Last week, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the World Mercury Project, orchestrated a major publicity stunt designed to question the safety of vaccines. Since he had no real evidence to present, and the same accusations which have been repeatedly refuted for years, he attempted to garner attention by offering journalists a glimpse at a new anti-vaccine celebrity and the promise of a $100,000 challenge.
During an hour-long press event on Wednesday, Kennedy was joined by other vaccine critics such as ‘Vaxxed’ movie producer Del BigTree, San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood, Tony Muhammed of the Nation of Islam and celebrity actor, filmmaker and father of an autistic child, Robert DeNiro.
While each had their turn to suggest there was a worldwide scientific conspiracy to lie about vaccine safety, Kennedy concluded by announcing that he would give a $100,000 award to any American journalist who could produce a study that proved that the level of thimerosal used in vaccines was deemed to be safe.
(Of course, since he failed to mention the fee required to participate in the challenge, made no reference to a scientific expert(s) who would assist in evaluating the science, and refused to accept the mountains of studies that already exist on the subject, his promise of a payout was seen by many as an elaborate publicity scam.)
On Thursday, Kennedy continued his crusade on Capitol Hill by renting out a Congressional briefing room and attempting to lure legislators with the involvement of celebrity Robert DeNiro. While staunch vaccine refusers were invigorated by these meetings, hanging on the hope that Kennedy could possibly make inroads with the current administration and put an end to vaccine injury once and for all, the reality is that hardly anyone was listening.
With about 40 people in attendance on Wednesday, and not one member of Congress showing up on Thursday, it’s safe to say that Kennedy’s message is only echoing among those who already support him. Even DeNiro appeared to have lost interest since he was notably absent from Thursday’s event on Capitol Hill.
As expected, there have already been dozens of commentary that address Kennedy’s misinformation. However, there is still one statement he made that I feel the need to address.
Kennedy claimed, “I’m not anti-vaccine. I’m pro-safe vaccines.”
It’s understandable for people to say,“Yes, I vaccinate, but I don’t feel completely certain that vaccines are safe.” Since we’re unable to guarantee that vaccines will be 100% safe, this “pro-safe vaccine” battle cry is an effective way to appeal to parents who don’t have the time, the understanding or the inclination to delve into the science that supports the widespread use of vaccines.
By using this “pro-safe vaccine” label, Kennedy and others like him play into the emotional need of parents to protect their children while dangerously misleading them into thinking that vaccines are far more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. In essence, this statement is used to help anti-vaccine crusaders turn vaccine safety into a personal and anecdotal issue, when we should all be demanding that vaccine safety be investigated and addressed with scientific objectivity.
Kennedy continues to try to discredit his critics by questioning, “Why wouldn’t anyone be agreeable to studying vaccine safety?” He seems to suggest that anyone who isn’t “with” him in arguing that vaccines aren’t safe, is simply against safe vaccines.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Vaccine experts ARE agreeable to studying vaccine safety. In fact, that is largely what they do. But unlike Kennedy, they don’t rely on anecdotal evidence. They demand scientific evidence and they go to great lengths to get it.
If we were to go back in history, we would see plenty of examples of how our current vaccine safety protocols have successfully identified problems and taken steps to address them. Consider the history of the rotavirus vaccine. The vaccine was withdrawn in 1999 after scientists associated it with a rare intestinal problem called intussusception. This would not have been identified if it weren’t for the vaccine safety monitoring systems that we currently have in place. And what about the nasal spry flu vaccine which was pulled just prior to this flu season? The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) decided not to recommend the vaccine based on low efficacy studies, especially among children. Again, an example of action taken by one of our current vaccine oversight committees. There are plenty of other examples of vaccines being pulled from the market – the whole cell pertussis vaccine (DTP), Lyme vaccine, and oral polio to name a few. These instances occurred because of the vaccine safety protocols in place. Read more…
Fake news is nothing new to vaccine advocates.
