that in perspective, that’s more than had been sickened by measles in Minnesota from 1997-2016. Because of its significance, the Minnesota measles outbreak has received significant attention across the country. It has also been the source of continued anti-vaccine misinformation–possibly as an effort to downplay their own culpability in its spread. I’d like to go through some of that misinformation to clear things up.

The outbreak was caused by vaccine shedding.

Nope, nope, and nope. The virus being spread, per the Minnesota Department of Health, is the B3 genotype, one known by the World Health Organization to be circulating. The virus used in the vaccine is an A genotype.

The vaccine doesn’t cover the strain circulating in Minnesota.

Yes, this myth is a rebuttal used when the anti-vaxxers learn that the vaccine isn’t causing the outbreak. Everyone must be getting sick because the vaccine is useless. Nevermind that over 8,000 people have been exposed, and of the 68 people sickened, 64 were unvaccinated.

The truth about the vaccine is that while there are multiple genotypes of measles (think of the genotype os the spaghetti-looking stuff inside the measles virus, measles has only one serotype (think of the serotype is the knobby parts on the outside of the virus that). The vaccine is made to train antibodies to latch on to the surface of the virus–the knobby serotype–and to kill it. The vaccine works. It works remarkably well when you consider the over 8,000 Minnesotans who are not sick.

Here’s a photo from Vaccine Nation to clear the whole thing up (click to embiggen):

Measles is a Somali problem

Again, untrue. Measles doesn’t care where you were born. And, in fact, the people getting sick from measles are those born in the United States. They are Americans. Measles only cares if you are vulnerable–it is an unvaccinated person problem.

Measles is not in Minnesota because of refugees or immigration. You cannot use this outbreak as another feather in your xenophobia hat. Measles is in Minnesota because people were not vaccinated for it–pure and simple. The index case for the outbreak has not been identified, so it could have been someone traveling through the airport or to the Mall of America. It could have been someone coming home from a wild Romanian vacation. But people who travel to the United States to live and work are required to be immunized.

Somali parents are against vaccines

I hesitate to speak for any other parent about how they feel about vaccines, so I want to point out this interview with Anab Gulaid, a Somali-American researcher in Minnesota, who says, “Somali parents are not anti-vaccine. They are not the ones out there convincing other parents not to vaccinate.” Furthermore, state data seems to indicate that some Somali parents simply delay the MMR vaccine out of fear, while some get the vaccine on time. Representative Ilhan Omar, an important state and Somali community leader, states in this interview that her children “certainly are” immunized.

Minnesota’s anti-vaccine leaders only responded to Somali parent concerns

One of the starkest risk factors for vaccine hesitancy anywhere is in the vacuum of support parents of autistic children find themselves. Parents whose children receive a diagnosis are often left to navigate through the confusing world of special education, therapies, and insurance–not to mention a family life more complicated than they had expected. The anti-vaccine movement had an opening there, and they took it.

But they also persisted. During the outbreak, they have held meetings in predominantly Somali-Minnesotan neighborhoods, are currently translating the fraudumentary Vaxxed into Somali, and have attended Minnesota Department of Health community meetings to pass pamphlets out to Somali parents.

That’s not all. They are also looking to gain power within Minnesota by writing themselves into legislation. Before the outbreak began, they filed a bill in the Minnesota House that would have given their group, the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, the power to oversee a statewide database of post-vaccine adverse events. (Yes, you read that correctly. They would have had oversight into medical information.) And during the outbreak, they had the chutzpah to file a bill that would have directed the Commissioner of Health to conduct a study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated Somali people. (Note: there aren’t enough unvaccinated Somali-Minnesotans to conduct such a study.) It is as if they won’t stop until everyone is sick.

Measles isn’t a big deal

This myth infuriates me. Anti-vaxxers want you to think that you can give your child megadoses of vitamin A and vitamin C, and that they will be just fine with measles. (In another racist turn on this myth, they claim that because a vitamin A deficiency is a cause of measles mortality in Africa, the fact that Somali children had parents who once lived in Africa puts them at special risk. As though these children do not have access to nutrition in the famine-stricken land known as Minneapolis.)

Measles is a big deal. A quarter of the children in this outbreak have been hospitalized. (And no, random internet person who argued with me last week, the term hospitalized doesn’t mean that they just walked into the hospital.)

What is it like being in the hospital with a child who has measles? This mother explains how her daughter’s illness changed her perspective on measles:

Soon after, the nurse put my daughter back in my arms, and then led us to where we would stay for the next few days. It was an isolation room, a small glass-enclosed space that held a crib, a television and a comfortable chair. Attached to the crib were bars to keep children from climbing out. The room reminded me of a zoo exhibit. The only thing missing was a sign saying, “Beware: human baby with measles.” In that moment, I couldn’t believe how my lack of awareness had led to such a frightening situation.

