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.

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.

 

 

 

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:

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.

Stop the Reduction of Science into Shouting Matches

When news becomes entertainment, it often devolves into shouting matches, and I don’t know about ratings or advertisers, but I suspect that these shouting matches are good for both. Bring together two people who staunchly support opposing positions, and–bam!–shouting match entertainment. But you know what they aren’t good for? Facts, and scientific facts in particular.

So inviting both Dr. Corey Hebert from Louisiana State University and Christina Hildebrand of A Voice for Choice on The Ed Show on MSNBC last month did absolutely nothing to further science. The discussion, which was supposed to center on Carly Fiorina’s statements about so-called parental choice and vaccines quickly devolved into hashtag-driven accusations about the horrors of vaccines and the impossible task of trying to refute these simplistic falsehoods by explaining complex science in mere seconds. Take a look:

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Of course, something that could have been a discussion about the balancing of rights when it comes to vaccine mandates became a discussion about vaccines and autism. When you invite an anti-vaccine activist onto your show, be aware that they only have two rabbits in their hat: vaccines cause autism (they don’t) and the CDC is evil (because evil).

The media is culpable, of course, because being salacious rather than sticking with the facts leads to outbreaks and perpetuates myths. And false balance is a real problem when it comes to science reporting, but especially journalism concerned about vaccines.

There is no clearer way to say it then this: vaccines do not cause autism, and there is no debate about concerning it. There are not two sides to vaccines and the science is not a political issue. The media need to keep this in mind when framing their stories.

One could make the case about the validity of discussing public policy and how best to require vaccines for school. However, that discussion is never going to happen meaningfully with an anti-vaccine activist because of those two rabbits I mentioned earlier. They only agree to media interviews so that they can perpetuate their long-disproven myths. They aren’t there for policy discussions. They are there to scare parents away from vaccines.

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And this is where everyone else in the world comes in. There are too many new journalists always coming into the industry who have immunization stories thrust at them even though they have no background in science reporting. False balance will always be an issue unless we do something.

I know how much we feel pulled to answer interview requests because we want to explain how safe and effective vaccines are to the public. It is a public service to go on television and make sure the news gets it right. But if we share space on the page or on TV with an anti-vaccine activist, we are only helping to give them the opportunity to sell their myths and we legitimize them by making their ideas seem equivalent with the science we are presenting. I put that in bold because if you read nothing else, I want you to understand that.

We need to stop agreeing to interviews when anti-vaxxers are being interviewed for the same story.

And I have done this. I am minor and easily replaceable, but it is a matter of principle. A minor cable news channel called and asked me for an on-camera interview. I asked immediately who else was being interviewed and found out they were also interviewing an anti-vaccine activist. So I said no. As luck would have it, they immediately called a friend of mine who told me about the request, and I was able to share with her what I’d learned. She, too, turned down the interview. What did they do? After watching the interview, it appears they stopped some random person in the parking lot and asked his opinion. Instead of the anti-vaxxer being given equal weight with a non-profit director, she was given the weight of a random guy from the parking lot. I wasn’t thrilled she was interviewed, but she didn’t seem as legitimate as she might have.

No matter who you are: a doctor, a public health official, a parent, etc., if someone calls and asks to interview you for a media story, the first words out of your mouth should be, “Who else are you interviewing?” If they are interviewing an anti-vaxxer, just say no. They might find someone else to interview, unless we all agree to stop being complicit in perpetuating false balance. But I hope, over time, they will just stop calling the anti-vaxxers and realize that the real battle is against preventable disease and not a cage match involving opposing sets of facts.

Anti-Vaccine Petition Fails Gloriously

Anti-vaccine activists fail to accurately assess science as often as they fail to assess their public image. Remember when you learned in junior high that before you ask a parent for something, you should be reasonably certain you know how they are going to respond. Some anti-vaccine leaders never learned that lesson.

In that vein, they petitioned the White House to ask them to “PROHIBIT ANY LAWS MANDATING THE FORCE AND REQUIREMENT OF VACCINATIONS OF ANY KIND” (all caps theirs). They were pretty excited in February when they collected a quarter of the signatures they needed in five days. Things were looking up for woefully misnamed crazy pants organizations like VacTruth.

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But six months later, oh the gnashing of teeth as their bubble has burst. Can you believe that the White House is relying on the CDC and not hashtaggers and YouTubers for medical information, citing science instead of conspiracy theory? Their reply to the anti-vaxxers was, in essence, no. Because science.

