This week VaxTruth's No Shots, No School... Not True!! billboards are on display in West Los Angeles. The non-profit has been raising funds for this project since August 2011. The decision to air the message in California was made in response to the targeted attacks over the last several months by the pro-vaccine lobby in their efforts to strip Californians of their parental and civil rights to decide what is (and is not) injected into their children.
The purpose of VaxTruth is to help parents to understand their rights and to empower them to make educated and informed decisions about vaccination. We started putting up billboards with the goal of combating the misinformation that frequently exists in mainstream media, which makes it seem like children MUST be vaccinated in order to attend school. In most states, this is just not true. All fifty states have medical exemptions and 48 have religious and/or philosophical exemptions. Unfortunately, in many places parents are not made aware of their legal right to opt-out of vaccinations and in some cases that results of parents making decisions about medical procedures because they feel forced to do so. We believe that's wrong.
In California, the law does not differentiate between religious and philosophical beliefs. They are treated as the same thing and are referred to as "personal belief" exemptions. Personal belief exemptions are currently under attack in California and parents in the state are facing the very real possibility that their personal and religious freedoms will be taken away if a new bill, AB2109 is signed into law.
AB2109 has already passed through the initial phase of the legislative process in California, and if it is to be defeated, California citizens need to act now. We are hoping that the Los Angeles billboards will catch the attention of more parents in the state and will help to raise the alarm that time is of the essence if they are to preserve their rights.
The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) and the grassroots organization, Californians Against AB2109 are spearheading the effort to combat the passage of AB2109, and VaxTruth wholeheartedly supports them in their mission. NVIC's Advocacy Portal is a great place for those who are concerned about AB2109 to receive timely updates about the bill and to obtain information about how they can become involved in the process.
If AB2109 passes into law, California parents who wish to exercise their legal right to exemption from vaccination would be forced to pay for an office visit with an approved medical professional at which the parent would receive counseling about the risks of childhood diseases and the benefits of vaccination. Additionally, parents would have to obtain the signature of the medical professional on an official form, stating that the counseling had taken place. There are many concerns with this proposed change to the existing law, among them the shortage of physicians who would be willing to accept these types of appointments, the cost involved, particularly to low-income families, and the potential adversarial nature of such a discussion between concerned parents and the physicians who are charged with caring for their children.
A further concern is with the message that pediatricians and other medical professionals will be imparting to parents when they spend the ten or twenty minutes during an office visit on "vaccine education." Personally, as the parent of a vaccine-injured child, I can state with complete conviction that there is absolutely nothing a doctor can tell me in ten or twenty minutes that would alter in any way the conclusions I have drawn from the many thousands of hours I have spent researching vaccines over the last sixteen years. The fact is, parents who exercise their legal right to exemption are among the most highly educated parents in the country. I have personally engaged in multiple discussions with our own family doctor who was completely unaware that there is still mercury in many vaccines, and who was also unaware that my daughter, with a history of seizures, should not have been given the DTap vaccine that nearly killed her. I have also had lengthy discussions on facebook with doctors who have proclaimed with confidence, "They took thimerosal out of the MMR vaccine years ago!" Ummm.... No, doc. Thimerosal was never IN the MMR vaccine because it would have killed the live measles virus. If physicians do not know even these basics about vaccines, how are they going to "educate" parents about the risks/benefits during the state-mandated consultation?
Who is educating the educator? A review of this article, published by the AAFP explains to physicians how to increase vaccine uptake in their practices, including methods of tracking patient information and sharing of personal patient data outside the attending physician's office. Some of the tactics espoused in this document may remind you of those we associate with Hitler's Secret Police or as my grandmother referred to them, "The Gestapo." If you read through this entire article or scroll down to the end, you will see the author's disclaimer: He is a paid spokesman for Sanofi-Pasteur and Merck; two major manufacturers of vaccines that are given to children in the United States. There's your answer. Who is educating the doctors who will be charged with educating parents about vaccines? The makers and sellers of vaccines.
The language of AB2109 makes it clear that Dr. Richard Pan (a pediatrician and the Assembly Member who introduced the bill) and the other sponsors of the bill want parents to be "informed by physicians about the risks of diseases and the benefits and risks of vaccination." At face value, this seems like an appropriate and worthy goal... however, it is not likely to be accomplished in a single office visit. It is also not likely to accomplished when the information necessary to make a true cost-benefit analysis is missing or inaccurate.
