Friday, September 27, 2013

There is Nothing, Absolutely Nothing, New Under the Sun: Vaccinations and Love Minus Zero

I'm re-posting something I wrote several years ago, as a rejoinder -- in part -- to another round of parents "taking a stand" and coming down on those who choose not to vaccinate their children. However reasoned, the argument is always the same, the simplification grotesque, the tempers flare, implications of immorality abound, there is nothing new under the sun.

I told a friend the other day, that I'm like a fly drawn to shit whenever this issue comes up, that I know better than to enter the fray because it makes me physically nauseous (and I am a woman with an iron stomach, have only thrown up about five times in my life). I typed out my spiel on a Facebook post, decrying the simplification of this issue, was promptly mollified, assured that "children like Sophie should be protected by the rest of us getting vaccinated," the whole herd mentality drone, that's not it at all, not at all, I thought. I went silent.

I told my friend that the O of Sophie's little mouth that embedded itself into my consciousness immediately after her initial vaccines is the O of the nightmare, of the Munchian shriek, of the aversion to all those who profess certainty and loyalty to Science with a capital S. 

Reason left through that O, on the rigid back of Science and Industry, coupled, obscene.

I am reminded, again, of how Science with a capital S has been wrong, so wrong about -- dare I say it -- marijuana?

Their statues are made of matchsticks, as the bard would say, crumbling into one another. Love minus O.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Vaccines -- A Very Important Post

Last night, PBS' Frontline aired what was touted as an unbiased look at "The Vaccine Wars" and which I refused to watch because the debate makes me physically ill. About one week before Sophie began seizing as a baby, she received her first five infant vaccines. In 1995, the DPT shot still contained the live pertussis virus, and Sophie had a fever and high-pitched screaming soon after. She was diagnosed with infantile spasms, a particularly devastating seizure disorder and so began our odyssey. While we never made a "case" for it, we have always suspected that those vaccines were, if not the cause, then a catalyst for Sophie's seizure disorder and since then have learned that a genetic predisposition to negative reactions from vaccines is a possibility (I, too, had negative reactions to vaccines in 1963, something I only discovered a few years ago when I took a look at my vaccine records that were all marked up in red). In any case, enough is unclear that we chose NOT to vaccinate the boys and while this was a difficult decision to make, it is not something that we regret.

The vaccine debate rages on and on and the voices are always loud and biased. When I've entered the fray, I have done so at my own personal peril, because like I said, it makes me almost physically ill. I maintain that the issue is complex and that the media and parents often boil it down to a ridiculous simplicity, vilifying the other side with regularity.  I am pasting an email that I received today from our long-time pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon, who has responded to the Frontline special with great integrity:

From Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP
Shame on PBS Frontline Show "The Vaccine War"                                                         
                                                        April 28, 2010                                                

Last night, PBS aired a show called "The Vaccine War." I was interviewed at great length and in great depth about vaccines and my point of view and expressed my ambivalence about the polarization of this issue and the need for more calm reasoned discussion about the number one question that new parents have. I told Kate McMahon, the co-producer of the show, that there was a large group of doctors and others who cannot be dismissed with the facile label "anti-vaccine" because we still give vaccines and see a place for them in the practice of medicine, but we do not agree with the current vaccine schedule nor the number of vaccines children receive all at one time.
A few days ago, Ms.McMahon emailed me to tell me that the decision had been made to omit my interview from the show. There would not be one word from me. She didn't tell me that she had also omitted 100% of Dr. Robert Sears' interview. And that any other comments from physicians supporting the parents on the show in their ambivalence about vaccines or their decision to refuse all vaccines would also be omitted.
She left this as a show with many doctors commenting very negatively, very frighteningly and often disdainfully and dismissively about vaccine "hesitation" as they called it.
Below is my email response to Kate McMahon.

