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Earlier this month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. claimed that African-American boys have a “ disproportionate risk of autism.” Emily Willingham of Forbes has now issued a detailed response to this claim, in which she writes that “either he’s [Kennedy Jr.] very, very bad at reading scientific studies or he’s very, very cynical about the target audience for his latest book.” She continues:
The “shocking piece” about African-American boys and autism turns out to be shocking only in the surprising fragility of the evidence that Kennedy expects to support that claim and how easily dismantled it is. He attempts to lay out an argument that African-American boys (if ethnicity is a factor, then why not girls, too?) are more susceptible to autism and that something in vaccines must be responsible. Yet a look at each source he cites to support his thesis reveals no support for it at all.
You can read the full article, with detailed science-based responses to Kennedy Jr’s claims, here.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed that the federal health program for the elderly start to pay doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants to talk with patients about their end-of-life wishes. You can read the formal Federal Register announcement here.
Update: you can read more about this in this Boston Globe article.
Michael Specter reports in The New Yorker that the Washington State Department of Health has announced the first confirmed measles death in the United States in more than a decade, and explains that the “herd immunity” gained by vaccinations is lost when the vaccination rate falls below ninety person — as is the case in Washington state.
One of the central purposes of universal vaccination is to provide “herd immunity” to the most vulnerable segments of the population—infants, for example, and those receiving drug treatment for cancer and other diseases that compromise the immune system. If you are sick and unable to get vaccinated, the herd around you, in theory, should provide protection. Once the vaccine rate falls much below ninety per cent, however, herd immunity disappears. Vaccine rates are particularly low in northwestern Washington, where the measles death occurred, as they are in many other parts of the state.*
Keep reading here.
The Center for Inquiry welcomes California’s adoption of SB 277, which invalidates most belief-based exemptions from children’s vaccination requirements — favoring the health of California’s children over the misinformed views of vaccine opponents. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a national organization that advocates for public policy based on science, evidence, and secular humanist principles.
“This is a great victory for public health and the integrity of science in medicine. Gov. Brown and the majority of California’s legislators wisely resisted the enormous pressure exerted by opponents of vaccinations — an opposition founded on fear-mongering and misrepresentation of the facts,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s Public Policy Director. “By embracing the scientific method and empirical evidence over pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, the children of California will be better protected from preventable infectious diseases, which in turn protects all of us.”
Senate Bill 277 ends “personal belief” exemptions—be they philosophical or religious—for children attending public or private schools in California, for the 10 vaccines currently required by the state, including MMR. (An amendment was added that would allow a personal belief exemption from any new vaccines that may be required in the future, an amendment that CFI opposes.) Children will be required to be vaccinated upon enrollment in kindergarten, or, if they are already in the school system, by the time they reach 8th grade.
“Inoculating against these awful but preventable diseases is a victory for science, medicine, and common sense,” said Jim Underdown, executive director of CFI’s Los Angeles branch. “The people of California will be healthier with this law.”
De Dora added that now other states must look to follow California’s lead in mandatory vaccinations. “Infectious diseases are not cured by religious faith or pseudoscientific celebrity health fads,” he said. “To truly defend against outbreaks of preventable diseases, this new California law needs to be the rule, rather than the exception, across the country. We look forward to partnering with states to help make this happen.”
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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.
PRESS RELEASE (Link)
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
After an acrimonious 4-month battle in California between doctors, public health advocates, epidemiologists, historians, and the celebrity-speckled anti-vaccine fringe, sound medical science has finally won the day. Earlier this afternoon Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277, which ends “personal belief” vaccination exemptions—religious or otherwise—for children attending public or private schools in California.
Activists, including those of us at the Center for Inquiry, had been growing uneasy as the bill inched closer to Brown’s desk. In 2012, the governor used his executive power to insert a religious exemption into a similar bill, Assembly Bill 2109, which required Californians to consult with a physician before receiving a “personal belief” exemption. The signing statement decree was a last-minute retreat that critically weakened the bill. And until today, Brown had remained coy on SB 277.
To the relief of SB 277 supporters, in this signing statement Brown settled for pointing out the simple fact that vaccination saves lives and protects everyone from needless suffering, especially the most vulnerable:
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
By no means is SB 277 perfect. As it weaved its way through the state legislature, two frustrating amendments were added to the bill. The first set vaccination “checkpoints” at kindergarten and 7th grade. Although it ensures that all new students are vaccinated beginning in 2016, this structure allows unvaccinated students already in the school system at that time to remain enrolled until they reach 7th grade, at which point they must be vaccinated or switch to homeschooling. Unvaccinated students already in the 8th grade or later can continue in the district, unvaccinated, until graduation from high school. If an unvaccinated student changes school districts, however, they must be vaccinated before attending their new school.
The second, more consequential amendment limits SB 277 to only barring belief exemptions for the 10 vaccines currently required in California. Almost certainly related to religious and secular fear-mongering about Gardasil and Cervarix—HPV vaccines, increasingly required nationwide, that protect against cervical and other cancers—the amendment allows parents and individuals to claim a philosophical exemption from any vaccines introduced and required in the future.
Regardless, SB 277’s passage marks a tremendous and overdue victory for public health and vaccination. It also comes in the nation’s most populous state, which now joins Mississippi and West Virginia as the only 3 states to ban belief exemptions. This victory also stands as a powerful repudiation of the paranoid, privileged, anti-scientific, ahistorical, and inhumane anti-vaccine fringe, from its ideology to its idols—and in one of the movement’s strongest bastions.
As lawmakers, doctors, and public health advocates take up the fight in new states nationwide, they could do far worse than to model themselves on the tenacious California activists—including Vaccinate California, the California Immunization Coalition, the California Medical Association, and others—and their vindicated campaign to protect both sound medical science and the most vulnerable citizens among them.
Public health officials are worried about a possible Measles outbreak on Martha’s Vineyard after an unvaccinated child was diagnosed with the disease last week:
“While the child was immediately identified and subsequently isolated from the community, we know that individuals on the island were exposed to the virus during a phase of the illness in which the patient is infectious but has no symptoms,” the hospital said in a statement.
Measles can be very contagious to children and adults who are not vaccinated against it. Symptoms are similar to a cold at first, but a red blotchy rash soon appears.
Anyone who thinks they might have measles should call their doctor first instead of going directly to a doctor’s office or a hospital.
Although the child was visiting Martha’s Vineyard from abroad, this case is likely in keeping with findings from earlier this month, that anti-vaccine parents tend to cluster in rich, white areas.
The issue stirs strong emotions. Some opponents, including the Catholic Church, cite religious or moral grounds, seeing any form of assisted dying as anathema to teachings that life is never to be taken. Some physicians believe the practice violates their oath only to heal, and some disability rights activists fear that they will be vulnerable to abuses. Others warn of a slippery slope to euthanasia.
Oregon’s 18 years of experience do not confirm any of these fears. Enacted in 1997, Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill adults who are residents of the state to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered lethal doses. Stringent protections include a life expectancy of less than six months, a finding of mental capability, a concurring opinion from a second doctor, mandatory discussion of hospice and other options, waiting periods and more.
Oregonians have made sparing use of the law, with 859 deaths as of Feb. 2 . The state collects data on each case, and there have been no reports of coerced or wrongly qualified assisted deaths. The typical patient is about 71, suffering from terminal cancer, well-educated, with health insurance and enrolled in hospice. About one-third of prescriptions were never used, suggesting some terminally ill people are comforted by knowing they have an alternative to extensive suffering should they need it.
Bruce Japsen of Forbes reports on a significant development at the American Medical Association:
The American Medical Association endorsed an end to non-medical exemptions for immunization, saying the nation’s largest doctor group would throw its considerable lobbying clout behind state and national efforts to halt personal and religious exemptions from vaccinations for children entering schools.
The vote today by the AMA’s policy-making House of Delegates to seek more stringent state and federal immunization requirements comes at a critical time opponents of vaccination exemptions are successfully lobbying lawmakers in California and elsewhere for legislation to end non-medical exemptions from vaccination. Last December, a highly publicized outbreak of measles at Disneyland sickened more than 130 Californians.
You can read the full report here.
Today the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy launched an urgent advocacy alert regarding a piece of legislation under consideration in the California Senate:
Time is running out! The California Senate has until June 5 to approve a bill that would legalize physician-assisted dying, or else the bill will automatically lapse — and the Center for Inquiry (CFI) needs your help to get it passed before the deadline.
SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, would authorize “an adult who meets certain qualifications, and who has been determined by his or her attending physician to be suffering from a terminal illness, as defined, to make a request for medication prescribed pursuant to these provisions for the purpose of ending his or her life.” The bill would also establish procedures for making these requests.
You can read more and take action here.