This article about Vaxxed producer, Del Bigtree, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
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.
Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree on vaccines generally
Mr. Bigtree, at around 6:15 in a speech given doing a Philadelphia rally, said that “in a well-baby visit in 2, 4, 6 months, we are giving 5,6, up to 7 vaccines, each of these vaccines could be 3 different viruses, so we are giving an infant up to 20 viral loads at one time, and what is horrifying is that this schedule has never, ever in the history of science been tested.” He repeated these points in a YouTube video:
Mr. Bigtree’s comments contain several inaccuracies:
- The only live virus vaccine on the schedule at 2, 4, and 6 months is the rotavirus vaccine. The rest are sub-unit vaccines: they include single proteins only. In other words, they do not contain live – or inactivated – viruses.
- Some of the vaccines are, in fact, against bacterial infections, not against viruses.
- The schedule has, in fact, been tested in several ways. For example, before being put on the market, vaccines need to undergo concomitant studies – showing that they are safe and effective with other vaccines on the schedule, safe as part of the schedule. Recently, the Institute of Medicine also reviewed the schedule. And at least one study looked at the entire first-year schedule, which appears to bother Mr. Bigtree most, and showed it does not affect neuropsychological development.
Someone who presents himself as an authority – even a lay authority – on vaccines needs to understand the basics. This includes understanding that there are different types of vaccines, and they protect against different threats. It is also important to be familiar with the actual process by which vaccines are tested.
Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree on hepatitis B vaccines
These claims draw on Mr. Bigtree’s comments during the public commentary period of a panel about the harms of hepatitis B and C in Sacramento (comments at 1 hour 41 minutes, approximately) and during a rally in Pennsylvania, at around 6-7 minutes.
In Sacramento, Mr. Bigtree said: “..we have the highest infant mortality rate in the industrialized world – more babies die in the first day of life in America than every other industrialized nation combined. And then you look at the fact that we’re one of the only nations giving a hep b vaccine in day one.”
In Philadelphia, he reiterated the same points in stronger language (also repeated elsewhere):
More babies die in the first day of life in the United States of America than in every other industrialized nation combined. Why can’t the greatest medical system in the world, the best doctors in the world, why can’t we keep our babies alive? Well, one of the things you look at is the hepatitis B vaccine. On the first day of life, hello, welcome to the world, take your first breath, and here is your first sexually transmitted disease, hepatitis B. A disease you will not be in touch with until you are sexually active or sharing needles but we think you should be getting it on the first day of life. We are one of the only nations in the world that does it and that’s why I think we have more children die on the first day than any other nation in the world.
Inaccuracies in Mr. Bigtree’s claims:
Point 1. When Mr. Bigtree describes vaccinating against hepatitis B as “injecting a sexually transmitted disease, he is doubly wrong: hepatitis B is not just sexually transmitted, and vaccinating is not injecting a disease.
- Hepatitis B is an incredibly infectious and hardy virus, that can survive over a week in microscopic drops of liquid, like blood. Hepatitis B can be transmitted by exposure to bodily liquid in several ways besides needles and sex. These include via the birth canal from an infected mother, or via an infected household member (pdf).
- The hepatitis B vaccine is a sub-unit vaccine: it uses a single protein from the virus to create immunity to the disease. There is no disease in the vaccine.
Point 2. Mr. Bigtree blames the hepatitis B vaccine for his allegation that more babies die in the United States on the first day than “all industrialized nations combined.” Again, there are several inaccuracies in the claims.
- Mr. Bigtree appears to have research in mind that found higher rates in the United States than in other wealthy nations. But the rate is not “more than all industrialized nations combined”, and not the highest in the industrialized world. The research from which this comes highlights several factors that lead to that: counting early births that other nations don’t count, where the risk is higher; and poverty. The rates are highest among disadvantaged groups, while wealthy babies’ mortality is similar to those of other nations. In other words, the death rate is explained. In reality, infant rates in the United States have been decreasing in the past decades. So are child mortality rates (pdf).
- Contrary to Mr. Bigtree’s claims, the United States is not nearly alone in giving hepatitis B on the first day. For example, Israel and Australia, both with lower rates of infant mortality, give the hepatitis B. So does Portugal, whose rate is close to a third that of the United States. And Spain, where the rate is about half. And all European countries give the hepatitis B vaccine at least to at-risk groups.
Point 3. Mr. Bigtree also claimed the Hepatitis B vaccine does not have safety data since it was only studied for four days pre-licensing. It’s unclear what he relies on. The Merck package insert (pdf) for the hepatitis B vaccines mentions three clinical trials in which children were monitored for five days after each dose, so although he said four days, maybe that’s the source. But if that’s the source, that’s very selective reading. First, the studies looked at five days after each dose of a three-dose schedule. So it’s not just five days. More than that, the insert also mentions the concomitant studies – testing the safety of the vaccine with other vaccines (p. 6) and other studies on pp. 7-8. If Mr. Bigtree has gone beyond the insert – for example, looking at the professional Vaccines textbook – he would have found many studies, and several reviews, of Hepatitis B vaccine safety. Here is one review. Below is a picture of some of the references:
Point 4. There are many studies that show that hepatitis B vaccines are extremely safe.
- In the Sacramento panel, at the end of his comments, Mr. Bigtree discounted the risk of hepatitis B, by saying: “you mention that 10,000 children have gotten the disease – I don’t know where that number has come from – without a mother that transmits it, but you didn’t actually address the fact that that’s actually 0.001% of 74 million children.” Mr. Bigtree misses the fact that rates of hepatitis B in children, mentioned before vaccine, were annual. I don’t know which specific study Dr. Pan was referring to, so I’ll use another. In this study, authors found that before the vaccine became available,16,000 children under 10 contracted hepatitis B each year, half from infected mothers, half from other causes. That’s 8,000 children, without an infected mother, who contracted hepatitis b each year, a virus that can cause liver disease and cancer. Mr. Bigtree may discount the problem, seeing it as not immediately relevant to his reality (in his words, “this is an issue especially among people with color”), but public health experts and doctors take it seriously.
- Finally, in both places, Mr. Bigtree claims that the Hepatitis B vaccine is of short duration. That is not what the data shows. A recent review highlighted that the duration of protection from hepatitis b vaccines is lifelong in those who respond even if titers drop.
In short, Mr. Bigtree’s comments about hepatitis B vaccines were very inaccurate. (More discussion of them can be found here.)
Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree on aluminum in vaccines
Mr. Bigtree claimed, in both places mentioned above, that the level of aluminum in vaccines is above the level allowed. Mr. Bigtree claims the maximum load for an infant of ingested aluminum is 30 micrograms (in Philadelphia) or 35 micrograms (in Sacramento) – in both cases without providing a source. One possible source for the claims is Dr. Sears’ assessment.
But that assessment is drawn from data for a different situation – IV solutions for either premature infants or people with kidney problems. Applying them to vaccines – given in a different way, and not constantly – is incorrect, as pointed out by experts here (pdf) and here. Aluminum adjuvants have been in use since the 1930s, and extensive data shows that they are very, very safe.
In fact, a recent FDA study found that the tiny amounts in vaccines are not a serious risk (study summary, the study is linked at the bottom).
Mr. Bigtree’s statements on vaccines are generally inaccurate. Whether because of a lack of expertise or because of the strength of his belief, this makes him an unreliable source for information on vaccines.
This article was first published in October 2016, when Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree first entered the anti-vaccine consciousness. Since he’s decided to push the pro-disease narrative in front of audiences that are being threatened by the 2019 measles epidemic, it’s important that this article stays current. The article was copyedited to correct a small number of spelling and grammatical issues.