Vaccines? Safe. Parents? Dangerous.

iVillage Member
Registered: 12-14-2005
Vaccines? Safe. Parents? Dangerous.
Wed, 12-17-2008 - 3:51pm

Vaccines? Safe. Parents? Dangerous.

Lately I’ve been noticing an increasing number of journal articles, blog articles and opinion pieces on a terrible problem: Parents have questions about vaccines.

You would have to look far and wide to find anyone who thinks that these questions are valid and should be taken seriously. Common explanations are:
1) It is all about the parents who think they are really smart.
2) It is all about the parents who are very stupid and read stuff on the Internet.
3) It is all about the bad stuff on the Internet which is deceiving the parents who aren’t very smart and who think they are smarter than doctors. And infinite variations on this theme, which is really one argument…and the real argument is (drum roll)…vaccines are perfect and parents are the problem.

Being called stupid dupes hasn’t worked to shut up the parents with questions. Perhaps this is not a good strategy?

I’m sure you’ve noticed that many articles and blogs offer comment options to the public. If you are following the vaccine related discussions you’ll have noticed that there is a coterie of passionate vaccine defenders who pop up in every such public discussion. These vaccine defenders are fighting for the good of the vaccine program with everything they’ve got.

Oddly, however, the number of parents with questions seems to be increasing. Perhaps the vaccine defenders need to reconsider their approach.

Here are some suggestions, kindly meant, from an admirer of their efforts. These guys have put a lot of sweat equity into defending vaccines and they ought to be getting better results.

One argument which comes up over and over again is herd immunity. Any time a parent asks if they could perhaps delay or skip one vaccine or another, someone is sure to come out with this mantra: “If we stop vaccinating measles and polio will return and children will die!” But if a parent is wondering about the chickenpox vaccine, or the hepatitis B vaccine or Prevnar, or perhaps about the vaccine for hepatitis A, this isn’t actually a useful argument. They may start wondering, quite reasonably, why questions about an ever-expanding vaccine schedule are answered with rants about vaccines which were added to the schedule in the 1950s (polio) and the 1960s (measles). Does this mean that we don’t really need all of these new vaccines, they ask?

So, my first suggestion to the vaccine defenders is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. Parents have specific questions. The vaccine defense needs to have specific answers.

When it comes to herd immunity every vaccine is different. It turned out, for example, that the mumps vaccine provides excellent herd immunity in the absence of mumps…

In addition to the defenders acting as though all vaccines are identical in their efficacy, safety and relevance, they also tend to act as though all vaccine questioners are identical. Anyone who has a question, is, in the defenders view, anti-vaccine. And people who are anti-vaccine are bad people. As a result the defenders respond with sarcasm, rudeness and repetition.

My second suggestion to the vaccine defenders…is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. (I know, I already said that!) Some parents who raise concerns are just raising concerns. They haven’t gone over to the dark side. But with enough rudeness and sarcasm from the vaccine defenders they will definitely be moving in that direction.

Which leads me to the next problem. It is not, absolutely not, all about autism and vaccines. Parents who have questions about vaccines find all sorts of things to worry about in addition to or instead of autism.

I’m afraid my third suggestion is to customize their response to the concerns being raised. It really isn’t just autism. Parents are also worried about allergies, asthma, learning disabilities and generalized poor health. You need to have the research at your fingertips to answer all of these different concerns. If the research exists at all…if the research that exists supports the mantra “it isn’t the vaccines”…well good luck, anyway.

Honestly, at this point many people are concerned or on the fence about vaccines. The sarcasm and meanness pushes people away. It is not a convincing approach. Try being polite and sympathetic. I know this is tough and doesn’t come naturally, but it is absolutely essential if the vaccine defenders want to get anywhere in this battle. The articles on this blog provide good models for a sympathetic, thoughtful and scientifically oriented approach.

A few more points:

Vaccine defenders need to deal with the science. Saying that the science is all on the vaccine side, without actually presenting said science is a hollow argument. The defenders need to dig in, find the citations, seriously address the questions. And start tackling the increasing number of blogs and organizations which are tackling the science from the other side. Just calling them anti-vaccine and ignoring them isn’t working.

A sub-point on science: the scandals about faked science in medical journals are undermining people’s faith in doctors and science in general. If Merck did some bad stuff with Vioxx, is it unreasonable to have questions about their trustworthiness when it comes to Gardasil? The defenders need to be able to explain why vaccines are an exception to dirty dealing from the pharmaceutical companies. I’m wondering about this one myself and look forward to seeing what the vaccine defenders come up with.

