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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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Tags: Frontline, hate mail, kids and vaccines, parent responsibility, Paul Offit, PBS, vaccine debate, vaccine war, vaccines


Comments (61)

"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." You can always find people on the fringes of their profession who will offer a fringe opinion. So you are appealing to a false authority. The truth is the overwhelming majority of experts who have devoted their lives to helping children follow the guidelines. And so should you, if you care about your children, and you make decisions based on the best available evidence.
I had my children vaccinated in the 1970s, in France where we lived, but there were not as many vaccines available at the time. I think the numbers of vaccines "required" now would really give me pause if I were a young mother today. .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Town Meeting: Turbines, Wastewater, Restoration, and Much Emotion =-.
I thought you came off as very intelligent. I could see how they edited you to get your quotes to fit into their story line. That was sad for me, if only because I hold PBS to a higher standard. I would choose to selectively vaccinate as well if the school system here allowed that. Here it's an all or nothing proposition. But I'm with you on the Hep and chicken pox. I don't think the government should mandate vaccines for diseases that either are not deadly or that do not spread easily (example: sexually transmitted diseases). I also wondered about vaccinated children getting these diseases, as one of the parents was quoted as saying. They did not back that up with an expert and it made me wonder if it's even true. If it is true, then the vaccines don't work... which makes taking them even more questionable. .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..The Story of My Journalism Conference =-.
I have two children with autoimmune diseases and I have to wonder if all the vaccinations they received played a part in it. It is believed that their illnesses are caused by a gene which is turned on by a virus or environmental factors. Their Dr recommends against flu shots for them because anything that stimulates the immune system is bad. It makes me sick to think that when I thought I was doing the right thing for them by getting recommended shots that I might have been harming them.
The points you bring up are very compelling. Frankly, most of what the report presented I was already aware of, I would be much more interested in a more in-depth analysis as you propose here. From the report, I figured you shied away from all vaccines--didn't realize (and it didn't come out)--that you did selective vaccines. .-= Kristen´s last blog ..Culinary Confession: Canned Tomatillos =-.
Jennifer, I was not aware, either, that you selectively vaccinate. That is significant - you are not totally ANTI vaccine, you are anti certain vaccines. I was also not aware that newborns are being vaccinated against HepB - why??Perhaps I was in a fog 20-plus years ago when my own children were infants, or perhaps this is something new. At any rate, if your argument was around all those years ago, it would have given me pause about certain vaccinations, I think. Good for you for being brave enough to speak out on what you truly believe. People will always disagree; it's the way they do it that makes a difference. Anonymous hate mail is just plain cowardly. .-= sheryl´s last blog ..The Secret Life of a Grown-Up Brain =-.
I would say it's just TV that doesn't do nuance, but that's not true. Every time you're interviewed for print or TV or radio, you're placing yourself in somebody else's story and can end up with a fragment of your thoughts being featured, the rest discarded. Which is all the more reason you need to go on writing at length to explain your views; you do that beautifully. I thought you were excellent on the show, though. You have a great calm and measured presence to you that makes people listen. .-= Ruth Pennebaker´s last blog ..Barbara Weibel and The Albanian Chapter of My Life =-.
I agree completely with you assessment of the vaccination situation and its sad that they couldn't make more valid points on the side of us mothers who do selective vaccinations. I was just at a well baby visit on Monday and when I refused Polio the doctor literally said to me you know over 400 children a year die of Polio in Africa. I just wanted to say well if we go to Africa we will get the vaccine then. .-= Harmony Hoekzema´s last blog ..First Midwife Appointment =-.
