Tag Archives: philosophical vaccine exemption

The barely concealed extremism of an anti-vaccine group

We’re gearing up for another round of the philosophical-exemption debate at the Statehouse. As you may have heard, a State Senate committee is considering a bill that would remove the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccinations. Which has the anti-vaccine community’s knickers in a knot.

Well, they don’t call themselves “the anti-vaccine community,” but that’s exactly what they are. Vermont’s primary anti-vaxx group is the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice (VCVC). It publicly presents itsels as entirely focused on parental choice. From its website:

We are not “anti-vaxxers”… We are dedicated to preserving health choice and informed consent for parents and all Vermonters.

Vaccine movie posterProblem is, the leaders of VCVC just can’t help themselves. Their website prominently trumpets the work of, among others, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an anti-vaxxer who promotes the discredited vaccine/autism canard and who has called vaccination “a holocaust.”

But if you want to see the real scope of VCVC’s nutbaggery, you ought to follow its Twitter feed. You’ll find links to every scattered anecdotal report of alleged vaccine harm, every fringey “scientific study” attacking vaccine efficacy or safety, every alternative-medicine type promoting their own agendas, and every rhetorical excess about vaccination, doctors, nurses, government, and science.

Here are a few choice examples. Reminder: these are communications from a group that claims NOT to be “anti-vaxxers.”

Let’s start with a ham-fisted attack on Vermont media for the unforgivable sin of reporting the science on vaccines, which is fully as probative as the science on climate change and evolution:

They’d probably call me a sellout too. Problem is, I haven’t seen a dime from Big Pharma. I just happen to believe the massive preponderance of scientific evidence. VCVC, on the other hand, searches through the flotsam and jetsam of junk science.

The study was published in the Open Journal of Pediatrics, one of many “open journals” created by Scientific Research Publishing (SCIRP), which offers “244 English language open access journals.” SCIRP is based on Wuhan, China, and has been accused of being a predatory open access publisher.

Predatory open access publishers don’t provide the editorial oversight of real scientific publishers; they aggressively solicit papers, publish them with little or no review, and then try to bill the authors for publication costs. In other words, their articles are not to be trusted. But if an article calls vaccination into question, VCVC is happy to accept it at face value and promote it.

More… after the jump. Continue reading

Action needed on vaccines, and we’re not going to get it

As the Great Disneyland Measles Outbreak continues to reverberate, attention is rightly turning to Vermont’s permissive rules on opting out of childhood vaccinations. The state allows parents to claim religious, medical, or philosophical grounds for refusing vaccinations; the vast majority of exemptions, according to the state Health Department, are in the undefined “philosophical” category.

Vaxxer responseMost of these are not philosophical at all; they are the result of anti-vaccine propaganda fomented by the likes of Jenny McCarthy and a disgraced former doctor. Their numbers in Vermont are growing, and getting close to the point where “herd immunity” will no longer be effective, and long-banished disease can make a comeback.

This is exactly the problem that caused the Disneyland outbreak, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens here. One brave lawmaker has stepped up to the plate; Sen. Kevin Mullin has proposed a bill to eliminate the philosophical exemption. He also did so in 2012; the Senate passed the bill, but the House backed away like a frightened child when the anti-vaxxers stormed their gilded corridors.

There seems to be little appetite for a repeat of that debate, in spite of the growing risk. Governor Shumlin, who strongly endorses vaccination, wants no part of another exemption debate, according to spokesman Scott Coriell:

The Governor believes that every child in Vermont should be vaccinated against deadly diseases, not only to protect them but also to protect others. …When it comes to the question of forcing those parents who refuse to follow common sense to do so, the legislature had that debate in 2012 and a bipartisan majority in the legislature passed a bill that requires enhanced education for parents and reporting on vaccination rates.

…While the Governor believes there is no excuse to forgo vaccinations, he thinks we need to be extremely careful about passing laws that put the state in the position of making decisions for children without parental consent.

That sounds almost exactly like the statement that just got New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in hot water:

“All I can say is we vaccinated ours,” Christie said, while touring a biomedical research facility in Cambridge, England, which makes vaccines.

The New Jersey governor added that “parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well, so that’s the balance that the government has to decide.”

You tell me the difference between Shumlin and Christie. There isn’t any.

And hey, here’s a little tidbit that might make some of our leaders think twice about their timidity: they’re making a daily commute right into the heart of a potential measles vector. According to the latest Health Department figures, kindergartners at Montpelier’s Union Elementary School have a Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccination rate of only 88.7%. The standard for “herd immunity” is 90%.

The Governor and his fellow anti-vaxx coddlers might want to consider wearing facemasks to Montpelier, especially those with some kind of suppressed immunity.

Now, the anti-vaxxers are framing this the same way Shumlin is: as a matter of parental choice.

Problem: this is a matter of choice the same way smoking in enclosed spaces or wearing your seat belt is a matter of choice. On some issues, the public interest trumps individual rights. When parents opt out of vaccination, they are depending on the rest of us to supply their kids with herd immunity. They also pose a direct health threat to children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and to anyone with a suppressed immune system.

Vermont is trending in the wrong direction on vaccinations. We are needlessly endangering some of our more vulnerable residents and the general public health. But I guess it will take an actual outbreak before our lawmakers put on their grown-up pants and do the right thing.