There’s been a major onslaught from the media in the past few weeks linking the recent cases of measles in the U.S. and the fact that a minority of American parents chooses to forgo vaccines for their children.
On April 28, 2014, Forbes.com accused parents who don’t vaccinate as being part of an “anti-vaccine hysteria,” and contended that this “hysteria” “continues to do real damage to the lives of children around the world.”
On May 1, Michael Gerson, writing an op-ed in the Washington Post, argued that parents should not have the right to choose not to vaccinate.
But the most disappointing for me was from Stephen Colbert. Full disclosure: I love Colbert. He’s smart and funny and does a great job of finding unexpected ways to educate and entertain. But I was incredibly disappointed with the interview he did with Dr. Paul Offit, the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, ending the show with Offit’s claim that we have the pharmaceutical companies to thank for our good health in America, because Big Pharma has created vaccines that allow our children to “lead longer, better, healthier lives.” Offit did not answer Colbert’s question about whether he was directly profiting from Big Pharma. Which he is, of course. Dubbed “Dr. Profit” by some activists, Offit is co-inventor of the RotaTeq vaccine and a co-holder of the patent on it.
What are the facts?
Considering the very small uptick and tiny number of new measles cases compared to the total population of the United States, “outbreak” is an exaggerated, misleading word, used to instill fear in parents and sell newspapers. In the Philippines, the WHO has identified about 20,000 cases of the measles. That is a genuine outbreak. If the American media were reporting honestly on these new cases of infectious disease, they would simply say, “we have seen some cases of the measles” or “a few dozen cases of measles.” But no one would click past the headline.
There have been 42 cases of measles confirmed in Ohio in 2014. The total population of Ohio is about 11.5 million people. Your chances of contracting the measles in Ohio are .000365 percent or 1 in 273,809.
There have been 59 cases of measles confirmed in California in 2014. The population of California is about 38 million. Your chances of getting the measles in California are even lower than in Ohio: .000155 percent or 1 in 644,068.
There have been 26 cases of measles confirmed in New York in 2014. The population of New York is about 19.6 million people. Your chances of getting the measles in New York are lower still: .000133 percent or 1 in 753,846, slightly higher than your risk of being struck by lightning.
While every year between 20 – 40 Americans die from being struck by lightning, no one has died from the measles since 2005.
This math might be making your head ache.
What you need to understand from all of this is simply that it is extremely unlikely you or your child will get the measles in the United States, whether you’ve chosen to vaccinate or not. And that if your child does get the measles, the chances of complications from what is a highly contagious but very mild disease in countries where people have access to clean water and good hygiene practices are tiny.
Why are we experiencing outbreaks of measles?
During a recent press briefing, the CDC acknowledged that 34 of the 129 cases reported so far here in the U.S. were importations involving both U.S. residents who traveled abroad and foreign visitors who came here. One of the questions that arose during the briefing was whether these outbreaks were related to people opting out of vaccines.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, M.D., from the CDC responded that people getting vaccinated against the measles are often those contracting the disease: “… in these outbreaks, some of the people have gotten all the doses they were supposed to, and they’re still getting measles.”
The CDC’s public acknowledgement that the MMR vaccine is not as effective as we think is detailed in a recent article in the Financial Times by Lawrence Solomon. Solomon reports that one of the main reasons we are seeing a resurgence of measles is because the vaccine is not working as well as previously thought.
Solomon quotes vaccine developer Dr. Gregory Poland, Professor of Medicine and founder and leader of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group, who wrote in 2012 that, “outbreaks are occurring even in highly developed countries where vaccine access, public health infrastructure, and health literacy are not significant issues. This is unexpected and a worrisome harbinger — measles outbreaks are occurring where they are least expected.” The article continues:
“People’s failure to get vaccinated is deplorable, Dr. Poland often stresses. But the more fundamental problem stems from the vaccine being less effective in real life than predicted, with a too-high failure rate — between 2% and 10% don’t develop expected antibodies after receiving the recommended two shots. Because different people have different genetic makeups, the vaccine is simply a dud in many, failing to provide the protection they think they’ve acquired.
To make matters worse, even when the vaccine takes, the protection quickly wanes, making it unrealistic to achieve the 95%-plus level of immunity in the general population thought necessary to protect public health. For example, 9% of children having two doses of the vaccine, as public health authorities now recommend, will have lost their immunity after just seven and a half years. As more time passes, more lose their immunity. “This leads to a paradoxical situation whereby measles in highly immunized societies occurs primarily among those previously immunized,” Dr. Poland stated.
Stephen Colbert and Paul Offit, you are missing the boat by blaming parents
The vitriol leveled against parents who opt-out of the measles vaccines is misguided and misplaced. If the vaccines are safe and effective, the people at risk when a family does not vaccinate are people who themselves have chosen not to vaccinate. Parents who choose not to vaccinate do not make the decision capriciously. They are typically well educated and well informed. Often they are better educated and better informed than the parents who follow the current CDC schedule. Yet the more the mainstream media ignores these parents’ concerns about the risks of the vaccines themselves, and the more headlines shouting BLAME BLAME BLAME on parents who are choosing to selectively vaccinate, the more thinking people will be encouraged to turn away from the entire vaccination program.
Why are some parents opting out?
I can tell you what moms and dads have been telling me.
Many are people who used to unquestioningly follow the rules.
They took their babies to every well baby visit. They gave their babies every vaccine the doctors recommended. And they watched their healthy babies getting sicker and sicker.
When these moms and dads asked their pediatricians what was going on, their doctors had no idea. When they asked if vaccines could have something to do with their child’s autoimmune disorder, flaring allergies, high-pitched screaming, high fevers, autism, ADHD, asthma, or other health problems, their doctors shook their heads and said, “impossible.”
“The same doctor was telling me he had no idea why my daughter was sick,” a mom of two told me, “but at the same time he was sure, absolutely positive, that vaccines had nothing to do with it.” This mom, a nurse practitioner married to a doctor living in Yreka, California, stopped vaccinating after reading several scientific studies showing vaccines can cause autoimmune disorders. “I was so angry,” she says, “and perplexed. How could our doctor have NO IDEA why my daughter was sick but be absolutely sure it was not because of vaccines?”
“I have seen vaccine injury first hand in the ICU’s and it always seems to simply be ‘mentioned’ that the child received a vaccine close to when this (fill in the blank) illness happened. The family typically mentions it and the medical staff scoff at them. That was a big reason why we chose not to vaccinate,” Kate Doubler, R.N., a mom who lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota and blogs at Real Food RN.
Health care professionals who are also parents are becoming increasingly uncomfortable following the CDC’s current vaccine schedule. Pediatricians themselves are also forgoing vaccines for their children. Susan McCreadie, M.D. shares her thoughts on vaccines:
“I am a mother first and a pediatrician second. This I have never forgotten.
I cannot parent in ways that make me uncomfortable, to make others comfortable. I made the connection that Kaitlin’s eczema would improve if I stopped stimulating her immune system with the vaccines. In addition to supplementing her with cod liver oil and probiotics daily, I also stopped vaccinations. Her eczema resolved and has never returned.
I chose as a mom and a pediatrician to stop vaccinating Kaitlin, and never to vaccinate Elle or Addison. These are my decisions. Are there risks? Sure there are risks. There are risks with EVERYTHING. That’s life. All three girls had whooping cough – not fun. Could I have prevented those 2 months of relentless coughing with vaccines? Maybe, maybe not. The family that spread it to our family was fully vaccinated against pertussis.”
My take home message to the American media: it’s time. Please do your homework and provide fair and balanced reporting.
And my take home message for parents: it’s time. Please do your homework too!
During my training to become a nurse, I was taught that vaccines were safe, effective, and saved lives. As a health care provider and parent, I have witnessed that this is not always the case. I find it incredibly tragic for a child—or an adult—to be severely disabled or to die from an adverse vaccine reaction. This is as tragic as it is for a child—or adult—to be harmed by a vaccine preventable disease. We health care professionals cannot say that the injury a child suffers from a vaccine is somehow worth it for the greater good. We cannot keep dismissing parents’ concerns.
It’s time for journalists to stop apologizing for harmful government practices and start doing their jobs to uncover what is going wrong with America’s vaccines.
So what is going wrong with America’s vaccines? In the coming weeks when we’ll be talking about potential complications with vaccines and information every parent needs to know before they vaccinate. Follow SAFEMINDS here.