I No Longer Oppose Removing Non-Medical Exemptions

Once upon a time, I was against removing personal belief, religious, and non-medical exemptions that are often enshrined in the state laws that require children to receive certain vaccines to attend schools. These exemptions allow parents of under- and un-vaccinated children to send them to school.

I had wanted parents to happily and affirmatively accept vaccines for their children, and thought that by putting more obstacles to exemptions, parents could be given some time to come to the conclusion that vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

But time has run out.

In most states, the experiment of allowing parents to opt out of school vaccine requirements is relatively new. Certainly, when I attended school, there was no option to go to school unvaccinated. My Kindergarten Round-Up included swallowing the Oral Polio Vaccine. I am certain some parents in those days did not like vaccines, but that attitude was exceedingly rare.

I’m not going to go into a history of the anti-vaccine movement, but we know that vaccine refusal has become much less rare. And refusing vaccines is even more common in places that make it easy. According to one 2018 study:

[I]n the past decade, the number of philosophical exemptions to vaccination has increased in two-thirds of the states that allow such exemptions. As a result, researchers suggest that these areas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

If it were simply a rise in vaccine refusal, though, I still would not have become an advocate of removing the non-medical exemption. I got involved in working on vaccine legislation in Minnesota in 2011, when we were in the midst of a measles outbreak. 2017 saw yet another, larger, measles outbreak. Things have gotten progressively worse:

  • In the midst of the outbreak, anti-vaxxers flew out Mark Blaxill for a seminar with the afflicted community on continuing to file vaccine exemptions.
  • I have been told stories about the anti-vaxxers hiring students, during the outbreak, to hang “informational” flyers on doors in the neighborhood where measles was spreading.
  • I have been told stories about anti-vaxxers going into this neighborhood and telling women that the measles outbreak was fake–a health department trick to get them to vaccinate their children. Appointments to get vaccines were subsequently canceled.
  • Anti-vaxxers scheduled the “Vaxxed Bus” to arrive in Minnesota at the end of the outbreak.
  • Parents in Minnesota have tried to coordinate measles and chickenpox parties to make their children sick on purpose. Whether or not these parties actually happened, I have no idea.
  • Since the outbreak, anti-vaxxers have held “legislator only” events. This year’s featured Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. promoting a conspiracy theory about the Autism Omnibus Proceedings.

In this stew of disease activism, anti-vaxxers are asking for their “rights” to send their unvaccinated children to school be preserved because most parents are still vaccinating. Alternately, they claim their children pose no risk to other children or that herd immunity is fake.

In the meantime, because of anti-vaccine activism across the world, we all saw a 30% spike in measles cases in 2017.  The outbreak of measles in Clark County, Washington has taken attention away from an even larger outbreak in Rockland County, New York. Because measles is our most contagious disease, it is a harbinger of outbreaks of other diseases as vaccine refusal becomes more and more widespread.

Vaccine refusal has real consequences. It makes our communities sicker, and it threatens our classmates and neighbors who cannot be vaccinated or who are medically fragile. We are seeing this threat increase before our eyes. We don’t have the time to wait for parents to change their minds.

Lawmakers need to stop allowing anti-vaccine parents to advocate for their supposed right to rely on everyone else vaccinating in order to stop outbreaks while simultaneously and actively trying to convince parents to stop vaccinating. Their approach is two pronged: let me send my unvaccinated child to school while I work hard to make sure more and more unvaccinated children are going to school.

One pediatrician explained to me that allowing vaccine refusal is much like allowing second-hand smoking. You have the right to smoke, but you don’t have the right to smoke everywhere you want. You also have the right to leave your children unvaccinated. But you do not have the right to bring an unvaccinated child into the place where children are exposed to the most germs and spend the bulk of their day.

And listen–I’m not giving up on convincing parents that vaccinating their children is the best choice. I do still want parents to understand fully the benefits of vaccinating so that they feel good about doing so. This mission is still my primary mission. I want every single one of those children protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

If we are serious about protecting children, then we really need to bar vaccine refusal at the door to every school. I take no pleasure in asking schools to turn away children, but we have reached a critical point. The anti-vaxxers have forced our hand. We all have to sign on to eliminating non-medical exemptions.

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.

 

Vaccine Safety Advocate

It is interesting that hundreds of researchers and scientists work every day to monitor and study the safety of our vaccine program to ensure that it is safe, but “vaccine safety advocate” gets used, without irony, by anti-vaccine activists in order to obscure their true purpose of frightening parents away from vaccines by falsely connecting them to autism.

