All posts by Center for Inquiry

Unvaccinated Child Diagnosed With Measles in Texas Vaccine Exemption Hotbed, Exposed Others at School

An unvaccinated elementary school student in Texas has been diagnosed with Measles likely contracted while recently traveling overseas:

The health agency sent parents a letter last week warning that anyone at Schell Elementary School in Richardson on Jan. 5 could’ve been exposed

Asghar says there are no indications of an outbreak, but it’ll take 21 days from the point of contact to confirm if the infection spread.

Texas allows for exemptions from immunizations for certain reasons, including those of conscience, which includes religious beliefs, and medical reasons.

As is usually the case, it’s unsurprising that an outbreak has occurred in this part of Texas:

Meanwhile, an investigation last year by our media partner KXAS-TV (NBC5) found that the number of parents saying “no” to vaccines had increased locally, including in Collin County. With more than 800 students who skipped one or more vaccines for personal reasons, Plano ISD had among the highest number of unvaccinated students in North Texas, the investigation found.

Worse yet, the number of unvaccinated students in the area has not just increased, but at a disturbing pace:

New state records obtained by NBC Investigates show the number of parents saying “no” to vaccines is on the rise in Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Parker counties.

In Tarrant County, the number of conscientious exemptions has quadrupled over the last seven years. Last year, 4,202 skipped one or more vaccine. That’s about 1,000 more than the previous school year, a 42 percent increase in unvaccinated kids in just one year.

In Dallas County the number of unvaccinated students has tripled in seven years.

“The number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids is going up. It’s part of an overall trend across the country and it’s really concerning,” said Dr. Seema Yasmin, a public health professor and health reporter at The Dallas Morning News.

The district also saw two cases of whooping cough in November.

California Governor Vetoes “Right to Try” Bill That Would Let Profiteers Prey on Terminally Ill

This week, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill, AB 159, that would have allowed terminally ill patients to access experimental treatments that have not yet been approved by the FDA.

Although advocated for as allowing freedom and choice for individuals facing , so-called “right to try” bills allow patients access to dangerous drugs whose safety is not yet proven, and clear the way for profiteers and alternative medicine practitioners to wring money—often hundreds of thousands of dollars—out of the dying and their desperate families, all without any legal protection.

From the San Jose Mercury News:

“Patients with life threatening conditions should be able to try experimental drugs, and the United States Food and Drug Administration’s compassionate use program allows this to happen,” Brown wrote in a signing message to lawmakers. “Before authorizing an alternative state pathway, we should give this federal expedited process a chance to work.”


“The bill was opposed by the Association of Northern California Oncologists, who warned that providing unregulated treatments for people desperately trying to extend their lives takes advantage of their frailty.”

Lamenting the “cruel sham” that is “right to try” legislation, surgical oncologist David Gorski details the misunderstandings that sustain them:

Basically, right-to-try laws all follow the same template provided by a libertarian think tank, the Goldwater Institute. The idea is to make it easier for terminally ill patients to access experimental drugs and devices. The requirements are risibly low and betray a total lack of understanding of how drug development works in that they only require that the experimental drug (1) have passed phase I trials and (2) still be in clinical trials. Of course, phase I trials are not designed to test efficacy. Their purpose is to work out optimal dosage, identify the maximal tolerated dose, and identify major side effects. Worse, they usually only consist of a few tens of patients, often less than 30. To propose letting seriously ill patients drugs that have been tested in so few people and not demonstrated to be efficacious and safe is to invite disaster. In addition, they provide no financial support for patients, who are basically on their own when it comes to paying what can be the substantial financial charges. In addition, right-to-try laws strip away patient protections, making it virtually impossible for a patient injured using such a drug to sue either the drug company or the physician administering the drug. That’s even leaving aside the fact that drug approval is controlled by the federal government, and drug companies will be highly reluctant to offer such drugs without the approval of the FDA, and the FDA already has programs for single patient INDs, also known as compassionate use, to allow patients access to experimental drugs.

Over the last year and a half, state legislature after state legislature, believing, based on the dishonest propaganda of advocates who claim that the FDA is killing people and the Goldwater Institute cynically featuring the sympathetic stories of dying patients (particularly those with Lou Gehrig’s disease) to advance its agenda, has fallen under the spell of right-to-try. It passed in Michigan last year, sneakily pushed through the legislature. Over the last year, state after statepassed these ill-advised laws. Not surprisingly, several months ago and more than a year after the first of these laws passed, right-to-try advocates couldn’t point to a single patient helped by these laws, and even patients were starting to realize that they’ve been sold a bill of goods in the name of an antiregulatory fervor to weaken the FDA, which was the real reason all along for these laws. The Goldwater Institute just used terminally ill patients to lobby state legislatures, that and the fact that most people don’t understand drug development and think that the arguments for right-to-try sound reasonable because of it. It’s no wonder that patients feel betrayed and disappointed. Right-to-try laws, by their very design, create false expectation and false hope.

Because of the widespread misunderstanding of drug approval (specifically the primacy of the FDA over any state law) and the lack of attention paid to the patient-hostile provisions of the Goldwater Institute template for right-to-try laws that strip away legal protections and greatly weaken the right to legal recourse in the case of harm, these laws have passed 24 states. California would have been the 25th.


In actuality, given the small proportion of drugs that make it successfully through the whole regulatory process after phase I, patients with terminal illnesses are far more likely to be harmed then helped by releasing experimental drugs that have only passed phase I trials. The frequent retort is that these patients are terminally ill and things can’t get worse, but there is something worse than being terminally ill. It’s being terminally ill and exhausting the last of your finances and even going into debt. It’s being terminally ill and harming yourself so that your are less able to do what you want to do in your short remaining time. It’s being terminally ill and dying sooner than you have to.

