RFK Jr vaccine denialism – other Kennedys think he’s wrong

rfk jr

We have written a lot about Robert F. Kennedy Jr in these pages. The vaccine denialism of RFK Jr is a regular topic here, and let’s just say we are not a fan of his.

We’ve written about RFK Jr and CDC patents – he’s wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and serious journalists – they ignore him

We’ve written about RFK Jr and Senator Richard Pan’s recent election to the California Senate – Senator/Dr. Pan won

We’ve written about RFK Jr attacking the esteemed Dr. Paul Offitabsolutely wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and his bad science – he was wrong again

And let’s not forget that RFK Jr begged the anti-vaccine President of the United States, Andrew Wakefield’s good friend, Donald Trump to make him the head of some idiotic vaccine safety commission – never happened. Continue reading “RFK Jr vaccine denialism – other Kennedys think he’s wrong”

Vaccine medical exemptions – California legislature aims to curb abuse

On 25 March 2019, Dr. Richard Pan, a California Senator, amended a bill he previously submitted to tighten the process of granting vaccine medical exemptions in California. The bill is a response to an increase in medical exemptions due to the willingness of some physicians to sell unjustified vaccine medical exemptions to misguided anti-vaccine parents. If it passes, it can help curb abuses. Continue reading “Vaccine medical exemptions – California legislature aims to curb abuse”

Richard Pan wins re-election despite Robert F Kennedy Jr anti-vaccine ad

Richard Pan

For those living under a rock ( about which, I’d have to ask “why?”), the USA had its so-called mid-term elections, which are state and Federal elections that happen at the halfway point of the US President’s term. Unfortunately, instead of the blue wave, we got more of a blue ripple, where the Democrats barely won the House, with positive and negative results for Team Blue across the country. In California, there was one state Senate election that was interesting to many of us, the re-election of Richard Pan who is a staunch supporter of vaccines.

Dr. Pan is not only a pediatrician but also is a Democrat who represents the 6th Senate District, located in Sacramento, CA. For those you who don’t follow California politics, Dr. Pan was the prime sponsor of SB277, which eliminated the abused personal belief exemptions for vaccines. The law essentially mandated vaccines for children entering school, and it has greatly increased vaccine uptake for school-aged children in California.

SB277 still allowed for medical exemptions, which are exemptions that are medically necessary such as allergies or immune disorders. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccine crowd has abused this “loophole” by buying, in many cases, medical exemptions from unscrupulous individuals.

Dr. (or is it Senator) Richard Pan has been targeted by the anti-vaccine crowd many times for his support of mandatory vaccination. They have even resorted to vile and disgusting racist attacks against him. It has even reached a level of violent hate speech that seems to be common in US politics these days.

But Richard Pan has stood his ground on vaccine mandates, and he continues to be a strong proponent of children’s health issues. And that includes vaccines.

Just prior to the election, Robert F Kennedy Jr, a science-denying and anti-vaccine nutjob Democrat In Name Only, decided to attack Richard Pan in a very expensive advertisement which ran in the Sacramento area. RFK Jr has gone off the deep end lately, not only running this ad against a fellow liberal Democrat but also attacking the integrity and ethics of one of the most respected physicians in medical research. Kennedy subscribes to pseudoscience and false information about vaccines to further his agenda. And let’s not forget, he genuflected to Donald Trump in a lame attempt to create a vaccine safety commission.

Yeah, I think RFK Jr is a black mark on the Kennedy name.

Well, none of this nonsense mattered in the election. Richard Pan won his California State Senate seat 68-32% over an anti-vaccine independent, Eric Frame. Admittedly, Senate District 6 is overwhelmingly Democratic – Hillary Clinton won the district by about the same amount over Donald Trump in 2016.

Richard Pan wasn’t the only pro-vaccine candidate that mattered, but as a California citizen who thinks that protecting young children from vaccine-preventable diseases is a critical healthcare issue, I felt that the re-election of Dr. Pan was a great thing for the state.

Congratulations to Richard Pan. I hope he goes far in California politics (if we’re lucky, there may be a US Senate position open in California in 2020, hint hint).

And to Robert F Kennedy Jr. – you’re a science denier and traitor to progressive politics. You’re in bed with Republicans which include in their membership avowed science deniers and vaccine haters, Donald Trump and Rand Paul. Kindly remove your cranium from your colon. Please.

Of course, the anti-vaxxers are whining about Richard Pan and other pro-vaccine Democrats winning yesterday. I’m laughing. Although I wish the rest of Team Blue had done a bit better.

Constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations – Robert F Kennedy Jr. is wrong

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or are just generally aware of current issues regarding vaccinations, you know that Governor Jerry Brown of California signed SB 277 into law. The law removes so-called “personal belief exemptions” for vaccinating children before they enter schools.

Personal belief exemptions were used (and frequently abused) by parents in California to exempt their children from vaccinations using religious beliefs (hardly any mainstream religion is opposed to vaccinations) or the “I don’t like vaccines” belief statement. So many California children were not fully vaccinated, especially when they were clustered in certain areas of the state, lead to several outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, and other infectious diseases.

Thus, the California Senate, led by Senator and Dr. Richard Pan, voted for SB 277, which sailed through the California Senate and Assembly, subsequently becoming law. Its sole purpose was to protect the children of California, the country’s most populous and wealthiest state, from ravages of diseases that were once on the verge of extinction.

Despite the overwhelming support from the legislature and citizens of the state, some groups remain steadfastly opposed. One trope being pushed is doubts about the constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations for children.

Even a group of lawyers wrote a letter to the California legislature, “Statement of Lawyers Opposed to California SB 277,” that tries to deny the constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations for children. The letter concludes:

…we strongly urge you to decline the temptation to tamper with California’s legislative scheme that works to achieve public health objectives while protecting the rights of individuals to make conscientious medical decisions regarding their own health.

Please take the responsible course by rejecting SB 277 and avoiding the legal, educational, and health decision-making chaos that would follow from enactment of this legislation.

The letter is signed by over 150 attorneys but appeared to be written by one Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, a famous attorney with a long history of playing “fast and loose” with the science regarding vaccines. Last month, this blog’s good friend, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who spends most of her time (as far as I can tell) writing about legal issues with vaccines, replied to Kennedy’s letter with real science, real constitutional law, and real facts.

Continue reading “Constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations – Robert F Kennedy Jr. is wrong”

Medical exemptions for vaccines after California SB277 – article review

medical exemptions

In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB277 into law, which eliminated all personal belief exemptions, but still allowed valid medical exemptions, for vaccinations before children enter school. It was considered a public health triumph. Despite a multitude of lawsuits, the law has stood, while impressively increasing the vaccination rate in the state.

California state Sen. Richard J. Pan, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, led a hard-fought legislative battle against vaccine opponents to pass the law. He had to put up with racist attacks and public confrontations during and after the battle to pass SB277.

Despite the public health importance of mandatory vaccines for children entering school, some California families are utilizing false or questionable medical claims to jump through loopholes to not vaccinate their children. I have been advocating, along with many others, that California needs to close these loopholes, possibly by having public health experts review all medical exemptions before school children are allowed to enter school. This isn’t to force vaccinations on children, but to protect all children from dangerous, sometimes deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases.

In a new study by Salini Mohanty et al., published in Pediatrics, the authors examined the experiences of public health officials and immunization staffs that addressed requests for medical exemptions under SB277. Continue reading “Medical exemptions for vaccines after California SB277 – article review”

Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority

There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.

One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.

For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show a population-level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.

Now the anti-vaccine world has a new hero – Tetyana Obukhanych. Continue reading “Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority”

California needs a tougher vaccine mandate – many fraudulent exemptions

vaccine mandate

California lawmakers took major steps in 2015 to push more school-aged children to have all of the required vaccinations necessary to reduce the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. This vaccine mandate, established by California SB277 sponsored by state Senator, and pediatrician, Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. The law specifically barred parents from utilizing personal belief exemption as a basis to refuse to have their children vaccinated.

