All posts by Center for Inquiry

Measles Outbreak Spreads in US After Unvaccinated Woman Visits Disneyland

After 2014 set a record for measles cases in the United States since the disease was eliminated in 2000, The Guardian examines a new outbreak centered on Disneyland in California:

What started as a measles outbreak among seven people who visited Disneyland in December has spread to more than 26, as an unvaccinated California woman apparently transmitted the virus through airports and the theme park, health officials said.

State health departments in California, Colorado, Utah and Washington and have confirmed cases of the extremely contagious virus, the Los Angeles Timesreported on Wednesday. Taken together, the cases would account for almost 12% of the expected measles cases for the entire year (there are 220 cases per year on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).


The California department of public health said on 7 January that officials believe the woman who started the outbreak was staying in the Disneyland theme park in December. According to the LA Times, the woman is believed to be an unvaccinated traveler in her 20s.

Read the full article here.

U.S. Court Upholds NY State Vaccination Requirement for Students

Public health and medical science have won a significant victory in New York:

New York state’s requirement that children be vaccinated in order to attend public school does not violate parents’ religious rights under the U.S. Constitution, a federal appeals court said Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan also ruled that students who receive religious exemptions from the vaccination law may be kept out of school during disease outbreaks, affirming a lower court decision.

The 2nd Circuit rejected claims by three New York City parents who said the individual right to religious liberty granted by the First Amendment trumped the state’s goal of preventing the spread of diseases in schools.

Read the full article here.

The Atlantic: Anti-Vaxxers Are Idolizing the Amish, Inexplicably

At The Atlantic, Olga Khazan looks at the facts being ignored in a disturbingly popular listicle—”basically just catnip for the anti-GMO and anti-vax crowds”—making the rounds on social media, “Why The Amish Don’t Get Sick”:

The first tip, according to this article, is not getting vaccinated: “In spite of constant pressure from the government, the Amish still refuse to vaccinate.”

Nope. Most Amish parents vaccinate, but even then, the relatively low overall vaccination rate in the community fueled a massive measles outbreak in Ohio’s Amish country earlier this year. The incident proved something that Amish and “English” parents alike should know by now: Vaccines don’t cause autism, but not getting a vaccine can cause outbreaks of nasty, 19th-century diseases.

The rest of the items in the listicle aren’t as terrible. Being physically active, not getting too stressed out, and eating a lot of vegetables are all “Amish” habits the article says other Americans would do well to adopt. However, its suggestion that Amish food contains no GMOs is bunk—some Amish farms do use genetically modified crops for financial and efficiency reasons. Besides, there’s no evidence that genetically modified foods are detrimental to human health in any way.

But it’s the very premise of the article that’s bizarre. If you’re going to hype a community as “never getting sick,” use a place that’s actually remarkably healthy, like Minneapolis. Not only do Amish people get sick, they get some of the worst diseases in the world.

Read the full article here.

Bangor Daily News: Maine bill to require vaccine-denying parents consult with doctors

The Maine legislature is due to take up a bill this year which would require parents meet with their primary care physician before being allowed to opt-out of the vaccination of their children:

About 5 percent of Maine children are not immunized, one of the highest rates in the nation. Under a new bill, parents could still opt-out but only after first consulting with a primary care physician.

The bill’s sponsor is state Rep. Dick Farnsworth, D-Portland. He said the bill aims at helping parents make an informed decision on an important public health issue.

“And that’s the whole point of what we’re trying to do is to give them the opportunity to get the information so they can make an appropriate decision on their own. We’re not saying they can’t sign off on philosophical reasons,” Farnsworth said. “It’s just that we want to make sure that people have the appropriate information in order to do that intelligently.”

Right now parents can opt-out of immunizations simply by signing a waiver.

Read the full article here.

Denver Post: Pass Upcoming Bill Legalizing Assisted Dying for Colorado’s Terminally Ill

With a bill soon to be introduced in the Colorado state legislature, The Denver Post editorial board has come out firmly in support of legalizing assisted dying for the state’s terminally ill citizens:

State Reps. Lois Court and Joann Ginal proposed the measure after  reading in The Denver Post of the plight of Charles Selsberg.

A Denver resident and retired real estate agent, Selsberg wrote of his last days in  dealing with a quickly advancing case of of ALS and how it left him on life support.

