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I LOVE Immunity. We Did It! SB277 is law. Thank you.

Winning the Vaccination War in California

Over the past half century vaccinations have nearly eradicated a number of infectious diseases, including polio, diphtheria, and measles in developed countries. But in the past decade some of these diseases have reappeared, particularly pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. In 2014, there were nearly 10,000 pertussis cases reported in California, more than had occurred in any year since 1947, and over 200 of the hospitalized patients were infants under four months of age. In December 2014, an outbreak of measles occurred at Disneyland in Southern California that spread across the state and nationally. The measles virus is extremely contagious and can lead to severe brain disease, seizures, ear or chest infections, and even death.

These outbreaks of disease have occurred primarily in regions of California where vaccination rates have fallen below the herd immunity level (the level of inoculation required to protect a population against a disease). In California and many other states as well, there has been an increase in the number of families that obtain a “personal belief” exemption permitting them to withhold their children from vaccination programs. The high number of these exemptions accounts for a rising incidence of diseases that strike children disproportionately and that are often severely injuring or even fatal. In the case of the Disneyland measles outbreak, for example, scientists from M.I.T. and the Boston Children’s Hospital who analyzed the data reported that vaccination rates for the exposed population had fallen to between 50 and 86 percent, far below the inoculation level of 95 to 99 percent that is needed for herd immunity.

Alarmed by this upsurge of vaccine-preventable diseases, a group of parents contacted state legislators about tightening up California’s vaccination requirements. State Senators Richard Pan and Ben Allen drafted SB 277, a bill that eliminates the personal belief exemption that allowed unvaccinated children to attend school. Since it is in a school environment that infectious illnesses are most commonly transmitted from one child to another, private as well as public schools fall within the scope of the bill. SB 277 still allows exemption from vaccination for a medical reason—a child’s allergy to a vaccine, for example—but exemption is no longer granted to families that object to vaccination on religious or philosophical grounds or because they believe it is unsafe.

From the moment that SB 277 was placed on the legislative calendar in February 2015, it encountered a storm of libertarian, religious, and legal objections. The debate lasted for over four months and received more media coverage than any other legislative conflict in recent history. Activists traveled to the state capitol in Sacramento in order to hold rallies, attend hearings, and meet with their representatives to discuss the alleged dangers of vaccination. Democrat Marc Levine, a member of the State Assembly, reported that his office was deluged by constituents wanting to weigh in on the issue. A single vote by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson in favor of SB 277 elicited thousands of Twitter comments.

The grassroots organizing done on both sides of this issue was extraordinary. Advocates for SB 277, no less than opponents of the bill, understood that they had to build a broad community of support if they were to carry the day. Framing the case for vaccination in an emotionally engaging as well as scientifically convincing way, they built an effective campaign to win hearts and minds. Their efforts were successful: Following dozens of hours of public hearings and impassioned public debate in which thousands of advocates and opponents participated, SB2 277 was passed in both the state Assembly and the Senate and then signed into law by Governor Brown on the last day of June.

Future pro-vaccination campaigns in the 47 states where vaccination is still left to the discretion of parents are likely to find the strategy and tactics useful that have proved effective in California. But even in California, the debate is by no means over. Following passage of SB 277, the opposition claimed to have gathered over 200,000 signatures on a petition seeking to repeal the bill. Community activists have also brought to their local school boards the request that they not enforce SB 277. And Dr. Bob Sears, a pediatrician from Southern California and author of a best-selling critique of vaccination, The Vaccine Book, has assured parents that they will be able to find a physician who will help them obtain a vaccination exemption for their child without proof of any medical condition. (Sears, like most of the critics of SB 277, insists he is not opposed to all vaccinations. But the magnification in his book of alleged “side effects and problems with vaccines” is apt to convince uninformed readers to forego them altogether.)

Triumph or Travesty of Democracy?

The active participation of citizens in political life is a hallmark of authentic democracy. But there is a challenge that such grassroots participation encounters in a modern society: the thoughtful resolution of complex issues calls not only for critical thinking skills but also for a degree of scientific knowledge that many people do not possess. One such issue has been the vaccination of school children, which became the subject in California of a prolonged and bitter debate. Did democracy work to resolve this dispute? Could it possibly have worked?

If our only criterion for grassroots democracy is the massive involvement of citizens in government, then the California vaccination debate certainly qualifies. But if we join to that criterion the additional requirement that citizens’ involvement be well-informed—or at least not misinformed— then what occurred in California looks less democratic. The dissemination of falsehoods about the risks of vaccination through social media, the dismissal of scientific evidence, and an extreme polarization that even led to threats of violence undermined the democratic intent of the deliberations.