For years we’ve been countering vaccine misinformation from a large number of sites such as Mercola, Natural News, Age of Autism and dozens of others. They each have their own way of claiming that vaccine risks outweigh their benefits, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence from experts around the world that says otherwise.
Despite the fact that these sites fail to provide evidence to back up their false claims, the misinformation they routinely publish is widely circulated on social media and it’s likely that their efforts can contribute to the doubts that some Americans have about the safety and efficacy of today’s vaccines.
This is why day after day, and year after year, countless organizations like Every Child By Two, work hard to provide the public with evidence-based information about vaccines through informative websites like Vaccinate Your Family, and social media accounts like the Vaccinate Your Family Facebook page and @ShotofPrev Twitter account.
But this week, fake vaccine news has entered an entirely new realm and it is rather concerning.
Yesterday I woke to such headlines as, ‘Trump Orders CDC to Remove all Vaccination Related Information from Website’ and ‘President Trump Signed an Executive Order Banning Childhood Vaccinations for 90 Days’.
These, and other outrageous stories that are circulating on the internet, signal a new level of hysteria that is dangerous for us all.
While it is comforting to know that these articles were irresponsibly inaccurate, I’m still left questioning the motives and intent behind these headlines. What were the the authors’ and publishers’ hoping to achieve? Read more…
In December, 2009 my sister Liza died of influenza.
She was previously healthy and only 49 years old. She sought medical care early. She was cared for at a good hospital in a major city. She had no other infections. And she was unvaccinated.
To say I was surprised is an understatement. And yet, I’m a pediatric intensive care physician.
As a clinician, it’s easy for me to trace out the clinical course of Liza’s illness. The physiology of organ failure, mechanical ventilation and critical illness are familiar to me in the same way that your daily work is to you. It’s the human side that I still haven’t come to terms with. The part where you watch your sister die over the course of three long weeks while you stand helpless. The part where you listen to a physician tell your family that they are out of options. The part where you know that they are right and you realize that influenza is sometimes too much to handle, even with all our modern medicine.
That part is much harder to process.
Her symptoms started with fever, but progressed to vomiting after a few days. She went to the urgent care clinic twice over the course of a few days before ending up in the emergency department of the local hospital. She had begun to experience difficulty breathing, and the emergency physician noted that the oxygen saturation in her blood was very low. They put her on oxygen, and an x-ray revealed that both her lungs were filled with fluid. A condition that led to her being diagnosed with pneumonia.
You see, your lungs are supposed to have air in them. They should look like sponges. Pneumonia is just the term we physicians use to describe the situation when fluid, infection, and inflammation fill those little air spaces in the sponge.
Pneumonia can come from viruses or bacteria. If your pneumonia is caused by a bacteria, you can get antibiotics to kill the bacteria. However, if your pneumonia is caused by a virus, like influenza, there is not much we can do but ride it out and wait for your own immune system to clear it. The simple fact is that we just don’t have very good medications for viruses. Tamiflu can be prescribed and it might slow down the virus, but it doesn’t kill it or stop it.
So, they did the only thing they really could do, and started her on IV Tamiflu. She was moved to the intensive care unit downtown, and within the next few hours she struggled to breathe and her oxygen saturations continued to fall. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and the hope was that her lungs would recover after a few days. After all, it was ‘just the flu’.
We never did get to speak with her again.
Every Child By Two asks you to join in urging Congress to protect crucial funding for immunization programs. Politics aside, if and when the Affordable Care Act is repealed, nearly $600 million in funds that currently support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and subsequently state immunization activities will be eliminated.
To ensure that legislators reallocate these funds, we ask you to add your name to Every Child By Two’s Vaccine Funding Support Statement.
In essence, Congressional funding for immunizations supports a vast web of activities, technology and personnel to keep vaccine preventable diseases at bay.
It supports essential activities such as:
- community outreach,
- disease surveillance,
- outbreak control,
- provider and public education,
- immunization registries,
- immunization service delivery,
- staffing and implementation of the Vaccines For Children (VFC) Program (which provides free vaccines to those who qualify under a separate funding stream).
Historically, federal vaccine funding was allocated by Congress via what was called the “Section 317 line item” which is now being referred to as the “Immunization line item”. These vaccine funds are appropriated to the CDC and used to support CDC activities and immunization programs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, five major cities and eight territories.
However, since 2010, the vaccine funding that was allocated under Section 317 has slowly been supplanted by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF).
While the PPHF had initially supported various programs, above and beyond those that had previously been supported with 317 vaccine funding, today, more than half of immunization programmatic funding comes from PPHF. As displayed in the chart at right, PPHF now accounts for $600 million of the federal funds devoted to immunizations, including over $402 million supporting core immunization activities.
As we prepare for the imminent repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we must ensure legislators take appropriate action to provide a continued and sustained investment into immunization programs.
Political concerns aside, the focus here is not whether ACA should or should not be repealed. The focus is on preserving the funding for immunization programs.
While Congress debates the replacement package for ACA, it would be very easy for vaccines to get overlooked amidst many different healthcare priorities. However, if ACA is repealed without an intentional replacement of Prevention Funds back to the Section 317/Immunization program line, the results could be catastrophic to the nation’s immunization programs.
Health programs would be impacted by:
- a minimum 45% cut in program dollars,
- massive public health layoffs,
- a massive reduction in state efforts to respond to food borne outbreaks,
- a massive interruption to efforts to prevent emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika,
- a diminished ability to provide an adequate health response to natural and handmade disasters,
- the elimination of targeted health programs such as those that seek to eliminate Hepatitis b among infants, combat cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV), and support adult vaccine initiatives.
Claire Hannan, Executive Director of the Association of Immunization Managers (AIM) states that
“Prevention and Public Health Funds are used as the cornerstone of public health emergency response activities. Without reallocation of those monies, immunization programs throughout the nation will not have the capacity to plan for and respond to emerging virus and disease threats.”
[For a more detailed report from AIM on the potential impact of the elimination of PPHF Funds click here.]
If we want to ensure that the CDC, state and local health departments receive the funding they need to keep our communities safe from deadly but preventable diseases, then take action now. This is not a debate about the merits of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but rather a request that Congress not forget vaccines during the current and future fiscal year funding deliberations. Keeping our communities healthy is everyone’s responsibility.
Click here to sign the following the Vaccine Funding Support Statement requesting that Congress preserve immunization funding as they work to negotiate the repeal and replacement of the ACA:
Dear Congressional Leaders:
Vaccines are one of the greatest achievements in health, saving millions of lives worldwide as well as trillions of dollars in costs to this country. Over $600 million of Prevention and Public Health Funds (PPHF) have been invested in immunization, including nearly $402 million supporting core immunization activities. At this time nearly 45% of immunization funding comes from PPHF and a cut in this funding source will cripple the nation’s ability to keep vaccine preventable diseases at bay. As you negotiate the replacement of the Affordable Care Act, we urge you to ensure that the funding for vaccine programs that is currently allocated through the Prevention and Public Health Fund is maintained. (http://tinyurl.com/SaveVaccineFunding)
In the final weeks of NFL play, as the Green Bay Packers competed against the Atlanta Falcons and the Pittsburgh Steelers took on the New England Patriots, rumors circulated that several NFL players may have had the flu.
Some sources say the players had fallen ill with a “flu-like bug”, though it’s unclear what that’s supposed to mean. It seems likely that a doctor’s exam, along with a flu test, could confirm, with relative certainty, whether these players were in fact suffering from influenza.
Some sources reported that the players have had the “stomach flu”, which is confusing since there is really no such thing as a “stomach flu“. With flu, some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. It is much more likely that these symptoms alone suggest gastrointestinal issues that are often referred to as stomach bugs, which again, should not be confused with influenza.
Then there’s the reference to the “24-hour flu” in a report from ESPN Staff Writer, Jeremy Fowler. The article leads with a statement that up to 15 people in the Pittsburgh Steelers facility suffered a setback from a “24-hour flu bug”. To clarify, the flu is never a 24 hour ordeal. Rather, the flu can last as long as 5-10 days.
In an interview on NFL.com, we hear sportscaster Charley Casserly and former general manager of the NFL’s Washington Redskins saying,
“Some of the best games I had players play in was when they were ill. They had the flu. Hey, I don’t know what it is, but the flu, the flu could be good. It could be good for those players. A lot of them play well.”
I’m guessing Casserly doesn’t know much about the flu. He has probably never had it himself or he wouldn’t suggest that players could play well while suffering with it.
This varied media coverage of these high-profile athletes and their suspected illnesses is just another example of how the public continues to be misinformed about the flu.
The flu is a serious illness, that kills and hospitalizes thousands of people in the U.S. each year. Yet the majority of people I talk to, day after day, are unfamiliar with flu symptoms and the dangers of flu.
Yesterday I had dinner with a good friend – a friend who was only in town because she had traveled four hours to bring her college-aged son back to campus after he had been home suffering with the flu for over a week. She explained that she had never had the flu, nor had either of her two college-aged children. Therefore, she had never even considered the need for a flu vaccine. She then went on to explain that she never knew how bad it could be, until she saw her son lying in bed for days. He was very ill and lost 10 pounds in one week. As he describes it, “It was the most awful thing and I’ve never been that sick ever.” Read more…
The Trust For America’s Health (TFAH) recently examined the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies. They tracked progress and vulnerabilities, and included a review of state and federal public health preparedness policies. In their report titled Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, they found that 26 states and Washington, D.C. scored a six or lower on 10 key indicators of public health preparedness.
As Every Child By Two continues to report on the State of the ImmUnion, we’ve asked Trust for America’s Health to elaborate on the vaccine section of their report in the following guest post co-authored by Dara Alpert Lieberman, MPP, Senior Government Relations Manager and Albert Lang, Senior Communications Manager.
The Importance of Vaccines Can Never be Overstated
“Some of the greatest public health successes of the past century — including the worldwide eradication of smallpox and the elimination of polio, measles and rubella in the United States — are the result of successful vaccination programs.”
Yet, somewhere along the way we lost our wonder in the awe-inspiring results vaccines produce.
A recent model estimated that, from 1994-2013, the Vaccines for Children program prevented as many as 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths at a net savings of $1.38 trillion in societal costs. And, each year, we know that three million lives are saved because vaccines exist and are administered. According to the CDC:
- Nearly everyone in the U.S. got measles before there was a vaccine, and hundreds died from it each year. Today, most doctors have never seen a case of measles.
- More than 15,000 Americans died from diphtheria in 1921, before there was a vaccine. Only one case of diphtheria has been reported to CDC since 2004.
- An epidemic of rubella (German measles) in 1964-65 infected 12.5 million Americans, killed 2,000 babies, and caused 11,000 miscarriages. In 2012, 9 cases of rubella were reported to CDC.
If you think this is hyperbole, remember that we effectively eliminated measles in the United States in 2000, yet, since 2014, we have experienced a resurgent number of measles cases, largely among people who were unvaccinated.
In our recent report, Ready or Not? Protecting the Public from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism, we found that just 10 states vaccinated at least half of their population against the seasonal flu.
We like to use this as a bit of a proxy indicator. Basically, if we can’t vaccine a large portion of the population for something that is more or less the norm, what are the odds we could quickly vaccinate a majority of the population during a pandemic. For example, if there was a vaccine for Zika, would the nation been able to dispense it?
Another lesson we can draw from vaccination rates: when we become complacent, our preparedness suffers. We can’t let vaccine complacency continue. To improve vaccination rates, TFAH’s report included policy recommendations such as: Read more…