Tag Archives: Vaccinations

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.

Low Vaccine Rates Lead to Disease Outbreaks in Michigan

Recently in Traverse City, Michigan, there has been an outbreak of pertussis. Why? Look no further than low vaccination rates, writes Phil Plait:

In Traverse City, a recent outbreak of pertussis forced the closure of a charter school with 1,200 students (there were 10 confirmed cases and 167 probable cases) and infected children at 14 other schools.

Why did this disease hit schools so hard? The reason is almost certainly exactly what you’d think: Vaccination rates for children in schools are low because parents have been opting them out.

Read the entire article here.


Vaccine Alternatives Offered by Homeopaths ‘Irresponsible’

An investigation by the Canadian news outlet CBC Marketplace investigation found that some alternative health practitioners are offering unproven vaccine “alternatives” to parents:

Some of the homeopathic practitioners that Marketplace visited offered treatments, called “nosodes,” as vaccine alternatives, telling parents that the treatment is as effective as vaccines against diseases such as measles, polio and pertussis (whooping cough), which is highly contagious and can be fatal for infants.

Nosodes are made when diseased tissue or excretions are diluted to the point where any trace of the original substance may not be present. Homeopathic practitioners argue that the memory of the original substance is enough to create immunity. Public health groups have been critical of this approach.

Some homeopathic practitioners also downplayed the severity of communicable diseases like measles, which are preventable by vaccination. Measles can result, in severe cases, in brain damage and death, and kill approximately one in 1,000 children worldwide who contract the disease.

Several said the likelihood of contracting these diseases was slim.

But while vaccine-preventable diseases like measles remain uncommon in Canada, a warning by the Public Health Agency of Canada from earlier this year warned of an unusually high number of cases, with outbreaks reported in five provinces.

“I think it’s frightening,” Shannon MacDonald, a registered nurse and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Alberta who researches vaccine trends, told Marketplace co-host Erica Johnson.

“If the herd immunity level drops and these diseases are introduced into the community, those children are not protected,” MacDonald says. “You have well-meaning parents who’ve been provided an option, which they’ve been told that it’s going to protect their children. And it’s a lie.”

You can read the full article here.

How Religious Leaders Are Hindering Vaccination Programs Across the World

Christian Today covers efforts by bishops with the Catholic Church in Kenya to stop the spread of the tetanus vaccination:

The vaccine is aimed at women in their childbearing years and the bishops say that it is being used as a population control measure.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, which are running the programme to immunise 2.4 million women, expressed in a statement for Christian Today their “deep concern about the misinformation circulating in the media” about the vaccine.

The statement said: “The allegations are that the tetanus vaccine used by the Government of Kenya and UN agencies is contaminated with a hormone (hCG) that can cause miscarriages and render some women sterile. These grave allegations are not backed up by evidence, and risk negatively impacting national immunisation programmes for children and women.”

You can read the full article here. You can also read coverage  by Religion News Service here.

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.

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.

Jonas Salk Google Doodle: A Good Reminder of the Power of Vaccines

In celebration of the Polio vaccine pioneer’s 100th birthday, Google unveiled a special Jonas Salk doodle today. At The Guardian, Pete Etchells compares the eager social climate that supported the polio vaccine’s development to that of today’s creeping vaccine skepticism:

One other aspect of Salk’s story still plays a vital role in the development and use of vaccines today: public support. In many ways, the 1954 field tests of the polio vaccine are a major success story in public health and scientific engagement – according to some sources, a Gallup poll that year showed that more Americans knew about the trials than could give the full name of then president, Dwight Eisenhower. In short, it appeared that there was unprecedented support for the vaccine.

It is therefore a sad and strange irony that there now appears to be a growing backlash against vaccines in the US and UK – particularly the MMR vaccine. Since Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent paper in 1998 purporting to show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, incidences of measles and mumps have risen greatly. Despite this, and despite studies showing clear costs to society when vaccine rates drop, antivaccinationists still insist on ignoring the evidence when it comes to immunising children. It therefore seems like the celebration of Salk’s 100thbirthday is an apt time to remember how hugely important vaccination is – not just on an individual level, but for public health as a whole.

Anti-Vaccine Activists Donate $4,000 to Florida Congressman

Reuben at The Poxes Blog notes that significant amounts of money have been donated by anti-vaccination activists to Representative Bill Posey (R-FL 8th District). The movement has long been known to donate significant amounts of money to representatives.

Rep. Posey has recently been sympathetic to anti-vaccination voices. Last month he ordered an investigation into the disproven claims of the so-called “CDC Whistleblower.” Last year, Posey introduced the Vaccine Safety Study Act (H.R. 1757) which would mandate an (unethical) study be conducted comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations for rates of autism, a long-held demand of the anti-vaccine movement.

Worryingly, Rep. Posey also sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, including the Subcommittee on Oversight. In recent years the committee and its members have  held hearings and arranged briefings entertaining anti-vaccine voices and conspiracy theories.

Jennifer Larson, who sits on the board of the “Autism Recovery Foundation” and is a big anti-vaccine activist who seemingly loves to defend Andrew Jeremy Wakefieldgave $1,000 to Bill Posey. I could be wrong, but Ms. Larson doesn’t live in Florida’s 8th. So you do the math on why she’s giving him what to a family with a special needs child would be a windfall.

Mark Blaxill, who is not a scientist and not a journalist, also donated $1,000 to Representative Bill Posey. Why if not to win favor with Representative Bill Posey?

J. B. Handley also gave $1,000. Mr. Handley is a very wealthy man who seems to be convinced that vaccines and nothing but vaccines caused autism in his child. He is so convinced that he is happy to see public health in the United States on the decline.

And then there is Barry Segal, who also gave $1,000. He sits on the board of Focus Autism, the organization which funded the hilariously inept “study” (more like back-of-the-napkin miscalculations of numbers) by BS Hooker, who also sits on that board.

Head to The Poxes Blog for the full story.