“Baby shots” used to be a boring subject, and taken for granted. As the number of vaccines grew from seven in the 1980s to 16 requiring 70 doses now, most parents obediently brought their children to the doctor when shots were “due.” The compliance rate was more than 90 percent. Parents who objected for one reason or another just got an exemption from school-attendance mandates and kept quiet. Every state had a medical exemption, most had a religious exemption, and many had easily obtained philosophical or personal-belief exemptions.
Now that states are repealing exemptions, parents are descending on state capitals en masse, many with severely injured children in tow. Thousands rallied outside an Albany courthouse as a lawsuit challenging an end to religious exemptions was heard.
Despite vociferous objections and attempts to disrupt hearings, the California legislature passed a law (SB 276) severely limiting medical exemptions, the only kind available. “Rogue doctors” were allegedly selling exemptions.
The bill’s author, Sen. Richard Pan, M.D., said that everybody who really needed an exemption would get one. However, 882 out of 882 pediatric practices told a mother that they would not write an exemption for a child who had had anaphylactic shock. This life-threatening allergic reaction, which kills rapidly by closing off the airway, is one of the few allowable indications for an exemption. But now, a parent not willing to risk recurrence cannot send her child to school.
Doctors are no doubt afraid of being targeted by the medical licensure board. SB 276 mandates scrutiny of doctors who have issued more than five exemptions, including exemptions made before the bill takes effect.
Parents are besieging legislators with reports of children who died or experienced devastating illnesses or disability after getting their shots. Interchanges on Twitter are passionate. One juxtaposed a sign saying “Vaccinate your f****** children” with a photograph of a gravestone and the message “We did.”
Whatever happened to hundreds of once-healthy children—it’s impossible to prove that the shot did it—the public-health dogma is: “Vaccines are safe and effective.” So safe and so effective that vaccines should be the exception to the rule that medical interventions are illegal and unethical without informed consent?
Two articles in the fall issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons challenge the orthodoxy that vaccines should be mandated, overriding patients’ liberties in an effort to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases.
How much risk can a person be compelled to take, even to save the life of another? In other contexts, such as exposure to radiation or lead, a risk of 1 in 10,000 or even less is considered unacceptable. Yet a much higher risk from vaccines cannot be ruled out. According to the most current information available, only 1 percent of serious side effects (such as death or permanent disability) are likely reported to the government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
The 1905 Supreme Court precedent for upholding mandates, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, concerned a raging, deadly smallpox epidemic. Later courts have ignored warnings about the potential abuse of state police power, and permitted mandates to prevent possible future epidemics of much milder diseases. Now, a measles outbreak of some 1,200 cases—thankfully no deaths so far—has triggered the demand for stricter laws, suppression of “anti-vaxxer” information, and harsh measures including $1,000 fines for refusing vaccination in Brooklyn.
Even if at least a few of the tragedies are caused by a vaccine, isn’t it worth it to wipe out dread diseases?
In the 20th century, mankind seemed to be winning the war on microbes. Smallpox was eradicated, and antibiotics were vanquishing infectious diseases. The growing threat of microbial resistance has caused senior public health officials in the UK and the U.S. to be concerned about the “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and the “end of modern medicine."
Parental outrage might cause reexamination of vaccine orthodoxy. It also raises the question of where to draw the line against encroachment of our freedom.
I like this news. A lot.
Facebook (which owns Instagram) will have a new feature for when a user searches for vaccine related content. The new feature in question pops open a window offering educational information about vaccines and will connect the user to either the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) if you are a US user and to the WHO (World Health Organization) if you are outside the US. This is all designed to tackle the rapidly spreading anti-vax movement that has single handedly brought back the measles with outbreaks in 31 states. The measles, a disease eradicated from the US in 2000! And it's back!
Thanks, anti-vaxxers! =(
Well, FB is pushing against anti-medical science with their new educational pop up windows.
Thanks, Facebook! =)
The full Facebook press release:
“We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic. We are starting by taking a series of steps:
How This Will Work
Leading global health organizations, such as the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have publicly identified verifiable vaccine hoaxes. If these vaccine hoaxes appear on Facebook, we will take action against them.
For example, if a group or Page admin posts this vaccine misinformation, we will exclude the entire group or Page from recommendations, reduce these groups and Pages’ distribution in News Feed and Search, and reject ads with this misinformation.
We also believe in providing people with additional context so they can decide whether to read, share, or engage in conversations about information they see on Facebook. We are exploring ways to give people more accurate information from expert organizations about vaccines at the top of results for related searches, on Pages discussing the topic, and on invitations to join groups about the topic. We will have an update on this soon.
We are fully committed to the safety of our community and will continue to expand on this work.”
This week the CDC reported their findings of thousands of children being enrolled in school without any waiver for vaccine exemption.
As states aim to limit parental choice to limit vaccination based on religious objections, the country is fighting multiple outbreaks, including Measles, Mumps and Hepatitis A, which are potentially preventable with vaccination.
When the CDC looked at data submitted by 27 states, the majority of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children in 10 states lacked waivers.
Which brings to question, are other reasons at play when a child is not vaccinated rather than religious or medical objections?
When a family adheres to the vaccination regimen, office visits are need at 1 month, 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 12 months, sometimes 15 months of age, and 4 years old – 6 years old, in addition to any other follow ups deemed necessary by the medical provider.
Most medical offices that provide vaccines are only open during the weekday, hence a parent who cannot take off work to bring their child in the doctor may have difficulty adhering to the vaccination schedule.
And then when asked why their child wasn’t vaccinated, it may be less embarrassing to cite “religious reasons” rather than fear of losing income or one’s job when taking off for the doctor’s visit.
I suggest weekend or night “vaccination clinics” at schools to make parents aware of alternative times to vaccinate and increase access to those who may not be able to leave their job during the weekday.
In general, it is not a good idea to panic about anything. The panic itself often causes more harm than the original threat.
Crisis situations, real or contrived, lead to new intrusive laws that the public would never accept otherwise. We supposedly cherish freedom, but if we believe that the world will end if we don’t act NOW, then we may clamor for the government to save us. Cynical politicians bent on increasing their power never let a crisis go to waste.
Something like the Green New Deal—the end of our comfortable, prosperous lifestyle—takes a truly apocalyptic threat. But to eliminate our freedom to decline a medical treatment, the threat that “millions will die” of measles is evidently enough. Or if not millions (most older people had measles and recovered fully), a few especially vulnerable children, who can’t be vaccinated themselves, might catch measles and die.
There are several hundred cases of measles nationwide, more than in 2014, and bills are being pushed through state legislatures to eliminate all but very narrow exemptions to the 60 shots now mandated for school attendance.
In New York City, people are receiving summonses based on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s emergency order. Everybody, adult or child, who lives in four ZIP code areas must get an MMR shot or prove immunity, or face the prospect of a $1,000 fine ($2,000 if you don’t appear as ordered). Your religious exemption is overridden. The threat of 6 months in prison and the prospect of forcible vaccination were removed before a hearing on a lawsuit brought by five mothers. The judge dismissed the case.
Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said that the purpose of the fines is not to punish but to encourage more people to proclaim the message that vaccines are safe and effective. Get it? If you say something to avoid a fine, that makes it true.
It’s about the need for herd immunity, they say. We need a 95 percent vaccination rate for herd immunity to measles. With only 91 percent or so we are having outbreaks! If we could just vaccinate another 4 or 5 percent!
Mayor De Blasio has a point about vaccinating everyone. Adults are getting measles because their shots have worn off. It is likely that we have survived for decades with a large part of the adult population vaccinated—but not immune. So where do the mandates stop?
Outbreaks have occurred in populations with a near-100 percent vaccination rate. Was it vaccine failure? Or was the vaccine not refrigerated properly? Or was a claimed outbreak real? One in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was called off when a special test, a reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) showed a vaccine-strain measles virus rather than a wild-strain measles virus. Some 5 percent of vaccinees may get an illness that looks like measles, but it is just a “vaccine reaction.” Can they shed live virus? Yes. Should you keep your immunocompromised child away from recently vaccinated people? Just asking.
Like all medical treatments, vaccines are neither 100 percent effective, nor 100 percent safe. Read the FDA-required, FDA-approved package inserts. Arizona defeated a law that would have required making these available to parents in obtaining informed consent. (You can get them on the internet.) Vaccine Court has paid out about $4 billion in damages—recently for two children with severe brain damage from encephalopathy (that’s brain inflammation) after a fight lasting about 15 years. Just incidentally, they had an autism diagnosis also. Parents bring their severely injured children to hearings. You won’t see these children on tv, only pictures of babies with measles. No “fear-mongering” allowed about “rare,” possibly coincidental problems from vaccines.
There are trade-offs with vaccines: risks and benefits. But in the panic about measles, the right to give or withhold informed consent—fundamental in medical ethics as well as U.S. and international law—is being sacrificed. And so is free speech. The AMA wants to censor “anti-vaccine” information on social media. I happened on a factual article by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson, but was not able to retweet it because it had been removed.
The threat of infectious diseases is real and increasing. We need more robust public health measures, better vaccines, and improved public knowledge and awareness. Deploying vaccine police and shutting down debate will erode trust in health authorities and physicians, although more people may get their shots. But such heavy-handed measures will not defeat the enemy—measles and worse diseases.
Jane M. Orient, M.D. obtained her undergraduate degrees in chemistry and mathematics from the University of Arizona in Tucson, and her M.D. from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1974. Her views and opinions, if expressed, are her own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GCN. Her column can often be found at www.pennypressnv.com. Her column has been reprinted in full, with permission.