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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:

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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:

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Filling Wakefield’s Coffers

Really, that’s all VAXXED is about. The movie, written by, produced by, funded by, and starring Andrew Wakefield is about Andrew Wakefield. It came to the city where I live and caused very little stir.

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The Uptown theater in Minneapolis didn’t even list VAXXED in its marquee while it was being shown there.

Nor should it. Andrew Wakefield is a fraud, but he is also a washed up has-been. It was no surprise when friends of mine went to see the film, sitting in nearly empty theaters.

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My gut feeling is that this film, like many of the other anti-vaccine endeavors preceding it, will fizzle out with a whimper.

But not without a fight. The anti-vaxxers are goading each other to buy tickets to the film, even if they have no intention of using the tickets. They hide this racket by terming it a donation or calling it their “Angel Ticket” program. But what they are trying to do is to make this film seem like more of a success than it is so that they can push it out to more theaters across the country.

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The Hear This Well Facebook page is only one of many encouraging people to “donate tickets” (to whom? they don’t say) in order to sell out the theaters in Florida and pressure Regal theaters to show the movie nationwide.

I have to believe that Regal will notice that no one is actually in these so-called sold out theaters, although they might not care–as long as they are selling tickets. I have heard rumors from insiders that the VAXXED DVD is coming out next month, though. I don’t know any theater that would show a movie that is also out on DVD.

All this brings me back to the beginning. The movie itself is made by, written by, promoted by, and starring Andrew Wakefield. He tried to swindle us all once with a phony study and a media tour aimed at frightening us away from the MMR vaccine. Andrew Wakefield doesn’t do anything that doesn’t benefit Andrew Wakefield, and once again–even in the promotion of this film, the main beneficiary is Andrew Wakefield (and the main victims are public health and autistic people).

 

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You’re banning me!

Like so many of you, I have been banned from Dr. Bob Sears’ Facebook page. While it isn’t headline-making news, I wanted to write about the comment that got me banned because it highlights, once again, that Dr. Bob is anti-vaccine.

The problem began when he posted something on his Facebook page that stirred in me the inability to stay silent:

“DEATH IS THE ONLY LEGITIMATE VACCINE EXEMPTION . . .”

. . . said the former doctor of one of my patients-to-be. I kid you not. My wife, Cheryl, who manages the office, sometimes picks up the new patient messages on our voicemail. She never has me listen to any of them because, well, that would be stupid. But she grabbed me the other day and said, “You have to listen to this. You’re not going to believe it.”

I didn’t. Believe it, that is.

A mom actually called our office and said she needed a new pediatrician because her old one wouldn’t even discuss vaccine medical exemption with her. Now, of course, that part’s believable. There are hundreds of thousands of doctors nationwide who won’t even discuss these exemptions. And if they choose not to offer informed consent for invasive medical treatments for their patients, that’s their decision. It’s also a patient’s right to leave their care.

But this doctor took it a step further. Well, a giant leap further. The message on our phone actually was “My doctor said death is the only legitimate vaccine exemption . . . and I disagree. So I’m looking for a new doctor.”

I can’t wait to hear the whole story. I hope this patient comes in soon. We’ll see if we can find something in her child’s medical and family history that qualifies for an exemption short of death.

Dr. Bob

Everyone I have spoken to has two reactions to this post.

  1. That sounds like something that never happened.
  2. Does that mean Dr. Bob is going to sell this woman an illegitimate medical exemption?

But my reply actually gave Dr. Bob the benefit of the doubt:

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“I hope that when this parent comes in, you share with her that the contraindications to vaccines are discrete and that if her child does not fit into any of those contraindications, she is not eligible for a medical exemption.”
I also directed Dr. Bob to the list of contraindications to vaccines. This comment does not attack Dr. Bob nor does it treat him or anyone else disrespectfully. It simply points out that there are only so many contraindications to vaccines, and that a medical exemption outside those contraindications is inappropriate.