And what’s more, you should actually vaccinate your children. Yes, you, anti-vaxxer. Vaccinate your children.

We all have a role to play. Vaccinations are one of the great triumphs of science and public policy, and we should make their benefits available to everyone.

As the Surgeon General makes clear, “Vaccines are safe and effective ways to prevent disease and death. They are necessary. They save lives.”

And as the President himself said earlier this year, “There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”

If you’re concerned about your health, the science is clear: Vaccinate yourself and your children.

For more information about vaccination, please visit www.vaccines.gov.

Thanks, Obama. No really, thanks. That is glorious.

But the anti-vaxxers do not think so. In one public anti-vaccine Facebook group, members use dehumanizing and ableist language to bring home the point that vaccine are terrible. Evidence of racism within that group is discussed here. And then they went full on crazy, claiming that the White House is fill of not-humans (“I do not even think this is a HUMSN BEING! Has to be an alien, robot or some kind of android !”) and that that the response was evidence of government fascism:

He’s a liar. I grew up in an era where all children got measles, and I never heard of anyone dying. He’s not a medical consultant. He’s a political shill working for wealthy corporations. He’s disgusting. No government has a right to madate medical procedures. What he says isn’t even based on medical science. He doesn’t represent the people or their best interests. He represents fascists.

Which smacks of the tactic you may have employed in junior high: when you get the answer you didn’t want, throw a fit.

Let’s Teach Olivia the Truth About Vaccines

Of course passing SB277 in California (the bill that ends the personal belief exemption) does not end discussions about vaccines or about the best way to raise immunization rates in every community and every school. In fact, there’s a legitimate debate we should still have about how to legislate vaccine requirements.

What isn’t legitimate, however, is a newly-released YouTube video that frames the discussion about the legislation (and the hoped-for referendum to repeal it) in terms of all the anti-vaccine tropes one fictional girl could throw at us.

The video features a young, partially vaccinated girl named Olivia. Olivia tells us that SB277 is bad and unfair, but–like many children–she is ill-informed about vaccines. One can only assume that Olivia’s parents have read scary things on the internet or taken her to see a charlatan-pediatrician who peddles books and supplements along with medical advice. In fairness to Olivia, I’d like to take the time to correct some of her misstatements.

1. We give too many vaccines at once (or at all).

Parents often worry about how many vaccines their children are given, despite the fact that vaccines today contain thousands fewer antigens than they did when I was a child. In fact, even though vaccines might make a child come down with a fever or feel sluggish for a day or two, each one contains only a handful of antigens and challenge the immune system much less than the thousands of germs a baby encounters while eating, breathing, and generally being alive. If Olivia’s parents are worried about too many vaccines, they might want to put her in a bubble because germs (and the other ingredients in vaccines) are literally all around her always.

2. Parents have the Constitutional right not to vaccinate their children.

I am not a Constitutional lawyer, but I’m going with no. And the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agrees. Just this year, they rejected a challenge to New York’s law that mandates all children be vaccinated for school.

3. Children receive 49 doses of 14 vaccines. And that’s a scary big number.

Olivia’s parents are upset that vaccines prevent 14 disease in children before they reach the age six. These are the diseases that used to maim and kill children–diseases like diphtheria, polio, Hib, and even chickenpox.

Unfortunately, Olivia’s parents have also taught her to add wrong. Looking at the CDC schedule, I count 29 doses of vaccines (and 37 if you count the yearly flu vaccine). How are the anti-vaxxers getting 49 doses? I think they are counting each component of each vaccine separately. For example, they are counting the MMR as three vaccines.

Still, even counting boosters as separate vaccines is sort of silly. Boosters help strengthen immunity (or catch those who didn’t mount full immunity the first time). Except in the case of the yearly flu vaccines, boosters are not new vaccines and do not present brand new challenges to the immune system. So the real number to be concerned over is 14, and the number 14 signifies the diseases you are working to protect your children from.

4. The Disneyland measles outbreak wasn’t a big deal because only a few kids got sick.

In other words, the herd is robust enough for Olivia to hide within that no one should ask her parents that she contribute to it. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson brilliantly pointed out the success story behind the Disneyland measles outbreak: most people were vaccinated, so it wasn’t worse. But Disneyland pointed out a crack in herd immunity and showed us that if we allow more children to hide in the herd, the strength of the herd could disappear and more of those children could get sick–especially consider how infectious measles is.

