This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben. A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom.
Like all parents, my child’s health is very important to me. That’s why, even after getting an autism diagnosis for my son, I still believe in and advocate for vaccinations.
I don’t believe autism is caused by MMR or any other vaccinations.
The allegations made by Andrew Wakefield, the man who tried to convince the world of an MMR vaccine-autism link, were based on falsified data, yet he continues to make his claim to try to frighten people throughout the world. This article by Brian Deer systematically addresses Wakefield’s flawed theories and debunks the autism myth that Andrew Wakefield has perpetuated.
As if that weren’t enough, there have been countless studies that have investigated any possible link between vaccines and autism and no evidence can be found to support such a link. (You can access the latest published research here, here and here.)
The science is clear, and yet there are many autism advocacy organizations that continue to install fear in parents who just want what’s best for their children.
As this Newsweek article explains:
“Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds, —whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism, recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—since the study they funded failed to show any link between autism and vaccines.”
Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, commends SafeMinds for financially supporting the study, but she worries that some autism advocates may be asking the wrong questions.
“I’m not saying that we need to stop funding research in the environment, because we know the environment does impact neurodevelopment,” she says.
However, Halladay explains that organizations that look to blame vaccines for causing autism are “playing whack-a-mole”.
“First, the proposed association was between the MMR vaccines and autism. Then that was disproven. Then it was the thimerosal components in vaccines; now that has been further disproven in a carefully designed animal model study that aimed to specifically examine that question. It has also been suggested that the association is because of vaccine timing, but that too has been disproven. The target always seems to be moving, and the expectation is that scientific resources will be diverted to address each new modification of this hypothesized link.”
While there may always be people who will believe there is a link between vaccines and autism, despite the science that proves otherwise, I’m writing today to explain another issue that has swayed my decision to support vaccines.
This issue is one of life and death for my son Ben.
I realize, very clearly, that without vaccinations my son would die.
That is why I am a fan of modern medicine and the science that makes vaccines possible. If Ben had been born a century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived his Hirschsprung’s disease. Had he been born less than a half century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived leukemia. As it is, we have come face to face with his mortality several times. I see vaccinations along the same lines as chemotherapy – far from perfect, but with the help of the scientific method, getting better all the time. Vaccines, and even chemotherapy in Ben’s case, are the best shot we have at giving our child a long, healthy life.
For us, though, it goes a step further.
Ben is also immunocompromised.
That means that even fully vaccinated, he doesn’t have enough ability to fight off diseases. He is that kid. The kid who needs herd immunity. He’s the reason our whole family gets flu shots and chicken pox vaccines. He’s the kid who needed boosters for pneumococcal vaccines – because his body lost immunity to them. Even though we do our best to protect him, he’s the kid that could get infected during a measles outbreak. And he is the kid whose body is weak and who is very likely to succumb to a disease like measles, which would inevitably hospitalize him or worse…cost him his life.
I wrote this piece after weeks of consideration. I realize this could ruffle feathers. So I ask…
If you don’t vaccinate, have you researched the diseases we vaccinate against as well as the side effects of vaccinations? Have you seen what polio and diphtheria can do? Do you realize that if measles encephalitis sets in that your child will be isolated in the Intensive Care Unit while you wait to find out if he or she is the lucky one who survives with brain damage? And do you realize that, statistically speaking, the greatest risk in getting a vaccine for your child is driving your child to the doctor’s office?
I realize the rhetoric goes around and around, and that I’m about as likely to change your mind as you are likely to change mine. But if there’s that tiny chance that you’re really considering all the facts, I’m hopeful that Ben’s face and plight would make a difference. After all, I am his mother, and I must do everything I can to protect him and keep him healthy. I have to try.
I have a sad feeling that it will take a true epidemic to turn the tide. I just hope that my child will not end up as a casualty. He is not a statistic, nor would I ever want him to be one…he’s our precious child and we don’t want to lose him.
So please remember, your vaccination status could mean the life or death of a child like Ben.
Every Child By Two is collaborating with various immunization advocacy organizations to collect personal stories about the value of vaccines. These stories will then be shared with state and federal legislators throughout National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) in August. Help ensure that our government representatives know that our country, our communities, our students and our families deserve protection from vaccine preventable diseases. Join the movement and speak out in favor of vaccines by sharing your story at the following link: bit.ly/28NoZCR.
by Judith Shaw Beatty
In 1949, the year I was hit by the poliovirus, 42,000 cases of polio were reported in the United States and 2,720 people died, most of them children.
I was diagnosed with paralytic poliomyelitis, which is experienced in less than 1 percent of poliovirus infections. Not only did it immobilize me completely from the neck down, it also attacked my lungs. It was August, a popular month for polio, and I was six years old.
A few weeks before, my parents, younger sister and I had moved from the outskirts of New York City to Rowayton, Connecticut, which back then was a small town of 1,200 people. My father had gotten a job as associate editor at Collier’s Magazine and my mother was a homemaker, and our new two-story house with its big yard was in sharp contrast to the tiny apartment we had come from.
The poliovirus attacks very quickly.
I was playing with other children at a lawn party and developed such a terrible headache we had to go home. When I woke up the next morning, my legs were so weak I couldn’t stand on them and I could barely lift my arms. It took all day for the doctor to visit the house and examine me, and that night I was taken to the Englewood Hospital in Bridgeport and put in an iron lung.
My mother told me years later that the prognosis was very poor and I was expected to die within hours.
One of the children I was playing with at the party was John Leavitt, who many years later went to work in the field of biotechnology at the Bureau of Biologics of the FDA. Part of his work involved growing live poliovirus, and it was necessary to be tested for polio antibody titre. All those years later, he learned that he must have had the natural polio infection based on the results.
Now, looking back, we realize that while I went home and ended up in an iron lung, John ended up with a flu-like disease with no paralysis. To this day, no one knows why the vast majority of people attacked by the virus recovered with no residual effect and so many others went on to spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs.
After I was taken to the hospital, the health department put a yellow quarantine sign on the front of our house and at the end of our driveway.
My mother said that when she and Dad would go to the beach in town, people would grab their blankets and umbrellas and move. At the grocery store, my mother said she could hear people whispering and staring. No one wanted to be near my family. Everybody knew of somebody who had died from polio or was crippled by it, and 1949 turned out to be a record year. At its peak in the 1940s and 1950s, polio would paralyze or kill 500,000 people worldwide every year. And there was no vaccine for it, so there was no defense against this invisible, raging monster that struck indiscriminately.
I have no memory of being in the iron lung.
What Have We Learned From Last Year’s Measles Outbreak?
Last year the United States experienced a large, multi-state measles outbreak that was largely responsible for 189 measles cases that spread across 24 states and the District of Columbia. It’s believed that the outbreak started from a traveler who contracted measles overseas and then visited the Disneyland amusement park in California while infectious. Widespread media coverage of the outbreak helped elevate public concerns related to the dangers of measles infection, the consequences of a growing number of school vaccine exemptions and the risks of disease among those who were too young or medically unable to be vaccinated.
At this time last year, it seemed as though we were experiencing a tipping point; a growing number of people were beginning to realize that vaccine refusal had consequences that could threaten our nation’s public health. The fact that the personal decisions of a select few people was able to threaten herd immunity and the health of many unsuspecting families and communities was worrisome.
It was believed that more parents (including some who had previously refused vaccines) were seeking and accepting vaccination for their children as a direct result of the outbreak. However, to determine whether clinicians were experiencing any real or lasting changes in vaccine acceptance, Medscape conducted a survey of vaccine providers to find out.
The survey, conducted in July of 2015, included 1577 physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who worked in pediatrics, family medicine and public health. Responses confirmed that the measles outbreaks induced more acceptance of the measles vaccine and vaccines in general. The survey also indicated that, for some parents, a greater acceptance of vaccines was directly related to the fear of the disease, the consequence of being denied admission to schools, daycares or camps, and a greater knowledge about vaccines as a result of more reading on the subject. However, in some cases there was no change.
Every Child By Two also experienced a heightened amount of interest in the months during and immediately following the outbreak with a record number of inquiries from parents. Most were asking for information about the dangers of measles infection and for clarification of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine schedule. There were many parents who were specifically inquiring as to the possiblity of vaccinating their children before the recommended age in order to protect them during the outbreak. Shot of Prevention blog posts that included content specific to measles infection and MMR vaccination had record numbers of views in the early months of 2015, and personal stories relating to the outbreak, were widely shared on social media.
One story that drew a lot of attention was an open letter by Dr. Tim Jacks, whose two children had to be quarantined after they were both exposed to measles at a Phoenix Children’s Hospital clinic. His 3-year-old daughter Maggie had a compromised immune system as a result of fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer), while his 10 month old son Eli had received all his recommended vaccines, but was still too young for his first dose of MMR vaccine. While neither of his children ended up contracting measles, the frustration he expressed in his letter entitled “To the parent of the unvaccinated child who exposed my family to measles” hit a nerve with a lot of people.
The Focus of Immunization Rates Fades as Cases Dwindle
In reaching out to Dr. Jacks this week, it appears that the attention on vaccinations that was raised during last year’s outbreak appears to have been rather short-lived. He explained,
“As a pediatrician, I regularly discuss vaccines, exemptions, and last year’s outbreak. The cold facts and data only reach so many, so my family’s story adds a personal angle to the issue that questioning parents rarely consider. After the media exposure, many families were aware of our situation. However today, the measles issue is not on as many people’s minds. Vaccine exemption is however a hot issue in Arizona. The Arizona political arena is considering avenues to encourage vaccination and I am hopeful that the coming year will produce progress in that regard.”
Today, a little over a year since the outbreaks began, the good news is that there have only been two reported measles cases so far in 2016. However, it also appears that history may be destined to repeat itself.
Consider, for example, the reports out just this week about a California charter school student who tested positive for measles after returning home from traveling overseas. With just 43% of kindergarteners at the Yuba River Charter School being up-to-date on their MMR vaccine, the California Department of Public Health has attempted to prevent a measles outbreak by first closing the school to all students, and then remaining closed to those without a measles vaccine until April 8 as long as no new cases are documented.