My child isn’t at risk for measles

If you think that because your child is vaccinated, you are probably correct. But if your child is unvaccinated, what magical powers do you believe you have to protect your child? Organic food can’t protect against an airborne virus. Being white and wealthy doesn’t mean anything to measles. Homeopathics and herbal supplements are no match for the most contagious virus on earth. You can either keep your child at home and away from everyone during an outbreak (and some are because their children might have been exposed at school or on the bus), or you can vaccinate. For my family, we vaccinated.

Oh, and by the way, the vaccine that protects against measles is safe.

Pertussis Should Scare You: A Rebuttal

A friend of mine sent me a link to this Facebook video, featuring a mother who had lost one baby and decided not to vaccinate her second one. We both agreed that it was full of easily refuted assertions, but that it had gained enough traction over the months that it was nonetheless worth refuting.

I do want to start by saying that I feel for this mother. It’s logical (though ill-advised) to avoid vaccines if you believe they killed your child. I have no information about her first child’s medical issues and what lead to his death (nor should I), but she is convinced and I have ever reason to believe there would be no convincing her otherwise. So I will not attempt that.

Her argument, rife with holes, is that pertussis as a disease is so rare and deaths from it rarer still that it isn’t worth preventing. This argument is common and it gains traction because parents loved to be talked out of not worrying about something. So let’s break down what this mother claims and why it is wrong.

Claim 1: You are unlikely to die from pertussis

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 12.25.04 PM

This section argues that children do not need to be vaccinated against pertussis because so few people actually die from it. The screen grab above shows her math: 20 deaths from pertussis in the U.S. out of 40,000 cases each year. The claim is that you have a mere 0.05% chance of dying from pertussis if you catch it.

For your average adult, this is a perfectly reasonable way to assuage your fears of catching pertussis yourself. If you get pertussis as an adult, it highly unlikely that it will kill you. Don’t freak out, and go to the doctor to get antibiotics so that you don’t spread it to others.

For a baby under six months old, however, the odds of death from pertussis are much, much higher. Those 20 pertussis deaths a year are almost entirely in those young babies. In fact, a child under one year old has a 1% chance of dying from pertussis, and the odds of death are greater the younger a baby is. It’s important to note that the risk of pertussis is about more than death. A child under one year old who contracts pertussis has a 23% chance of developing pneumonia, which could mean hospitalization. Half of all babies under one who get pertussis end up in the hospital. Pertussis can also leave a young child with permanent disabilities or chronic illnesses. Suffice it to say that it is far better for your baby to avoid getting pertussis.

Claim 2: You probably aren’t even going to catch pertussis

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 12.59.19 PM

This claim hinges on dividing the number of pertussis cases per year in the U.S. by the total population of the U.S. She claims that you have a 0.012% chance of developing pertussis–full stop. There are a number of obvious and glaring errors with this claim and its ensuing math.

  1. A person can develop pertussis multiple times in their lifetime, which is most often longer than one year.
  2. She changes the question from, “What are your baby’s chances of dying from pertussis” to “Are you going to get pertussis” once again.
  3. Um, vaccines.

And really, point #3 is the crucial one here. Sure, 40,000 people develop pertussis today, in the age of vaccines. And sure, you live today. But if we are going to go about making videos talking about not vaccinating because pertussis isn’t a big deal, we need to look at what the odds of developing pertussis would be without vaccines.

The CDC tells us:

Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the United States and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection.

The difference without vaccines is significant, and notice the emphasis on children in the CDC’s statistics. The population of children in the United States right now is approximately 76,000,000. That’s a 0.26% chance of a child living in a time without vaccines developing pertussis, again–far greater than her 0.012% claim. And those 9,000 deaths alone disprove the claim that we can stop vaccinating because pertussis isn’t a big deal. Pertussis is less of a big deal than it was a few generations ago because of vaccines.

Claim 3: You will never die from pertussis

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.16.52 PM

I think you probably know where I am going with this. If you are reading this blog post, you have very little chance of dying from pertussis because you aren’t an infant and you know how to read. But if you do know how to read, you already know that she is using the wrong numbers.

Which numbers should she use? How about the pertussis death rate before vaccines (9,000) by today’s under 18 population (76,000,000). [Note: I recognize, even those numbers are not correct because the population today is larger and because we have better means of treating pertussis. But play along.]