I love immunity (poster by

Some vaccination critics invoke the fantasy of a monstrously coercive state with armored vehicles and shock troops. Photomontage by David Dees.

The strongest opposition to SB 277 came from anti-government Republicans who see mandatory vaccination as “government overreach” leading to a police state. But resistance has also been substantial in some progressive cities with presumably well-educated populations—in the San Francisco Bay Area and Orange County, for example—where rates of personal belief exemption to vaccination are among the highest in the state.

Those who opposed SB 277 have been very effective in raising fears about the safety of vaccination and about loss of “parental rights.” They combined rallies, marches, petitions, and visits to political representatives with the use of social media such as anti-vaccine websites, Facebook, and especially Twitter to weave together a well-funded, grassroots network that has cooperated with similar communities in other states to defeat pro-vaccination legislation. This nationwide community has recruited celebrities such as Jim Carrey, Charlie Sheen, Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Bill Maher, and Donald Trump to speak on its behalf and has created a veritable industry for anti-vaccination books, posters, and films. One widely viewed anti-vaccination documentary, The Greater Good, won several film festival awards, and another, Trace Amounts: Autism, Mercury, and the Hidden Truth, was screened at anti-vaccination community meetings across the country and at the United Nations 2015 NGO Conference.

Science does not always compete successfully against a fear-driven campaign of this magnitude. Scientific authority today faces a “credibility gap” that is both general, deriving from a history of harmful scientific applications, and specific to the domain of human health. At a general level, scientific authority has been discredited by destructive consequences (e.g., modern warfare, pollution of the planet) wrought by science-based technologies over the past century. And the authority of scientists, public health officials, and physicians has been further eroded in recent years because citizens have felt empowered by the wealth of “information” now easily available on the Internet to decide medical issues for themselves. The problem is that many Internet sources are driven by commercial or political interests rather than by an unbiased consideration of scientific evidence. Compounding this problem is the fact that science doesn’t always speak in a single voice; almost always there are researchers and health experts, however few, who don’t agree with the mainstream view. The scientific studies themselves are often difficult to interpret and evaluate, especially for people who lack scientific training and statistical literacy. This places the public and its political representatives in a quandary: how are they to reconcile conflicting authorities and claims?

In principle, the “democratic” dissemination of information on the Internet can help the public understand medical issues. But the link between Internet presentations of medical matters and authentic scientific findings is often weak or non-existent. Although the most common Google search on the Internet is the search for medical information, Google does not return to the user a list of sites ranked in the order of their scientific credibility. Websites posing as “scientific,” including those that aim to defeat pro-vaccination legislation, are popular sources of misinformation. Even when the consensus among scientists is almost unanimous— as in the cases of global warming, biological evolution, and the safety of vaccination—a very few dissenting scientists may be touted by widelyviewed Internet sites as courageous renegades who “speak truth to power.” Just about any improbable research hypothesis, groundless fear, or profit-seeking health remedy can find a home on the Web that will vouch for its validity. (Wikipedia, which has become the world’s most popular source of information about health matters, is today monitored by page editors who make an effort to hold in check the posting of false statements, but this attempted gate-keeping frequently fails; the page editors are volunteers who are often not expert in the subject areas they oversee.) A network of websites echoing one another and promoting a concept like “vaccine-injured child” to the public can create a discourse that pulls many thousands of believers permanently into its orbit.

The problem here is not just that people are uninformed, but that they are misinformed and thus apt to resist facts that go against their firmly held beliefs. Scientific evidence is readily discounted if one accepts, for example, the premise promoted on anti-vaccination websites that scientists who speak out on behalf of vaccination have been bought off by the pharmaceutical industry.

The Pro-Vaccination Campaign Community

The anti-vaccination movement might have defeated SB 277—as it had defeated similar pro-vaccination proposals in Oregon, Washington, and other states—if California’s vaccination advocates had not organized a passionate campaign community of their own. Their cause drew support from doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals; from school boards and PTAs; from Democratic Party organizations, newspapers, unions, and civic associations. But at the core of the pro-vaccination community were parents who wanted to protect their children from infectious diseases and who were able to dispute the testimony given by parents on the other side.

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The design of the Pro-vaccination campaign button. At the SB 277 hearing in Sacramento, vaccination advocates wore large buttons with a powder blue background, and opponents wore red T-shirts.

