Barbara Loe Fisher is Right. She’s Also To Blame.
Mar 03, 2016

Barbara Loe Fisher may be right about one thing.

We need a better Tdap vaccine to prevent pertussis (also known as whooping cough).

However, her opposition to legislation in Indiana that would require hospital employees be up-to-date on Tdap, flu and MMR vaccines is unsupported.  Fisher has publicly defended her position in a FOX28 news clip when she states that Tdap vaccines should not be mandated because they don’t work. However, this is an example of what’s known as a nirvana fallacy.

VYF_FB01Tdap vaccines do work. Maybe not 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. 

In fact, data shows that pertussis vaccines protect about 7 out of 10 people who receive them.  That’s enough for the World Health Organization to justify using it across the globe to help prevent pertussis, as well as diphtheria and tetanus. Sorry Barb, but in lieu of a better option to prevent a highly infectious and sometimes deadly  disease such as pertussis, the Tdap vaccine is the best defense we have.  It’s certainly better than the 0 out of 10 people who are protected by avoiding vaccination all together.

Interestingly enough, what Fisher avoids admitting is that her opposition to the whole cell pertussis vaccination (DTP) is why we are in the situation we are in today.  Back in the 80’s, Fisher led the charge against the whole cell pertussis vaccine, claiming it had too many adverse events. This prompted the development of a more purified (acellular) pertussis vaccine (DTaP).  By 1997, a newly licensed DTaP vaccine was being recommended by the ACIP in place of the DTP vaccine for the full 5-dose pediatric schedule.  While the new vaccine appeared less likely to provoke adverse events, studies have since shown that it has not been as effective in providing lasting immunity.

The truth is, Fisher has never really been interested in making vaccines safer.  She co-founded the National Vaccine Information Center in 1982 to help organize a movement of vaccine refusal and oppose any public policy that endorses the use of vaccines.

Unfortunately, while we are stuck with a less than ideal vaccine, children like Callie Van Tornhout are dying from pertussis infection.

People of all ages can be affected by pertussis. However, it is most dangerous for babies, as they are at particularly high risk of severe complications, hospitalization and death.  About half of babies younger than one year who get the disease need care in the hospital, and 1 out of 100 babies who get treatment in the hospital die.  Most unvaccinated children who are living with an infected family member will contract pertussis themselves.  There is no real cure for pertussis, only treatments that help address the symptoms.

Families_callie_van_tornhoutIn the case of Callie Van Tornhout, detailed in the FOX28 news clip out of Indiana, transmission of pertussis from a hospital employee to a vulnerable newborn too young for vaccination proved to be deadly.  Callie was only 38 days old and had never been anywhere besides her family home and the hospital. This is why Callie’s mom Katie Van Tornhout is speaking out in support of the proposed Indiana bill (SB 162).

Katie, like the many others who support this bill, believes that hospital employees who have direct contact with patients should take reasonable precautions in order to protect themselves and their patients from preventable diseases like pertussis.  That means they should be up-to-date on ACIP recommended vaccines such as Tdap, flu and MMR, that are proven to be safe and effective.

Katie explains, ”If you’re taking care of my child in the hospital and you’re not vaccinated, then what good is that? You’re putting that baby in danger.  You’re putting everyone in danger.”

While there are exceptions made in situations where vaccination is not medically advised, patients and their families should have the right to know the vaccination status of the hospital employees that are providing care to vulnerable patients like Callie.

Craig and Katie Van Tornhout have lived through a parent’s worst nightmare. They had to bury their precious daughter Callie Grace.  They, like every other parent, would have done anything to protect their child.  They had every intention of vaccinating Callie according to the ACIP’s recommended schedule, but they never got the chance. Callie contracted whooping cough and passed away before she was even old enough to receive the first of the five DTaP vaccines in the series.

In the years since Callie has passed, the ACIP has made new vaccine recommendations that are helping to save lives.

For instance, the ACIP now recommends that pregnant women get immunized in the third trimester of every pregnancy, not only to help prevent a mother from getting pertussis herself and passing the infection on to her baby, but to provide the unborn baby with passive immunity while still in the womb that can go on to help protect the child from pertussis infection in the two months before the child begins the first DTaP vaccine in the series.

