Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims

Jim Meehan

An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.

His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.

Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):

  1. The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
  2. Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
  3. Vaccines are dangerous to children.
  4. The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
  5. We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.

Note: Dr. Meehan’s post doesn’t present these claims in that order. I have changed the order because I want to address the claims in a logical order, that is, first his claims about vaccine safety, then the conspiracy theory that underlies them, and finally, his appeal to authorityContinue reading “Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims”

Anti-vaccine activists links itself to women’s #MeToo issues – not credible

metoo

Anti-vaccine activists consistently try to incorporate other groups’ slogans and statements, such as #MeToo, to increase legitimacy. Rarely, it gets some traction – for example, they have somewhat successfully convinced some Republican lawmakers that their demand to be able to send their children to school without vaccinating them are about “parental rights”, even though they have no parental authority over the classmates that could be put at risk by unvaccinated children.

More often, these attempts fall flat. For example, the anti-vaccine movement tried to build on the black lives matter movement with their own version, “vaccine injured lives matter” – with jarring, painful results, especially from the anti-vaxxer community that skews white and wealthy.

Recently, the anti-vaccine movement has tried to adopt two other slogans. First, it tried to claim that the “my body, my choice” statement used by pro-choice activists can be used to oppose school mandates.

Second, it tried to claim that the #metoo movement means that it’s inappropriate to disbelieve mothers who claim their children were injured by vaccines. Both claims are incorrect and jarring, though in different ways. This second post will address the second claim, about the #MeToo movement. Part addressed the “my body, my choice” claim. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine activists links itself to women’s #MeToo issues – not credible”

Anti-vaccine movement attaches itself to women’s rights – it’s falling flat

anti-vaccine movement

The anti-vaccine movement consistently tries to incorporate other groups’ slogans and statements to increase legitimacy. Rarely, it gets some traction – for example, they have somewhat successfully convinced some Republican lawmakers that their demand to be able to send their children to school without vaccinating them are about “parental rights”, even though they have no parental authority over the classmates that could be put at risk by unvaccinated children.

More often, they fall flat. For example, the anti-vaccine movement tried to build on the black lives matter movement with their own version, “vaccine injured lives matter” – with jarring, painful results, especially from a movement that skews white and wealthy.

Recently, the anti-vaccine movement has tried to adopt two other slogans. First, it tried to claim that the “my body, my choice” statement used by pro-choice activists can be used to oppose school mandates. Second, it tried to claim that the #metoo movement means that it’s inappropriate to disbelieve mothers who claim their children were injured by vaccines.

Both claims are incorrect and jarring, though in different ways. This first post will address the “my body, my choice” claim. Part II will address the “me too” claim and the anti-vaccine movement. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine movement attaches itself to women’s rights – it’s falling flat”

Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines

religious exemptions

In 2014, the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York rejected a claim brought by three plaintiff families against various aspects of New York’s school immunization requirements. The decision did not include any legal innovation: it was completely based on well-established precedent that schools can deny religious exemptions. But it offers a chance to reflect on what that precedent is, why it is in place, and what it means for us.

The take-home point? Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, those who vaccinate need to speak up and make it clear to their elected representatives that they want state law to protect their children – and the community – against outbreaks of preventable diseases. The laws will not enact themselves, and our representatives need to know the public wants this protection, that the public does not want high rates of measles cases or other diseases.

Just like the diseases, anti-vaccine legislative successes, such as maintaining religious exemptions, are preventable. And just like the diseases, doing nothing won’t prevent them. Continue reading “Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines”

Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree – not credible on vaccines

Over the past few months, Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree, who formerly worked on the show The Doctors, has made numerous statements about vaccines and vaccine safety. His claims about fraud by the CDC have been addressed in the past, and the evidence doesn’t support his beliefs. But the claims he makes about vaccines go beyond the movie, and he makes an effort to present himself as an authority on the issue.

Mr. Bigtree’s statements are consistently inaccurate, suggesting he is not a good source of information about vaccines. It’s impossible to address every single wrong claim Mr. Bigtree has made about vaccines, of course. But these problems should demonstrate that Mr. Bigtree’s claims about vaccines cannot be relied on. Continue reading “Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree – not credible on vaccines”

Maine vaccine exemptions – non-medical exceptions eliminated for schools

After extensive efforts from public health and the immunization coalition to revise Maine vaccine exemptions, and in the face of determined opposition, on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, the Maine Senate voted for a bill removing religious and personal belief exemptions to school vaccination requirements. The bill will now go to the Governor’s office, and Governor Janet Mills – whose administration already expressed support for the bill – is expected to sign it. 