This pro-vaccination community understood from the beginning that it had to be as visible and media-savvy as the opposition and that presentation of scientific evidence would not by itself ensure success. No less than the vaccination critics, provaccination families aimed to convey to the public their empathy with children’s vulnerability and need for protection and love. They waged their campaign to convince legislators and the public on three fronts: the marshaling of statistical evidence, the presentation of images and anecdotes, and the use of catchwords and slogans.

The Battle of Statistics

The first line of advocacy for a science-dependent issue such as vaccination is of course the presentation of empirical evidence. Researchers and public health advocates cited statistics showing that vaccine-preventable diseases of childhood such as whooping cough and measles have been reappearing in California, and that low rates of vaccination are responsible for this phenomenon. The situation in California, vaccination advocates pointed out, is by no means unique. The vaccination rate has fallen in many other states as well, accounting for a nationwide increase in the incidence of diseases that had previously been almost eradicated. As Mark Fischetti, a senior editor of Scientific American, has pointed out, “many states are dropping below safety thresholds. That is because parents are opting out of state vaccination requirements for kids entering public school, despite a dearth of evidence that vaccines are harmful or unnecessary.”

Pro-vaccination advocates also addressed the opposition’s claim that vaccination could lead to diseases such as autism. The alleged vaccination-autism link, which is a widely circulating cultural “meme” today, dates back to the notorious “scientific study” published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, an English physician, in the respected British medical journal Lancet. Wakefield, on the basis of only 12 patients, claimed that the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to the onset of severe illnesses. One of them, he announced to the press, was autism, and he called for a suspension of MMR vaccination until “more research could be done.” His vaccination- leads-to-autism hypothesis was widely reported in the media and taken up by many parents of autistic children who were looking for an explanation of the disease. Following the publication of Wakefield’s article, however, other researchers rigorously tested his hypothesis and found no evidence for it. Their negative finding has been confirmed many times.

In 2006, it was discovered that Wakefield’s research was not only faulty but unethical and fraudulent: he had subjected already developmentally compromised children to unnecessary colonoscopies and spinal taps, and had made up the data he claimed to observe. It also turned out that Wakefield had been paid £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove in court that the standard MMR vaccine had caused autism in the children of their clients, and had tried to patent a purported alternative to the standard MMR vaccine. In 2010 Lancet retracted Wakefield’s study, and in the same year his medical license was revoked. A study covering 95,000 children and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 confirmed once again that there is no correlation between vaccination and autism.

However this well-documented history of fraud and deception didn’t halt the dissemination of Wakefield’s views by the mass media and the Internet. Lionized as a founder and leader for the antivaccination movement, Wakefield continues today to assert that vaccination is a cause of autism. A charismatic speaker who travels the world, he played a significant role in the vaccination debate in California, as we note below.

The Battle of Images

The anti-vaccination campaign in California used vivid imagery and tragic personal stories to fuel fear about the safety of vaccination and to warn about loss of parental authority.

The attention of the mass media was captured by the campaign’s eye-catching videos, photographs, buttons, marches and rallies. Andrew Wakefield came to California and became a spokesman for the anti-vaccination movement, reaffirming his claim about a vaccination-autism link and also encouraging resistance to vaccination: “Your rights are being ripped from you. Parents are no longer going to be in charge of their own children. This is the fight that has to be taken to Sacramento.”

In response to this effort to discredit vaccination, public health advocates created visual representations that linked high vaccination levels to health. When parents opposed to SB 277 came to Sacramento with their children, casting an image of themselves as families concerned for their children’s welfare, pro-vaccination mothers and fathers also brought their children to Sacramento, affording equally persuasive photo-ops.

For example, one of the sponsors for SB 277, Dr. Richard Pan, who is a pediatrician and professor at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital, was often photographed during the campaign in the company of healthy children, establishing a visual link between the proposed vaccination legislation and children’s health and safety.

Countering the opposition’s presentation of heart-wrenching personal stories in which vaccination was followed by severe illness, pro-vaccination advocates presented equally compelling anecdotes about children who fell seriously ill, or who were especially vulnerable to falling ill, from diseases that vaccination protects against. In this contest of narratives, the mass media focused their attention on two boys, Otto Coleman and Rhett Krawitt, who personified the arguments made by the opposing sides. Otto, beset by transverse myelitis following vaccination, carried the banner for the view that vaccination is dangerous. Rhett, in remission from leukemia and very susceptible to contagious diseases that vaccination prevents, represented the view that vaccination is essential to public health.

