By Anne Dachel, Media Editor
The events of the past week put vaccines in the spotlight. It seemed the line was being drawn and the sides are clearly shown.
The New York Times piece, Study Indicates Benefit of Vaccines on Tuesday, gave us the results of another new CDC vaccine study. We were told, "The agency has never before searched historical records going back to 1900 to compile estimates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths for all the diseases that children are routinely vaccinated against."
The article couldn't say enough good things about the success of the vaccine program: "Death rates for 13 diseases that can be prevented by childhood vaccination s are at all-time lows in the United States, according to a study released yesterday."
It killed two birds with one stone because not only are vaccines effective, they're also safe. Dr. Gregory A. Poland at the Mayo Clinic said the study showed that vaccines "are a testament to the fact that vaccines can drive diseases down to near nil." The study was used to show that vaccines have no serious side effects: "A C.D.C. spokesman, Curtis Allen, said the new study was not done specifically to counter the anti-vaccine movement, 'but it does show conclusively the value of vaccines.' "
It seems the two sides in the war are "public health officials" and "anti-vaccine activists," because as we are told, "Public health officials are involved in a continuing struggle with anti-vaccine activists who contend that the shots given to children trigger autism, seizures, or other serious side effects."
Dr. Paul Offit, himself a vaccine patent holder, was featured sounding an alarm over the increasing numbers of vaccine exemptions around the country. He said, "It is more common for children from wealthy or middle-class families to lack some or all shots, presumably because their parents have read about side effects or visited one of the many anti-vaccine Web sites. Most children are immunized as part of routine infant care or before they enter day care or school, but the number of states that allow religious or 'philosophical' exemptions has increased."
The New York Times article included a little misinformation. We were told, "In the United States, rumors of a link to autism and inflammatory bowel disease are most commonly attached to the measles vaccine , making it one that some parents avoid. The article inexplicably failed to mention the exploding controversy also over the link between the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal and autism. I can't imagine that the Times isn't aware of this. Regardless, the Times claimed that Americans link autism to the MMR.
Since we're constantly told that almost all schoolchildren are vaccinated and experts say that "herd immunity" is 90 percent coverage, it seemed strange that officials were so concerned about the few that don't vaccinate.
Back in October, AP reporter Steve LeBlanc wrote a piece about the increase in exemptions, Parents cite faith, shun vaccines. His story was picked up by the press across the country. Paul Offit was again quoted in this piece raising concerns over the growing number of parents who were signing waivers to exempt their children from required vaccines. He wasn't described as a vaccine patent holder here either, just "Dr. Paul Offit, head of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia."
Offit called the choice not to vaccinate, "an irrational, fear-based decision," and LeBlanc wrote that about "growing number of parents around the country who are claiming religious exemptions to avoid vaccinating their children when the real reason may be skepticism of the shots or concern they can cause other illnesses. Some of these parents say they are being forced to lie because of the way the vaccination laws are written in their states ." This story was published by papers all over the country.
I called Steve LeBlanc and asked him about why he became interested in the exemption issue and he told me that he heard that the number of exemptions was increasing and he just wanted to know why. I don't think he knew how controversial and involved this topic is. I told him a few things and asked him to look into it further. I hope he will.
Meanwhile, the first foray of the vaccine war was initiated by the public health official side. During the week we heard that Prince George County in Maryland was calling for forced vaccinations for the student who were non-complying.
After reading press coverage on this and watching videos, I wanted to say: What could these people have been thinking? Did they believe that the bullying tactics of the state's attorney and a county judge would not be met with opposition?
It seems that the approximately 2,000 unvaccinated students out of 132,000-students in the system were considered such a problem that the court had to step in. State's attorney Glen Ivy was filmed by CNN and shown all over the country saying, "We can do this the easy way or we can do this the hard way, but it has to be done." (Pr. George's Parents Face Fines, Jail Over Immunization ) This did not set well with countless parents around the country who believe their children were damaged by vaccines. Many autism groups focused on this outrageous disregard for individual rights. They were joined by others like the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons. The wrath of the autism community descended on Prince George officials with e-mails and phone calls.
Parents who had watched their children regress into the lost world of autism after vaccinations could not be expected to tolerate some of the comments made by those in authority. In Parents Ordered to Court for Kids', we heard about Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols, who ordered parents to come to the courthouse Saturday and "either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail." This was said about the judge: " The judge noted the unhappy looks of some of the kids in line waiting for vaccinations." He found this amusing and noted, "It's cute. It looks like their parents are dragging them to church."
Seeing this kind of information in print and hearing it on endless broadcasts, I realized that this must have been the last thing in the world the Maryland health authorities wanted. I assume that they thought if they just threatened parents with jail time and a fine, they'd all show up at the courthouse and get their kids vaccinated. This show of force could then become the model for how to handle the "anti-vaccine" side.
It didn't work however. The "anti-vaccine" side wouldn't surrender quietly. This local story became a national one. News reports noted, "Several organizations opposed to mass vaccinations protested outside the courthouse. While the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, some parents and researchers believe immunizations are responsible for a rise in autism and other medical problems." That piece was all over the nation too. Note the phrase, "researchers believe." It's not just parents saying these things.
We had the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons spokesman Charles Frohman there saying, "People should have a choice" in getting their children immunized, (Court Becomes Clinic In Vaccination Effort,) The AAPS also put out an alert to all their members.
Looking at the events involved in the Prince George Maryland crackdown, officials seem to have messed up royally. I seriously don't think school and government authorities realized what passions were involved here. Because of the national press coverage, the issue is sure to become more heated. Parents who never worried about vaccine safety will now be looking into it. I can't imagine those who started this imagined that Barbara Loe Fisher from the National Vaccine Information Center would be getting coverage on CNN with her well-reasoned questioning of vaccine safety.
No, this couldn't have been what those who started this had in mind. They hoped this would be the Yorktown surrender for the "anti-vaccine activists." Instead it was like the Bull Run/Manassas battle that set off the Civil War.