Tag Archives: Vaccinations

CFI’s Nicholas Little on Science for the People

Last week’s episode of the radio program Science for the People focused on meningitis and legal issues surrounding parents and standards of care. The podcast featured three members of The Maiden Lab, a multidisciplinary group working on understanding the biology of bacterial pathogens, including meningitis: Martin Maiden, Professor of Molecular Epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford; Charlene Rodrigues, Wellcome Trust Clinical Doctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford; and Kanny Diallo, a Wellcome Trust Training Fellow working on her PhD at the University of Oxford, who studies ecology and molecular epidemiology in the African Meningitis Belt.

The program also brought on Nicholas Little, the Center for Inquiry’s Vice President and General Counsel, to discuss a recent court case involving the death of a young child from bacterial meningitis, and the parents who were charged with “failing to provide the necessities of life.”

You can listen to this episode here.

Over Half Of Measles Cases In U.S. Outbreaks Are Unvaccinated — Often Intentionally

The Journal of the American Medical Association has found that most of the people who didn’t get vaccinated and then got measles last year had refused those vaccinations, reports Tara Haelle of Forbes:

Even though measles was eliminated from the U.S.—meaning the disease no longer circulated on its own within U.S. borders—16 years ago, outbreaks have continued to result from occasionally imported cases. But the disease can only spread if enough people are not vaccinated against it—and that’s precisely why the U.S. has seen an increase in measles outbreaks. In fact, well over half of people who have caught measles in the past decade and a half were unvaccinated, and most of them had refused the measles vaccine, found a recent study in JAMA.

Read the full article here.

Action Alert: Tell NY State Lawmakers: End Faith-Based Vaccine Exemptions

An action alert from the Center for Inquiry’s Office of Public Policy:

New York State Senator Brad Holyman (D-27) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-81) have introduced two bills, S6017 and A8329, that would finally end dangerous and unnecessary non-medical religious vaccine exemptions. The Center for Inquiry (CFI) strongly supports these measures and urges you to tell your state lawmakers to do the same.

You can take action here.

Articles Explore Debate on Science Denialism

Two interesting articles have been written in the past several weeks regarding the refusal by some people to accept the benefits of vaccines and other accepted scientific realities.

Robin Lloyd at Scientific American thinks the “war on science” meme doesn’t quite fit when we’re talking about people who are just scared of things beyond their control:

For several years now the popular media has run headlines about “a war on science.” Reporters note that federal funding for research is down, campaigns to undermine climate science attract hundreds of millions of dollars and politicians routinely reject findings that are uniformly accepted by scientists. But a panel of scholars last weekend argued for the most part against calling these aversive movements a war, with two historians even scolding scientists who embrace the idea as out of touch with public concerns.

Keep reading here.

Meanwhile, Maggie Koerth-Baker at Aeon sees the “rationality” of a parent who just wants to protect their kid from what they see as dangerous vaccines, even at the expense of other people:

I don’t think experts intend to ignore what the debate over vaccines is really about. They care deeply about the public health implications of vaccine refusal. They’re worried about the health of their individual patients. But they personally think the trade-off between the small risks of side effects and the big benefit of herd immunity is a fair one. They decided this long ago, and that belief is built into every aspect of their work. For a lot of them – a lot of us, if I’m honest – it’s easy to forget that our perspective on the trade-off is a belief, and not a provable fact. We are uncomfortable with the idea that opinions on scientific topics could be influenced by philosophy, politics and other things that aren’t easily quantifiable.

That’s not surprising. But it is something that has to be acknowledged. If we don’t do that, we can’t ever resolve the conflict.

Keep reading here.

Laws Limiting Vaccine Exemptions Work

Over at Science-Based Medicine, Steve Novella has posted an essay exploring the effectiveness of laws restricting exemptions for vaccinations:

It’s nice when a question can be resolved with objective numbers of unequivocal outcomes. Subjective outcomes give scientists a headache.

In this case we are talking about the effect of vaccine exemption laws on vaccine compliance rates. The question here is not the ethical one, the rights of parents to determine the fate of their children vs the right of the state to protect the health of children and the public health. I think the latter trumps the former, but some disagree.

Regardless of what you feel about the ethical question, we need to know if the laws we pass to achieve our goals actually work, or if they don’t work, or even have unintended consequences. Having an admirable goal is not enough; when you make actual decisions (practice decisions, policy decisions, healthcare decisions for you and for family) you want to know that those decisions are having the desired effect.

We recently had another opportunity to test the effect of vaccine exemption laws, with California law SB 277 making it more difficult for parents to obtain vaccine exemption.

You can keep reading here.

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.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Gets It Wrong About African-American Boys And Autism

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.

A Death from Measles

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.

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.”

* * *

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.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
E-mail: press@centerforinquiry.net

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.