These two boys and their families became inspiring symbols for the pro- and anti-vaccination causes. The parents in each family were earnest and well-spoken, and the mass media conveyed their heart-rending stories to the public through compelling images and videos as well as words. Otto Coleman’s father Joshua is a videographer, and recordings he made about his son’s illness were posted to YouTube. A video segment of the father and son appearing before a California Senate Health Committee hearing on vaccination was also widely viewed on the Internet. On the other side, NPR produced a short film about Rhett Krawitt in which his parents, Jodi and Carl, explain that their immune-compromised son cannot be vaccinated and therefore depends on herd immunity in the school and community where the family lives.

Anecdotal evidence thus played a major role in advancing both the pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination causes. Within the anti-vaccination movement, personal histories of vaccine injury became especially important. Even though vaccination has severe negative consequences only very rarely (the probability of a serious reaction to the measles vaccine, for example, is less than one in a million), a single personal story about those consequences, movingly recounted by a parent, may lead another parent to worry that vaccination will affect his or her child very negatively too. We human beings are designed to respond more strongly to a gripping story than to a reassuring but abstract statistic; according to evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, “Humans are storytelling creatures preeminently.” Stories have always been with us, statistics only recently.

The vaccination debate sometimes devolved into a contest of narratives, with each side seeking to paint the more frightening scenarios. One reason that the anti-vaccination movement has continued to associate autism with vaccination, long after it has been proven that there is no causal link between the two, is that autism is a more permanent and disabling disease than, for example, typical cases of measles (which most young families today have never even encountered). And since the causes of autism are currently not well understood by medical science, many parents of affected children have seized upon the idea that autism is caused by vaccination, despite the lack of evidence for this link.

The Battle of Words

Each side in the vaccination debate enlisted catchwords and slogans in its effort to convince legislators and the public. The most emotionally powerful words in the anti-vaccination lexicon were “vaccine-injured child.” The association of a vaccine with a debilitating injury, repeated again and again by those testifying at the 2015 vaccination hearings in Sacramento, embedded in the minds of susceptible listeners the suspicion of a causal link between vaccination and injury. So although there is no scientific evidence for a link between vaccination and autism, its continued mention fixes it in the imagination. Even when such a link is explicitly denied, that very denial may, paradoxically, arouse or deepen belief in its existence. If the word “vaccine” and the word “autism” are spoken in the same sentence enough times, as in “There is no evidence for a causal link between vaccination and autism,” a listener cannot help but entertain the idea that there might in fact be such an association.

The most stirring anti-SB 277 testimony at the hearings in Sacramento was given by parents who, unmoved by the scientific evidence presented by vaccination advocates, told a story about a son or daughter whom they said had been severely harmed by vaccination. Profoundly anguished, these parents have a powerful psychological motivation to believe that the association between their child’s illness and the vaccinations he or she has received is a causal one. Attributing a child’s autism, for example, to a recent vaccination is apt to be experienced as more satisfying than linking it instead to an “inborn predisposition,” which seems vague and intangible. And there are many vaccine-skeptical websites and organizations that will validate that attribution and find “scientific studies” that support it.

It’s true that autism is typically diagnosed not long after the age when babies receive their MMR vaccination. But that sequence of events provides scant evidence that vaccination causes autism. From the fact that event X (vaccination) is followed by event Y (illness), it does not follow that X must have caused Y. The claim of such a causal link, without further evidence, is an example of the “post-hoc, ergo propter hoc” fallacy.

It is well known that there are rare instances in which a vaccination does trigger severe medical symptoms that go beyond the pain of an injection or a sore arm. A vaccination may cause a temporary fever in a child that can activate a pre-existing medical condition such as epilepsy. But this can happen following just about any medical procedure. A child who undergoes a routine eye exam or dental appointment, for example, may have an epileptic seizure thereafter. But such a rare consequence does not establish that these procedures cause epilepsy — and does not lead anyone to stop recommending them.

The current best practices standard for vaccination is to screen children for illnesses such as epilepsy or an immunodeficiency, and then exempt from vaccination children who are in fact at risk. To be sure, this standard does not work 100% of the time. But as Wendy Bloom, a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has commented, “No medication can or ever will be 100% safe …. Let us keep our eyes on the goal of protecting our community from very preventable diseases and not be swayed by fear mongering.” Advocates for SB 277 pointed out that when immunization levels fall, the toll of suffering and death is far greater than that resulting from rare adverse reactions to immunization. The best way to minimize these adverse reactions is to fund research to better understand these diseases, including their relation to the immune system, not to lower vaccination rates.