VYF_FB02It is also suggested that family members to include fathers, grandparents and siblings, as well as any adult caregivers, should get a Tdap booster at least two weeks before the baby is due to arrive.  The Vaccinate Your Family program even offers a Grandparent Toolkit to ensure that grandparents understand the important role they play in helping to protect the newest member of their family.  By vaccinating those who are close to the child, the child will be less likely to be exposed to infection.

These new recommendations are a move in the right direction, and so is the proposed Indiana bill that will ensure hospital employees are up-to-date on Tdap vaccines, because every effort must be made to protect hospital patients from infectious diseases.

Imagine how devastated Craig and Katie Van Tornhout were to discover that a NICU employee – who was there to help Callie grow in good health those first few days after her birth – was ultimately responsible for infecting Callie with a dangerous disease that ended her life.

A bill like SB 162 in Indiana, and other similar bills around the country, can have such a positive impact on the lives and health of our families.  Whether it is parents, grandparents, teachers, daycare or healthcare workers, all adults should be adequately immunized to reduce the spread of disease to vulnerable people in our communities, such as babies too young to be vaccinated, immunocompromised individuals who may be undergoing other medical treatments, and our fragile elderly population who struggle with weakened immune systems.

After passing the Indiana Senate with a unanimous 50-0 vote, the Indiana House recently deferred SB 162 to study committee.  We are hopeful that SB 162 will be reviewed once again in the next session and the House will be moved to pass “Callie’s Law”. 

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is from Indiana and would like to join us in support of SB 162, please email

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19 responses to “Barbara Loe Fisher is Right. She’s Also To Blame.”

  1. In recent years problems have been emerging with pertussis/whooping cough vaccination i.e. the apparently defective acellular pertussis vaccine may actually be causing new strains of the disease to develop[1], and spreading the disease via vaccinated individuals.[2]

    The response to the emerging problems with acellular pertussis vaccination has been to recommend ‘boosters’, e.g. A/Professor Ruiting Lan of the University of New South Wales says: “We need to look at changes to the vaccine itself or increase the number of boosters.”[1]

    The question is, how does increasing the number of ‘boosters’ of the current acellular pertussis vaccine protect against new strains?

    Repeated revaccination with the apparently defective acellular pertussis vaccine is being foisted upon the community. In Australia the National Immunisation Program Schedule[3] now stipulates that children be vaccinated six times with the aluminium-adjuvanted combination diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine product, i.e. primary vaccination at two months, four months and six months, then so-called boosters i.e. revaccination at 18 months, four years, and again between 10-15 years.

    Pregnant women, household contacts of infants, and healthcare workers are also being urged to be revaccinated again and again with the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine[4], in other words lifelong revaccination with this vaccine product.

    What is the point of imposing more and more so called ‘boosters’ with an apparently defective acellular pertussis vaccine product which may be causing new strains of the disease to develop, and spreading the disease via vaccinated individuals? What sort of science is this? The so-called vaccination experts seem to be making this up as they go along, and using the community as guinea pigs, without informed consent.

    Certainly repeated revaccinations/’boosters’ must be a very lucrative profit centre for vaccine manufacturers.

    I suggest children are being grossly over-vaccinated with the diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine product, and that their parents are not being properly informed about the uncertainties surrounding this vaccine product.

    I question whether it is ethical to (a) not properly inform citizens about the uncertainties surrounding pertussis revaccination, and (b) for the Australian Federal Government to implement vaccination laws[5] which coerce parents to have their children repeatedly revaccinated with the questionable diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis vaccine product (DTPa).

    Elizabeth Hart

    [1] See for example: Sharp rise in cases of new strain of whooping cough. UNSW Newsroom. 21 March 2012.
    [2] See for example: FDA study helps provide an understanding of rising rates of whooping cough and response to vaccination. FDA News Release, 27 November 2013 and Jason M Warfel et al. Acellular pertussis vaccines protect against disease but fail to prevent infection and transmission in a nonhuman primate model. PNAS, 22 October 2013.
    [3] Australian National Immunisation Program Schedule (From February 2016).
    [4] 4.12.7 Recommendations. Pertussis. The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edition.
    [5] No Jab, No Pay – New Immunisation Requirements for Family Assistance Payments. Australian Government Department of Health. Fact sheet for vaccination providers. November 2015.

  2. Chris says:

    Ms. Hart, please look up the Nirvana Fallacy. You are using it.

  3. shay says:

    I wonder if Fisher discourages sexually-active young men and women from using birth control. After all, it’s not 100% effective.

  4. ‘Chris’, I’m a citizen questioning repeated vaccination throughout life with the pertussis vaccine (plus diphtheria and tetanus components).

    Are you an expert in pertussis vaccination qualified to answer my questions?

    If so, can you please provide your name and affiliations so I can check your credentials?

    I have previously asked questions of ‘experts’ in regards to pertussis vaccination, see for example my email to Professor Ruiting Lan of the University of New South Wales, forwarded in December 2012. (Professor Lan would not respond to my email, an example of the lack of accountability of academics promoting the questionable use of vaccine products.)

    Email to Professor Ruiting Lan, 4 December 2012:

    Professor Lan

    I have recently read your JID Brief Report regarding the Australian pertussis epidemic in 2008-2010 (1) which states

    “B. pertussis isolates collected from 4 Australian states during an ongoing pertussis epidemic that began in 2008 were classified using SNPs, MLVA, fim3, prn, and ptxP typing. SNP cluster 1 strains, primarily SP13 and SP14, accounted for 86% of isolates…This is a significant increase from our previous study of isolates collected between 2000 and 2007, in which SNP cluster 1 represented only 31% of isolates. This suggests increasing selection among the B. pertussis population in Australia in favor of strains carrying antigens that differ from those represented in ACVs.”
    “The prn2-ptxP3 isolates have the potential not only to evade the protective effects of ACV but also to increase disease severity as a double act of B. pertussis adaptation. Therefore, vaccine-induced selection could contribute to the expansion of cluster I, specifically SP13 and SP14, because of the presence of both prn2 and ptxP3. These 2 SPs have swept across Australia during the epidemic period.

    Given these statements, I was confused by your comments in the UNSW website article (2) on this subject, i.e. “The prolonged whooping cough epidemic in Australia that began during 2008 has been predominantly caused by the new genotype of B. pertussis…The genotype was responsible for 31 percent of cases in the 10 years before the epidemic, and that’s now jumped to 84 per cent – a nearly three-fold increase, indicating it has gained a selective advantage under the current vaccination regime…The vaccine is still the best way to reduce transmission of the disease and reduce cases, but it appears to be less effective against the new strain and immunity wanes more rapidly. We need to look at changes to the vaccine itself or increase the number of boosters.”

    Professor Lan can you please clarify for me how increasing the number of ‘boosters’ of the existing vaccine protects against the new strain?

    Also, how is vaccination “still the best way to reduce transmission of the disease and reduce cases” particularly if “vaccine-induced selection could contribute to the expansion of cluster I”?

    I would appreciate your response on this matter.

    Yours sincerely
    Elizabeth Hart

    1. Octavia, S. et al. Newly Emerging Clones of Bordetella pertussis Carrying prn2 and ptxP3 Alleles Implicated in Australian Pertussis Epidemic in 2008-2010. JID 2012:205 (15 April). Brief Report.
    2. Sharp rise in cases of new strain of whooping cough. UNSW Australia Newsroom, 21 March 2012:

  5. Chris says:

    ” I’m a citizen questioning repeated vaccination throughout life with the pertussis vaccine (plus diphtheria and tetanus components).”

    Ms. Hart you are not a citizen of the United States of America where the ACIP operates. You were banned from the BadScience forum for refusing to answer direct questions. Your whole argument boils down to the Nirvana Fallacy. It is better if you are ignored.

  6. Yes ‘Chris’, I was ‘permanently banned’ from participating in the Bad Science forum in December 2012, ostensibly for not responding to a sarcastic and time-wasting person hiding behind the apt pseudonym ‘Pipsqueak’.

    The topic was “Lethal flu virus research….” a thread I initiated to discuss an important topic, i.e. research to make H5N1 (‘bird flu) more transmissible, funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). (This type of controversial research has subsequently been labelled ‘gain of function’ research.)

    This controversial research was causing a furore in the scientific community at the time, but the pseudonyms who populate the Bad Science forum didn’t want the subject aired there.

    Around the time I was banned from the Bad Science forum I was preparing a submission opposing lab-engineering of potentially lethal pathogens. My submission was forwarded to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on 17 December 2012 and is accessible via this link:

    When I first came across the Bad Science forum in 2010 I thought it was supposed to be a serious science forum. However, I subsequently discovered it is a biased forum populated by people hiding behind pseudonyms who are intent on protecting the status quo, particularly in relation to vaccination policy. I describe the Bad Science forum as a ‘gatekeeper for the vaccine industry’.

