Catie Clobes – legal harassment from an anti-vaccine activist – Take 10

This article, about anti-vaccine activist Catie Clobes legal actions against Karen Ernst, 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

It is not unusual to observe anti-vaccine activist harassment of those who challenge their claims, by threatening legal action.  Most often, the legal threats are baseless but can seem threatening. Because such episodes are not uncommon, I have decided to describe the latest, explain why the threat it made is unfounded, and offer some guidance on what to do if you face such a threat. Continue reading “Catie Clobes – legal harassment from an anti-vaccine activist – Take 10”

Passing vaccine legislation after Disneyland outbreaks

This is a guest post by Karen Ernst, who is the parent-leader of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. Karen is the mother of three boys and the wife of a military officer, living in Minnesota. 

The Disneyland measles outbreaks should have yielded unprecedented vaccine legislation tightening religious and personal exemptions from vaccinations for children across the country. After all, kids got measles. From Disneyland. Make it stop, right? Continue reading “Passing vaccine legislation after Disneyland outbreaks”

One mother’s crusade against antibiotics–it’s complicated


This is a guest post by Karen Ernst, who is the parent-leader of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. Karen is the mother of three boys and the wife of a military officer, living in Minnesota. 

I could be the mother-in-charge of the such the anti-antibiotic movement.* I’m the perfect candidate. When my son was five years old, he had an honest-to-goodness severe reaction to amoxicillin.

It all began with a sinus infection. The doctor prescribed him his second course of amoxicillin, and he took it for nine days without incident. But on day ten, his body sprouted hives–big, ugly, firm hives. I kept a watchful but not worried eye on his bumps as they sprouted here and there around his body.

And then a hive appeared on his forehead. Because the pediatrician’s office was about to close, I called the nurseline, and she told me to watch and make sure his breathing was okay. I watched as long as I could, growing increasingly worried as the hives did not go away, and finally decided to bring him into the ER when a hive appeared on his lip. (Our insurance makes urgent care nearly impossible to use.)

The ER doctors and nurses were kind and assured me that it was good I had brought him in–better safe than sorry when it comes to allergic reactions appearing so close to an airway. The doctor agreed that his hives seemed unusual–firm and concerning–so they gave him a dose of a steroid and told me to give him Benadryl.

The hives went away for two days, but they came back, and with them came joint pain. My son began limping around the house and reported that his knees ached. So back to the ER we went. This time around, the doctor (a different doctor) was less concerned and told me that we just needed to wait for the amoxicillin to work its way out of his system.

But another two days later, he was laying in bed crying, unwilling to put weight on his legs.  By the time we arrived at the ER, I ditched the car at the front entrance and carried him in. He was screaming in pain. The triage nurse was so alarmed by his screams that she brought us straight back to an exam room and grabbed a doctor. After tests and examination, the doctor diagnosed a serum sickeness-like reaction to the amoxicillin he had taken. He was prescribed a full round of steroids and a prescription-strength antihistamine, which we filled at 3 am before leaving the hospital.

Frightening things happen to children, but I tell this story not because it is exceptionally frightening. I tell it because of what did not happen. I did not go on a crusade against amoxicilin or antibiotics. While this son has never received a -cillin antibiotic** again (nor have I because I, too, am allergic), my youngest son has. I do have a fear of giving my younger son amoxicillin, but I always discuss that fear with a pediatrician prescribing it and ask them to help me put the risk into perspective. I know that my oldest son’s reaction was a very rare occurrance.

In the same way, real reactions to vaccines occur. I’m not talking about the ones promoted by the anti-vaccine rumor mill. Autism, asthma, being cross-eyed, and being short are not caused by vaccines. But allergic reactions or other reactions can occur, albeit very rarely.


David Salamone suffered one such rare reaction. The Oral Polio Vaccine, which was the vaccine of choice to prevent polio in the last half of the 20th Century, can cause full-blown polio in one out of every 2.4 million people who receives it. David Salamone was the one.

In the PBS NOVA special “Vaccines: Calling the Shots,” David Salamone explains how he feels about vaccines:

I’m not against vaccinations. I’m pro-vaccinations. We had thousands of people contracting polio prior to the vaccination. We came out with the vaccination, and that number decreased significantly. So less people are getting sick, less people are getting affected, and that’s a good thing.

The anti-vaccine movement is not fueled by people whose children have suffered real vaccine reactions. Children who have suffered allergic reactions or other rare side effects to vaccines and are unable to receive more vaccines deserve the protection of a highly vaccinated population.

The anti-antibiotic movement doesn’t exist because we give antibiotics to sick children to treat illnesses that we can observe. Vaccines are trickier. We give vaccines to well children, and we cannot observe with our own eyes how these vaccines protect our children. We can’t see our children’s immune mount a defense against attenuated vaccine antigens and create memory cells to defeat possible encounters with fully virulent viruses. But we can watch as our children do not get measles, diphtheria, and other diseases that were once the scourge of childhoods across our country. Let’s make sure they are not a scourge again.

*Legitimate reasons to oppose the overuse of antibiotics exist. As the CDC tells us, antibiotics are inappropriate for viral or non-bacterial infections. Antibiotics save lives by curing bacterial infections.

**Technically, this class of antibiotics are called Penams or Penicillins. There are over 25 different antibiotics in this class, and generally, a reaction to one probably indicates a reaction to all of them.

Pro-vaccination websites that I love

immunize-for-goodBased on what I write, you’d think I was all about vaccines and thoroughly mocking the ignorance of the antivaccination world. And, apparently, I’m paid to do that. Sadly, I do not have a new BMW M5 in my driveway. I’d rather write about evolution, but there’s a direct correlation between not vaccinating and harm to children from vaccine preventable diseases, so it seems more important to me than arguing about the stupidity of creationism.