Words matter, and they matter especially in journalism. Casting people who form coalitions in order to slow the uptake of vaccines and promote misinformation about them as anything other than anti-vaccine is playing into their own public relations and feeding the anti-vaccine delusion.

So why does the Star Tribune keep changing articles and headlines to accommodate the public relations of Minnesota’s wealthiest and most politically connected anti-vaxxer?

On the heels of the Disneyland measles outbreak, Strib reporter wrote this terrible and falsely balanced article discussing how anti-vaccine activists were on the defense (since they were, you know, bringing back measles). Originally, the article began:

Jennifer Larson’s conversion to anti-vaccine started after her infant son got his measles shot in October 2001. Within minutes, she said, he passed out, within hours he stopped making eye contact, within weeks he lost a sense of touch and within months he was found to have severe autism.

The first line, that she was converted to anti-vaccine, is accurate. That the vaccine caused her child’s autism is, of course, refuted by science. But to the point: Jennifer Larson is anti-vaccine. It is her anti-vaccine stance that has led her to bring to Minnesota hearings doctors like Dr. Toni Bark, who is also anti-vaccine and who has a whole movie about the pretend dangers of vaccines. The bill they were testifying against would not have mandated vaccines; it simply would have required parents speak to a doctor before opting their children out of vaccines. Who is against people talking to their doctors about the risks of opting out of vaccines? People who are anti-vaccine.

But Jeremy Olson (or his editors) changed that first line of that awful article so that it read: “Jennifer Larson’s conversion to vaccine skeptic started after her infant son got his measles shot in October 2001″ (emphasis mine). Jennifer Larson, no doubt, did not like being called anti-vaccine because who wants to be against vaccines? Not someone who spreads misinformation about vaccines or keeps parents who have hesitation about them from their doctors. Oh wait.

In any case, the Star Tribune slipped up and called her anti-vaccine again, to report that she was planning, along with her anti-vaccine political party, a local fundraiser for anti-vaccine Libertarian presidential almost-candidate Rand Paul. The article was originally titled, “Head of anti-vaccination group to host Rand Paul fundraiser.” As far as headlines go, it was completely fair. Yet, months later, the headline has changed, and a correction now accompanies the article:

An earlier headline and photo caption with this article did not identify the Canary Party and its president, Jennifer Larson, correctly. Neither she nor the group oppose all vaccinations. Rather, they are raising questions about vaccine safety and federal vaccine research.

Oh really? She’s raising questions about vaccine safety? I know she has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to politicians in hopes of getting anti-vaccine misinformation about autism into the congressional record, but has she ever funded research about vaccine safety since she is so concerned about the federal research being done? (And can someone please point out how ridiculous it is to be concerned about “federal vaccine research” when vaccines are researched by governments and universities and non-profits and, yes, corporations across the globe, in lots of countries with lots of government structures?)

But the Star Tribune knows all this. I know they do because I have told them. So the real question remains: why do they keep capitulating to the absurd and inaccurate request by one anti-vaccine activists to be labeled as a “vaccine safety advocate.” Vaccine safety advocates do exist. They are the reason we have safe vaccines that prevent us from getting polio and diphtheria. They aren’t the lone voices repeating snippets of fraudulent, retracted studies.

Are Doctors Dumb and the CDC Evil?

Last week, I wrote about Dr. Toni Bark’s testimony in front of the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee concerning a vaccine bill that would have made it more difficult to opt out of school entry vaccine requirements. I touched briefly on her assertion that the CDC is not transparent, hides information, plays games, and is bad in all possible ways.

Today, I wanted to revisit some of these assertions because they are common to the anti-vaccine movement. In fact, in order to believe that vaccines are bad for children, a person must believe that either the CDC is evil and wants to purposely harm them, or doctors are bumbling fools who don’t know what they are doing.

You cannot be anti-vaccine without believing that someone is hiding something from you or that you are smarter than the experts in the field since nearly every single expert in the field agrees that vaccines are safe and effective. In fact, the anti-vaxxers like to trot out their list of doctors who believe that vaccines are bad, which is quaint because there are so few of these doctors that they fit on a list. The number of doctors who want you to vaccinate your children and yourself is so large that we cannot list them. It’s easier just to say, “Pretty much all of them, except the ones on your list (who usually have online stores).”