Despite overwhelmingly high vaccination rates across the country, with a mere 1.7% national vaccine exemption rate among kindergartener’s for the 2014-2015 school year, and a 90%+ coverage of MMR vaccine among 19-35 month old children, these small pockets of unvaccinated children continue to present a risk of future measles outbreaks. Read more…
Every Child By Two is pleased to launch another article in their Expert Commentary series featuring guest writer Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a retired epidemiologist who has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Dr. Harrison volunteers his time to provide in-depth and expert analysis of articles which ultimately make false claims about the safety of vaccines. His articles are summarized here on Shot of Prevention with links to the full response on the Every Child By Two website.
Today we will feature Dr. Harrison’s latest paper,
by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
A recurrent concern among parents is that the mounting number of vaccines now administered to babies is a major challenge to the infantile immune system. Leading advocate of childhood immunizations, Dr. Paul Offit, has sought on numerous occasions to reassure parents by emphasizing how robust and effective babies’ immune systems are at responding to the daily threats from the enormous number of bacteria and viruses they are exposed to. He has illustrated this by showing how – in theory – a baby’s immune system could cope with the number of epitopes (parts of a microbe recognized by our immune system) represented by 10,000 vaccines at one time. While 10,000 seems like a lot, as Dr. Offit explains, even this number is small compared to the capacity of our immune system and, yet, it is exponentially greater than the epitopes represented by all the vaccines given to children.
Well-organized, well-funded groups have sprung up trying to persuade parents of the alleged dangers of vaccines. Their arguments are mistaken, confused, lacking in scientific rationale and logical cohesion. There is one claim, based on one statement/sentence made by Dr. Paul Offit, repeated umpteen times all over the blogosphere, that I think encapsulates their flawed thinking. This claim takes one sentence out of context, ignoring the entire lead in to it. However, even without the context, antivaccinationist’s use of it contradicts common sense. Rather than doing their homework, they amplify each other in a near hermetically sealed self-reinforcing closed circle.
I believe that there is not a single book or paper that I couldn’t find one or two sentences that I could take out of context in order to prove any point I wish to. The purpose of this paper is to once again explain how our immune systems work, how vaccinations fit in the picture, and to show just how flawed antivaccinationist thinking is. Read more…
Every Child By Two is pleased to launch another article in their Expert Commentary series with links to in-depth articles available on the Every Child By Two website. This series features guest writer Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH, a retired epidemiologist who has worked in the areas of preventive medicine, infectious diseases, medical outcomes research, and evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Dr. Harrison volunteers his time to provide in-depth and expert analysis of articles which ultimately make false claims about the safety of vaccines. Today we will feature Dr. Harrison’s latest paper, Debunking Antivaccinationist John Stone and the CDC “Whistleblower”: A Review of John Stone’s “DeStefano Rides Again: GSK Rotavirus Vaccine Study Loses 80% Of Cases And 18 Deaths”
by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
I’ve written several articles for Every Child By Two. Each of them shows clearly the poor scholarship, deficient science, and often lack of common sense contained in articles written by antivaccinationists. The bottom line is they don’t know what they are talking about. If people are to decide on whether to vaccinate their children or not, it should be based on scholarly, well-grounded science, and reflect basic common sense, not claims made by people who are deficient in these.
John Stone is the UK editor for the online blog, Age of Autism. In a recent article, Stone writes:
Frank DeStefano, the CDC’s Director of Immunization Safety and the lead author at the centre of CDC whistleblower William Thompson’s allegations about destroying MMR/autism data, is involved in another case of apparently hiding data, this time involving intussusception and death, in a newly published paper concerning the safety of GSK’s rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix.
Last month, Representative Posey revealed to Congress that Thompson told Dr Brian Hooker in a taped telephone conversation regarding the DeStefano MMR paper that:
Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can.
The new CDC based study of GSK’s Rotarix vaccine by Haber et al., of which DeStefano is senior author and therefore responsible for research integrity, admits a small association with the serious condition of intussusception (an intestinal obstruction secondary to the inversion of one portion of the intestine within another). The paper states that from February 2008 to December 2014 the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) “received 108 confirmed insusceptible reports after RV1” (Rotarix). However, a careful review of the database reveals no less than 565 cases for the period. The paper claims to have excluded only 4 reports as unconfirmed (making a total of only 112). (Stone, 2015a; reposted 2015b)
In an Addendum posted a day after the reposting of his article, Stone writes:
I took this article down for 24 hours to consider the points made by “n davis” and “n davis is correct”. I had overlooked the fact that the paper selects US cases only – that there are only a trickle of cases from the US against a relative flood from abroad – and this is basis of massive selection bias, particularly in relation to deaths. It also shows that the US reporting system while always vastly inadequate is wilting. Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to forward reports from abroad where they come to their attention: there is nothing in n davis’s claim that these reports were unavailable to DeStefano – anyone interested in the safety of the vaccine to US children or any other would have considered all of the reports. (Stone 2015c)