Is NVIC Anti-Vaccine?

Of course it is.

For those of you who do not know who NVIC (National Vaccine Information Center) is, I submit to you this simple and accurate definition by Michael Specter:

[A]n organization that, based on its name, certainly sounds like a federal agency. Actually, it’s just the opposite: the NVIC is the most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America, and its relationship with the U.S. government consists almost entirely of opposing federal efforts aimed at vaccinating children.

Of course, this is not how NVIC defines themselves. In an interview with NVIC president Barbara Loe Fisher, the author noted:

NVIC is not “anti-vaccine,” as mainstream news media might encourage the public to believe. Rather, it is pro-safe vaccines and exists to ensure the informed consent of the parents and patients who chose to vaccinate.

Of course, an organization that frames itself as being “pro-safe vaccines” should be able to answer what it would take to make a vaccine safe. In fact, one anti-vaccine parent DID ask NVIC what makes a vaccine safe, and received the clearest and most revealing response possible from NVIC’s New Hampshire State Director of Advocacy, Laura Condon:

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“Nothing can make a vaccine safe,” according to Laura Condon, speaking on behalf of Barbara Loe Fisher and NVIC. The assertion that it is impossible for vaccines to be safe is stunning, and it brings what is meant by “pro-safe vaccines” into focus.

Let’s keep this in mind the next time NVIC claims that they are for “informed consent” (meaning filling people with nonsense about how vaccines are never safe) and that they are “pro-safe vaccines” (even though they believe such thing is an impossibility. What they really want is for you to be scared witless about vaccines, to refuse vaccines, and to demand that it is as easy as possible to refuse vaccines without consequences (except, of course, leaving your children at risk for terrible diseases).

If you are for only safe vaccines, but safe vaccines are impossible, you are, by definition, against all vaccines. What is the name for someone who is against all vaccines? Oh yes, right. Anti-vaccine.

 

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.

 

 

 

The Conspiracy Theorists Were Right!

The latest episode of the X-Files touches on all the possible favorite anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. This post will contain spoilers, so if you want to watch the episode first, stop reading now.

Of course, the episode is all about the vaccines. It appears that the smallpox vaccine has given the human race the Spartan Virus, a virus which is unleashed by (of course) aluminum in the chemtrails overhead and by microwave radiation transmitted by those nefarious towers everywhere. The reason? The Smoking Man is mad at us about global climate change and wants to depopulate the planet. Fortunately, Agent Scully’s DNA has been altered and contains protective alien DNA. She uses her own genomes to make a vaccine in an attempt to save the human race.

Despite the fact that a vaccine is going to save the human race, the anti-vaxxers love this episode because it reinforces a number of their beliefs–that:

  1. Chemtrails are a thing
  2. The vaccinated spread disease
  3. “The science that we were taught will take us but a distance to the truth.”
  4. Vaccine programs have been “an unprecedented violation of the public trust”
  5. Aluminum is evil
  6. People who believe in climate change have nefarious plans
  7. There is a plot underway to depopulate the planet

All poppycock, of course, but studies have shown that people who are anti-vaccine are also prone to believing all manner of conspiracy theories, such as the moon landing being a hoax, because you are prone to believing that something is being hidden by those who are supposed to protect.

And that is why the topic of the smallpox vaccine being part of a plot to depopulate the planet makes for great science fiction television. The key word being, of course, fiction. I struggled with whether or not to expose what the anti-vaxxers were saying about this episode because it could be construed as mean-spirited, but my intent is rather to show that being anti-vaccine is predicated on believing the most spurious conspiracy theories possible.

In one anti-vaccine Facebook group, a discussion about how this X-Files episode exposed the truth was not limited to vaccines, but that was the basis for one person’s love of this episode: “loved it….chemtrails, vaccines loaded w/? for decades…++++ GREAT show tonite!” However, another commented warned that television like this serves to make people feel dismissive of the Truth:

My hubby reckons it’s just the way media tries to desensitize people to these issues. Then when you bring up the issues (that are very real!) most often times the ‘sheep’ just say things like ‘oh, god…this isn’t a movie you know!’ He’s right I think…
BUT it’s great to see storylines like this, might get some people thinking at least!

One blogger* discusses how the episode underscored everything those in the know have been saying about vaccines for decades:

Everything that has been said about weaponized vaccines leading to pandemics was presented in a telescoped fashion, with the timeline from “Case Zero” to full pandemic seemingly only a few hours: anthrax, bubonic plague, ramped-up influenza…

A simple search for vaccines will turn up all sorts of these conspiracy theories because anti-vaxxers believe that vaccines are a weapon used against people in order to enact all sorts of so-called awful ends, from autism to complete depopulation of the planet a la Plague, Inc.

They believe the conspiracy theories because they have to. Because either the scientists, corporations, and governments of the world are telling the truth that vaccines are safe and save lives or someone along the chain is wrong or stupid. And once one person is wrong or stupid, a bunch of other people have to come along and actively hide their wrongness and stupidness–and the only reason to do that is some sort of evil or greedy plot. Once you believe that you should disbelieve the experts, the next step is to accept that the experts are actively hiding information from you because they are trying to hurt you. And when you believe that, a show like the latest X-Files episode seems less like science fiction and more like your darkest fears being exposed before you.

The problem is two-fold: that’s not how fiction works and that conspiracy theory is untenable.

I can’t dissect the anti-vaccine reaction to the X-Files without digging into my past as an English teacher (my MA is in English literature and writing). One of my favorite units to teach was science fiction because it is a bold and audacious genre. It speaks to us so much about our fears and about what we refuse to see, but it isn’t meant to be a documentary.

One of the main fears science fiction exposes is how the technology we create will end up destroying us. Think Terminator and Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, for you purists). However, watching Terminator should not make someone go out and destroy all robot technology because it is bound to wage war against us one day. The idea behind science fiction such as these is that as people, we do not want to lose our humanity to our technology. As far as the X-Files, we now fear the things we cannot see (alien DNA, viruses) more than robots, and so we want to make sure that we retain our humanity even as we look to alien technologies to save ourselves. Oh, it’s not a documentary at all.

To the second point, a conspiracy theory to hide the evils of vaccines would never hold. One physicist actually did the calculations showing that a conspiracy concerning vaccines would unravel within 3.2 years:

[E]ven if a small devious cohort of rouge [sic] scientists falsified data for climate change or attempted to cover-up vaccine information, examination by other scientists would fatally undermine the nascent conspiracy. To circumvent this, the vast majority of scientists in a field would have to mutually conspire—a circumstance the model predicts is exceptionally unlikely to be viable. . . .

So where does that leave us? Well, it’s all a matter of taste. If you enjoy the escapism and intellectual intricacies of science fiction, you probably enjoyed this X-Files episode (because, let’s face it, it is a heck of a lot better than that wretched last season we thought ended it all before). And if you are a conspiracy theorist, you probably take the entire thing, wrongly, at face value and there is no hope for you at all.

Mandates, Ben Franklin, and Vaccine Injury

On Monday (President’s Day), I flew to Philadelphia to be part of a panel at the Franklin Institute discussing whether or not we should mandate vaccines. The other panelists were Dr. Paul Offit (you may have heard of him) and Dr. David Ropiek. It was an exciting conversation, I learned a ton, and I was grateful to the good people (both for and against mandates) who drove through the evening’s sleet and snow storm to attend.

As you can imagine, before the event began, it was the sources of some controversy. One chiropractor/blogger went to great lengths to explain why the esteemed Franklin Institute should not provide a forum for such a discussion. Most of her letter, of course, was an exhortation about how awful Paul Offit is and how much she disagrees with his science-based approach to vaccines. Her letter, of course, had no effect on the evening at all, but I mention it because we knew going in to the evening that the audience would include people who were not only opposed to vaccine mandates but also opposed to the very existence of vaccines at all.

As a side note, as much as Paul Offit is vilified, he really does deserve none of it. He is as kind a person as you could imagine, spending the time before the event asking how my children were doing and providing updates about his children. He truly cares about children not in the abstract, but about your children and mine (and his).

Because we were prepared for backlash, no questions were taken live. Instead, people used the Twitter hashtag #TalkFI to submit their questions. And that brings me to the one question I want to answer more completely.

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Tweet: What do you say to parents who do have a vaccine injured child?

To provide a little bit of context, the question was presented to the panel as “What do you say about mandates to parents who say that their child is vaccine injured?” Phrased that way, the question really could have come from anyone–pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine, vaccine-ambivalent. I did not know that I was answering someone who found what we were saying offensive.

So my answer was, in essence, “Vaccines don’t cause autism.” And why was that my answer?

  1. Vaccines don’t cause autism.
  2. 90% of the time, when someone asks me about “vaccine injury,” they mean autism. Parents whose children have had adverse reactions to vaccines that match what the science tells us to expect usually do not refer to their children as “vaccine injured.”

From there, Dr. Offit took up the question and gave a fantastic explanation about what a true adverse effect from vaccination entails and how honestly rare it is. His answer was far more eloquent than my blunt response, and I think it provided parents some real insight into why it really is okay to require that children who attend school are vaccinated.

But what about mandates? The problem with a panel discussion is that often one panelist brings up a point that launches a new discussion before the answer can be completely discussed. So here is what I would say to a parent whose child suffered a real and debilitating adverse event after vaccines.