Another salvo in the war of words was the vaccination critics’ claim that mandatory vaccination violates parent’s “freedom” to raise their children as they choose and to protect them against the alleged “risk” of vaccination. Vaccination advocates made use of these words as well, but reversed their implications. Senator and pediatrician Richard Pan, a professor at the UC Davis Children’s Hospital, stated that “SB 277 is about freedom, freedom from deadly, crippling contagions that are now preventable through the science of vaccination.” Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, a co-author of SB 277, argued that concern about “risk” favors mandatory vaccination: “While I respect that fundamental right to make medical decisions for your own family, when a parent’s decision to ignore science and medical fact puts other children at risk, we can’t as a state condone it.”

Gonzalez was challenging the idea that people have the absolute right to make any medical choice they wish for themselves and their families, without having to consider the consequences of that choice for others. When memory of the suffering due to previously prevalent infectious diseases fades, a narrow risk-benefit calculation may disincline families from vaccinating their own children. SB 277 advocates argued that such calculation is socially irresponsible. Families that do not vaccinate are “free riders” who benefit from herd immunity without contributing to it. Abstention leads to the proverbial “tragedy of the commons,” whereby a shared good is sacrificed to the perceived self-interest of a few.

Another catchphrase used by the opposition to discredit vaccination, “Big Pharma,” seeks to attribute advocacy of vaccination to the unfettered pursuit of profit by pharmaceutical companies without regard to the health and safety of consumers. It’s true that commercial interests do often shape public policy to benefit themselves. The pharmaceutical industry often resists government regulation of the safety and the cost of its products, and wariness about the influence of that industry is therefore justified. Even inside a scientific laboratory, the search for truth may be compromised by allegiance to an external interest—a corporate funding source that is paying for the clinical trials of a new drug, for example; the rules that govern clinical testing aren’t always sufficient to exclude bias of this kind. Public health advocates needn’t deny the fact that the pursuit of economic gain can sometimes undermine scientific objectivity.

However, the profit-seeking motivation does not invalidate all the practices and policies of the pharmaceutical industry. Yes, there should be stricter regulation of that industry, but a too sweeping condemnation fails to recognize the unmistakable advances in human health that privately funded medical research, development, and manufacture of medications have helped to achieve. Pharmaceutical research has enabled the production of effective treatments for many severe human illnesses, including cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, hypertension, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and some types of cancer.

In any case, “Big Pharma” was demonstrably not the driving force behind the mandatory vaccination campaign in California. The pharmaceutical industry derives relatively little profit from vaccine sales in the U.S. and has little interest in making the vaccination of school children mandatory. Less vaccination and more infectious disease might actually be in the financial interest of companies whose drugs treat disease. And while it is true that the pharmaceutical industry has contributed to the electoral campaigns of some California lawmakers, there is no evidence that this support induced them to advocate mandatory vaccination. On the contrary, the campaign for SB 277 began when parents, worried that their children could catch diseases from unvaccinated children, contacted legislators and urged them take action on this issue. There is no reason to believe that the public health advocates, health care providers, parents and other activists who worked so hard to pass SB 277 were motivated by money rather than conviction.

Whither Democracy?

While new media technologies can advance the aim of democratic deliberation and decision making, they lend themselves as readily to the generation of misinformation and the manipulation of public opinion. The gathering of views under a Twitter hashtag, for example, enables political advocacy, but sometimes stifles deliberation and shuts out dissenting voices. Digital technologies make it easy to hear only a single point of view and tune out anything else.

The wish, shared by vaccination advocates and critics alike, to band together with others to participate in democratic decision-making is an honorable and valid one. But democracy works well only if the participants are well-informed, which requires their capacity to distinguish trustworthy from non-trustworthy sources of information. Those of us who believe in grassroots democracy thus face a challenge: what processes of public deliberation and decision-making will best enable citizens to evaluate political issues whose understanding requires a high level of scientific/technical expertise?

Skeptic magazine issue 21.1 (cover)

This article appeared in Skeptic magazine 21.1 (2016).