5. No one has died from measles.

Besides this Washington woman, who should have been able to rely on herd immunity to keep her safe but couldn’t.

And though her death is billed the first in 12 years, Dr. Ianelli has found other measles deaths in the U.S., including those who have died from the horrifying SSPE complication that can occur years after measles infection.

6. Herd Immunity in California is fine.

I argued before that while herd immunity might be high across the country or the state, the statistic that really affects the individual child is the vaccination rate where the spend the majority of their time in close proximity with germy people: their classroom and their school. And sometimes those rates are really, really low. In fact, the Atlantic highlighted during the outbreak that some communities in Los Angeles have immunization rates as low as the South Sudan.

7. The government claims that vaccines are 100% safe.

What? Where did Olivia’s parents hear this? Everything I have seen from the government and from pharmaceutical sources shows that vaccines are not 100% anything, but that the risks of not vaccinated are far larger than the risks of vaccinating. Here’s a little quote from the CDC not saying that vaccines are 100% safe:

Vaccines are the best defense we have against infectious diseases; however, no vaccine is actually 100% safe or effective for everyone because each person’s body reacts to vaccines differently.

8. Thousands people are injured by vaccines.

The original source of this is Dr. Bob Sears, and he is using VAERS to add up reported adverse events, even though the VAERS website itself states that anyone can report anything on VAERS (including turning into the Incredible Hulk) and that those reports do not prove that vaccines caused the event.

PolitiFact analyzed Sears’ numbers and allowed him to comment, but concluded that this claim is “Mostly False.”

9. Vaccine Court has paid out thousands of settlements.

I call this the “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” argument since courts are never definitive proof of anything. Vaccine Court (NVICP) provides a valuable service to the very few families who suffer suspected vaccine-related injuries. However, the burden of proof for winning a settlement is very low, and the court may compensate cases that are not genuinely caused by vaccines.

But let’s assume for a moment that all the cases settled in Vaccine Court (NVICP) are caused by vaccines? Even those numbers show how amazingly safe vaccines are. As Allison Hagood explains:

If you included all adult vaccinations, and counted number of injections rather than number of vaccinated persons, you’d get something that probably looks like 99.9999999999999999% of child and adult vaccinations resulting in no serious adverse events.

10. Hundreds of vaccines are currently being developed.

The insinuation Olivia is making is that soon, children will be required to get hundreds of vaccines before entering school. The truth is, though, that very, very few vaccines under development ever make it to mark. Developing a new vaccine is very difficult, and most fail to show effectiveness and safety at some point and the work on them ceases.

But what of these vaccines under development? They include vaccines for Alzheimer’s, HIV, and pancreatic cancer. These are not vaccines that will be added to the childhood schedule.

Conclusion

Once again, the anti-vaccine movement is trying to push policy by promoting misinformation and obfuscation. Policy debates ought to have facts at their center. Pushing through a referendum with misinformation is par for the course for anti-vaxxers, and that’s why they are being given fewer seats at the policy discussion table.

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.

So the Anti-Vaxxers Want CA Governor Jerry Brown to Meet with Dr. Toni Bark

Following the passage through the California Assembly of SB277 – a bill that would eliminate personal belief exemptions to school entry vaccine requirements, the anti-vaxxers have been looking for their Hail Mary pass. And some of them have banded together to buy Illinois Dr. Toni Bark a plane ticket so that she can meet with Governor Jerry Brown. (Read about the other things they are buying, too.)

That’s fine. I have seen Dr. Toni Bark in person and was witness to her Gish Gallop testimony in front of the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee. It was terrible, and she is not a good representative for any cause. But what was even more amazing was that nearly everything she said was wrong. I have never heard so much wrong in such a short span of time.

Actually, it wasn’t short. Each person giving testimony was supposed to testify for only two minutes. Her testimony went on for twelve, and by the meandering, non-linear nature of it, I am fairly certain it wasn’t planned in advance. But the anti-vaxxers were impressed, and they have been sharing this testimony all over the place.

Here’s some of what she got wrong in twelve minutes of talking:

Before she was enlightened, Toni Bark thought vaccines are safe and effective for all children because that’s what the CDC says.

