Of Mainstream Media, Hate Mail, and Vaccines

Hannah called just a few minutes after the PBS Frontline “Vaccine War” ended.

“I can’t get the baby to stop crying,” she said.

“I’ll be right home,” I cried, saying a hasty goodbye to my friends and jumping on my bicycle.

Although I think the producers of “Vaccine War” did their best to present both sides, I was a little disappointed with the show.

Here’s why:

1. Although you would not know it from the episode, I am pro vaccine and my children are selectively vaccinated. I think vaccines may be responsible for saving hundreds of thousands of lives. But I’m against the current CDC recommendations and I have deep reservations about what the government is currently recommending for children. They are mandating too many vaccines against too many illnesses. I think they are wrong, for example, to give the Hepatitis B vaccine to newborns whose mothers do not have Hepatitis B.

If you do a risk analysis and you see that many of the vaccine-preventable diseases have been eradicated in America, it makes little to no sense to vaccinate against diseases that no longer exist in America because of the theoretical danger of these diseases being imported from other countries. Yes, Paul Offit is right that polio and diphtheria were once serious illnesses in this country. But now they are so rare that the risk of contracting them may be less than the risk of doing damage to your child’s body and immune system by getting the vaccines.

2. The PBS documentary concentrated on the question of vaccines and autism instead of presenting all the other reasons why some parents choose to selectively vaccinate. Whether vaccines somehow cause autism is only one reason to be wary of vaccines. There are so many more. Although downplayed in the documentary, we know that vaccines can cause serious side effects in some children. But there’s a bigger question about vaccines and the immune system: vaccines may have long-term negative consequences on a person’s immune system. An article in Pediatrics, for example, showed that people who contract measles are less likely to get allergies. What if one of the reasons that auto-immune disorders are on the rise is because we have co-evolved to get certain illnesses and without wild exposure our bodies turn against themselves? I raised this question during the hours of interviews but I guess it was too complicated for a mainstream audience? In general, I feel like the documentary dumbed down the debate.

3. PBS did not include any footage of interviews with any mainstream doctors who are against the current CDC vaccination guidelines, despite the fact that there are hundreds of mainstream medical professionals in practice in America today who disagree with the nation’s vaccination schedule. I’ve interviewed both doctors and nurses who do not vaccinate their children according to CDC guidelines and who disagree with how vaccines are being used today. For more on this, read How to Raise a Healthy Child … In Spite of Your Doctor, which talks about how many doctors administer vaccines to their patients because they are required to follow public health guidelines but privately do not use them with their own children.

4. I think it’s a disservice to the thinking public to talk about “vaccines” and not to discuss each vaccine individually. Again, perhaps PBS was dumbing things down for a mainstream audience. But you have to look at each vaccine on a vaccine by vaccine basis. If I decide not to vaccinate against tetanus, there is no way that I am putting any other child at risk by my decision. Tetanus is a bacterial infection found in the soil and contracted by doing things like stepping on a dirty needle. My child cannot give your child tetanus.

5. I wish the point that if vaccines really work, parents who do not vaccinate are not putting vaccinated children at risk was made a little more clearly. I’ll say it again for clarity’s sake: If vaccines work as well as public health officials claim they do, unvaccinated people do not ever put vaccinated people at risk for anything. Period. But vaccines do not always work. Some vaccines, like the one for pertussis, have more than a 20 percent failure rate.

6. No scientific studies have been conducted with a statistically significant group of completely unvaccinated children. That means that all the studies that have been cited as “proving” or “disproving” the autism connection (or any other vaccine issue) are inherently flawed. You need a control group. That’s Biology 101.

7. Paul Offit calls people interested in investigating the damage done by vaccines “pseudo scientists” because they keep looking for other aspects of the vaccines that may be causing autism. When you try a hypothesis and it fails, you try another hypothesis. That’s not pseudo-science. That’s the scientific method. Again, I wish PBS had interviewed a conventionally educated doctor or other health care practitioner to provide a counterpoint to Offit.

8. The producers chuckled when I made this point on camera (and did not use this footage) but I do believe that we all need to act for the greater good. More children die in traffic and car-related accidents than anything else in America. Our family has one (compact) car for six people and we drive it as rarely as we can. If Americans really care about keeping each other’s children safe, we would all dust off our bicycles, scooters, skateboards, and walking shoes. If we want to stop endangering children we need to get out of our cars.

I’ve heard back from several friends, including Peggy O’Mara, that the episode was more fair than almost any other mainstream coverage of the vaccine debate. This is a difficult and controversial topic fueled by enormous financial and political interests on the side of the vaccine manufacturers and the medical establishment. Though I’m sorry it wasn’t less biased, I guess PBS did the best it could. And, as an LA Times writer pointed out, the pro-vaccine side probably feels that too much coverage was given to the vaccine hesitant folks.

I’m already getting hate mail.

This email message (from someone who choses to loathe me anonymously) was titled: “You’re living proof…”

that brains are not a requirement to get a Phd in English Lit. I live in Ashland and I must say I was embarrassed for my community when I saw you make an ass of yourself on the Frontline special. I was also embarrassed to learn that almost 30% of the stupid hippie population of Ashland aren’t getting their children vaccinated for MMR and other childhood diseases. Please keep your kids away from mine.

“If you’re going to take a stand on controversial topics, people are going to hate you,” my husband says. “You should know that by now.”

By the time I bicycled home the baby had calmed down. A few minutes after Hannah left my son woke up and vomited all over the carpet in the hallway. I’m writing this in bed with the baby on one side snoring and her big brother on the other (and a bowl on the floor in case he gets sick again). This isn’t really a war. We are all parents. We all care deeply about keeping our children safe and healthy. Name calling and blaming each other are unproductive. Whichever side of the vaccine debate you come down on, we are actually all in this together.

You can access the full program on-line by clicking here.

Related post:
The Right to Refuse

If you watched PBS tonight, what did you think of the show? Which side are you on in the vaccine debate? Why do you choose to vaccinate your children? Why do you choose not to? What do you think we can do to help the two armies in the vaccine “war” stop fighting and find common ground?


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on Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 at 12:22 am and is filed under rejecting modern medicine, vaccines.
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