In California, lengthy hearings on the vaccination issue were held in both the Senate and Assembly, in an effort to base policy formation on a thoughtful public discussion. In that discussion, vaccination advocates presented the nearly universal scientific consensus that vaccination is essential to public health and is safe. But as we know from the debate about climate change, for example, an existing scientific consensus can be contested quite effectively by a well-organized, fervent opposition. Still, pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination advocates did listen to and learn from one another, and the proposed legislation was amended to address some of the concerns raised by the vaccination critics. Dialogue of this kind does have the potential to modify people’s opinions and to shape policy outcomes. Upon that potential, the future of democracy depends. END

About the Authors

Dr. Raymond Barglow majored in physics at Caltech and received a Ph.D. in philosophy at UC Berkeley. He has taught at UC Berkeley and Trinity College and writes on science, ethics, and cultural issues. He is interested in the history and prospects of participatory democracy in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Margret Schaefer received a Ph.D. in English at UC Berkeley, and has taught at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a cultural and literary critic, journalist, and translator, and has written on issues in psychology and medical history as well as on Oscar Wilde, Kleist, Kafka, and Arthur Schnitzler. Recently she translated and published three volumes of Schnitzler’s fiction and two of his plays, which were produced in New York and in Berkeley.

This article was published on May 17, 2016.


27 responses to “Winning the Vaccination War in California”

  1. awc says:

    Broad base comment on comments.

    I am an avid triathlete. Like many in the upper middle class my friends glam on to health trends that have little scientific evidence to support them.
    It is clear that the vast majority of people simply do not understand the scientific method and what is considered “proof”.
    Further, I quickly realize in these discourses that logic, reason and science are not part of the protocol .
    So what is to be done? We have a society where it’s free to be ignorant and the consequence if propagated could be considersble (without fear mongering too much). Myself I get fed up having discussions with those who cannot differentiate between science, opinion and anecdote.

    You are speaking different languages.

  2. Daniel A. Gautreau says:

    “lack of scientific evidence for …” is meaningless or mis-leading to most people. They think it means there is no research. The 2015 study of 95,000 children showing no correlation between autism and vaccines should not be described as a “lack of evidence for a link” but as “very strong evidence for the ABSENCE of a link.”

  3. Marianna G says:

    To those who argue that as long as the pro-vaccination families vaccinate their children, it is no concern of theirs what other parents choose to do, I would like to counter with a story of my own. I woke up one morning when I was 15 weeks pregnant covered in a pink rash. It was confirmed a couple weeks later to be rubella (German measles). My doctor counseled me to terminate, but couldn’t give me much information beyond that. I wasn’t prepared to give up my daughter so readily, and so I contacted my local department of public health, to find out if they could tell me what the risk really was of her being born with a health problem. The director called me back, and kept calling every day, until I made a decision. In the end, what got me wasn’t so much the uncomfortably high odds of my daughter being born with brain damage, but his comment that if I carried my baby to term, she would likely shed the virus for some unknown period of time in a variety of environments where young children and pregnant women tend to go—the pediatrician’s office, the playground, daycare, with family, friends…for up to SEVEN YEARS. I had the power to stop it in its tracks and prevent other, perhaps many, pregnant women from finding themselves in the same position I found myself at that moment. (And rubella doesn’t always have symptoms in adults. And as I discovered, most doctors these days don’t even recognize it anymore. And if you’re not pregnant, it’s probably not something the doctor will even consider testing you for, leaving most people who contract it free to associate without any knowledge of the risk.) The person who infected me and caused me so much heartache lives blissfully unaware that they were the reason I ended my child’s life, as are all parents whose unvaccinated children spread rubella without realizing. Most people think rubella is just a minor thing, that it causes a fever and rash but kids get over it quickly. You would not think that if you’ve had the experience of feeling your baby move around inside you and wanting nothing more than to protect her from harm, all while you were in the process of undergoing a second trimester abortion to save her from a life of severe disability, and to prevent the further spread of this awful disease.

  4. brad tittle says:

    The rise of pertussis cannot be completely tied to the anti-vaxxers. Look at the data. There is a white elephant in the data. The anti-vaxxers are annoying and ignorant. The anti-anti-vaxxers are borderline ignorant.

    I like the Jenny McCarthy Body Count idea. It terrifies me also. There is ignorance in the number. Anyone not acknowledging the ignorance makes me nervous. Science is primarily a question of falsifiability. We are always trying to prove that we are wrong.

    These number aren’t the numbers of a scientist finding truth. They are the numbers of a propagandist.

    Those numbers need some clarity.

    1. How many people who were immunized got sick.
    2. How many people who weren’t immunized got sick.
    3. How many people who were immunized died.
    4. How many people who weren’t immunized died.

    We should be able to get the number of people who have been immunized.
    From that we might be able to approximate how many haven’t been immunized.

    The white elephant is not failure of the anti-vaxxers to immunize.

    It is the failure of the vaccinated to boost their vaccinations when necessary.