Doctors in the media often overstate the risks associated with childhood diseases, in an apparent attempt to fear-monger parents into vaccinating. For example, in a recent article entitled Measles: Back to the Future of Public Health Dr. David Katz proclaimed that if measles were to make a comeback in the United States, "out of every 1000 kids who get it one or two will die." According to the CDC's own data, prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968, each year there were between 3 and 4 Million cases of measles in the U.S. and an average of 432 people died each year. The "1 or 2 out of a thousand" number is not for the United States. That's the number for measles deaths worldwide, where the death toll is significantly higher in Third World countries among adults and children who lack access to adequate shelter, clean water and nutritious foods. For a more realistic estimate regarding measles in the United States, please check out this article.
Doctors in the media (and in the exam room?) often overstate the benefits of vaccines, crediting them with wiping out illnesses that would have disappeared on their own. Not to pick on Dr. Katz, but... in his article he credits vaccines with wiping out smallpox, when the truth is that only about 10% of the world's population ever received the smallpox vaccine.
Perhaps the most troublesome to me is that doctors often greatly underestimate the dangers of vaccines and the true risks associated with vaccination. This is a problem that is not going to go away just because a parent sits for 10 or 20 minutes and gets "educated" by a doctor. Why do so many doctors deny the risks? Is it solely about money?
Physicians are taught in medical schools that receive millions of dollars in funding for research... money that comes from pharmaceutical companies. Medical students are taught by physician/instructors who often receive tens of thousands of dollars (in some cases much more) from pharmaceutical companies. The conflicts of interest have received SOME media attention, but in my opinion... not nearly enough. Is it so unrealistic to postulate that at least a percentage of California's doctors who will be charged with "educating" parents about the safety of vaccines may not have the purest of motives? When you look at the data compiled by propublica regarding the REPORTED amount of money paid by pharmaceutical companies to doctors in California it's hard to imagine how there could not be a problem here. As you scroll through the 56 pages of reported payments to California medical professionals keep this in mind: At this point, the reporting of payments by pharmaceutical companies is still voluntary; it won't become mandatory until 2013 and if the health care reform act is repealed it won't be mandatory then, either. (That's not a plug for the health care reform act... just a statement of fact.) When you look at the dollar amounts in the far right column, please also look at the period of time for which the amounts were reported. The information is only a fraction of what's been paid out with many companies only reporting one or two quarters of 2009 or 2010. Also realize that since reporting is not mandatory, when this information was first compiled by propublica only 7 of the 70 pharmaceutical companies operating in the U.S. reported this information at all. According to the most recent information I was able to find, it is estimated that about 40 percent of pharmaceutical companies now report their monetary contributions to health care providers.
The number and severity of adverse reactions to vaccination is unknown. A big part of the reason for this is that physicians either do not know how to recognize vaccine-injuries, or they actively deny their existence even in cases where the child dies within hours of vaccination. It is estimated that between 1% and 10% of vaccine-injuries are ever reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS is a passive reporting system. It is "suggested" that physicians report adverse reactions to VAERS, but there is no consequence for those who fail (or refuse) to report. This brings up the very important question, "How can we make an accurate risk-benefit analysis when we don't have accurate data on which to base our conclusions?"
It is clear to me that in light of the fact that there is no meaningful data regarding the true numbers of children and adults who have been seriously injured or killed by vaccines, it is literally impossible to have a meaningful or valid discussion about the benefits vs. the risks of vaccines. Until we have that information, there can be no informed consent, regardless of who is doing the counseling. It is also clear that as long as physicians are not trained or refuse to recognize vaccine-injuries they are completely unprepared to offer valid counseling about the costs vs. benefits of vaccines. And finally, as long as the physicians who are supposed to be doing the "counseling" are being trained about what to say by the makers and sellers of vaccines, there is no justification for the state requiring parents to jump through additional legal hoops. Afterall, all a parent really has to do in order to get THAT information is to listen to the morning talk shows.
Citizens of California, your time is short. Act now. Join the NVIC's advocacy portal and get involved in the effort to defeat AB2109. Join the facebook group, "Californians Against AB2109" and help them protect your right to decide what medical procedures your child receives. It's your child. It's your choice.
Marcella Piper-Terry has a master's degree in psychology and has worked as a therapist and as a neuropsychological evaluator of children and adults. She has worked as a DAN provider and consultant assisting families employing biomedical interventions for their children. She is also the mother of a vaccine-injured child. She founded VaxTruth along with my colleagues, Megan and Spencer Pond in the fall of 2011.