The bill, LD 798, has been in the works for a while, over strong opposition from the resident anti-vaccine groups. It simply removes the language creating the non-medical exemptions, such as for religion and personal beliefs.

maine vaccine exemptions
Bar Harbor, Maine. Now protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by Gibson Hurst™ on Unsplash

On the support side, the grassroots group Maine Families for Vaccines spoke in favor of the bill, and medical associations, including the Maine American Academy of Pediatricians, worked to explain it and support it. A previous bill, similar in language, passed through the Maine Legislature, but it was subsequently vetoed by the (then) governor

The new Maine vaccine exemptions bill went through the legislative process with some drama. After passing through the House, the Senate approved the bill, but – in an 18:17 vote – added back a religious exemption.

On returning the bill to the house, the House reaffirmed their commitment to the removal of both the personal belief and the religious exemptions – in procedural terms, it “insisted”, and sent the original bill back to the Senate to vote on it again. After negotiations, one of the Senators who supported adding the religious exemption back in reversed course, and the original bill – removing both the personal belief and the religious exemption – passed 18 to 17.

maine vaccine exemptions
Portland, Maine. Also protected by removing some of the Maine vaccine exemptions. Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

As mentioned above, the Governor is expected to sign it.

The price of the change appears to be somewhat weakening the controls on religious exemptions by preventing the Department of Health and Human Services from regulating them and allowing a nurse practitioner or physician assistant to grant them.

In addition, children with an individualized educational plan can continue to attend, as long as the parents – or the student, if over 18 – have consulted with a licensed physician about “the risks and benefits associated with the choice to immunize.”

Maine – whose exemption rate was high, and who has seen a large outbreak of pertussis in past years – thus joins California, West Virginia and Mississippi as states with no non-medical exemptions. It also provides the second legislative win for public health this season, after Washington passed a bill removing the personal belief exemption to the MMR vaccine.

Congratulations, Maine, and let us hope this step helps keep your children safe and serves as a model to more states.

Yes, vaccine herd immunity works – scientific evidence supports this fact

herd immunity

This piece is a summary of Herd Immunity and Immunization Policy: The Importance of Accuracy, published in v. 94 of the Oregon Law Review.

As a bit of background, in an article that was published in the Oregon Law Review in 2014, authors Mary Holland and Chase E Zachary claimed that school immunization mandates are inappropriate because they reject the concept that herd immunity works.

This article will explain why Holland and Zachary’s analysis or immunization mandates and herd effect is simply incorrect. And let’s be clear – there is a legitimate debate about whether school immunization mandates are appropriate, policy-wise, as a response to non-vaccination.

Unlike vaccine science, the appropriate policy to handle non-immunization is not agreed upon, and the data on what is the right way to get people to vaccinate is anything but clear (though some things are clear – for example, harder to get exemptions lead to higher vaccination rates). But the debate needs to be premised on accurate facts – not on misuse of legal terms and incorrect scientific data. Holland and Zachary’s article does not provide that. Continue reading “Yes, vaccine herd immunity works – scientific evidence supports this fact”

New York vaccine mandate – judge rejects anti-vaxxer challenge

On April 18, 2019, a New York Supreme Court Judge (see Note 1) rejected a challenge to the New York vaccine mandate (pdf) brought by three lawyers (attorneys Robert Krakow, Patti Finn, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., all of which have litigated cases on vaccines issues in the past). The litigation involved New York City’s order for an MMR vaccine mandate in certain zip codes.

The decision will likely be appealed but is well-reasoned and at this point, leaves the mandate in place. This article will take a look at the case. Continue reading “New York vaccine mandate – judge rejects anti-vaxxer challenge”

Vaccination informed consent – more anti-vaccine rhetoric from ICAN

In a misleading “White Paper,” the anti-vaccine organization, Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) argued that “eliminating vaccine exemptions and curtailing criticism is unethical and un-American” because, they argue, it invalidates vaccination informed consent. The initial statement is wrong, and the arguments brought to support it are wrong. This article corrects the record. Continue reading “Vaccination informed consent – more anti-vaccine rhetoric from ICAN”

Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds

Del Bigtree Andrew Wakefield

On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety. The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well grounded.

This post will shortly describe the background to the letter from Dr. Wharton, then provide some of the highlights. I do, however, encourage people to read the full letter, available here (pdf), for themselves, to understand many vaccine safety issues. Continue reading “Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds”