Physicians for Informed Consent — VAERS-loving anti-vaccine group

Physicians for Informed Consent is another one of those science-denying groups trying to pretend to be all about vaccine “informed consent,” but they spread anti-vaccine nonsense, no different than what we hear from the usual suspects like Del Bigtree and Robert F Kennedy Jr.

I’ve written about Physicians for Informed Consent (PIC) a few times, but I wanted to tell you all about the characters that are at the forefront of this anti-vaccine group. Talk about the usual suspects.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Physicians for Informed Consent was founded in 2015 in response to Californias in response to the vaccine mandate laws like SB277, which stated that children entering kindergarten must have most of the CDC-recommended vaccines or they could not attend school (see comments for a complete breakdown of which vaccines are required).

Unfortunately, some parents abused a loophole, which allowed for medical exemptions, because of unethical physicians signing documents attesting to these exemptions. So California passed SB276 which closed this loophole.

Although there are individuals who are pro-vaccine but are opposed to mandatory vaccination, mostly from a politically libertarian point of view, PIC is specifically anti-vaccine. In fact, “informed consent” is one of those veiled code-words used by the anti-vaccine world, especially in the fight against vaccine mandates.

If you look at their website, you’d think that they were an unbiased educational resource about vaccines. They are clearly anti-mandate, but if you didn’t dig too deeply, you might be convinced that they were all fair and balanced about vaccines.

Their mission statement is:

that doctors and the public are able to evaluate the data on infectious diseases and vaccines objectively, and voluntarily engage in informed decision-making about vaccination.

Of course, I’ve been around the block with anti-vaxxers for over two decades (back when I was young and energetic), so I know when someone is using that old canard of “I am not anti-vaccine, but…” PIC claims to be neither anti- nor pro-vaccine, but let’s take a look.

Dumpster diving in VAERS. None of this is supported by real peer-reviewed science.

For example, PIC has published a few “articles” on their website that attack COVID-19 vaccines. Their Pfizer information sheet misuses VAERS data in an attempt to scare people away from the vaccine. What they don’t do is provide the actual data from the FDA filings (I guess that takes too much work) that shows, with real science and real statistics, that the vaccine is safe and effective.

In real medicine, informed consent is the process of getting permission from the patient (or legal guardian of the patient) before a healthcare procedure or to participate in a clinical trial. Informed consent is said to have been given based on a clear understanding of the facts regarding the medical procedure, including potential risks and benefits. Only a person with adequate reasoning facilities can give this consent, thus parents usually give informed consent for children.

Informed consent has become a ridiculous false flag for the anti-vaccine activists because they claim that healthcare workers are not providing patients (and parents) with adequate information for them to give informed consent. Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss has argued that the anti-vaccine world seems to have an improper view of what constitutes informed consent for vaccinations.

First, parents do not have unlimited rights to accept or reject informed consent about a healthcare procedure:

The situation is a little different for children: they do not consent directly for treatment, and while the rights of their parents to consent are protected, they are not as absolute as an adult’s right over her body – parents do not have unlimited right to throw a child’s life or health away.

Nonetheless, consent is important in these contexts, too. Parents are usually the ones that make medical decisions for the child. And absent the unusual circumstances where the state intervenes, it’s just as important that parents’ consent be informed: they need to get the information that will help them make the appropriate decision in their child’s interest.

Second, the usefulness of the vaccine package insert as a sort of bible to be read by anyone about to be vaccinated is rather limited:

…the (package) insert is a lousy informed consent document. It’s unwieldy and easy to be misread by a lay person (see also). It does not include some of the most important information needed for an informed decision – why should anyone get a vaccine, what is the most current research. And some of the information it does include can mislead, for example, listing reported events the vaccine does not cause.

Third, informing patients about VAERS (the federally run Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) and the NVICP (National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program) is not necessarily useful:

Imagine the following scenario. Your doctor recommends surgery. The doctor explains the benefits and risks of the procedure, why she thinks you should undergo it, risks of not doing it, and alternatives. Then the doctor says “if anything goes wrong, here is where you report adverse events. Here is how you can file a malpractice claim.”

Three points about that. First, this additional statement does not provide you with additional information about the risks and benefits of the procedure. Second, what it will do is make the risks loom larger, and it might cognitively push you towards rejecting a procedure, even when the benefits outweigh the risks. That’s not exactly fair to you. Third, what if your doctor is wrong? The legal elements of malpractice claims are not something doctors should be expert on (and in fact, you hope your doctor has had little experience with such processes).

The anti-vaccine view of informed consent is to vastly overstate the risks and basically ignore the benefits. All medical procedures have risks, anyone who states otherwise is sadly misinformed.

Setting a broken bone has a small, but statistically significant, risk of a fat embolism that can be fatal – if your child has a broken leg, does the parent focus on that risk, but ignore the benefits of the procedure, that your child will walk again in a few weeks? I doubt it, but I guess it happens.

For vaccines, the risks are vanishingly small (unless you’re addicted to dumpster diving in VAERS), while the benefits are immense. Yet, if you speak to anti-vaccine radicals, they try to state that the reverse is true — they claim that the risks are huge and the benefits are minimal for vaccines.

depth of field photography of mallard duck on body of water physicians for informed consent
Quack says the ducks. Photo by Aidan Jarrett on Pexels.com

Who is PIC?

The best way to look at this is to examine some of the key members of this Physicians for Informed Consent. You’ll notice a trend by the time I’m done.

  • Shira Miller, MD — Miller founded the group. She is a “concierge” integrative medical doctor based in Los Angeles. She is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does she have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.
  • Paul Thomas, MD — He is an Oregon-based pediatrician who has had his medical license suspended because of patient harm. He is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does he have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.
  • Jane Orient, MD — Orient is an internist and executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a right wing group that is opposed to abortion, publicly funded healthcare, and vaccines. And just for good measure, the AAPS denies anthropogenic climate change. She is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does she have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.
  • Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD. Obukhanych is well known around the anti-vaccine circles, since she a perfect example of the appeal to false authority. Although she would seem to have good credentials in the field of imunology, she is currently not affiliated with any major research program and has only a handful of publications to her name, all of which are supportive of vaccines. She now mostly self-publishes screeds about vaccines.
  • Christopher Shaw, MD. Shaw is an ophthalmologist (yes, an eye doctor) at the University of British Columbia. Shaw is a well known anti-vaccine “researcher,” who has had so many papers retracted, we could turn it into a fun drinking game. He is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does he have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.
  • Kenneth Stoller, MD. Stoller is another California (and New Mexico) physician who had his licensed suspended because he provided baseless medical exemptions to California children. He is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does he have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.
  • Bob Sears, MD. Sears is a California pediatrician who also had his license placed on probation because of baseless medical exemptions. He is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does he have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases. (Interesting factoid — I am friends with one of his brothers who is also a physician and is most certainly not anti-vacine).
  • Kelly Sutton, MD. Not to seem like my keyboard is borken, but Sutton also has had her medical license in California revoked for fake medical exemptions. I bet you didn’t see that coming. She is not an epidemiologist or immunologist nor does she have any expertise in public health or infectious diseases.

I could go on, but I think this is a good sampling of what kind of physicians and “scientists” are behind PIC. I looked through some of the others in the group to see if anyone had any expertise in immunology, epidemiology, public health, and/or infectious diseases.

Other than Obukhanych, who studied immunology but has not done anything meaningful in the field and ignores all of the science about vaccines, there is one other person in their group that has experience in any field of vaccines — Joyce Drayton, MD, who appears to be board-certified in infectious diseases. But here we go with false authority again. Just because she has credentials doesn’t mean that she is an expert in the field. Oh, she doesn’t have a single published paper, which is indicative of what she knows about vaccine science.

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

PIC and the MMR vaccine

I mentioned above that the Physicians for Informed Consent’s nonsense about the COVID-19 vaccine was based on bad data by dumpster diving into VAERS (Orac’s favorite description for VAERS). But they sure made the graphics pretty and easy to read, just to scare people away from the vaccine.

Even though the COVID-19 vaccines gave PIC a chance to fight mandates, they despise the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella.

First of all, let’s review what the CDC says about complications of measles. From 2001-2013, 28% of children younger than 5 years old who had contracted measles had to be treated in a hospital. This is a point that I don’t get about people like the Physicians for Informed Consent – they don’t seem to care about children’s health.

Taking a child to a hospital for a disease is never an easy experience. I’ve been there, taking a child to an emergency room, and even today, 25 years later, I can remember everything that happened. It’s traumatic to the child. And it is traumatic to the parents. I just think that Physicians for Informed Consent completely ignore the demonstrable fact that a large percentage of children with measles end up in a hospital. It’s an indefensible position.

Moreover, measles can have some serious consequences:

  • Pneumonia (a serious lung infection)
  • Lifelong brain damage, called SSPE
  • Deafness
  • Death

The Physicians for Informed Consent want to convince us that the death rate isn’t consequential, while completely ignoring the other serious complications from measles. They’re utterly focused on mortality, not morbidity.

The CDC reports that 0.2% of children who are infected by measles will die. This isn’t a number that is pulled randomly out of the air, as implied by the press release (one of the lowest types of scientific information on the hierarchy of medical research) – it is derived from peer-reviewed research published in a respectable journal.

The Physicians for Informed Consent claim that the mortality rate is a bit lower, maybe 90% lower. Where is their peer-reviewed research to support that claim? Oh, there isn’t any.

But let’s say, they’re right and the mortality rate is only 0.04% rather than 0.2%. Well, that means that 2-3 children will die from every 10,000 cases of measles. But that’s still 2-3 children whose deaths could be prevented by vaccines. Are those potential deaths irrelevant to the Physicians for Informed Consent, because that’s what it sounds like to me?

That’s their understating the benefits. But let’s look at their claims on the other side of the equation, the risks of the vaccination. They claim to be providing “documents” that show some mysterious risks of the MMR vaccine. They claim that their “documents” are “peer-reviewed.” I’ll stop here why everyone with a real scientific background laughs hysterically.

No, it wasn’t independently peer-reviewed. Their “documents” are not published in any type of reputable journal. It’s not even published in a disreputable journal. In other words, they could be just inventing random information, without spending the effort to get their claims published somewhere.

Of course, then I could write an article laughing at the article, and another one laughing at the retraction of said article.

If we’re working on the assumption that only the mortality rate from measles matters, then let’s look at this. Even using the baseless estimates of the Physicians for Informed Consent, there are more deaths from the disease than from the vaccine. There has never been a death linked to the MMR vaccine published in any reliable source. None.

Summary

Let me make this simple:

  1. The Physicians for Informed Consent don’t know much about informed consent. They are sadly misinformed about the topic.
  2. They misuse VAERS to try to overstate risks of vaccines. VAERS is not an unbiased database that can be used to determine vaccine risk, yet it’s a fundamental part of their anti-vaccine “data.”
  3. They vastly overstate the risks of vaccine while vastly understating the benefits.
  4. The individuals who are associated with the Physicians for Informed Consent lack any credibility or expertise in vaccine science.


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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!