Dear Kate,
The "Frontline" show was disgraceful. You didn't even have the courtesy to put my interview or any part of the two hours we spent taping on your web site.
You created a pseudo-documentary with a preconceived set of conclusions: "Irresponsible moms against science" was an easy takeaway from the show.
Did you happen to notice that Vanessa, the child critically ill with pertussis, was not intubated nor on a respirator in the ER? She had nasal "prongs" delivering oxygen. I'm sorry for her parents' anxiety and very happy that she was cured of pertussis. But to use anecdotal reports like this as science is irresponsible and merely served the needs of the doctor you wanted to feature.
No one pursued Dr. Offit's response about becoming rich from the vaccine he invented. He was allowed to slide right by that question without any follow up. Dr. Paul Offit did not go into vaccine research to get rich. He is a scientist motivated by his desire to help children. But his profiting tens of millions of dollars from the creation of this vaccine and the pursuit of sales of this and other vaccines is definitely not what he says it is. His many millions "don't matter" he says. And you let it go.
Jenny McCarthy resumed being a "former Playboy" person and was not acknowledged as a successful author, actress and mother exploring every possible avenue to treating her own son and the children of tens of thousands of other families.
I trusted you by giving you two or three hours of my time for an interview and multiple background discussions. I expressed my heartfelt reservations about both vaccines and the polarizing of this issue into "pro-vaccine" and "anti-vaccine" camps. I told you that there was at least a third "camp." There are many doctors and even more parents who would like a more judicious approach to immunization. Give vaccines later, slower and with an individualized approach as we do in every other area of medicine.
What did you create instead?
"The Vaccine War."
A war. Not a discussion or a disagreement over facts and opinions, but a war. This show was unintelligent, dangerous and completely lacking in the balance that you promised me--and your viewers--when you produced and advertised this piece of biased unscientific journalism. "Tabloid journalism" I believe is the epithet often used. Even a good tabloid journalist could see through the screed you've presented.
You interviewed me, you spent hours with Dr. Robert Sears of the deservedly-illustrious Sears family and you spoke to other doctors who support parents in their desire to find out what went wrong and why it's going wrong and what we might do to prevent this true epidemic.
Not a measles epidemic, not whooping cough. Autism. An epidemic caused by environmental triggers acting on genetic predisposition. The science is there and the evidence of harm is there. Proof will come over the next decade. TheNational Children's Study will, perhaps by accident, become a prospective look at many children with and without vaccines. But we don't have time to wait for the results of this twenty-one year research study: We know that certain pesticides cause cancer and we know that flame retardants in children's pajamas are dangerous. We are cleaning up our air and water slowly and parents know which paint to buy and which to leave on the shelves when they paint their babies' bedrooms.
The information parents and doctors don't have is contained in the huge question mark about the number of vaccines, the way we vaccinate and the dramatic increase in autism, ADD/ADHD, childhood depression and more. We pretend to have proof of harm or proof of no harm when what we really have is a large series of very important unanswered questions.
In case you were wondering, as I practice pediatrics every day of my career, I base nothingI do on Dr. Wakefield's research or on Jenny McCarthy's opinions. I respect what they both have done and respectfully disagree with them at times. I don't think that Dr. Wakefield's study proved anything except that we need to look harder at his hypothesis. I don't think that Jenny McCarthy has all the answers to treating or preventing autism, but there are tens of thousands of parents who have long needed her strong high-profile voice to draw attention to their families' needs: Most families with autism get inadequate reimbursement for their huge annual expenses and very little respect from the insurance industry, the government or the medical community. Jenny has demanded that a brighter light be shone on their circumstances, their frustration and their needs.
I base everything I do on my reading of CDC and World Health Organization statistics about disease incidence in the United States and elsewhere. I base everything I do on having spent the past thirty years in pediatric practice watching tens of thousands of children get vaccines, not get vaccines and the differences I see.
Vaccines change children.
Most experts would argue that the changes are unequivocally good. My experience and three decades of observation and study tell me otherwise. Vaccines are neither all good--as this biased, miserable PBS treacle would have you believe--nor all bad as the strident anti-vaccine camp argues.
You say the decisions to edit 100% of my interview from your show (and omit my comments from your website) "were purely based on what's best for the show, not personal or political, and the others who didn't make it came from both sides of the vaccine debate." You are not telling the truth. You had a point to prove and removed material from your show which made the narrative balanced. "Distraught, confused moms against important, well-spoken calm doctors" was your narrative with a deep sure voice to, literally, narrate the entire artifice.
You should be ashamed of yourself, Kate. You knew what you put on the air was slanted and you cheated the viewers out of an opportunity for education and information. You cheated me out of hours of time, betrayed my trust and then you wasted an hour of PBS airtime. Shame on you.
The way vaccines are manufactured and administered right now in 2010 makes vaccines and their ingredients part of the group of toxins which have led to a huge increase in childhood diseases including autism. Your show made parents' decisions harder and did nothing except regurgitate old news.
Parents and children deserve far better from PBS.

