Religious exemptions for vaccination – abuse and reform

In November 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health published the results of a survey examining people getting an exemption from school immunization requirementsThe survey found that most people getting an exemption – 54.9% – explained their reasons to be “philosophical” or personal belief, including concerns about vaccine harms, a preference for natural immunity, and a belief they could protect their children in other ways. 

The problem is that New Mexico does not offer a personal belief exemption. It offers medical exemptions and religious exemptions for vaccination only. In other words, these people got their vaccine exemption using an exemption that did not reflect their real reasons.

Our host, the Skeptical Raptor, invited me to describe an article I wrote on this that is forthcoming in the Hastings Law Journal. The article argues that:

Why we vaccinate–protect kids from rotavirus induced seizures

 

H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq, a pentavalent rotavirus vaccine.
H. Fred Clark and Paul Offit, the inventors of RotaTeq, a pentavalent rotavirus vaccine.

Rotavirus is a virus that causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Rotavirus causes severe watery diarrhea, often with vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. In babies and young children, it can lead to dehydration (loss of body fluids). Globally, it causes more than a half a million deaths each year in children younger than 5 years of age. 

Prior to the launch of the rotavirus vaccine (RotaTeq® or Rotarix®) in the United States in 2006, rotavirus was the leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children. Before the vaccine became available, almost all children in the United States were infected with rotavirus before their 5th birthday. Each year, in the US, rotavirus lead to more than 400,000 doctor visits; more than 200,000 emergency room visits; 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations; and 20 to 60 deaths in children younger than 5 years of age. After the introduction and widespread use of the vaccine, a Cochrane systematic review concluded that the rotavirus vaccines may prevent up to 96% of severe diarrhea cases arising from rotavirus. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–protect kids from rotavirus induced seizures”

An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts

bsDear Anti-vaccination Cretins,

I know that your narcissism prevents you from actually participating on most online forums with highly educated scientists, because you couldn’t handle the ongoing mockery and our laughing at your special form of ignorance. But I know you read this shit, so here goes. And remember, I write at an advanced level, and I’m going to use proper terminology for pharmaceutical regulatory issues, so please keep up you dumbasses. 

If you actually have evidence that any of us are shills for any Pharmaceutical Company, please, call the FDA, because paying someone to “shill” for a pharmaceutical company would be a criminal act on the part of the company. Why? Most of the comments made by we individuals on the internet about the superior safety and superior efficacy of vaccines are unregulated and are not within proper pharmaceutical labeling. Someone working for Big pharma could never use the terms “superior” and being paid to say it would be unethical, immoral and illegal. Let me be honest, those cheapskates at Big Pharma couldn’t pay me enough money to be unethical and immoral, let alone risk going to prison for them. Hellllll no. Continue reading “An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts”

Updated: make religious vaccine exemptions more difficult to obtain

flu church vaccineA recent report indicated that US state legislatures are beginning to pass laws that make it more difficult for parents to obtain so-called personal exemptions to vaccinations before children attend public schools. According to the author, Tara Haelle, “Each US state sets its own vaccination policies, and most will not generally allow children to attend public school unless they have been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)hepatitis B; the Haemophilus influenzae bacteriummeasles, mumps and rubellapolio; and varicella (chicken pox).” In general, most states require that students meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention schedule (pdf) for children between 0 and 6 years old, which is set by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

All states allow legitimate medical exemptions from the immunization schedule before a child enters school, because of certain medical conditions that might make vaccinations problematic for young children. Some of these medical issues are: allergies to some of the components in the vaccines, immunocompromised conditions, family history of seizures, and other issues outlined in the General Recommendations on Immunization of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. These medical exemptions are extremely rare, but are very important. A licensed medical doctor is the only one that should provide this exemption. Continue reading “Updated: make religious vaccine exemptions more difficult to obtain”

Vaccines do save lives, and science can demonstrate it

If you spend any time reading the antivaccination rants, you will hear about all kinds of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, and scaremongering. Given that there is little scientific evidence that supports their beliefs, they have little choice but invent strawman arguments to make their point. One of the more amusing strategies of antivaccine cult is to claim that diseases were going away before vaccinations. These people believe, without any evidence whatsoever, that diseases like polio, measles, and chickenpox were disappearing because of better sanitation. Or better nutrition. Or something other than what really ended these diseases–vaccines. It’s a historical revisionism of a legendary level.

Admittedly, part of this belief is that people lack the cultural memory of some of these diseases. Few parents born after 1970 would remember classmates who had been stricken with polio. Few would have remember measles, mumps, or other epidemics sweeping through a school. They just don’t remember it, because vaccines introduced in the 50’s and 60’s reduced, and in the case of smallpox, eliminated the disease. Of course, there is evidence that support the theory that vaccines end diseases. But we don’t have to go back 40 or 50 years to show this happens, but we can talk about a disease that has been drastically reduced in the last few years, just because of a new vaccine.

Continue reading “Vaccines do save lives, and science can demonstrate it”

Multiple immunizations weaken immune system–Myth vs. Science

If you peruse the back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. Or if you don’t want to vaccinate your children, the information is easily available. It doesn’t take much effort on google to find websites that provide you with the . Those myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.  Continue reading “Multiple immunizations weaken immune system–Myth vs. Science”

Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption

Paul Offit, MD

After one of the worst whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemics in 70 years in Washington state, there is some good news. The New York Times has reported that the state, after passing a law that made it more challenging for a parent to get a personal exemption for a vaccination for their children, the exemption rate in Washington state has dropped by 25 percent. This is good news, because until recently Washington state was dead last in the immunization rate, or, if you like exemptions, it was number 1!

In 2011, the state’s legislature passed a law making exemptions a bit more difficult, by requiring parents to actually speak to a healthcare professional about the risks and benefits of vaccinations. That person then must sign off on the exemption. Parents who opted out of state immunization requirements for kindergartners peaked at 7.6 percent in the 2008-2009 school year, setting off alarms among public health experts in the state, according to the New York Times. Continue reading “Washington state makes it harder to get an immunization exemption”

Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) for August 24, 2012 reported that most kindergartners in the United States received their recommended vaccines for measles and other diseases during the 2011-12 school year but that unvaccinated clusters continue to pose a health risk. Overall, 47 states and DC reported 2011–12 school vaccination coverage, median MMR vaccination coverage was 94.8%, with a range of 86.8% in Colorado to 99.3% in Texas. Four states reported <90% MMR vaccination rates: Colorado, Idaho, Kansas and Pennsylvania. Continue reading “Failure of vaccine denialism–most US kindergarten students are vaccinated”

Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)

One of the larger problems of the internet (OK, there are a lot) is how science is discussed out in the world.  Google any science topic, and you’ll get thousand or millions of hits on any idea in science or medicine. The information is derived from other websites, news reports, rumors, or, to be cynical, from outright fabrication. In the fields of science and medicine, critical thinking is absolutely necessary to understanding it. Because it’s hard work, pseudoscience and anti-science have become quite prevalent lately.   Continue reading “Checking for pseudoscience in real science news (updated)”