    Every way we come up with to maximize the vaccination penetration creates a resistance to vaccination stronger than before. People will hide their lack of vaccination. People will start forging documents to show that they are vaccinated. Fake doctors will get paid to stamp them.

    I am considering voting for Trump solely because so many people say it is wrong.

    I am not immune from the rebellion tendency.

  5. Sandra says:

    I agree with AWC – history can and will repeat itself if herd immunity is lost. History proves that mass public immunizations have greatly decreased the incidence and spread of many debilitating diseases. While I agree that science has disproven Wakefield’s study, there are still some parents that are frightened about potential side effects (including autism) that could potentially occur from vaccinating their children. To those parents, I counter that polio is also a disease with lifelong debilitating consequences. Would you be willing to risk your child getting polio to avoid the disproven chance that your child might become autistic? What about death? Are you willing to risk the death of your child by a preventable disease to avoid the rare side effects of immunization? And to their argument that vaccinated children have nothing to fear from unvaccinated children, I ask whether those anti-vaccination families are willing to risk the death of every newborn baby (too young to vaccinate) in the hospital or pediatrician’s office that they take their unvaccinated child to when their child comes down with measles, mumps or whooping cough? And finally, I ask those families how far they are willing to go in exercising their personal freedom to make medical decisions on behalf of their children. Should that personal freedom also extend to Typhoid Mary, who insisted on continuing her career as a cook despite infecting 51 other people with typhoid fever? Maybe that history will repeat itself and the anti-vax family can then take pride in the notoriety of their child becoming “Smallpox Sebastian”.

  6. Bill Morgan says:

    So you believe Big Pharma? Suggest you read this book.

    SIDE EFFECTS: DEATH—Confessions of a Pharma Insider

    The true story of corruption, bribery and fraud written by Dr. John Virapen, who has been called the Big Pharma Insider. During his 35 years in the pharmaceutical industry internationally (most notably as general manager of Eli Lilly and Company in Sweden), Virapen was responsible for the marketing of drugs.

    Now, Virapen is coming clean and telling little secrets you were never intended to know!

    Pharmaceutical companies want to keep people sick. They want to make others think that they are sick. And they do this for one reason: money.

    Did you know?

    Pharmaceutical companies spend more than $50,000 per physician each year to get them to prescribe more drugs.

    More than 75% of leading scientists in the field of medicine receive consulting fees from the pharmaceutical industry.

    Corruption prevails in the approval and marketing of drugs, but no one is prosecuted. Kind of like the Wall St. banking industry

    Illnesses are made up by the pharmaceutical industry and specifically marketed to enhance sales and market shares for the companies in question.

    Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly targeting children to take more vaccines.

  7. John Persichilli says:

    The media has in my opinion has a duty to report scientific validated information to the public. However, I find that this is seriously lacking in fact. Why does the media still report nonsense? For example, the so-called “Phoenix lights” as being some alien spacecraft, rather than the reported testing of flares by the military. Yet, the local media in Phoenix still reports this nonsensical story as if it were valid.

    Parental rights are not absolute. They have a duty to, in a civilized society, help protect for the greater good of all of us.

  8. LindaRosaRN says:

    What? No mention of tireless Liz Ditz who helped organize the support for HB277?

    The fate of democracy — and vaccine mandates in particular — also rests with the courts and with the fundamental rights of children.

    Mississippi and West Virginia have had no belief exemptions for decades, and the courts have upheld their policy when challenged, ruling that “children have a right to a future” and that children should not be made martyrs to their parents’ beliefs.

  9. Kent McManigal says:

    I am in favor of vaccinations, and would encourage people to have their children vaccinated. However I am against using the force of The State to vaccinate anyone against their will. “Mandatory” is the deal breaker for me. I would oppose “mandatory food” if someone got that notion into their head.

    I actually see a lot of fear-mongering from both sides in this debate, from “it contains mercury and formaldehyde!” to “But you’ll destroy herd immunity and children will die!”

    Not all vaccines are equally effective, and not all diseases are equally harmful, and not all people are able to weigh the facts and risks. This needs to be taken into account before you threaten someone with violence to force them to vaccinate their kids. And ALL laws are ultimately enforced with violence.

    Of course, the smart thing to do is for those who oppose vaccinations to remove their children from the government schools. (And, obviously, stop forcing them to finance those schools through their taxation.) Remove the coercion.

    • Daniel A. Gautreau says:

      Exemptions have in some instances undermined herd immunity resulting in sickness and death. This is not fear-mongering. It is an objective fact.