It is possible the reason for my ban was the only other comment I left on that thread. Unfortunately, I did not get a screen shot, but it was in reply to a woman who was replying to my friend’s comment, a reply filled with references to Thalidomide and smoking as proof that vaccines are terrible. Here is her reply to me:

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I cannot imagine I was banned for pointing out that Thalidomide was never approved by the FDA (fun Women’s History Month fact) or that measles and chickenpox parties, like smoking, used to be acceptable health practices, but now that science has moved on, they no longer are.

But it is significant to me that the commenter above, and others like her, were left on the page to comment freely. The woman above, for example, began her reply to my friend with this dig about her as a mother and about how she gave birth:

Do you have biological children? If so, did you have them without any drugs? If you do, or did then that true bond would not allow you to push for all these vaccines and boosters in your flesh and blood. Other countries have excellent scientists who are against so many vaccines in such a short time. I bet you only had a fraction of the vaccines that babies are subjected to these days

Yes, you read that correctly. If you had a pain-free birth, you don’t love your children and that’s why you vaccinate them.

That comment, along with the mountain-loads of misinformation posted by Dr. Bob’s fangirls, was left untouched and uncorrected by Dr. Bob because it plays into the fear of medical interventions and other doctors he promotes in order to drum up his own business and grow his own brand.

Do me a favor, friends, and call him on it–because I no longer can.

 

 

 

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Be Afraid of the Many, Many Vaccines

Dr. Bob Sears wants you to believe he is a vaccine supporter. He so supports vaccines that once, while in the midst of lobbying against the elimination of vaccine exemptions in California, he asserted:

I give vaccines every single day in my office. I am pro-vaccine and understand that vaccines work and have reduced and eliminated many serious diseases. And that’s not just spouting a party line – I firmly believe that, and that’s why I give them in my office.

After all, you cannot be against vaccines if you give them in your office–every day! To be fair, it is possible to believe that vaccines should not be mandatory for school entry and still be a proponent of immunization. But don’t tell that to his fans and followers. One complained on his Facebook page:

Dr’s at Dr. Bill’s office should be made aware of this. I was bullied by a dr there, and won’t be back. She said they were completely safe and that the disease was worse than any side effects from vaccines.

Oh hey! Wait just a minute there! Vaccines are safe and the diseases they prevent are a bigger risk? Surely, pro-vaccine Dr. Sears would respond in a way that assured this parent that, yes, vaccines are safe. The diseases they prevent are worse than any side effects from vaccines. After all, that’s what someone who believes that”vaccines work and have reduced and eliminated many serious diseases” would say.

That’s not what happened.

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Admittedly, this comment is still treading the line. He wants to be liked by the anti-vax moms and he wants to be liked by the other 99% of the people in the world, too.

But please watch Dr. Bob carefully. He is constantly and eagerly disseminating the misinformation created by the anti-vaccine movement, as he did today on his Immunity Education Group page. This page is geoblocked and available only in the U.S., so here is a screen capture for the rest of the world.

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I asked the eminent Dr. Cox what he thought of this poster, and he told me it is filled with wrong.

  1. Number of injections: Any parent who follows the CDC schedule would look at this and think, “I really do not remember my child receiving 50 injections.” And that parent would probably be right. I checked my own child’s immunization records and noted that the DTaP, IPV, and Hib vaccines were combined into one injection. There are several combination vaccines that minimize the number of pokes a child receives.
  2. 1983 schedule: I was born, ahem, a couple of years before 1983, and my complete immunization record is longer than the list above. Why? Because I didn’t receive all my vaccines in 1983. I did receive a second dose of the MMR before I went to college (and I am fine). I also received (and continue to receive) influenza vaccines.
  3. Liability: If a pharmaceutical company manufactures a vaccine in a way that is negligent, they can be held liable, and you can sue them in civil court. The possibility of this happening is pretty remote, given the amount of FDA oversight vaccine manufacturing goes through.
  4. The doses red herring: If your child receives four pneumococcal vaccines months apart, what is the possible harm? I honestly do not understand the hand wringing over boosters. Such worrying is like letting your child sneeze on your face once and shrugging it off, but then become concerned when he sneezes again because…what? You are going to become extra sick then? Since the ingredients in vaccines are present in such minuscule amounts, booster shots are not really a concern there, either. The fear-mongering about that number, though, is itself boosted when Dr. Bob adds together doses.
  5. Forgetting the diseases: I mentioned above that I was born a tiny, little bit before 1983. I did not have to suffer measles or fear polio because of vaccines. However, a meningococcal outbreak swept through my school, and I am grateful for the vaccine. I know a young man who died from chickenpox, and I am grateful for that vaccine. I have heard absolute horror stories about Hib epiglottis, and I am grateful for that vaccine. I was hospitalized with pneumonia as a toddler, and I am grateful for that vaccine. Rather than saying, “Look at all those vaccines,” I say, “Look at all those diseases we can prevent.”