I tend to be the cranky one on the interwebs with respect to vaccines. I’m the mean, angry uncle who turns on the sprinklers when the antivaccine parents walk their dogs in front of my house. Extra benefit–their dogs don’t poop on my lawn. See, I’m the curmudgeonly neighbor of the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.

I realize my tone, filled with sarcasm and mockery, may blur my message, which is always based on real science, anti-cherry picking, and appropriately weighing evidence from experts vs. invented data from non-experts. But there are websites, which are important to my own personal mission of understanding vaccines and infectious diseases, that provide the same high value information but without the snark. I know, some of you like snark, as do I.

Here are some of the best websites on the internet that engage in the debate (there’s no debate, vaccination is safe and effective, as shown by a couple of mountains worth of evidence) about vaccines. But are on a different planet of niceness compared to me.

Voices for Vaccines. This blog (with lots of supporting information) tells personal stories through the voices of those who vaccinate. You cannot helped but be touched by the stories. VacLiars (see, I cannot resist) hates Voices for Vaccines, so there’s that. But it’s a good place if you’re looking for a calm voice in the screaming about vaccines. One of the managers of this website, Karen Ernst, has written a very popular post here. And she was nice. One of the scientific advisory board members (all of whom have impressive credentials in pediatrics and/or infectious diseases) is Paul Offit, who invented a vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year. I don’t have to say anything more.

Shot of Prevention. One of the older websites that is pro-vaccine (by old, I mean 4 or 5 years), Shot of Prevention focuses on practical parenting issues with regards to vaccinating and diseases. What I love about Shot of Prevention is that its writers come from all walks of life, and really gives the reader a broad perspective on immunization.

Red Wine and Apple Sauce. This website has a different appeal, but it’s an outstanding resource for a thoughtful analysis of immunizations. Tara Haelle, who is a science journalist and writes nearly all of the articles, discusses more than just vaccines, but numerous current topics  that are important to parents. She writes long detailed articles, filled with links that support her points, and she should be on anyone’s list for getting information about vaccines.

The Value of Vaccination–A Conversation. A relatively new entrant into the conversation about vaccines, Value of Vaccination focuses in a different way–the stories are more personal, with the perspective almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a parent or individual. It features conversations that show us what the value of vaccination is and how it makes our lives better.

vaccines-save-livesPKIDs Online. PKIDs, officially Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases, probably would not describe themselves as a “pro-vaccine” website, but they really are pro-vaccine. They tell the personal stories of parents of children who have chronic infectious diseases, most of which are vaccine preventable.

Vaccine Education Center. Run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (known by almost everyone as CHOP), it is one of the top websites for information about vaccines. Yes, Paul Offit is involved again. Well, when you’re one of the leading experts in immunization of children, and you’re on the faculty of CHOP, that’s what happens.

Vaccine News Daily. This website, more or less, aggregates news articles about vaccines, while giving a brief, but useful, summary of the information. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the vaccine world.

I Speak of Dreams. Although not necessarily about vaccines, I Speak of Dreams is an important resource in myths (and debunking of said myths) about autism. And because vaccines and autism has been a manufactured issue since the late 1990’s, anyone who discusses myths about autism has to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking the myths of vaccines and autism. If I might remind everyone, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

All of these websites have non-cranky writers. Well mostly. And most of them are much more patient with comments than I am, because I have no patience when it’s clear that a commenter doesn’t get what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t.

I’m sure I missed an important website or two. This article isn’t static, I can make changes whenever I want, so drop me a comment. Besides, I’d want to know about your website!

Use the Science-Based Vaccine Search Engine.

Why we vaccinate–preventing unvaccinated children from getting sick

love-immunize-protectThis is a new guest post by Karen Ernst, who is the parent-leader of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. Karen is the mother of three boys and the wife of a military officer, living in Minnesota. 

Unvaccinated children do not deserve to get sick.

Of any statement made by anyone discussing immunization, that one seems like it should be the least provocative. Yet, for the umpteenth time this week, I’ve read on an antivaccine blog that pro-vaccine advocates claim vaccine hesitant parents don’t love their children or should have their children removed from their home.

Let’s take a moment for a reality check. Most parents do vaccinate their children. In fact, less than 1% of all school children in the USA are completely unvaccinated. While within this overwhelming majority there are bound to be a few jerks who will make callous statements about children and their parents, most of us want to protect all the children around us. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–preventing unvaccinated children from getting sick”

Antivaccine lies–peanut oil and vaccines

The lying liars who lie, also known as antivaccine websites, have one goal in mind: say anything about anything that makes it appear that vaccines are dangerous, repeat it over and over, and then hope that other websites pick it up. Eventually, some people will think it’s a fact, and when you Google this “fact,” there will be so many websites that repeat the same lie (and some innocently, without really critically analyzing it), even a somewhat impartial observer will think that it’s the TRUTH.

About as close as peanuts will come to vaccines.
About as close as peanuts will come to vaccines.

Now, they can’t make obnoxiously obvious lies, because there are lines that one can’t cross before everyone can see it’s a lie or the product of insanity. If an antivaccine website says that aliens from Klingon manufacture the vaccines so that humans will grow a ridge on their forehead, well that would be ridiculous. Cool, but ridiculous. Yes, I know there would be some small number of people who say, “I knew it!”  Continue reading “Antivaccine lies–peanut oil and vaccines”