Calling people anti-vaccine isn’t actually an argument. If someone says: “I didn’t vaccinate my child for chickenpox because I researched the illness and decided that the vaccine wasn’t worth it.” they aren’t necessarily anti-vaccine. They thought about a particular vaccine and decided against it. They probably thought about some other vaccines and decided those were okay. Looking at their position objectively, they are pro-vaccine but opposed to the CDC’s schedule recommendations. Defenders of vaccines have to figure out a way to respond to selective and delayed vaccinators which doesn’t include insulting them.

Selective and delayed vaccinators are potential allies who will fight for vaccines, but currently the vaccine defenders want nothing to do with them. Some of these parents are quite knowledgeable and have done extensive research into vaccines. They know more of the science than the defenders, frankly. But defenders want nothing to do with them, because in a black and white world you are either with us or against us and there is no middle ground. Pushing away allies is dumb.

Now comes a truly tough one: The vaccine defenders should be strongly, passionately, in favor of a philosophical exemption to vaccines. Why? Because it would increase the vaccine rates and provide accurate statistics about who is getting which vaccines. It would also increase trust in vaccines. The current system, in states without a philosophical exemption, forces parents to do all the vaccines or none of the vaccines or else to lie about their choices. Obviously, for parents with a really serious concern about a particular vaccine, being forced to do all or nothing is not a good option. It makes them feel bullied, harassed and victimized. It makes them think that the current system is all about power and control and not about the well-being of children. It makes them think that the government wants to invade their parenting choices. If the real concern about vaccines is herd immunity against polio and measles, then a philosophical exemption would, without a doubt, increase the number of children visibly vaccinated for polio and measles.

Favoring choice about vaccines is probably too much for the pro-vax team to stomach. It would require admitting that parents aren’t stupid, for one thing. And that they have a right to make decisions about their own children’s health care needs. No, I guess we’ll have to keep guessing about vaccine rates…

You know that old saying about dissatisfied customers making a lot of noise and happy customers making very little noise? It is especially true when it comes to vaccine injuries. A baby who dies or is seriously injured or even just spends a couple of weeks being very sick after receiving a set of vaccines will be all too visible. Parents, family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances–every person around will hear about the problems. This phenomena is increasing as vaccine concerns rise. Parent’s are less and less willing to consider a problem which occurs following vaccination as just a coincidence.

Now, listen carefully, because this is the most important point of all. Defenders should stop denying vaccine damage. When a parent testifies that their child was damaged by a vaccine they should fall all over themselves to acknowledge what happened, to agree that vaccines can, indeed cause injuries, to encourage the parent to report what happened to VAERS, to sympathize if they say the doctor denied the incident and refused to report it. I’ve only seen two responses to vaccine damage reports in these online debates from the pro-vaccine side: sometimes it is just ignored as though the parent hadn’t said anything, the rest of the time it is denied in one way or another. “Anecdotal evidence” is a popular response, for example.

Comment pages are widely read, which is why this coterie posts on comment pages to defend vaccines. Many people read (lurk) without ever posting. Each time a vaccine defender denies the existence of vaccine damage there is a pretty good chance that someone with direct experience of such damage is lurking and reading the denial. And feeling angry and disgusted.

But things get worse. Parents are concerned about the possibility of vaccine damage. They read stories about children who were damaged (true or not). They hear that the doctors denied that vaccines caused the problems. They see vaccine defenders either attacking or ignoring the parents of sick children. They even see, as I recently did, a vaccine defender proclaiming gleefully that the VAERS system is useless and cannot be used as a source of information about the risks of vaccines. What sort of message are vaccine defenders sending out to the public? Clear enough, unfortunately. If a parent is trusting enough to have their child vaccinated and something goes wrong they will have no recourse. The doctor will deny it. The system which is supposed to monitor vaccine injuries is useless and happily announced as useless. People who admire and support vaccines are so dedicated to their faith that they will attack the parents of chronically ill children. Ouch!

The official pro-vaccine position is that vaccines are safe. If this is true, a good system for tracking vaccine damage would confirm that safety. If vaccine defenders really believe that vaccines are completely safe and effective they should be fighting passionately for a system that tries to collect every vaccine reaction, no matter how minor. The current system obviously allows many thousands of reactions to pass unrecorded, perhaps, as the anti-vaccine critics claim, many millions. The only way to sort this out is to replace an ineffective system with an effective one. To replace bad statistics with good statistics. If pro-vaccine folks really, honestly, wholeheartedly believe in the safety of vaccines they should be fighting, hard, for an effective system of monitoring vaccine damage. We all need to end the confusion.