Jay Gordon, MD, FAAP


  1. As a filmmaker, she also wasted her interviewees time and expertise by not using their footage. If she had no intention of offering a balanced program, why bother those with opposing views by asking them to speak up?
    I was just reading Chris Matthews' biography of JFK; one of his many interesting qualities was his ability to see the merits of the opposition's point of view as fairly as he could see his own. This quality is missing from the political landscape today, and I gather that it is missing elsewhere. We must train ourselves (and our children) in critical thinking, so that good, heartfelt, moral compass-directed decisions can be made with integrity and fairness. A one-sided debate is no debate - it is a monologue.

  2. It is just absolutely unbelievable to me that we don't have more of a handle, more answers, to these questions. It is an incredibly complex situation and until we are given more balanced information based on GOOD science, this vitriolic debate will continue.
    You are right. There is nothing new under the sun.

  3. I agree entirely with Karen and I thank you wholeheartedly for posting this letter, Elizabeth. The unfortunate truth is that without these kinds of letters, people like me could never begin to understand how slanted things like this are. I didn't see the special, but had I, I would have expected a great deal of integrity and journalistic ethics from PBS and it would never have occurred to me that such rational discourse as this doctor offered was eliminated from the program. It is frightening how commonplace it has become to incite conflict in public writing and television. I have experienced this in my own writing when I submit it to different publications or for syndication with BlogHer, for example. I have been asked, blatantly, to change the titles of pieces in order to draw people in for a fight when that is the last thing I am attempting to do with my work. Thank you again for this.

  4. I shudder every time I read anything on this topic, thinking of my sister, of Sophie, of so many others and all the suffering and the greed and sidestepping and finger pointing and the alarming refusal to acknowledge that so very much is at stake. You're right that there's nothing new under the sun. The news today that oh yes, human beings are creating global warming is another example.

  5. I do understand the deep psychological lure of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (after therefore because of). Human beings would never have made it as a species if they didn't understand that it was often true . But the evolutionary value is so strong that it's almost impossible for the mind to wrap around when its a fallacy.
    I have no personal opinion whether it is or isn't here. Seth Mnooken's The Panic Virus though was very helpful in giving me a framework for my understanding.


  6. So glad you have such a great doctor. The media does this kind of thing with stories on every topic, they really have to be taken with a grain of salt. I'm so glad to see you and your doctor speaking up about the vaccine issue. I think it's so important. There are a lot of things that are fine for most people but cause severe problems for others and usually the concerns are dismissed because the majority does okay and therefore it's assumed those who don't are mistaken, crazy, irrational, etc. I think the voices of those who've experienced problems and the medical professionals who support them are that much more important since without those voices the majority will go on with their assumptions and easy answers even more easily. So glad to see your doctor's post on this on HuffPo and many comments on the show's site pointing out the show's lack of balance.

  7. It makes me sick, too, Elizabeth, and I am so glad you are saying your piece.

    The article I just wrote, Elizabeth, is about DPT. There is a scientist who says that DPT is causing a FIFTY PERCENT mortality rate in girls, attributed not to DPT but SIDS etc. and he has years of research to back it up AND_ AND -

    WHO sent a team to investigate and you know what they found?
    He was right. His evidence was good.
    You know what they DID?
    They froze him out.

    Look it up ' Vaccine Detectives ' on BBC.

  8. Thanks for reposting this. Seth Mnooken is a jackass.

  9. someone could make a documentary on making a documentary. I have always assumed they had The Truth about things.

    I never mentioned to you about our dog Theo having a massive seizure - probably his worst yet - this summer just 2 hours after his rabies/distemper/kennel cough vaccine combo. We will never take him in again. We are also using essential oils for flea prevention. Not trusting any of it right now.



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