But let’s address some of the questions this either-or anti-vaccine assumption posits.

Do doctors know anything about vaccines? Or do anti-vaccine parents who use the internet find themselves better informed than their doctors?

For this answer, I would like to quote the reply given by Dr. Dawn Martin, pediatrician at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. She was asked this question directly by Minnesota Senator Eaton in response to Toni Bark’s testimony in front of the MN HHS committee. Here is what Dr. Martin said:

One of the centerpieces of what we do in pediatrics is preventative care, and one of the centerpieces of preventative care is vaccines. We take it very seriously. I’m actually a faculty member of Hennepin County Medical Center, where I am involved in teaching medical students [and] residents. We have in this state, I think cutting edge information through our health department and through original research that has been done here in this state on vaccines. We have several members who have testified here before you that are on the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practice for the CDC. We have, I believe, a wealth of solid immunization information here, and it is centerpiece in our medical school curriculum.

I can speak for what we do in pediatric resident training. It is something, that I know for a fact, that our pediatric trainees are well-versed and well-educated in solid immunization information. . . . So, yes, we are familiar with that research, we are familiar with the vaccines, I think most pediatricians take this very seriously. And it’s a very big part of our ongoing continuing medical education.

If you look at CMEs that most pediatricians engage in, immunization information, how are the schedules changing, wanting to be up-to-date, that is very important in pediatrics. And I am not a family doctor, but I would also venture to say it is a central part of their education as well as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. So I don’t know, Madam Chairman, if I have answered your question or if there is other information that you want. It really pains me to hear individuals say that physicians, and pediatricians in particular, don’t take this seriously or do the research or get the background that they need to come themselves informed and up-to-date. I will admit that it is a changing field and that it does take some very deliberate effort to stay up-to-date, but we do take that very seriously.

Is there a lack of transparency at the CDC? 

Whenever a large, bureaucratic government agency exists, we will naturally wonder if, in an attempt at self-preservation, will close their shutters to all scrutiny. However, when it comes to immunization, it is very important to note that the schedule is not made from within the Ivory Towers of the CDC. It is suggested, debated, and voted upon by doctors who are current practitioners working in communities around the country and outside the CDC.These researchers, doctors, nurses, and public health officials sitting on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) rely on research done from many different sources when deciding if and how to change the recommended vaccine schedule. And all of this is done as transparently as possible – in fact, you can watch the meetings on the internet as they take place.

Does the CDC waive Conflicts of Interest (COIs) in order to remain in cahoots with Big Pharma?

Part of the anti-vaccine trope about ACIP, however, is that those on it bring their Big Pharma love there without anyone ever being able to learn about their ties. Is this true? Is it possible that I could own  Big Pharma stock and sit on ACIP in secret hopes of becoming rich by getting vaccines added to the schedule? I asked Patsy Stinchfield CPNP, the first nurse to sit on ACIP, about this question. Here’s what she said:

To become an ACIP voting member I had to provide the CDC detailed statements of my and my husband’s investments. (I have no conflicts). At the beginning of every day of every ACIP you must declare if you have any conflict of interest and if you do you cannot vote on that issue.

So not only does someone have to declare COIs in order to be a member of ACIP, one also must declare before voting and abstain from votes where a conflict might exist.

The CDC probably wants to prevent disease and doctors probably know more than their patients.

Even I have had the exceedingly rare moment when I was right and the doctor was wrong. (A doctor once performed a strep test to humor me, and it came back positive.) But for the most part, those of us who never went to medical school know less about medicine than those who went. And while government agencies can feel like something faceless from a science fiction movie, when it comes to vaccines, it’s pretty easy to watch, in real time, what the CDC is doing.

Remember that in order to be anti-vaccine, you have to believe that either the experts are evil or the experts don’t know what they are doing. If you want to help a friend or family member overcome vaccine hesitancy, help them see the follies of this belief, first.

A special thank you to Dr. Dawn Martin and Patsy Stinchfield for their advocacy and their all-around awesomeness.

Who Hacked the Canary Party?

Have you heard of the Canary Party? They are the world’s only political party whose platform rests on being against vaccines. This political party, run by the same people who run a bunch of other anti-vaccine groups, is based in my home state and headed by someone who contributes large amounts of money to political campaigns across the country. From my best estimate, they would like the government to hold hearings where Canary Partiers could testify and spout their conspiracy theories in front of legislators in order to make their YouTube videos* look very official and scare unsuspecting parents away from vaccinating.