Read his full post here.



Faith-healing Oregon Parents Have Manslaughter Conviction Upheld

An Oregon couple who refused to take their premature newborn to a hospital, and instead prayed over him as he died, have had their manslaughter conviction upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court.

From the New York Daily News:

In their failed plea to the Oregon Supreme Court, the Hickmans claimed that the state had the burden to prove the couple knew their religious beliefs would cause the death of their child.

The state Supreme Court’s decision recounted the minimal steps the Hickmans took to try to save the baby. If they had taken David to a hospital, there is a 99 percent chance he would have survived, a doctor testified at the trial.

“Dale ran into the room where one of his aunts was holding David and anointed David’s head with olive oil and began to pray,” the Oct. 8 state Supreme Court decision read. “He noticed that David was taking short breaths, was minimally responsive, and was lighter in color, so he took David into the bedroom where Shannon still lay. At that point, it was ‘in the back of [DALE’S] mind’ that David would not survive. He sat in a chair by the bed, held David in his arms, and prayed.”

The main cause of David’s death was staphylococcus pneumonia, the coroner said.

During the trial, both parents testified that “they would not have done anything differently.”

Read the full article here.

Press Release – Public Health Wins Over Fear-Mongering in California: CFI Welcomes Adoption of SB 277

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

For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785

Victory! California Governor Signs Bill to End “Personal Belief” Vaccine Exemptions

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.

Threat of Measles Outbreak on Martha’s Vineyard After Unvaccinated Child Tests Positive

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.

Washington Post Editorial Board: Assisted Dying ‘A Humane Way To End Life’

Following a hearing on a bill in the District of Columbia—modeled on Oregon’s law—to allow physician-assisted dying, the Washington Post editorial board has come out in favor of the measure:

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.

Read the full article here.

Despite Anti-Vaxxer Deluge, CA Senate Health Committee Forwards Bill to End “Personal Belief” Vaccine Exemptions

SB277, the proposed California bill that would end “personal belief” exemptions from vaccination in the state, moved closer toward a full Senate vote after the Senate Health Committee voted 6-2 to approve it.

The bill next faces votes in the Senate Education, Judiciary, and Appropriations committees. California residents can send a message to their senators in seconds using our pre-made action alert here.

The Senate Health Committee’s approval of the bill is all the more heartening because it came, apparently, in the face of the usual horde of anti-vaccine protestors:

For more than 11/2 hours, an extraordinary wave of parents and children from across the state crept one by one to a microphone to implore the Senate Health Committee to kill the legislation they insist violates parents’ rights and puts their children at risk.


Chanting “My Child, My Choice” and carrying signs that read “Force my veggies, not vaccines,” and “Protect the Children, Not Big Pharma — No on SB277,” the crowd listened as one speaker after another addressed both the harm they said vaccines have caused their children and the threat of an arrogant state government that is seeking to make health care decisions on their behalf.

Although the bill’s supporters were few in number at the demonstrations, aside from the clear science proving vaccines safe and effective, they had the recent history of measles and whooping cough outbreaks in California on their side.

Show Your Support for Vaccinations with a FREE “Vaccinate” Sticker

Measles is back. The virus was considered eradicated from the United States in the year 2000, but now that disproven theories of a link between vaccines and autism, and baseless fears about “toxins” have run rampant—spread by celebrity conspiracy theorists and irresponsible media—we now see the highest number of measles cases in two decades, with 644 cases in 2014 and over 100 new cases since the start of 2015 alone. Even diseases like whooping cough are at their highest level in over 50 years.

It’s not even safe to take your kids to Disneyland anymore!

Here’s your chance to show your support for science-based medicine, and to help stop the spread of preventable diseases by spreading the truth about vaccines. As part of our Keep Health Care Safe and Secular campaign we’re offering free campaign stickers  that say, simply and proudly:

Protect Yourself. Protect Others. Vaccinate.

And we want to send you two of them. One for you, and one you can give to a friend.

Vaccinating isn’t merely about a “personal choice” as some politicians have recently suggested. It’s about confronting the reality of being a human being living among other humans. Getting yourself and your children vaccinated against preventable diseases means that others who can’t get vaccinated—because they’re too young, pregnant, sick, or elderly—are also protected.

When we vaccinate we’re not only doing something good for our own health, but for our familys, our children’s, and our neighbor’s health too.

So help make the case! Let’s get the word out that all of us who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. And let’s see if we can make this crucial fact…contagious.

Sign up now: you’ll get updates and advocacy emails from CFI’s Office of Public Policy—and get both of your free stickers too!(Maybe it will go viral! Okay, sorry.)

Due to your overwhelming support for this cause we have run out of stickers! Please check back soon for more information about how to acquire a “VACCINATE” sticker.

Sign up for email from CFI >

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Keep Health Care Safe and Secular is a campaign by the Center for Inquiry in support of health policies that are based on evidence and scientific principles, rather than superstition, magical thinking, religious beliefs, or conspiracy theories. The campaign aims to educate the public, the media, and policy makers about the threat to our health care posed by misinformation, dogma, and quackery, whether it comes in the form of science-rejecting “faith healing” or dubious alternative and “natural” medicine. Learn more at

Chiropractors, Naturopaths, and Acupuncturists Lose in State Legislatures

Over at Science Based Medicine, Jan Bellamy reviews 2013-2014’s state-by-state battles against quackery in public policy.

Though the year was “a bust for chiropractors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and assorted other practitioners of pseudo-medicine,” some ground was lost to them. Likewise, 2014 offers a model for what to possibly expect in 2015, especially as health insurance reform continues to play out across the United States.

Click here to read Jan Bellamy’s 2013-2014 legislative review.