So why would Dr. Bob post such an inaccurate and terrible graphic–one that misrepresents the CDC schedule, rewrites history, misrepresents the law, and makes no mention of actual disease prevention? If he gives vaccines in his office every day, doesn’t he realize that vaccines can be combined and that we are grateful we can prevent all these diseases?

I honestly don’t know why Dr. Bob gives vaccines in his office every day. He just doesn’t seem to like them very much.

 

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Are Vaccines the Real Microcephaly Culprit?

No. They are not. Vaccines are not causing microcephaly in Brazil.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, count yourself lucky and thank your friends for not bringing crazy to your social media feed. But since you are probably curious, here is a sample:

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Dr. Tenpenny, the Ohio anti-vaccine activists behind sites like All About Breast Health and TruthKings has joined the conspiracy bandwagon in insisting that the Tdap vaccine given in pregnancy to prevent pertussis in mothers and their newborn babies, is the real cause of microcephaly, and not the Zika virus.

Their overly simplistic thought process is not new. These are the people who brought us “vaccines cause autism” and “the HPV vaccine causes ovarian failure,” which require the same “We did X and Y happened” thinking. Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Except that the connection between Zika virus and microcephaly is established, unlike the uncertain causes of autism. Yet, organizations like the poorly-named National Vaccine Information Center and Natural News continue to promote this obviously wrong and crazy theory.

And like autism, there isn’t even a correlation. If there were a correlation between the Tdap vaccine given in pregnancy and microcephaly, we would see an epidemic of microcephaly in the United States, where the recommendation for this maternal vaccine has been in place since 2013 (one year before the Brazilian recommendation), and in Australia where a similar recommendation is in place. In other words, there isn’t a propter hoc to connect the post hoc to. There are simply conspiracy theorists throwing their darts at the vaccine target to see what sticks.

Let’s hope this dart doesn’t stick. While I would love to believe that pregnant women will shake their heads in disbelief over how outrageous these claims are, I know how vulnerable a woman can be to bad information while she is expecting a baby. And so we remind people that pertussis in an infant is terrifying, and the Tdap in pregnancy is safe.

And then file this post under “Things I can’t even believe I have to write.”

 

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The Cancer Kids are Taking Over

I frequent Dr. Tenpenny’s Facebook page because it is amusing but also because it helps me understand the marketing being used to make parents afraid of vaccines. Because I keep tabs on Tenpenny, I’ve also taken note of the revolving websites she has attached herself to, from Vaxxter to All About Breast Health. That’s where I found TruthKings.

It sounded promising but also slightly frightening. We all know the spurious ways people like Tenpenny use the term truth, after all. But today I noticed a post about why it is okay to endanger the health of vulnerable children undergoing chemotherapy.