So why does Google think they have been hacked?

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 2.03.42 PM

I went to the website [hyperlink goes to a Do Not Link site], and it appears to be all the same stuff with no additional not anti-vaccine stuff that might occur had they actually been hacked.

Someone with technical skill might know what is going on. I do not. But here are some completely wild guesses about what Google might thinking when declaring the site hacked:

  • The website is from Bizarro-land. They can’t really mean all that stuff, can they? (Sorry, Google. They can.)
  • They have a hundred different people posting whatever they want on the website, and Google suspects that such a network is suspicious.
  • Google is worried about viruses spreading. Computer viruses, I mean. I’m worried about the other viruses.

Anyone have any real insights?

*This YouTube video links to a pro-vaccine doctor giving accurate information. No point in giving their anti-vaccine videos free press.

Pulling a Doctor Bob

When I first heard from local friends that the anti-vaxxers in their lives were all atwitter about Dr. Bob and talked about how much they loved him, I assumed they meant Dr. Bob Sears, the Orange County pediatrician who takes a supposed middle ground to sell books that frighten parents away from vaccines.

My heart sank when I discovered that my home state has its own Dr. Bob. (Seriously, does every state have a Dr. Bob?) Like the California Dr. Bob, the Minnesota Dr. Bob Zajac seems to care more about how the parents of his patients feel about vaccines than how to protect their children against vaccine-preventable disease. His website explains how much he cares about these parents’ feelings:

Our philosophy at New Kingdom Pediatrics is to know the current recommendations for vaccination of children (based on the Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publications) and to share that information with the parents.  We then focus our efforts in supporting the parent for choices they wish to make based on the information provided.  We do not judge parents, we do not exclude parents from our practice, and in fact we embrace the opportunity for a true partnership in any vaccine or vaccine-preventable illness discussion.  We believe there is some benefit to vaccination, and believe there are known/unknown risks with vaccines… but more than anything we also believe in parent choice.  We typically have a Notary on site to notarize any forms for parental conscientious objection to vaccines, and sign medical exemption forms for children who have had reactions to vaccination.  All recommended vaccines are now available and provided within our clinic.

See how much emphasis he puts on supporting parents and not judging parents? Certainly every parent who brings questions about vaccines to a pediatrician deserves support in a non-judgmental way. But then they deserve actual answers based on the science.

Parents who visit Minnesota Dr. Bob don’t get answers. They get some vague response about vaccines having “some benefit” and then a shrug about “known/unknown risks.” Why would a parents in his practice choose to vaccinate if the philosophy centers on how the parents feel more than helping the parents understand the real, actual answers that science has give us about vaccines?

Well, obviously the parents don’t vaccinate because they have a notary on-site to sign vaccine exemption forms. This seems an unnecessary convenience if the expectation is that parents would vaccinate.

I was going to leave this Dr. Bob alone because his practice is obscure and he is not a member of the AAP. I had assumed he was insignificant in the realm of anti-vaccine coddling doctors. And I had assumed wrong. It turns out, he is publishing a book with Kate Tietje, music teachers turned anti-vaccine mommy blogger and woo-entrepreneur (woo-preneur?).

9781592336739

For those who do not know Modern Alternative Mama’s Kate Tietje, she is indeed anti-vaccine. In fact, the menu of her blog has an entire vaccine section, which includes a response to us “vaccine propagandists”:

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 11.01.41 AM

And yes, I do chuckle that she included a response to “Growing Up Unvaccinated,” in which she leads with the statement that she cannot prove whether or not the post is real–a nod to the conspiracy-believers who think that the author was a secret CDC operative writing for us.

In another post on her blog, Tietje callously brushes off the treatment of Hib, a bacterial infection that can cause sepsis and meningitis: “Typically, Hib requires hospitalization and a 10-day course of antibiotics, and possibly a combination of a couple different types.  Most people recover without incident, although Hib is serious.” Oh, is that all?

All of her fear-mongering leads her readers to her shop, where she offers helpful books like “A Practical Guide to Children’s Health” for $17.95. That’s the real purpose of her blog, after all. To turn a profit.

Why would a pediatrician from suburban Minnesota align himself with a homeschooling mother whose background is in music education? Why hitch his wagon to a blogger who primarily writes recipe books?