On the same note, a good study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations will obviously prove that vaccines are safe, right? So why don’t the vaccine defenders fight for such a study? Vaccines make children healthier and the evidence should be easy enough to find. Yes?

I think vaccine defenders need some help because they are not convincing people and I think they know they are not convincing people.

I’ve shared these thoughts in an attempt to save the vaccine defenders from wasting their time and energy. Think about it. Start persuading and stop ranting.

Are they really fighting to defend vaccines or are they just out there to tell everyone how smart they are? Some of us are wondering.


iVillage Member
Registered: 10-18-2007
Wed, 12-17-2008 - 4:29pm


iVillage Member
Registered: 11-05-2003
Wed, 12-17-2008 - 4:31pm

I had the same thoughts when I read that blog post also.

Particularly those blogs that I read the comment sections on ;)


iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2008
Thu, 12-18-2008 - 7:40am

Though the steps offered by the author still wouldn't convince me to vaccinate my children, I do have to say KUDOS to this person! Though I wouldn't change my mind, he/she is 100% correct.


iVillage Member
Registered: 06-05-2008
Thu, 12-18-2008 - 9:27am
Great article. Thanks for posting - I enjoyed reading it.
iVillage Member
Registered: 10-25-2008
Sat, 12-20-2008 - 4:01pm

I think vaccine defenders need some help because they are not convincing people and I think they know they are not convincing people.

We don't need to convince anyone. It is a proven fact that vaccines, save lives, are safe and have way more benefits than risks.

iVillage Member
Registered: 09-13-2008
Sun, 12-21-2008 - 11:15am

Your right you do not have to convince anyone because those of us that do not vax or delay vax already know what we are doing.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2008
Mon, 12-22-2008 - 9:14am

I thought this may be an appropriate place to post this: (If links don't post through, they should be available on NVIC's site)

New Yorker's Stand Up for Vaccine Exemptions

by Barbara Loe Fisher

In the harbor of New York City stands the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of freedom that has welcomed millions of immigrants for 112 years, half of the time that the United States of America has been a nation. And on the base of the statue is an inscription that says in part ".....Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...."

I remembered that phrase when we were driving from Washington, D.C. to New York City and our van got caught up in the Sunday afternoon Manhattan traffic that led us past the Empire State Building on our way to Long Island. Freedom was very much on my mind as we headed for Stony Brook University to participate in the December 15 Vaccine Education Roundtable sponsored by New York state Assemblymen Marc Alessi (D-1st Assembly District) and Richard Gottfried (D-75th Assembly District), who is Chair of the House Health Committee.

Americans have always cherished the freedom to breathe free; to speak, write and dissent without fear of retribution; to believe in God and worship freely without being persecuted; to vote for whom we want to represent us in government and know our vote counts; to follow our conscience and stand up for what is right. Although America is only 222 years old, which is very young compared to other countries that have existed for several thousands of years, during our short history there is no other nation that has defined and defended the freedom of citizens to live in a society based on the principle of equal rights and consent of the governed any better than the United States of America.

These are troubled times for parents in New York and New Jersey and other states. Every day parents are facing more hostility from pediatricians throwing them out of doctor's offices for questioning vaccine safety and are being harassed by government officials determined to force their children to get dozens of doses of state mandated vaccines without voluntary, informed consent. New York currently mandates more than two dozen doses of 11 vaccines for school attendance while New Jersey leads the nation with nearly three dozen doses of 13 vaccines, including annual influenza shots.

Religious exemptions are being pulled by state officials after they throw parents into rooms and grill them for hours about the sincerity of their religious beliefs. Last year in Maryland, state officials threatened several thousand parents with jail time and stiff fines for failing to show proof their children had gotten hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccinations.

It is in this climate of fear and crisis of trust between parents, who want a more equal role in making vaccination decisions for their children, and pediatricians and public health officials, who are determined to strengthen their power to tell parents what to do, that Assemblymen Alessi assembled a panel representing both sides to discuss whether or not a philosophical exemption to vaccination should be added to New York's vaccine laws. Currently New York only provides for a medical and religious exemption, even as 18 other states allow a personal, philosophical or conscientious belief exemption to vaccination.