The answer is not 0.00000629%. It’s 0.0118%. And it would be even higher if I were able to suss out the population of Americans under 6 months old and the deaths before vaccines that occurred in that age range.

Claim 4: The pertussis vaccine is super dangerous

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 1.23.00 PM

The crux of this claim is that the pertussis vaccine causes 48,600 deaths a year. (She lists other supposed ill effects of the vaccine, but since she didn’t tackle pertussis complications and hospitalizations, I’m going to forego the rest of her claims, as well.)

Where does she get these numbers? From VAERS, of course. VAERS is an open recording system for adverse events following vaccinations. Literally anyone can report something to VAERS. VAERS reports have included car accidents and turning into the Incredible Hulk. And according to her spelunking through VAERS, she found 486 claims of death (note: total and not per year) in the database.

She arrived at her vastly over-inflated number by claiming that only 1% of adverse events are made to VAERS. Which–okay. Why she assumes that means only 1% of deaths following vaccines are reported is sort of stunning. I have always assumed it meant that one year I had the super sore arm from my flu vaccine and didn’t report it. In any case, it is an amazing logical leap because if the pertussis vaccine were genuinely causing the deaths of 48,000 Americans, people would notice.

But what are the real risks of the pertussis vaccine? Moderate side effects listed by the CDC include fever over 102°F (about 1 in 100 adolescents or 1 in 250 adults) and swelling of the entire arm where the shot was given (up to about 1 in 500). The only known severe side effect the CDC lists is swelling, severe pain, bleeding, and redness in the arm where the shot was given (rare). And we all acknowledge the one-in-a-million chance of an allergic reaction to the vaccine.

You should vaccinate your baby.

In fact, mothers should vaccinate their babies before they are even born by receiving a pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during the third trimester of pregnancy because this is what pertussis actually is:

 

 

Smells Like Desperation

Anti-vaxxers have shown, time and again, that they have little in their reserves except mean-spirited attacks against children, doxing, and otherwise moving to silence the voices of pro-vaccine advocates. That’s why “Levi Quackenboss” has written a fifth post tearing down 12-year-old Marco Arturo and his satirical video debunking the vaccine-autism myth. (Yep, five posts attacking a child. Who does that?)

While the unremitting anti-vaccine attack of a child shocked me, almost nothing that anti-vaxxers do to attack adults surprises me. I’ve had friends whose tires have been slashed, who have had threatening voice mails left with their spouses, who have had their jobs put in jeopardy by petitions to get them fired (for activities not related to their employment).

And then last week, some of my friends began disappearing from Facebook. I texted and emailed them. One friend told me that she made this post over a year ago, describing the harassment of our friend Allison Hagood. This post was just recently reported–sending her to Facebook jail for a week.

A few years ago when I first had the idea of writing a book on vaccines to share all I had learned about the subject I thought I would tackle the project myself. I thought I could handle it. I hadn’t written a book before but I’m a reasonably good writer and heaven knows I’ve bought and read enough books to open up my own public library at least twice over.

Then I remembered something.

I remembered that many people who are opposed to vaccines aren’t particularly nice. I remembered that these are the people who call the HPV vaccine, a vaccine that can literally prevent cancer, (YES CANCER!) a vaccine that is given to ten year olds “the slut shot.” They harass Dr. Offit, (a personal hero of mine) the inventor of a vaccine that has literally helped save thousands of lives, so much that he doesn’t dare do a book tour.

Yeah.

Before the book, I’d been writing and commenting on this subject for over a decade. During that time I’d been called all kinds of names. To my shock (because who the heck thinks saving kids from polio and pertussis is controversial?) I was called the kind of names that make you look at someone like they eat kittens for breakfast.

So I found a co-author. A brave, fierce, amazing, wonderfully intelligent co-author. I found someone passionate and devoted who I knew would be able to able to stand up in public with me.

And here we are a few years later in a place I never quite expected to be. As we start to work on a second book, I am sadly forced to write about my dismay and horror at the hours of hell that Allison has endured at the hands of those who refuse to remember history or let science be at our side.

In her own words:

“Since co-authoring a book for parents on vaccines (“Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines are Safe and Save Lives”), I have been cyberstalked, cyberharassed, doxed, and threatened by anti-vaccine advocates. My personal home address was published on social media. My employer has been contacted numerous times by anti-vaccine advocates demanding that I be disciplined, fired, or silenced from engaging in vaccine advocacy. Death and rape threats have been posted against me. I am under almost constant harassment by anti-vaccine advocates fraudulently reporting posts and photos on my social media pages.”