Of course, I cannot know this Dr. Bob’s intentions. But I have to speculate that “Being Dr. Bob” means to placate the fears your patients have gleaned from the internet in order to sell your own books. In the meantime, I’d like to suggest to Minnesotans that if they want vaccine information from a Dr. Bob, that they instead opt for Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Bob Jacobson, who won’t sell you a book, but will carefully and kindly examine the evidence with you.

The Anti-vaxxers Might Wish that What was Lost had not been Found

The anti-vaxxers went wild after the recording of the Minnesota Senate hearing regarding an immunization bill (SF380) was lost. They had brought Dr. Toni Bark (who runs a website called SkinandchocolateDOTcom and recently helped release an infomercial-disguised-as-documentary) whose testimony was long. And that’s the end of my positive description of her testimony. Actually, one pro-vaccine advocate told me they heard a senator at the hearing say to an anti-vaccine organizer that they should never have her testify again because she was so unimpressive. Yet, the anti-vaccine word was that the recording was purposely hidden because her testimony was good and a threat to all things pro-vaccine. I don’t know whether or not they are rejoicing, though, at the found recording, which can be found here and on the Minnesota legislature website. If I were them, I would be particularly embarrassed at this exchange between Senator Carla Nelson and Dr. Toni Bark, where Senator Nelson questions how Dr. Bark could point to Minnesotan Dr. Greg Poland‘s research to support her position. I will transcribe the important part (about one hour in) here:

Sen. Nelson: My question, Dr. Bark…is you’ve referenced Dr. Gregory Poland and his study The Paradox of Measles, and I couldn’t tell exactly from your testimony if you were indicating that he was in opposition to this bill or support.

Dr. Bark: Oh, I don’t know how he would feel about the bill, all I know is…I have no idea how he would feel about the bill. So I spoke to him when I was writing my papers for my medical, my graduate school program which is a two year program in medical science and disaster medical management, and I focused on vaccines in that two years, and he has written extensively about measles outbreaks and talks about the paradox of measles and he’s not the only one. There’s mathematical biologists who actually because it’s a live viral vaccine and you shed and there’s going to be about 15 to 20 percent of the population that might not get an antibody response from the vaccine and then we know from certain outbreaks that even with an antibody response, you are not necessarily protected. So the mathematical biologists, and Poland has agreed, state that you can never eliminate measles and that, in fact, part of the reason because of what was said before is that women who didn’t have measles as children do not impart the same immunity. The immunity to their infants does not last as long, and so we tend to see measles in a vaccinated population going from a younger age and an older age, and not the normal age that you would normally see. So it is kind of complex, but he does, it’s the paradox of measles because the paradox does seem that most people with measles have been vaccinated.

Sen. Nelson: Madam Chair and Dr. Bark, well, I did just get off the phone with Dr. Greg Poland.

Dr. Bark: Oh wow!

Sen. Nelson: Because I had visited with him about this bill myself. It was a very important bill, and I know he is an expert on measles vaccines particularly. So, I will just tell you what he reiterated to me on the phone now. He is not in favor of mandated vaccines, except in certain cases such as healthcare workers, something like that. But this bill does not mandate vaccines.

Dr. Bark: Right.

Sen. Nelson: So we want to be very clear about this. It does not mandate vaccines. He also talked a little bit about the paradox in measles, and talking as a scientist, how exactly, as you said, he doesn’t believe that measles will ever be eradicated, for maybe all the reasons you said. But he also said that sometimes people who oppose the vaccines will pick out one sentence in the scientific study and extrapolate it to mean things that it does not mean. So he did say that he does support certainly informed exemption, such as this bill is, and his closing comment to me was also the first part is what you said, but perhaps not the second. He said that measles is the most contagious disease that we know, and yet we found that fear and ignorance is more so. So I just wanted to clarify the record on that Madam Chair. 

This exchange is, of course, full of anti-vaccine misinformation and smacks of anti-vaccine desperation in the Gish Gallop Dr. Toni Bark provides. I could do an in-depth analysis of how the measles vaccine does not shed or how most people who contract measles during an outbreak are unvaccinated, but I think the fact that she tries to hang on the words of a pro-vaccine doctor in his own state, to his own state senator, shows just how insulated and clueless the anti-vaccine movement is. That and the fact that they had her testify again in Vermont. Cue sad trombone.