    The Bad Science forum appears to be a cosy nest of like-minded people who do not welcome dissenters in their midst, the very antithesis of what a true science forum should be.

  7. Chris says:

    Yes, Ms. Hart you are time wasting. Now please go away.

  8. Lawrence says:

    Dissent is fine – if you are prepared to submit actual real evidence to support your position.

    If not, it’s not dissent, it’s just being stupid.

  9. novalox says:


    All I see from you is poor science, utter reluctance to answer direct questions, and whining when you are called out on your bad arguments.

    That’s not science, that’s unfettered ignorance, and that fact that you pride yourself in it is disconcerting

  10. Sarah Collett says:

    Ms. Hart,

    I agree with you, and respect the time you’ve spent on this forum trying to open the eyes of the blind by being logical and scientific. And even backing it up with sources and links, which all of your critics have failed to do. Not that any of them had anything scientific or helpful to contribute anyway. They probably dont even understand 1/10 of what you tried to convey; they’ve just jumped on the emotional sheeple train.

    All you naysayers – all you ever do is use terms like conspiracy and now nirvana fallacy – and that’s your whole “argument”? Real scientific…
    I used to be against “anti-vaxxers” too. Then I had to give up my career and life to raise special needs kids that weren’t accepted very long in daycares and were continually kicked out of school. Being a desperate stay at home mom gives one lots of time to do research to try and help those we love. I even earned a medical degree in the process.
    The way that science, medicine and health are being used to manipulate and divide us is shameful.

  11. David M says:

    Your article is an abstract Hodge Podge of shameless self-promotion from GSK (The major Pharmaceutical company that sales the acellular pertussis vaccine.), and dated sources from WHO.

    The World Health Organization has seen the error of it’s ways:

    “It is plausible that in humans, as in nonhuman primates, asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infections in DTaP-immunized persons may result in transmission of B. pertussis to others and may drive pertussis outbreaks.” – August 2015

  12. Lawrence says:

    Except that if enough people are vaccinated, the chances of someone getting exposed is significantly reduced.

    Also, research continues into better vaccines – so throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not only unnecessary, but also incredibly stupid.

    • David M says:


      “In fact, data shows that pertussis vaccines protect about 7 out of 10 people who receive them.”

      So, lets go into that ideal world and say 100% get vaccinated and only 30% will still contract clinically diagnosed Pertussis because the disease is still colonizing and transmitting. Keep in mind that I’m indulging the fantasy idea that asymptomatic carriers are not more likely to be the culprits of spreading the disease. And still, 1 out of 14,000 of the infants will have seizures, 1 out of 16,000 will have fevers over 105 degrees Fahrenheit as side effects and whatever damage those things leave some of them for the rest of their lives. An unknown number of at-risk population who can’t get vaccinated will continue to contract Pertussis and some of them will die.

      How is that better? Pretending this vaccination works like other vaccinations is the real Nirvana Fallacy.

  13. Lawrence says:

    The pertussis component needs to be improved & in fact, there are other Pertussis vaccines on the horizon…..but again, a good vaccine is better than no vaccine.

    • David M says:

      I feel like the standard is being set too low for what is considered a “good vaccine.” When do we call it a bad vaccine? It is probable that this vaccine may not even slow the spread of Pertussis at all as case numbers continue to multiply. The numbers show that the United State could very well still be reaping the benefits of the whole cell pertussis vaccine that was used until the Late 90’s.

      If I was your investor, and the stocks I bought with your money became less valuable each year, and at an ever increasing rate. You would not be smart to make the claim that I was a good investor and allow me to continue to invest your money. You would stop letting me invest your money, and you wouldn’t just hire the next slouch to come along.

      The Acellular Pertussis vaccination is currently seeing people exposed and infected at a higher and higher rate, despite starting with a very low prevalence in the United States.

      Why are you making the claim that the acellular vaccination is good at preventing Pertussis?

  14. Lawrence says:

    In many cases, yes – particularly to keep babies from getting it, where it is extremely dangerous.

  15. Brock says:

    David M, great logical, intelligent thinking. Thank you.

  16. LJ says:

    Going to jump in here, but I did not get it while pregnant. My choice. Baby was fine, our kids are healthy. But he is now up to date on shots now.

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