“I never thought I would be this person, really just this mind now, trapped in a dead body,” he wrote, with the assistance of his daughter Julie Selsberg.

He asked Colorado to “show its compassion” and consider adopting a law similar to the one Oregon passed in 1997. It allows terminally-ill patients to self-administer lethal medications prescribed by a doctor.

And we agree: Those facing situations like the one Charles Selsberg endured should have a reliable and peaceful way to end their lives if and when they want, surrounded by family and friends if that is their choice.

Vaccine Ignorance — Deadly and Contagious

Expounding upon their public health work at the Council on Foreign Relations, including a continually-updated global map of vaccine-preventable outbreaks, Laurie Garrett and Maxine builder connect anti-vaccine conspiracies both Western and international, and the apathy that tolerates them:

Today, vaccinators and healthcare workers providing lifesaving interventions are targeted for bombings and assassinations, and children in Pakistan are suffering. Our interactive map clearly demonstrates the correlation between an increase in Taliban propaganda and assaults on health workers and the resurgence of polio. Worse, recent outbreaks of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the Middle East have been linked to Pakistani-trained combatants who have carried pathogens to Syria and Iraq, along with their anti-immunization ideology.

And anti-vaccine sentiments aren’t limited to the developing world. The effects of Andrew Wakefield’s now thoroughly debunked 1998 Lancet study claiming links between vaccinations and autism are still being felt in the Western world, as can be seen in our interactive map. Outbreaks of pertussis in wealthy California communities, of mumps in Ohio college towns and of measles throughout the United Kingdom demonstrate the broad impact of the anti-vaccination movement.

In light of the paranoia evoked by Ebola, political and public health leaders must appreciate that not a single voice dispensing misinformation should go unchallenged. The general public has proved its inability to weigh facts accurately and reach a rational conclusion when fear clouds its judgment. Remarkably, in the case of the purported associations between autism and vaccines, the concept has gone viral in some of America’s most highly educated and wealthy communities, as has unscientific advice about delaying certain immunizations to avoid “vaccine overload.”

Too many political leaders around the world have either fanned the flames of fear or have shrugged off responsibility for dispelling them, assuming that countering conspiracies and false worries is a job for doctors and public health officers.

Americans of All Ages Divided Over Doctor-Assisted Suicide Laws

In light of rising discussion about assisted dying legislation in the United States, Pew points to a 2013 poll that showed overwhelming support for allowing patients to die, but far less support for doctor-assisted suicide.

[T]wo-thirds of Americans say there are circumstances in which a patient should be allowed to die, as opposed to doctors and nurses always doing everything possible to save the life of a patient. But U.S. adults are more divided about laws that allow doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients, with 47% in favor of such laws and 49% opposed. Views on doctor-assisted suicide are little changed since 2005.

By religious demographic, the unaffiliated lead the way in supporting assisted-dying, with 66% in favor. White mainline Protestants and Catholics follow, with 61% and 55% in support, respectively. Opposition is centered on black Protestants (72% oppose), white evangelical Protestants (67% oppose), and hispanic Catholics (63% oppose).

Surprisingly, the youngest group measured, 18-29 year olds, disapprove of assisted dying (54% oppose) nearly as much as the oldest group, those 65 years and older (56% oppose). Relatedly, 18-29 year olds also report having given end of life issues the least amount of thought, with 41% having given “no thought at all” or “not very much thought” and only 25% having given them a “great deal of thought.”

These numbers are somewhat dispiriting in light of last month’s poll showing that 84% of Canadians favor legalized assisted dying in their country.

Pew’s full review can be viewed here.

Doctors Learn to Push Back, Gently, Against Anti-Vaccination Movement

In the face of persistent anti-vaccine efforts, doctors are learning to fight back by educating not only their patients, but themselves. The LA Times follows University of Pennsylvania pediatrician and vaccine advocate Paul Offit to a doctor training session he recently gave at UCLA:

[Offit] wanted to give them the kind of pushback doctors have come to expect in affluent parts of Los Angeles and California, where increasing numbers of parents are refusing to inoculate their kids against contagious, even life-threatening diseases for fear of complications.

For many of the pediatricians in the audience, taking a hard line on the immunization schedule can mean potentially alienating well-intentioned, if misinformed, parents.

