Yes, You Should Get Your Child the HPV Vaccine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Smells Like Desperation

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

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

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

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

Then I remembered something.

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

Yeah.

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

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

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

In her own words:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Walgreens: Not Marco’s Puppetmaster

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

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

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A Plus, Marco, and Walgreens. Maniacal Laugh

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

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Spot the Walgreens logos

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

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

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Hear This Well was a campaign started by anti-vaccine parents of autistic children. Never heard of it? Ironic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*UPDATE: They’re back.

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Filling Wakefield’s Coffers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

 

 

 

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: