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…
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.
In the past week, Marco Arturo has become an internet sensation.
As a young science enthusiast, he posted a video in hopes of spreading a viral message and preventing viral infections. He is a proclaimer of truth (that’s right, there is no evidence linking vaccines to autism), and a clever entertainer as well (mic drop!). He’s young, he’s hip and he’s obviously got some great adult influencers who’ve taught him a thing or two about evidence-based research.
In case you’ve missed the video, you can check it out here or on Marco’s Facebook page.
The truth is that we need more kids like Marco to speak out about the benefit of vaccines. But first, as adults, we need to help ensure that kids today understand the science behind vaccines.
Do our children realize the dangers of infectious diseases? Do they know the basics about how our immune systems work? Do they have a good understanding of how vaccines help to provide immunity, and can they appreciate the impact that immunity can have on global health?
As the school year wraps up, you may be wondering how you can continue to impart some knowledge on your children this summer. Marco’s video message can serve as a source of inspiration. This is not about encouraging your child to be a famous scientist. This is about making sure they understand their own immune system and how vaccines can keep them healthy. After all, what child wouldn’t want to learn about nasty infectious diseases that invade our bodies and threaten to turn us all into zombies? Oh, sorry, I meant to say turn us into sick people with cooties!
If you’re a parent, grandparent, caregiver or teacher who would like to introduce a young child, preteen or teen to important scientific concepts related to infectious disease, check out the following resources:
Activity Booklet: For the kids who don’t want to catch the cooties, but who are very interested in learning more about them, CHOP’s Vaccine Education Center offers a fantastic 16-page activity booklet that is available in both English and Spanish. This book teaches younger children about vaccines, how they work, and a little about some of the scientists who helped to develop them. You can download the booklet here.
Books: There are lots of books that address the subject of vaccines. One example is The Shots Book, an illustrated children’s book written by teen author Ethan Posard. In this delightful story, author Ethan and his puppy become community immunity superheroes after getting their vaccines. Their experiences help explain how vaccines work, how they protect our health, and how they help protect the health of others in our community. The book is also the basis of several public service announcements being utilized by the Florida Chapter of the AAP as seen below.
Comics: Cimaza comics help educate kids about virology in an entertaining and creative manner. In their featured book The Adventures of the Regatjes, readers discover the fascinating story of an 18-month-old unvaccinated boy who dies as a result of a measles infection. In this engaging story, readers are introduced to amazing characters and end up learning a great deal about virology and vaccination.
In the weekly comic book series Zanzare, readers follow the global mystery of the Zika virus where we meet the mosquitoes implicated in its spread. The story is told through the lens of world mythology, but the virology presented comes straight from reputable journals such as NEJM and The Lancet. Thrilling and intriguing, Zanzare is a visionary mixture of ancient legend and up-to-the-minute fact.
Games for All Ages
The Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has developed several educational initiatives.
Trivia Game: While today’s teens may not be familiar with the once popular game Trivial Pursuit, they probably do remember when Trivia Crack was all the rage. After all, who doesn’t love testing their trivia knowledge? Kids of all ages, and even adults, can test their knowledge of vaccines and learn more about vaccine history, safety and science by playing The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) “Just the Vax” Trivia game.
Vax Pax Hero: The Vaccine Education Center also offers a web-based video game designed for elementary and early adolescent-aged children called Vax Pack Hero. In this game children can explore different parts of the body, learn more about different germs and help patients to overcome one of 21 vaccine-preventable diseases. To defeat the germs and return patients to good health, players must choose from one of 50 real-life Vaccine Heroes. The heroes come from many backgrounds, to include doctors and scientists who have developed vaccines, as well as engineers, authors, politicians, philanthropists, diplomats, a milkmaid, and even two small children. As players learn more about the real-life accomplishments of each Vaccine Hero, they learn how each of these individuals can be effective in beating different germs in the game. There’s even a way for kids to win free prizes
Solve the Outbreak App: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a clever app called Solve the Outbreak which is a fun, interactive game that helps kids learn about disease outbreaks and what it takes to contain them. Players receive clues and analyze data in order to solve a case and save lives.
As they work their way up to the title of Disease Detective they must ask themselves, “Do I quarantine the village, talk to people who are sick or ask for more lab results?” While simulating what it’s like to work on the front lines of public health, kids learn to appreciate what it takes to keep a population safe. You can download the app for free here.
Teachers’ Resources & Kids’ Websites
This online destination created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is specially designed for kids 9-13 years old. BAM! Body and Mind gives them the educational information they need to make healthy lifestyle choices. By using kid-friendly lingo, games, quizzes and other interactive features, the site teaches kids all about their body and mind. Of course, learning how to prevent disease is important to maintaining our health. In the Disease section, students can learn about CDC “disease detectives” and follow the “Immune Platoon” as they battle against the enemy diseases in the Disease Database. There’s plenty for kids to explore on this site and lots of activities to engage in.