Of course, that’s not how my new favorite truthers framed it, though. They titled their post, “Your Child Having Cancer Doesn’t Mean My Child Should Be Forced Dangerous Vaccines.” The title alone is poppycock. Let’s review in bulleted points:

  • No one is forcing vaccines upon anyone. To force a vaccine would mean to hold a child down and physically inject it into a child. Instead, reasonable safeguards are put on schools, including the safeguard against infectious disease. If you don’t want to participate in helping schools be safe from infectious diseases, you bear the consequences.
  • Vaccines are not dangerous. Millions of vaccines are given every day. 95% of parents choose to fully vaccinate their children. If vaccines were dangerous, pretty much every child in this country would be worse off for being vaccinated. Instead, they are free of diphtheria, polio, Hib, measles, and so forth.
  • Of course it is your responsibility to take reasonable precautions to help other children. That’s why you can’t drive drunk or text while driving. In fact, the law books are filled with things you can’t do because it would endanger others. And Laura Bredesen, mother of a cancer patient exposed to measles, will tell you that leaving your child unvaccinated is a direct threat to the children around him/her who are cancer patients.

Why are these TruthKings taking on the ever threatening pediatric cancer patient? What did these cancer kids ever do to them?

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Don’t worry, cancer kids; you aren’t the only threat. It seems that fluoride, GMOs, education, and the Islamics are all taking over. Or at least the Islamics are.

Fear of the other is the most common cause of bigotry and prejudice. For a TruthKing, you are a threat if you are a Muslim or if you are receiving chemotherapy because your existence means that their freedom might be curtailed. Both cancer patients and Muslims are turned into the enemy by refusing to actually get to know anyone who fits those categories.

After all, Ben Bredesen can’t be your enemy once you get to know him because he’s a sweet kid. And he’s a child. How can a kid be an enemy, and on what planet to you refuse to protect a child?

And that’s just my reaction to the headline. In fact, the entire post is a deep conspiracy about how the government is using pediatric cancer patients to take away our freedom. And you and I are apparently part of the conspiracy:

The Government has pulled at the very fibers which inspire you, cause you to be passionate, make you laugh and make you enraged. They’ve convinced you that myself and my child are here on earth to do harm to your child. And they’ve done this as a way to recruit an army of mothers and fathers to take the helm and become soldiers in a way to fight against parental rights.

In this battle, of course, the rights of the parent trump the rights of the child. People who use terms like “truth” and “parental rights” believe that they own their children, that their decisions are paramount whether or not these decisions are wise. They give no consideration to how children have been historically used by those who believe they own them, children who have worked in sweatshops and have been physically abused. The history of children’s rights is expunged in favor of a new liberty for parent/owners of children.

Of course, you ask, the war metaphor is just a metaphor right? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that, but you should.) No. Not at all. Remember these are people who think we are on the brink of an Islamic takeover. Their fears are about something sadistic and nefarious:

When you take the bait by the Government to diminish these very basic human, parental rights, you allow the Government to play to your sadness and despair. They have you at your weakest moment, compromised in your soul. When you really consider what they are doing, using your sick child as bait for your impassioned plea to support the army who is going to go door to door and remove rights, you begin to see how disturbing and disingenuous it all really is.

Going door to door to remove your rights. Sounds frightening doesn’t it?

But again, nothing of the sort is happening or is going to happen. At worst, you might be required to homeschool your child, as is now the case in California. Ironically, of course, asking that you opt for homeschooling instead of government-funded schooling is really the opposite of the foot soldiers coming to your door to remove your rights. It is keeping children closer to the adults who have bought into the fear mongering of the anti-vaccine movement.

Of course someone like Tenpenny shares the heck out of TruthKings on her page. This fear-based marketing, stirring distrust in the government and asking people to cloister against some imaginary army. The purpose of this marketing scheme is to sell her own wares. But real people are being harmed with this marketing strategy, whether these people are Ben Bredesen or our Muslim friends and neighbors. It’s unconscionable that a grifter like Tenpenny make them into the enemies in order to turn a profit. She will never change, but we can make sure our friends and family do not fall prey to these cynical strategies.

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Stealing from Dr. Bob

It’s hard not to be sarcastic about Dr. Bob Sears. His work promoting untested alternative vaccine schedules and stoking fears about vaccines (and autism and gluten and so forth) doesn’t seem to be enough for Time Magazine.

Dr. Sears writes: "DR PAN STOLE MY AWARD."
Dr. Sears writes: “DR PAN STOLE MY AWARD.”

Of course, Dr. Bob is joking. He’s always joking. That one time when he wrote a highly sexist Facebook post about how mothers and fathers parent differently?  “And to avoid offending both of you dads who read my blog, realize that this is a satirical poke at an unjust and inaccurate stereotype that has been unfairly thrust upon us men (insert emoticon that depicts me winking at moms everywhere).”

It’s always just satire–a joke with a winking emoticon. And so we can be assured that this, too, must be satire. Dr. Bob can’t really see himself as a hero of vaccination, can he?

After all, what is his record? According to Dr. Bob, he is pro-vaccine:

I give vaccines every single day in my office. I am pro-vaccine and understand that vaccines work and have reduced and eliminated many serious diseases. And that’s not just spouting a party line – I firmly believe that, and that’s why I give them in my office.

If the threshold for a vaccine hero is someone who does what every single other pediatrician and family physician in the country does, then all the doctors that give vaccines are heroes. And there is some merit to that, but it would be hard to feature them in Time. It would be an awfully thick magazine.

Of course, Dr. Bob doesn’t want to be remembered for preventing infectious diseases. He wants to be remembered for being nice to parents. He likes making parents like him (thus the sexist satire–oh wait). In a HuffPo article, Dr. Bob claims that he is one of the few doctors who respect parents by giving in to their fears and creating an alternative vaccine schedule for them. The need for doctors like him is apparently so great that he’s created a list of doctors who will eschew science in order to elicit warm fuzzy feelings from parents:

I’ve been creating a growing list of Vaccine Friendly Doctor’s on my website who WILL listen and respect these patient’s wishes and who will provide an alternative vaccine schedule for patients who want to vaccinate differently.

Earlier in that article, he claims that the AAP recommends creating alternative vaccine schedules for parents. This claim, of course, is untrue, as a recent statement about on-time immunization from the AAP shows: “There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule. Delaying vaccines only leaves a chil​d at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer.”

So actually, Dr. Bob isn’t doing what every pediatrician and family physician across the country is doing. Almost all of them (save those listed by Dr. Bob) are following a standard of care and AAP guidelines by giving those vaccines to their patients on time. And for patients who are nervous or hesitant, they are still recommending on-time immunization and doing their best to navigate parental fears while being aware of the needs of the child to be protected against disease. That last part, where we protect children, is lacking from Dr. Bob’s insistence that we respect parents’ fears.

Still, Dr. Bob bravely runs a Facebook page–wait, two Facebook pages, and writes his books and sells his supplements. Meanwhile, Dr. Pan, stealer of magazine hero awards, has not sold supplements. While being one of those doctors who follows the standard of care and the AAP guidelines, Dr. Pan, a state Senator, has also taken on legislation amidst outbreaks of measles to prevent future outbreaks and create healthier, disease-free schools.

Dr. Bob earns profits from his books and his supplements. Dr. Pan, meanwhile, received death threats from anti-vaxxers. He is facing efforts to recall him from office. Anti-vaxxers have portrayed him as Hitler. In fact, some of Dr. Bob’s supporters have gone full Godwin on Dr. Pan:

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On the other hand, Dr. Sears has used the California legislation to travel the state, speaking to parents about ways to circumvent the law. Dr. Gorski uncovered evidence suggesting Dr. Sears might be selling illegitimate medical exemptions for vaccines at these events:

At one point, a woman approached and told Dr. Bob that her pediatrician whom she otherwise liked would not issue an exemption, asking if he would see her for a one-time visit. His response? “I would be happy to provide that service.” He also confirmed that a one-time medical exemption visit is $180 and that he’d be willing to issue such an exemption and send the child back to his primary pediatrician.

In short: the legislation Dr. Pan crafted based on best medical practice earned him taunts, threats, and recall efforts. But this legislation that Dr. Bob opposed has earned him more earning potential.

While he might be joking, Dr. Bob’s assertion that Dr. Pan “stole” something from him has the kernel of truth that all satire (good or bad) has. Dr. Pan didn’t steal any prestige or accolades from Dr. Bob, but he did steal some publicity that would have been profitable to cash in on. Perhaps for that we can be glad.