  • Believing that the CDC says that vaccines are (or should be) effective for every child and cause absolutely no adverse health events for any child is a nirvana fantasy. In fact, the CDC acknowledges that some people should not get vaccinated and that while vaccines work very well, nothing is 100% effective. In fact, because not everyone can get vaccinated and not all of those who do respond to the vaccine, it is all the more important that everyone else is vaccinated.

Vaccines are listed as unavoidably unsafe, which means they are defective by nature.

  • This isn’t even close to what “unavoidably unsafe” means. According to my good friend and legal expert Dorit Reiss, unavoidably unsafe products are: “NOT defective, and the product’s manufacturer is not liable for the products’ inherent risks….[They] are so valuable – have so many benefits – that the risk associated with their use is justified.” And the risks of vaccines are very, very small.

Vaccines are not tested for effectiveness, only for efficacy – antibody response.

Dr. Poland and the paradox of measles.

  • During the this hearing, as Toni Bark testified, Senator Carla Nelson (Rochester) called Dr. Greg Poland and asked him for his opinion of Dr. Toni Bark using his study as part of her testimony. He was not supportive of the way she used it.

Most people who get sick in outbreaks are vaccinated.

Doctors only learn about the vaccine schedule and nothing else about vaccines.

  • Dr. Dawn Martin later beautifully countered this point. Anti-vaccine parents like to believe that they know more than pediatricians and doctors when it comes to vaccines, but they simply do not because, as Dr. Martin pointed out, doctors learn about vaccines in medical school.

Vaccine shedding causes illness.

People in recent measles outbreaks had the “vaccine viral strain” and not wild measles.

The CDC only references itself because it plays games. The CDC waives everyone’s Conflict of Interest on their advisory committees. The CDC refuses to study the vaccinated versus unvaccinated. The CDC is not transparent. And the CDC is in all ways evil and nefarious.

  • Get the feeling that Toni Bark doesn’t like the CDC? A good villain is always convenient, and the CDC, with its ginormousness and its slightly socially awkward scientists is easily made into a villain. But the CDC is just one governmental agency across the world that supports vaccines. In Australia, Canada, and the UK, the governments support vaccines so much that they offer them for free to their citizens. Millions upon millions of researchers, doctors, nurses, public health officials, NGO workers from thousands of university labs, independent research labs, government agencies, and non-profits endorse vaccines. So she has her work cut out for her making all of them villains
  • The CDC relies on studies from all over the world and doctors and researchers with expertise in making decisions. They don’t ask the opinions of people who own websites named Skin and Chocolate.

Dr. Toni Bark is for truth.

Pediatricians don’t know about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

  • By federal law, doctors are required to provide parents with a Vaccine Information Sheet. I believe all doctors can read. Every VIS contains this statement:

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Doctors cannot diagnose vaccine injuries.

  • Here, Toni Bark is being coy. What she means is that doctors will not say that vaccines cause autism. Mostly because they don’t, they do not, they really don’t, and they absolutely do not. So a doctor will not diagnose autism as a “vaccine injury” because it is not. Which leads me directly to her next point.

At one point in her twelve-minute rambling, Toni Bark looked directly at me and said, “Parents whose children are not damaged by vaccines should count their blessings.”

  • You know what? Toni Bark doesn’t know anything about me. My children are blessings, and I am happy that they are mine, but she has no idea what kind of challenges or medical issues my children have had. What she should know is that her campaign to spread misinformation leads to cases of children being exposed to illness to sometimes devastating consequences. What a horribly callous statement on her part. When I stared back at her, she meandered back to another point.

The CDC whistleblower was given immunity by President Obama.

  • This isn’t even a thing. The President doesn’t grant immunity since genuine whistleblowers are already afforded that protection by law. This point is either a fantasy or a fabrication. But why would she claim that President Obama gave someone at the CDC whistleblower immunity? Onto the next point:

The CDC made researchers omit data that would show that black children catch autism from on-time MMR vaccination.

The NFL has a mumps outbreak.

  • Okay, this is wrong because it was the NHL, but it is a seriously huge mistake to come to Minnesota and mistake hockey for football. Here’s a bit on why the NHL mumps outbreak happened.

If you think my analysis of Toni Bark was a bit snarky or cruel, keep in mind that this is how she responded to a tweet from a woman named Liz Ditz:

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 2.17.47 PM

Actually, after rereading what I have written, maybe Governor Brown should meet with Toni Bark. Maybe he should invite a pediatric intensive care doctor along, too. That might just be enough to convince him that the anti-vaccine movement needs to be stopped.

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?

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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.