Share Your Suggestions in the Comments Below
These are just a few of the many education materials and resources that can be found on the subject of immunity and infectious diseases. We hope you will take a moment to share your own suggestions in the comments below so that we can all do our best to inspire young minds.
By providing children with a good understanding of the science behind vaccines, we can help prepare them to make critical health decisions throughout their lifetime as patients, parents and public health advocates.
Media attention surrounding the current measles outbreak in the U.S. suggests that we may be entering a new age in regard to vaccine advocacy. As we’ve seen measles cases climb to over 141 so far this year, parents, who once assumed their children were learning alongside vaccinated classmates, have begun to inquire about the number of unvaccinated students in their schools. Reporters, who once touted headlines that publicized celebrities making irresponsible claims that vaccines cause autism, are now interviewing renowned epidemiologists to explain the latest resurgence of measles in the U.S. And organizations, that had once walked a fine line between blaming vaccines for autism and supporting them, are adjusting their positions in the wake of the media’s focus on public health concerns.
The actions of one organization have really caught my eye – an organization that has enormous popularity and name recognition as an autism advocacy organization.
I’m referring to Autism Speaks.
Just like the average American vaccinates their children according to the CDC’s recommended schedule, the average American probably considers Autism Speaks one of the largest and most influential autism organization in existence. Their popularity has provided them with great influence, and with this influence comes great responsibility – both to the autism community and to the scientific community.
But the motives of the organization are often criticized to be buried beneath their flashy public relations efforts. While Autism Speaks continues to reap the financial benefits of many generous donors, questions have been raised about their spending habits, research priorities and even their leadership tactics that seem to disenfranchise autistic individuals. In their failure to take a clear and firm stand on the research that exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism, they have also fallen out of favor with many science-minded individuals.
Despite the fact that extensive research has refuted any link between childhood vaccination and autism, Autism Speaks has continually made statements that seemingly perpetuate this dangerous myth and leave the door ajar. Disability Scoop recently reported that Autism Speaks has undermined the safety of vaccines by stating: Read more…
After viewing the PBS NOVA film “Vaccines – Calling the Shots”, I began wondering what the film’s impact would be. I’ll admit that the film was very ambitious. It addressed the science behind vaccines, why they work, how they work & even touched upon how people assess risk and decide whether to vaccinate or not. All this in less than an hour.
Of course, no one should expect this film to be the one defining piece that will convince people to vaccinate. Certainly it may reinforce the decision of those who already choose to vaccinate. And it may give pause to those who would otherwise refrain from vaccinating. But most importantly, this film is a valuable tool to help educate people about the science behind vaccines, inform the public about the importance of herd immunity and the dangers of not vaccinating, and open the door for civil dialogue about common vaccine safety concerns.
Looking back on the tweets I sent during the premiere, I realized that the film touched upon some of the most important immunization related issues I hear from parents day after day. My goal now is to encourage as many people as possible to see this film (available online) and to use it as a way to encourage further conversation.
Of course, the film began with the usual caveats:
In the US more than 90% of parents vaccinate & most follow the recommended schedule.
Vaccine history may repeat itself. @PaulOffit explains “If you start to decrease vaccination rates you start to see the diseases reemerge.”
In order to appreciate the value of vaccines, the film began by addressing the recent resurgence of diseases like pertussis (whooping cough) and measles. It explained the infectious nature of these diseases, illustrated how epidemics are tracked and spread, and allowed viewers to see a tearful mother watching her infant child laying in a hospital bed and battling violent coughing fits brought on by an incurable disease known as pertussis. Read more…
In today’s guest post Hannah, one of the student filmmakers involved in the making of the documentary Invisible Threat, explains how having an autistic brother, and conducting research for the film, influenced her understanding of vaccines.
Growing up with an autistic brother, my thoughts differed from most of my peers during the initiation of Invisible Threat. With the common concern of a correlation between autism and vaccinations, I couldn’t help but wonder the cause of my brother’s disorder. Thus, in search of a deeper understanding of vaccines and an answer regarding the cause of his hardship, I saw the opportunity to work on this film as a way to educate myself whilst pursuing my passion for filmmaking.
Going into this film, I believed that there simply had to be a connection between autism and vaccinations. I had heard stories where parents took their child into the doctor’s office and saw a nearly immediate alteration in behavior. Living with an autistic family member is no small feat and I therefore recognized the potential heartbreak of this situation. It was different for me than the student filmmakers surrounding me; autism was a disorder which affected nearly every moment of my family’s life. It wasn’t simply a “story”––it was a living, breathing, suffering, person.