The vaccine mandate had a very quick pay off. In 2017, the state Department of Public Health reported that the vaccine uptake was around 95.6% of kindergartners, the highest seen in California since the 2001-2002 school year. The uptake rate had increased, as of 2017, 5.2 percentage points from 2015, prior to SB277.

Continue reading “California needs a tougher vaccine mandate – many fraudulent exemptions”

Irrational anti-vaccine anger – we keep seeing this offensive behavior

anti-vaccine anger

Recently, I called the anti-vaccine mob a religion, because it shows many signs of being a religion from faith-based beliefs to a “clergy” that proselytizes about the evils of vaccines. And we can observe the same level of hatred pushed by some extremist religions in the irrational anti-vaccine anger, racism, and physical threats. It can be scary.

Many of us have observed this hatred in person, on social media, and in threatening emails. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss,  Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who writes frequently on this website about issues regarding vaccine public policy and laws, is a frequent target of vile personal attacks. Many of those attacks are overtly sexist, racist, and anti-Semitic. It is a disgusting display of anti-vaccine anger and hate speech. The anti-vaccine religion should be ashamed, but as far as I can tell, they have no shame.

If you paid any attention whatsoever to the efforts to pass California’s SB277 in 2015, which requires parents to vaccinate children before they can enroll in public or private schools (except for valid medical exemptions), you would know that the law was led by California State Senator, Dr. Richard Pan. During the process, and long after the bill was passed and signed into law, Senator Pan has been subject to physical threats and withering personal attacks, which included reprehensible and immoral racist-tinged attacks on his ethnic heritage. If anything shows off anti-vaccine anger and racism, this does. Continue reading “Irrational anti-vaccine anger – we keep seeing this offensive behavior”

Senator Richard Pan responds calmly to anti-vaccine radical

Senator Richard Pan

California State Senator Richard Pan is a physician who was instrumental in leading the charge for SB277, the law that eliminated personal belief exemptions to vaccinations by California school age children. Senator or Dr. Pan, your choice I presume, has been dedicated to the health of children in the state of California, sponsoring bills that attempt to improve the healthcare of children across the state.

Unless you’re a vaccine denier, SB277 has been an unmitigated success. Vaccination rates have skyrocketed across the state, meaning more children are protected from deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. Dr. Pan deserves a statue in the Hall of Vaccine Heroes, which should include Edward Jenner, Paul Offit, Jonas Salk, and Maurice Hilleman. He’s probably too modest to accept such an honor.

Unfortunately, Senator Richard Pan has been the target of violent hateful racism and withering personal attacks across social media. He seems to either ignore it, or like many of us, just stand up to these attacks with reasoned, evidence-based arguments. Not that the vaccine deniers are capable of listening to reason or evidence.

Recently, Dr. Pan was accosted by an anti-vaccine crackpot at an airport in Orange County, CA. She videoed the encounter, despite being asked by Dr. Pan to not do so. Well, let’s look at the video, especially Dr. Pan’s responses, which were calm, professional, and accurate. Continue reading “Senator Richard Pan responds calmly to anti-vaccine radical”

California vaccine uptake – big increase because of new law

California vaccine uptake

About two years ago, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed SB277 into law, which mandated that all school age children must have all vaccines appropriate for their age before they could enter private or public schools. The law nearly eliminated the ability to get personal belief exemptions (PBE), which allowed parents to object to vaccinations for almost any reason. The new law does allow for medical exemptions, that is, children who have some medical condition that contraindicates a vaccine may be exempted from these rules. As a result of this law, it was predicted that the California vaccine uptake for school age children would increase substantially, while reducing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases.

Those of us who have been keen observers and supporters of SB277 were hoping for the best – that the vaccination rate in the state would show increases quickly. And it did.