After the Roundtable, Assemblyman Gottfried expressed strong support for First Amendment rights and told the audience of parents, doctors and legislative staff that he is sponsoring two bills to clarify rights defined under existing religious and medical exemptions so they cannot be violated by state officials. After the Roundtable concluded, he said "Important issues were raised. I look forward to seeing additional data from all sides, especially about the impact of the personal objection laws in other states. I will be reintroducing my bills to strengthen the religious and medical exemptions in the 2009 session. I urge parents to contact their local assembly members and state senators to urge them to co-sponsor."

Assemblyman Alessi commented that "The discussion framed the fact that there is still a large debate on the issue. And although some people in the medical community are adamant that this debate is over, it has only just begun. The amount of conflicting evidence parents are presented with regarding the effects of certain vaccines is staggering. This forum opened the lines of communication between experts in the debate and provided concerned parents with the most recent information on the safety of vaccines. As a parent, I know how difficult it is to make the right decisions regarding our children's health, but if we are to make good decisions, we need to be well informed and continue to have discussions like this roundtable."

At the beginning of the Roundtable, I framed the vaccine safety and informed consent debate and outlined how the informed consent principle relates to philosophical/conscientious belief exemption. I reviewed the general health ranking of New York (25th) compared to the 18 states which have philosophical exemptions (six of the top 10 ranked states have philosophical exemption) and noted that the U.S. uses more vaccines than any nation in the world but ranks 39th in infant mortality. Click here to read my entire presentation with live links to references (see text below).

Other panelists supporting philosophical exemption to vaccination included New York pediatrician Lawrence Palevsky, M.D. , who called for an authentic dialogue that "moves past what appears to a growing number of citizens to be a one-sided, paternalistic, and patronizing set of policies and language with an unwillingness to engage in a real discussion about the science of vaccines." He challenged many of the myths and misconceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccine policies.

New York's John Gilmore, executive director of Autism United, who has a vaccine injured son with autism and said "without trust, the proponents of forced vaccination have nothing but authority and authority is an unacceptable basis for any public policy in a democratic society." He pointed out operational flaws and conflicts of interest in vaccine safety regulation and policymaking. Louise Kuo Habakus, of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice, who has two young sons recovering from vaccine injuries, presented slides summarizing vaccine risks and questioning whether vaccines can be credited with major infectious disease morbidity and mortality decreases in the 20th century. She recounted her impression of the day's events at (In related events, New Jersey parents held several open houses this week to educate New Jersey legislators about the need to support pending conscientious belief exemption legislation in that state.)

Panelists defending current vaccine policies and opposing philosophical exemptions included New York pediatricians Paul Lee, M.D. , who agreed vaccine safety should be a high priority but disagreed that the amount of mercury and aluminum in vaccines posed a health risk; and longtime vaccine policymaker and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Louis Z. Cooper, M.D. , who agreed trust between pediatricians and parents needs to be strengthened but defended the safety of existing vaccine policies; and Debra Blog, M.D. , medical director of the Immunization Program, New York State Department of Health, who showed slides of children with infectious diseases and strongly opposed adding philosophical exemption to New York state vaccine laws.

Following panelist presentations there was a spirited debate that lasted for more than two hours as panelists argued and defended their positions. NVIC's videographer, Chris Fisher, will be making a video of the day's events available on NVIC's website.

By the end of the day, I thought about how long parents of vaccine injured children have been asking pediatricians to become partners with them in preventing vaccine injuries and deaths. After nearly three decades, parents and doctors inside and outside of government could not be further apart. The failure of pediatricians and public health officials to take seriously the many cases of regression into poor health after vaccination has become the Number One public health problem in the U.S. today.

There will be no resolution until every state has embraced the informed consent ethic and adopted conscientious or philosophical exemption to vaccination in state vaccine laws. At that point, Americans will be free to vote with their feet and the vaccines the public considers to be necessary, safe and effective will be used and those they do not consider to be necessary, safe and effective will be driven off the market. And then, a real time comparison of the long term health of highly vaccinated, less vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens will tell us a lot about the safety and effectiveness of vaccine policies in the last half of the 20th and first half of the 21st centuries.



iVillage Member
Registered: 07-03-2006
Tue, 12-23-2008 - 7:25pm

New Yorker's *what* stand up for vaccine exemptions?

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-25-2008
Tue, 12-23-2008 - 8:35pm

ANd what exactly would that be? Choosing NOT to protect your children basically?

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-09-2008
Wed, 12-24-2008 - 8:43am

New Yorker's *what* stand up for vaccine exemptions?