Dear Rob, Jay Gordon and Bob Sears, both of whom were interviewed at length for the show and then had their opinions cut from the final version, are nationally recognized and well-respected practicing physicians (and authors) who both share my vaccine hesitations. Please read Jay Gordon's reply to the PBS show here: http://campaign.constantcontact.com/render?v=001SEg_mP6bgKQ8NtgGfwbLbdnPJErghO7FlfPxYAAX0CiAFVgkgRnLyPeHBeaLrY8S37SMaEL9zaqz8Se5M22esEixe0GI9MAzUZek73cXY8o%3D While I appreciate your expressing your point of view, I find it sad that so many parents are willing to blindly follow recommendations that are honestly more often motivated by financial interests than the health of our children. The bottom line is that, isn't it? We all want our children to be healthy. I believe there are many other ways to boost a child's immune system, including extended breastfeeding, eliminating toxins from food and the environment, not eating refined sugars or refined flours, making sure our children spend lots of time outdoors and that they get enough exercise and enough sleep. Vaccines absolutely can play and have played an important role in our nation's health. But, like hundreds of thousands of other parents who are not on the "fringe" and hundreds of healthcare providers, I am concerned that they are being overused and that we are being misguided.
Jennifer, I have read Dr. Sears' take on this situation. He finds a middle ground, offering a different schedule only based on the fears of parents, not based on any sound reasoning or scientific evidence. He words this very carefully. It is clear that he wants to help children, so he is figuring out a work-around so that the irrational fears of parents do not harm their children or the community at large. "I believe there are many other ways to boost a child’s immune system, including extended breastfeeding, eliminating toxins from food and the environment, not eating refined sugars or refined flours, making sure our children spend lots of time outdoors and that they get enough exercise and enough sleep." Got evidence? What "toxins"? You can do all that, and it will probably do no harm and might help. But your appearance on that show was an embarrassment and something for which you ought to be ashamed. You seem like a decent person. Unfortunately, you have extremely poor epistemic hygiene.
I'm sorry the experience didn't live up to your expectations. I'm not a parent, but I do tend to be a "rule follower." I can see how these decisions are difficult. Each parent has to do what they think is best. I know you do that for your family.
Hi, I just wanted to say I appreciate you for giving the information that you give, doing the research and enduring the hate mail. This is such a huge and heavy topic. I also believe in selectively vaccinating, I also live in the Ashland area. I am shocked that other people don't understand why a mother wouldn't be suspicious- and cautious about vaccinating given the evidence. There are many aspects of western medicine that are questionable and what is wrong with questioning it? Just wanted to say thanks! .-= Amanda´s last blog ..I'm Moving!!! =-.
Rob, stop bashing and I only hope your children or grandchildren will NEVER be injured by a vaccine.
Wow Rob I hope you don't have kids, your close-mindedness and gullibility are alarming....sure the government wants what's best for you....they have no hidden motives....keep telling yourself that....I for one will think and research for myself and protect my child. You should be ashamed for being so rude.
Actually, Dr. Sears has a huge concern with the amount of aluminum in vaccines. A single round of vaccinations far exceeds the safe daily limit established by the EPA for parenteral injection. It is that concern that led him to establish a vaccination schedule that minimized the amount of aluminum received at one time, thus bringing it within the range that we believe the liver can safely detoxify. You should read the entire book before you cite it.
Watching this show made all to obvious the blatant attempt by the director and producers to create a mass hysteria with what Dr. Jay Gorden stated, "a pseudo-documentary with a preconceived set of conclusions: "Irresponsible moms against science" was an easy takeaway from the show." This show proved to me, yet again, how journalism in this country has transformed from honest people seeking truthful answers, to "tabloid journalism" and creating live drama out of serious situations just to make a buck (or get the viewers watching). If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.” -Joseph Goebbels Interesting quote, isn't it? Not only did the PBS Frontline Program on the Vaccine War include blatant lies, incredibly important points were missed. 1. Vaccines are a pharmaceutical product. Every vaccination package insert includes the possibility of DEATH for EVERY single vaccine (remember that the MMR vaccine is not just one vaccine..it's one shot, but THREE vaccines). 2. Yes, some people are not able to get certain vaccines. The theory is that people around that individual will get vaccinated and that will help protect the one that can't get the vaccine by "herd immunity". Do you people realize that when you are given a vaccine, many many if not all of the vaccines have included in the package insert the very fact that they can SHED THEIR VIRUS'S for up to 6 WEEKS? So if you get vaccinated, the simple act of getting vaccinated can create the virus to then shed to the individuals that are unable to be vaccinated!? HOW does that help them exactly? How many times have I heard of children getting vaccinated for the chicken pox, only to have their sibling then get the chicken pox a week or two later? It happens ALL THE TIME..because the vaccines SHED!!! 3. Just because you get vaccinated, does NOT mean that you are protected from the disease!! Some vaccines have only a 60% or even LOWER "protection" rate! So VACCINATION DOES NOT EQUAL IMMUNIZATION!!!! 4. The doctors who spoke out and opposed some of the vaccinations or the vaccine schedule, or just raised some very good concerns about the vaccines in general were TAKEN OUT OF THE PROGRAM!!!! HOW DOES THAT GIVE THE VIEWERS A TWO SIDED STORY!?!?!? See this article by Dr. Jay Gorden: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-gordon/pbs-frontline-show-about_b_554691.html 5. Paul Offit is a terrible human being. Not only did PBS simply skip over the fact that this unholy man is profiting MILLIONS of dollars from his rotovirus vaccine, they didn't feel the need to mention that not only does he hold a patent on the vaccine (and make a bunch of money) but he also sits on the Vaccination Advisory Board and helps determine which vaccines are to be put on the CDC's Vaccination schedule. Imagine that....the very vaccine HE holds a patent to is on the schedule!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I could go on and on here, but instead, I will leave you with this: My child is 3 years old. She has never had Tylenol. She has never had pharmaceutical medications of any kind. She has never been vaccinated....and she has never been in the ER. She has had maybe 4-5 fevers at the most in her 3 years of life, and she is by far one of the healthiest children I have ever met in my life. Why? A large part of her health is due to the fact that she has had NO vaccines. I will take the measly CHICKEN POX over Autism or death any day.... Shame on PBS for their disgusting and disgraceful so called journalistic piece on vaccinations. They should be ashamed of themselves.
you're brave and wonderful! i'm sorry you're having to endure some backlash but please know that your voice is powerful and important and needs to be heard. you speak for many of us. it was a shame that pbs did not include other docs and professionals to support your views and/or offer views other than pure pro-vaccine -- in my view it was YOU vs. mainstream medicine/ "science." that wasn't fair or helpful. great job anyway -- what you did was not easy and should be respected (no matter your views).
Has anyone ever bothered to look at the guidelines posted on the American Academy for Pediatrics Website for immunization & their studies done on the safety of vaccinations? If not, open your mind & view the website: http://www.vaccinateyourbaby.org/faq/index.cfm I err on the side of caution due to my getting German Measles as a child & almost dying, along with my brother who contracted spinal meningitis & almost died, and my husband who almost died with Hep B as a 10 year old. And with the influx of illegals coming into this country, I wonder how many of them could carry contagious diseases a-la H1N1, SARS & others increasing within the last few years.
As an adoptive mom of a child with Hep B, I think those against Hep B vaccinations are hiding your heads in the sand. What are you going to do when my child and your child both fall down on the playground, cross-contaminate each other and then your child comes home with Hep B and infects the rest of your household? Likely? No. Possible? Yes. Hep B is endemic world-wide. Yes, the percentages are higher in many third world countries, but it's still endemic in the U.S. Alaska's Hep B rates are as high as those of many 3rd world countries. We live in a global society.
Jennifer...just wanted to lend my support and let you know that you did a great job with the interview. I've subscribed to Mothering since my son was born 3 years ago, and it has been an invaluable source of both support in my parenting ways and helping to weigh the real facts through obvious media bias. It's scary for people to stray from the mainstream and my goal has always been to encourage people to do their own research and think for themselves. After all, even the CDC has research documents that question the validity of vaccination. Thank you for all your hard work and please don't take the negative comments to heart - you are doing the right thing just by making people break out of their comfort zone and think!
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