Data released this week (pdf), from the California Department of Public Health, showed an exceptional increase in the percentage of California’s kindergarteners who were fully vaccinated (for their age group) – it rose from 92.8% to 95.6%. But, there’s even more astonishing data underneath that. With the advent of the new law, 97.3% of California’s kindergartners have received both MMR vaccinations, up from 94.5% in 2016 and 92.6% in 2014. The same was shown for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine – it went from 94.2% in 2015 to 96.9% in 2016. There should be cheering in the streets of California for the success of SB277.

The increase in vaccine uptake for all mandated vaccines is dramatic – not only does it show that SB277 has stemmed the overuse of personal belief exemptions that was slowly reducing California vaccine uptake, but it also has increased that uptake to levels far above historical. This graph illustrates how well the law has worked in a short period of time:

California vaccine uptake

The best part of the law is that it’s increasing vaccine uptake in areas of the state where the overuse of PBEs was pushing the vaccination rate down. Most California’s counties have vaccination rates above 95%, which is considered the level at which the herd effect for measles vaccinations prevent the rapid spreading of the disease. Furthermore, only 4 relatively small counties in California have rates below 90%.

California vaccine uptake

California state Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who is also a pediatrician and who was one of the primary supporters of SB277, tweeted out “Great News.” Obviously he’s ecstatic with this data on California vaccine uptake across the state.

Dr. Pan was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, and said,

Measles certainly hasn’t gone away. We need to be sure to have our immunization levels high enough. The fact that this class and the state overall has now achieved this level is one further step to restore the community immunity we had before.

He also noted that the data shows the significant increase in very young children, kindergartners. He mentioned that there are still significant number of older children who are not vaccinated because of the lax requirements in previous vaccine laws, which made PBEs very easy to get. SB277 also requires 7th graders to be completely up-t0-date on their vaccines, so all children should eventually be caught up with their vaccines. Unfortunately, many students who have passed that 7th grade vaccination checkpoint may be insufficiently vaccinated. Or not vaccinated at all.

The University of California (UC) system has stated that it will require vaccines for all new enrollees at its 10 campuses (along with the UC Hastings College of Law which has decided to comply with the UC requirements). Like the state law, it eliminates all personal belief exemptions, but does allow medical ones. Eventually, this mandate will cover the over 230,000 students in the system.

The anti-vaccine forces have tried several tactics to block implementation of the new law. Opponents of SB277 filed a lawsuit last summer claiming the law violated California children’s right to an education under the state’s Constitution. A judge denied their demand for an injunction against the law –  the plaintiffs eventually withdrew their case. These opponents also failed to gather enough signatures last year to put a referendum on the November ballot to overturn the law.

There are reasons to cheer all of this news out of California regarding immunization rates. But that’s just one state, albeit the largest and arguably the most influential state in the country. Other than California, only two other states have laws that have eliminated personal belief exemptions for immunizations – Mississippi and West Virginia, both of which have high vaccine uptake. And the easy availability of personal belief exemptions have lead many states to have vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine that are far below the 95% target. This graphic shows which states have significant deviations from the 95% standard for MMR vaccine (thanks to BuzzFeed News):

Sadly, it may not be possible for a lot of states to copy California’s success with vaccines. One of the worst performing states for the MMR vaccine is Colorado, and, according to BuzzFeed News,

Vaccine advocates in Colorado are envious of their counterparts in California. “We are watching California very closely, and kudos to them for getting that bill through,” Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, told BuzzFeed News.

She believes it would be very difficult to enact similar legislation in Colorado, which has libertarian conservatives who reject government mandates on vaccines, as well as liberal enclaves like Boulder where many parents seek out alternative health care and see vaccines as a tool of Big Pharma.

Libertarian conservatives and liberals on the same side of the fence on vaccines? The problem with both groups is that they ignore the health of children just to be “politically virtuous” about vaccines. Except they are scientifically and medically wrong.

So let’s give an ovation for hard working politicians of California, who decided that the health of the state’s children was the paramount consideration for vaccinations. Dr. Pan and many other state legislators decided that the most effective way of increasing the California vaccine uptake was to reduce the availability of personal belief exemptions. And they were right – California’s immunization rate has increased appreciably because of SB277.

Vaccines save lives.