    • Marvin Doolin, Jr. says:

      In my opinion those unvaccinated children should never go anywhere there might be newborns, pregnant women, or people who cannot be vaccinated. I don’t know how such a thing could be enforced, as such people are likely to be anywhere a person might go. But it’s the right thing to do, and anyone who, for any personal or religious reason, who refused to allow themselves or their children to be vaccinated are being irresponsible and may very well cause otherwise unnecessary death. Where’s the violence? Forcing vacs or allowing “choice” which can kill?

  10. Leslie says:

    One reason for fervent anti-vaccination belief is the amount of seemingly trustworthy information readily available that lies to readers, distorts scientific data, and/or misleads using superficially convincing but nonetheless deeply flawed arguments.

    An exemplar of this form is Vaccine Safety Manual, which is similar to The Vaccine Book referred to in the article. It purports to be a dispassionate review of the science around vaccinations, bringing to light the risks that are generally dismissed and neglected by media and governmental authorities.

    It is, however, a work of anti-vaccine propaganda. You can see some of the techniques used within the book (and an explanation of why the arguments are invalid) here:


  11. awc says:

    I’m Pro vaccine
    What is fascinating is the historic perspective. How the great good vaccines have done in the 20th that is undeniable history. Versus there perspective of the antivaccine group that somehow believe if people don’t get vaccinated that history won’t repeat itself.


  12. Terry says:

    Mel is right. If an infected individual is introduced to someone who has not yet (or cannot) be immunized, that’s where the trouble begins.

    Should responsible parents making the ‘right’ decision for their children, also be responsible for the damage and healthcare costs associated with helping an infected bystander/family?

    As this debate continues to wage, I’m reminded of the edict: Never let facts get in the way of a good opinion.

  13. Pieter Uys says:

    The only justification for comprehensive vaccination is that in a closed community this strategy would theoretically eradicate the disease from that community. The problem is that no community is closed. People move in and out of a setting and there is therefore the risk of importing fresh carriers of disease. It is therefore futile for one state to enforce comprehensive vaccination. A global vaccination program is needed if the goal is to eradicate a disease.

    Until WHO implements such a program it should be left to parents to decide whether to vaccinate (and protect their children) or not. Children who are not vaccinated do not pose a threat to children who have been vaccinated as, surely, the purpose of vaccination is to render such children immune!

    • Mel says:

      The first statement is false. Even if we fall short of eradicating the disease, the reduction in the incidence of the disease is worth it. That last statement is also wrong (see my earlier reply). You are poorly informed (which is not so surprising with all the misinformation out there) and this is why you are not equipped to decide what is best (with regards vaccination) for your children and other people’s children.

  14. Pieter Uys says:

    Parents should be free to decide. Children who get the shots will be immune, right? and so their parents have nothing to fear. The ‘unprotected’ children will have to take their chances!

    So why force all children to be vaccinated?

    • Mel says:

      1. Vaccine efficacy varies but it’s never 100%
      2. Children are not vaccinated at birth
      3. Some vaccines require regular booster shots so immunity can decline over time
      4. As mentioned in the article, there are some children who cannot be vaccinated due to pre-existing conditions such as compromised immune systems

    • Theron says:

      Babies cannot be vaccinated for many diseases for the first few months of their lives. If your snot nosed brat isn’t vaccinated, he can spread disease and potentially kill my baby. It is public health. It doesn’t just affect you.

    • Daniel A. Gautreau says:

      Required reading for you :Herd immunity…. No vaccine is 100% effective….. Learn some arithmetic and see how it applies here.

    • Yahya says:

      You probably don’t know about herd immunity.

      It’s not a personal decision, it’s a matter of public health.

  15. Bill Morgan says:

    Robert DeNiro: “Everyone Should See Vaxxed”

    The debate will continue for those who have an open mind and are willing to listen to those who say Billions of dollars in profits are on the line in this controversy. The pharmaceutical companies have enormous influence over the laws that require vaccination. They want to keep the money flowing to the bottom line. Money talks and buys anyone who is for sale. And a lot of people are for sale.

    • kamwick says:

      Wow, it’s like you didn’t even read the article, or look for any additional info re “Big Pharma” and the actual profits from vaccines (hint:not much). You just know what you know, and that’s enough, right?

      So much for critical thinking, eh?

  16. 123elle says:

    Excellent article; well reasoned and persuasive. I had no idea that the true-believer anti-vaxxers were so robustly and powerfully organized. It is depressing to realize that misinformation about scientific and medical matters is likely to increase, precisely because so many people are not qualified to differentiate between fact and wishful “reasoning” — and believe that they are.

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