Thursday, April 16, 2015

Time to End the Personal Belief Exemption

For months, I've been researching vaccinations. "Doing my own research", as the Anti-Vaxxers like to say. I've been doing part of this as background for a piece that has literally taken me six months to write for the Chico News and Review. I pitched the piece and started working on it long before the Disneyland Measles outbreak last December.

I've read much of the Anti-Vaxxer material. I've signed up for all the Anti-Vax websites and read Mercola, Wakefield, Humphries, Sears, Tenpenney and all the other celebrity stars of the Anti -Vax Movement. I've read the critiques of Big Pharma. Watched the "whistleblower" interviews and the supposed secret documents that make the accusation that the CDC is nothing but a patsy for making money for the Vaccine Companies. I've read the websites like the "Farmacy" and "GreenMedInfo", sites that reel in people like me who are generally in favor of eating organic veggies and using lifestyle interventions to increasing public health. That's a no brainer.

But the problem is that these websites and Natural Living Buffoons have such an agenda against vaccines, for no good reason, that it has become more a matter of Natural Living Religion to be Anti-Vax rather than a realistic, reasonable, rational position.

I've interviewed Doctors. I've interviewed Public Health Officers. I've had dinner with Anti-Vax RN colleagues. I've read the Gospel of Offit. I've enjoyed Eula Biss' bestseller. My daily google search alerts for the last year has included topics like "Measles", "Pertussis" and "Vaccinations". I've read thousands and thousands of journalism pieces on the subject. I've paged through the payouts of the Vaccine Court and read about all the alleged injuries in the VAERS reports. I've read the Cochrane Collaboration reports.

The CNR will publish a very sober piece I wrote on the subject soon. But I will say bluntly here what that article states in a more opaque style. As they say in the journalism business: show, don't tell.

My conclusion: We have to do away with the Personal Belief Exemption for school aged children immediately. We must maintain vaccination rates above 95% for all vaccine preventable diseases. This isn't a Big Pharma Conspiracy to rake in billions of dollars; this is about public health and eliminating very dangerous diseases. This is serious business. It is about the right to be free of disease.

Vaccinations are safe. Serious reactions occur but are rare--in the 4 reactions per one million dose range. A fatality from a vaccine reaction is even more rare. One in millions and millions of injections. Autism is not caused by vaccines. SIDS is not caused by vaccines. Shaken Baby Syndrome (and yes, there are Anti-Vaxxers who say this) is not caused by vaccines. Allergies are not caused by vaccines. ADHD is not caused by vaccines. Tenderness at the injection site is the most common reaction. Very rarely, a mild fever.

Recently I had a front row seat watching California attempt to do away with Personal Belief Exemptions. I sat in Richard Pan's office, the co-author of SB277, munching on a wrap and exchanging pleasantries with him and a couple pro-vaccination leaders an  hour before he defended his historic bill in front of the Health Committee of the State Senate. Richard Pan is a pediatrician and a very, very brave and intelligent man. I watched him look every one of the hundreds of critics of his bill's eyes and acknowledge them in the public comment section of the meeting. Some of these hundreds of mostly well intended people, overtly threatened him. One pastor put a curse on all of us who support the bill. Richard Pan remained calm and pleasant even when a few people had to be forcibly removed from the hearing room. Richard Pan was rational and understanding. He has nerves of steel.

I was given a front row seat at the first hearing. I watched hundreds of Anti-Vaxxers march up to the microphone, most of them wearing red "Choice" t-shirts, some of them barely holding back tears, many of them shaking with anger, all of them passionately arguing for their "right" to not vaccinate their children. They do this because of all the normal reasons you can read about if you read Mercola, or Humphries, or Wakefield. Many of them brought their children up to the microphone, most without any sort of blemish that is noticeable, and had the kids say they have been permanently "vaccine injured".

Being "Vaccine Injured" is a badge worn by many of these True Believers. The diagnosis is often given by the parent who needs something to blame for their child's malady. Sometimes the diagnosis is given by a Naturopath or a Chiropractor. Having the diagnosis gives a sense of power to fight against the evil something that caused the problem.  It isn't crazy; it is normal and natural to want to have answers.

This is important stuff. And nobody should care what these people do, if they vaccinate their kids or not, except for one thing: The health of all of us is dependent upon Herd Immunity being maintained. The Anti-Vaxxers do not have the science. They do not have the proper moral argument for their cause. How do you defend your own right to pass on potentially lethal disease to others when a safe vaccine is available to all?

I missed the second hearing but I followed it on-line. The Education Committee seems to have lost focus. They seem to have bought some of the hundreds of protestors message, parroting things like "What if they are right about Autism?" Dr. Bob Sears, a patron saint MD in the Anti-Vax cause was at both hearings. He has rock star status who flopped big time at the first hearing. At the second hearing he outright lied and said he was there for all the Autistic children who, presumably, have been created by vaccines. The bill stalled in this committee.

Will it make it out of committee? We are confident it will. And if it doesn't, we will be back. Vaccination rates have gotten so low that a return of the diseases is almost a given. Disneyland couldn't have happened anyplace else in the US because of California's lax laws. It will happen again and we will be back.

You can count on that.

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