I am sorry that your child had a reaction to a vaccine. In an attempt to protect your child, a medication caused harm, and that was certainly both unintended and unfortunate. Because your child cannot receive this vaccine, or potentially any vaccines, a medical exemption will keep him in school. I will work very hard to make sure all the children around him who can be vaccinated are vaccinated because if a vaccine can injury your child this way, it is possible a disease can do something much worse.

That’s my complete answer. It’s important to note that parents whose children have suffered real adverse effects confirmed by science and evidence often agree that other children should be vaccinated to protect their children. David Salamone is one such child. He contracted polio from the Oral Polio Vaccine and has been permanently disabled since. And yet, he says:

I’m not against vaccinations. I’m pro-vaccinations. We had thousands of people contracting polio prior to the vaccination. We came out with the vaccination, and that number decreased significantly. So less people are getting sick, less people are getting affected, and that’s a good thing.

None of this, of course, will make any difference to the people who came out to the Franklin Institute to confront Dr. Offit or who wrote letter to them ahead of time protesting the forum at all. At the end of the evening, after trying to refute on Twitter the points we were making, Carol had one last point:

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Tweet: It’s more than one in a million. Don’t allow them to keep lying.

Could I have given any answer to appease her? No. I look at the evidence about vaccines and think, “This makes sense, and we must shape our policies based on what we know and how we can best protect children.” Vaccine opponents like her look at the evidence about vaccines and say, “This evidence doesn’t line up with what I believe, so there must be other evidence people are hiding. We must make policies based on the evidence we cannot see.”

Policies made to appease people who have beliefs that fly in the face of evidence or who have fallen prey to the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement are unwise. They are policies that appease the fears of adults rather than protect children against the real and dangerous threat of disease. And while fear can be a powerful motivator, protecting our vulnerable must be more powerful.

P.S. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BeLikeBen this week to highlight Ben Franklin’s commitment to public health. And if you’d like to watch the entire panel discussion, here you go:

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.

 

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.”

 

Tetanus Vaccines Encourage Walking on Rusty Nails

Parents all over the country are submitting their children for one vaccine that protects against a disease they know nothing about. If you ask the average parent “What is tetanus?”, they are unlikely to provide a complete answer. They probably have only heard of tetanus from the vaccine and not from family stories about ancestors who contracted tetanus.

In fact, these parents are submitting their children for vaccination against a disease well before they will even encounter this disease. One of the most common ways tetanus is contracted is through puncture wounds, such as you might get from stepping on a nail. When was the last time a 2-month old (yes, that’s the age of the first tetanus vaccine) stepped on a nail? And even when they start walking, can’t you just teach them not to step on nails? Isn’t giving a vaccine against tetanus just giving a child permission to walk through construction sites and step on as many nails as they’d like?

What’s more, even though the vaccine is often mandated for school entry, tetanus is not spread to innocent victims. You can’t catch it by breathing, the way you might catch measles or chickenpox. It’s not that we want our children getting lockjaw, but can’t we just parent them really well away from getting it?

What’s that? Tetanus is a horrible and cruel way to die and spreads in multiple ways beyond rusty nails? Tetanus killed 580 people per year in the U.S. before the vaccine? The vaccine could in no way encourage promiscuous walking behavior? You can’t parent a child better as an alternative to vaccination?

I’ll make a deal with you. I will accept that the tetanus vaccine is important for the above reasons if you accept that the HPV vaccine is important for those same reasons. (You knew I was going this direction, didn’t you?)

  • HPV can spread in more ways than simple vaginal or anal intercourse. There is evidence that it can be spread through deep kissing, oral sex, and other ways.
  • HPV-related cervical cancer kills 4,000 women in the U.S. every year today. (Yikes! That’s more than tetanus!)
  • The HPV vaccine does not encourage promiscuity. When deciding whether or not to have sex, it is highly unlikely a young adult is considering their immunization record in the same way toddlers do not consider their tetanus vaccine when walking around.
  • Your lovely tween or teen may have promised not to engage in any sexual activity before marriage. However, their virginity is not a guarantee of protection because you are not parenting their future spouse (who could have multiple partners) and because not all sexual activity is consensual. Right now, 79 million Americans have HPV. Some of them were virgins when they got married.

Parents get squeamish thinking about their children’s future sexual activity in ways that they don’t get squeamish thinking about their children’s future walking activity. But we should no more tell parents to forego the tetanus vaccine and just make their children wear shoes outside than we should tell parents to teach their children to use condoms (or make purity promises) in lieu of the HPV vaccine. When it comes down to it, it’s not about walking or sex–it’s about preventing real and deadly diseases. And maybe the tetanus vaccine doesn’t encourage kids to walk on rusty nails after all.