The Los Angeles Times featured a scary, virtually fact-free article about vaccines on its front page Sunday. They dredged up old stories and concluded with a quote from an over-exposed expert who makes millions of dollars from his vaccine patents.
Parents' blogs and bulletin boards lit up and one lawyer wanted to know if he could see a list of names of unvaccinated children. In response, I would ask to see his complete medical history to make certain he carried nothing which threatened anyone else. Ever
My moderate response to the Times and the parents concerned below:
The article in the Los Angeles Times this morning has generated a lot of discussion and I was asked to respond.
Unvaccinated children do not pose a threat to vaccinated children or their families.
We all have a responsibility to keep each other's children safe. Choosing to not vaccinate or choosing an alternative vaccine schedule could be considered a rift in that contract. Medically, scientifically and statistically speaking, it is not. Honest people might disagree.
I have been a pediatrician for thirty years and have watched children receive all scheduled vaccines, some of the vaccines or receive no vaccines at all. I have seen every one of the illnesses against which we vaccinate. Since the early 1980s, I have seen bacterial meningitis in a child once and once in a teenager but the extreme rarity of this terrible disease means that it makes the news whenever a case occurs anywhere in the U.S. Denying that childhood meningitis exists is dishonest, but equally dishonest is implying that it is a large threat to any of our children. I see kids with pertussis every year. I see children misdiagnosed with whooping cough far more often. Two years ago, the New York Times took note of this phenomenon--The Whooping Outbreak that Wasn't
2009 marks the thirty year anniversary of the last case of "wild polio" in the United States. Subsequent cases were caused by the oral polio vaccine which is no longer used in this country.
In 2008, Somalia, for the first time ever, reported no cases of polio. Somalia?!
Rubella is no longer an "American" disease . This is from those crazy anti-vaccine folks at the CDC
I recently read an article, written in 2009 which chastised non-vaccinating parents because there had been 131 cases of measles in the U.S. in the first half of 2008 alone. And how many cases were there in the whole year? 134. The usual number? 62. Disingenuous reporting. An extra 72 cases of measles among 300,000,000 Americans made the papers every day or two for months and the LA Times writers dredge up the child who caught measles on a Swiss vacation one more time.
Yes, as mentioned, measles and other viruses can cause encephalitis. It's very, very rare. Implying otherwise could scare parents.
And, no, the law does not allow us to know which children have not received vaccines any more than it allows other invasions of privacy.
I have received hundreds of emails from people all over the country and the world reaching out to me and asking me to listen to them about vaccine issues and injuries because it seems that no one else will. I have permission from a mother to forward email she sent to me--with a picture--of her four month old daughter who received four vaccines and died shortly thereafter. I have dozens and dozens of similar emails and dozens of face-to-face encounters in my office with parents coming to me after what they considered to be vaccine damage to their children. I will not forward that email. It creates a different kind of fear that also doesn't serve the dialogue well.
I think that these possibly injured children and families represent one end of the bell shaped curve and that scary stories about meningitis in Minnesota (the first there in 18 years) represent the other end. (I do feel that the former end of the curve is far fuller than the latter but no proof exists. None.)
The LA Times stories were "fear-based" just as my forwarding these emails would have been.
The University of Michigan Law Review recently invited me to write a journal article about vaccines and tort law and I joined a spirited debate among people who knew more law but less medicine than I. I felt quite welcome.
I sum up my law review presentation to parents every winter by telling them that the only way to avoid childhood illnesses is "reverse isolation" of your illness-free child. If you go to a two-year-old's birthday party during the winter months . . . You will probably get sick.
Peripherally, let's all remember that it took fifty years or more, thousands of court cases and a lot of money to finally prove the connection between cigarettes and cancer. The three court cases showing no connection between vaccines and autism should make no headlines and should be an impetus to honest investigative journalism.
We have increased the number of vaccines and the combinations of vaccines (initially rejected) given to babies and children. Adequate testing has not been done. I have seen a huge rise in the number of children with autism. Neither I nor any other doctors are hundreds of percent better at diagnosing this spectrum of developmental delay than ten or twenty years ago. (I asked my wife, "Dear, am I 800% smarter than when you met me?" Her response was pleasant, not acerbic and not affirmative, but I choose to omit it here.) The dramatic rise in the number of cases of autism spectrum disorders is attributable to something other than "reclassification" or better diagnosis. Vaccines may play a large role in triggering autism in susceptible children or they may play a minor rule. Until we're sure we can't possibly coerce parents into vaccinating their babies. Discuss and debate, yes but coercion and legal drama ignore the likelihood that there some side effects from the dozens of shots we give our babies and toddlers.
While waiting for scientific proof, we have to tolerate families' completely legal and scientific desire to have or not have their children given vaccines according to the current schedule.
Jay Gordon, MD, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, FABM, IBCLC Emeritus