This is the world we live in: a world in which a vaccine advocate — a person who believes that children deserve to be protected against horrible preventable diseases, diseases that maim, deafen and literally kill — that person is allowed by our society to be harassed at work at every turn.

I can only stand back and offer my support to someone who does not deserve to be treated this way. Please join me in standing for Allison Hagood as she stands up to those who shun science and threaten us all.

Another friend was sent to Facebook jail for a post where he used his own name.

How is this happening? How are they gaming the system? It turns out the anti-vaxxers are creating many accounts and sitting on them, sometimes for over a year. They are naming these accounts after actual people–friends of the people they want to attack. Sometimes they use the names of the people they are attacking themselves. And then, using those phony accounts, they report any post using that name.  I imagine they have to report quite a few and get their friends, also, to report, until the report sticks.

The abuse of Facebook’s algorithm is well-documented. It’s important to note that it’s not that Facebook doesn’t care about abuse. It’s that the users are the commodity, not the clients. So our dissatisfaction is not their top priority, and their is no recourse for someone who is being harassed by another who is abusing Facebook’s algorithms.

And that’s one reason the anti-vaxxers resort to this abuse and harassment.

The other reason is that they have nothing else. They have no science backing them. The doctors backing them are frauds like Andrew Wakefield or grifters like Mercola, Tenpenny, and Bark. No goverment agencies back them. In other words, no agency or person who actually is responsible for children should they become ill with a vaccine-preventable disease supports the anti-vaccine position.

Every time they report someone, they reveal just how desperate they are to shut down the advocacy of pro-vaxxers. The only thing we can do is to carry on.

 

 

Walgreens: Not Marco’s Puppetmaster

At some point last week, anti-vaccine crusaders decided that picking on a child was only so much fun, so they turned their sights on Walgreens:

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 2.38.35 PM

Multiply that times a hundred, and you get a taste of what Walgreens’ social media managers are dealing with. Why are they upset with Walgreens? Apparently, Walgreens’ name appeared in an ad on A Plus media (Ashton Kutcher’s site) in a post about Marco Arturo and his vaccine/autism video. The anti-vaaxxers claim? That Walgreens isn’t just advertising on the A Plus website Wellness section, but that they were creating this content and that Marco is just a puppet in the nefarious scheme to push vaccines for evil reasons. And of course, videos were created to promote the idea. Here is Forrest Maready’s contribution:

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 2.45.58 PM
A Plus, Marco, and Walgreens. Maniacal Laugh

What do they make of Walgreens advertising on the entire Wellness section of A Plus? Facts schmacts. Who needs them.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 12.06.09 PM
Spot the Walgreens logos

And then, just like that, the banner ad on the A Plus post about Marco disappeared. Almost as though the internet were not made of paper and banner ads could be cycled through.

But not so soon. A Facebook page named Hear This Well declared victory! Finally, anti-vaxxers are being heard! Only moments from now will Walgreens and the government and the lizard people finally admit that vaccines do cause autism!

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 2.55.38 PM
Hear This Well was a campaign started by anti-vaccine parents of autistic children. Never heard of it? Ironic.

Because I never take anything at face value, it was that point I decided to write an email to Walgreens and ask them what was up. They sent me this official reply:

We had no knowledge of, nor connection to the development of this video.  Walgreens has been an advertiser on the website only in conjunction with the Vitamin Angels program, and again we were unaware of the video’s placement on our sponsored page.

While I would have preferred a statement which would have gone on to declare that the video was awesome and anti-vaxxers can scram, this response seemed pretty corporate and normal.

Forrest Maready (who made the video alluded to above), started to change his tune. Kind of. He issued this partial retraction on his Facebook page:

I don’t believe the APlus media writer knew about the video before it went up. I spoke at length with her, twice over the past two days and she has convinced me she found the post organically through a Facebook group she follows (not a member of) called A Science Enthusiast. She is an avowed Believer, I realize. She could be lying to protect an elaborate PR set up, but I think she is telling me the truth.

Of course, he went on to add that Marco’s video is still suspicious because of Marco’s shirt and because the Google dates don’t make sense to him. The retraction, then, is just that A Plus media isn’t part of some conspiracy, not that Marco could really be awesomely intelligence and well-spoken. If you are an anti-vaxxer, you have to feed the conspiracy theorists, after all.

If pro-vaxxers were conspiracy theorists, we would be all in a tizzy about the fact that the Hear This Well Facebook page disappeared.* But then, we know that Facebook pages, like banner ads, are hardly a constant in life and that there is no point getting wound up about it. I guess no one is hearing them at all any more.

*UPDATE: They’re back.

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 8.48.22 PM