March 7, 2019
“Hats off to Mississippi!”
That sentence, uttered by a panelist, encapsulates the absurdity of Tuesday’s Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions) Committee hearing entitled “Vaccines Save Lives: What Is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?”
You see, Mississippi has the “best”—meaning highest—childhood vaccination rate in the country, and therefore, according to the hearing panelists and the committee members themselves, deserves commendation and emulation by other states.
This same conviction has been forcefully expressed by the de facto spokesman for the vaccine program, Dr. Paul Offit, as far back as 2015. In a 2017 article in The Daily Beast, Offit described how Mississippi moved to eliminate personal belief exemptions to vaccination back in 1979. Mississippi’s pediatricians have vaccinated virtually every child born in the state ever since.
Wow, that sure does sound like an impressive feat! And I would be the first to congratulate Mississippi—and take notes from their public health officials—if those high vaccination rates were producing particularly health children. Because that’s really the goal, isn’t it? Healthy children who become healthy adults? After enjoying 40 years of the “best” vaccination rates in the country, Mississippi’s kids should be shining examples of the benefits of vaccination, shouldn’t they?
So what has all that vaccinating meant for the children of Mississippi? In 2018 Mississippi ranked dead last in the United States (51 out of 51) for “Kids’ Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity,” and “Oral Health” and infant mortality. It was also ranked dead last (50 out of 50) in “Health Outcomes” for all ages. Of course, as well all know, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Vaccines may not be causing the abysmal health of Mississippi’s children, but one thing is for sure: They aren’t causing good health.
Wait a sec . . .
Didn’t the Senate Health (Education, Labor, & Pensions) Committee just praise Mississippi and encourage other states to emulate them?
Does that strike anyone else as bizarre?
The Senate committee charged with promoting public health is praising and offering up as an example the state with the worst health outcomes in the country?
When I was in a 12-step program, I received some excellent advice: Find someone who has what you want and do what they do. Allowing for individual differences in outlook and biology, that advice has stood me well over the years. What do parents want? From what I’ve seen, they virtually all want healthy children who thrive, grow, and learn. Going by that rule, Mississippi should be the last state whose public health policies parents would choose to copy.
So why is the committee making such a perverse recommendation—asking the states to tighten their exemption policies like Mississippi did so long ago?
If you watched the hearing, you would know that, other than minimizing the annual number of cases of measles (a whopping 260 across the country this year), the committee wasn’t the least bit concerned with our children’s health; in fact, the only thing they appeared to be concerned about was increasing vaccine “acceptance” and availability across all demographics, especially infants and toddlers, pregnant women, and senior citizens of all religious and ethnic/cultural groups.
It was clear that “vaccine acceptance” was assumed to be an appropriate stand-in measure for overall population health and wellbeing. The more our society is vaccinated, the better health we will enjoy! But as we have seen from Mississippi’s example, that assumption is flawed at best. (You may want to look at statistics for other states as well if you’re not convinced. Until recently Vermont had both philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccination and among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. They also enjoy the second-lowest infant mortality rate (2 of 50), despite having some pretty harsh climate conditions to contend with.)
There is no correlation between high vaccination rates and healthy children. Oddly, no American health agency has ever compared health outcomes of people vaccinated according to the CDC recommended schedule to those of people who have never been vaccinated. On a basic level, we don’t know if specific vaccines, such as DTaP or MMR—much less the total load of children’s vaccines administered as recommended by the CDC—are making people healthier or sicker.
I know that sounds ridiculous, preposterous even. And yet, it’s true.
Noting the absence of real evidence that DTP vaccination increased child survival, Danish researchers recently analyzed their data from Guinea-Bissau, Africa, after they introduced DTP and oral polio vaccines back in the 1980s. The particular pattern of vaccine administration there made it easy to compare death rates for children who had been vaccinated and children who were not yet vaccinated. The first analysis found an alarming correlation: “DTP-vaccinated children had fivefold higher mortality between 3 and 6 months of age than children not yet vaccinated with DTP.” At least in the short term, DTP vaccination appeared to be very dangerous for these children. Later analyses made it clear that, despite several biases favoring the DTP-vaccinated children, overall mortality rates were approximately twice as high for DTP-vaccinated children than for those who had not received DTP vaccines.
That’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? The very “lifesaving” intervention we push for all children, increased mortality rates for the world’s most vulnerable children, and no one noticed because we’re all so used to believing “Vaccines Save Lives.”
So what justification does the committee offer for their eagerness to increase vaccination rates in the absence of real data on whether our high vaccination rates are making our population healthier or sicker?
A few hundred cases of measles a year. That’s the “ongoing” public health “crisis” driving this effort.
Not even the more than 6,000 mumps cases in 2017 that occurred largely in highly vaccinated populations such as college campuses or the nearly 19,000 reported cases of pertussis in 2017 that resulted in 13 deaths. Shouldn’t those take precedence over a few hundred cases of measles at a hearing subtitled What Is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?
The reason the committee didn’t discuss those “preventable disease outbreaks” is that they cannot be blamed on children with vaccine exemptions. (By the way, measles outbreaks like the one that occurred in Disneyland, are frequently driven by previously vaccinated adults.)
The mumps vaccine was never particularly effective; in fact, Merck is being sued by two of its own virologists who contend that they were forced to fake efficacy data to make the vaccine appear more effective than it actually is. (I have firsthand experience of this one. I was sick for a week soon after receiving the vaccine, and the adolescent boy I swam with that day came down with a very severe case that had his mother worried about sterility.) In addition, the immunity induced by the vaccine wanes over time, meaning that our colleges and universities are packed with young adults living in close quarters who are vulnerable to infection.
The situation with regard to the pertussis vaccine is even worse. Due to a stockpile of devastating injuries connected to DTP vaccines, the whole-cell pertussis vaccine was gradually replaced by an acellular version that isn’t nearly as effective as the original. While the vaccine tends to ameliorate pertussis symptoms in the recipient, it does it not protect against active pertussis infection. What happens when people have an active infection of a contagious disease with no symptoms? They tend to make others, more vulnerable others, sick.
Those “drivers” of outbreaks may not be important to Tuesday’s panelists or committee members, but they matter to parents. You see, unlike the committee, most parents are far less interested in perfect vaccine records than having healthy children. Even if public health officials don’t bother to ask the question, parents want to know whether or not all those vaccines are making their children healthier or sicker. A huge percentage of so-called “anti-vaxxers” are really people who vaccinated their older children according to recommendations only to watch them get sicker and sicker after every “well-child” visit. When they listened to their guts—and stopped listening to those “trusted” professionals—most of them found that their subsequent children were much healthier.
There was a great deal of discussion during the hearing about “high-quality” science. God knows we are seriously in need of high-quality science with respect to vaccine safety, but the committee wasn’t talking about that. They were talking about science conducted with the goal of improved “communication” from “trusted professionals” to increase “vaccine acceptance.”
I can save them a lot of time and money.
No matter how “high-quality” their science is, as long as the emphasis continues to be on vaccine uptake and not on health outcomes—on figuring out how to talk us into vaccinating the hell out of our infants, toddlers, and teenagers, not whether or not we should be vaccinating them at all—they are not addressing why parents are choosing to avoid one or all vaccines: Our children are sick. We are sick. And, despite the committee’s facile reassurances to themselves, we parents are not stupid. We know they are deliberately avoiding addressing our concerns, which only increases those concerns.
In other words, conscientious parents won’t be sweet-talked into making their children sick by the very people who have made it clear they don’t care about our sick kids.
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