Dr. Lisa Stern, background, took part in coaching in talking about vaccinations with parents like Rachel Gipson, who brought her twins in for a checkup at Tenth Street Pediatrics. (Rick Loomis)

If Offit, a rock star in his field, could give these doctors more factual ammunition — and a little practice on their delivery — could they help convince resistant parents that science is simply not on their side?

The salt-and-pepper-haired Offit slipped straight into character and zeroed in on one young doctor.

“I know you doctors keep telling me that vaccines don’t cause autism. If that’s true, then why is it on this package insert?” he asked, playing the role of a parent who had read the blogs and heard the celebrities who connect the two.

Shifting in her seat, the designated victim shot Offit an unsure look.

Then she began citing studies and said that drug packaging inserts include many “temporally associated symptoms” that weren’t necessarily caused by the vaccine.

“Why?” Offit pressed. “Why would they put that there — just to scare me?”

The doctor kept trying. “They’re required by law,” she said. “I actually didn’t know the answer.”

The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Forgetting the Polio Epidemic

On the anniversary of his 100th birthday, The Atlantic interviews the son of polio vaccine researcher Dr. Jonas Salk on the polio epidemic and the forgetting that has occurred since:

At a time when a single case of Ebola or enterovirus can start a national panic, it’s hard to remember the sheer scale of the polio epidemic. In the peak year of 1952, there were nearly 60,000 cases throughout America; 3,000 were fatal, and 21,000 left their victims paralyzed. In Frankie Flood’s first-grade classroom in Syracuse, New York, eight children out of 24 were hospitalized for polio over the course of a few days. Three of them died, and others, including Janice, spent years learning to walk again.

Then, in 1955, American children began lining up for Jonas Salk’s new polio vaccine. By the early 1960s, the recurring epidemics were 97 percent gone.

On misplaced concerns about vaccines and the necessity of herd immunity:

Rothenberg Gritz: People have been concerned by the idea that vaccines can cause disease in healthy children.

Salk: There are some subtleties to this. With pertussis, for instance, the old vaccine was based on using the whole killed organism. That was very effective, but because there were a whole lot of different kinds of proteins that were all mixed up, there were some side effects. Later on, they developed a so-called acellular pertussis vaccine, where you use purified materials from the bacterium. It doesn’t produce as strong or long-lasting an immune response—people need to have booster shots when they’re adults, for instance. But it doesn’t cause the same side effects.

When my own son Michael was born 31 years ago, the whole-cell vaccine was still in use. Whooping cough was essentially gone in this country by that time, so from one perspective, why should we take the risk of causing a high fever or other side effects in our own child? I know I certainly thought about this a lot. But I just couldn’t bring myself to take advantage of the good that other people had done by immunizing their kids—to take a free ride, so to speak. Michael did end up developing a fever. But I couldn’t have lived with my decision if we hadn’t given him the vaccine.

On the misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine movement:

Rothenberg Gritz: Some vaccine opponents argue that as long as children live healthy lifestyles, they can either avoid illnesses like polio or recover quickly and develop “natural immunity.”

Salk: No. I wouldn’t hesitate to use very strong words about that. Of course it’s a good thing to live a healthy life, to keep the body strong and well-rested. I won’t rule out that it can help to protect against some types of disease. But when it comes to these organisms that can be very damaging to people, I think it’s wishful thinking to imagine that a healthy lifestyle can protect against infection.

And what we see is that many diseases are starting to come back. Measles is recurring; whooping cough is recurring. The kids whose parents are choosing not to immunize them are at risk, but so are babies and kids who might not be able to be vaccinated for one reason or another. These kids are no longer having the same benefit of herd immunity. Their level of protection is now eroding.


Rothenberg Gritz: Why do you think this misinformation has spread so widely?

Salk: Part of it is that people have become complacent because these diseases aren’t rampant anymore. During the polio epidemic, people were really frightened. This was a disease they didn’t understand, whose appearance they couldn’t predict, and it had terrible effects on kids. Swimming pools and movie theaters were closed. It’s easy to forget this now. Also, these days, there are a lot of concerns about living naturally and not wanting to be exposed to things that are made in a laboratory.

But there are probably other forces at work. Back in the 1950s, people really looked to science and medicine as something that would make their lives better. But once the fear of these diseases began to subside, people started looking at other large-scale forces in the world—the Vietnam War, the government, and so on—and wondering, Canwe trust large institutions?Can we trust pharmaceutical companies? I think that that’s something that’s driven people also: a sense of alienation.

Read the full interview here.