The old Skeptical Raptor took a bit of a break to recharge their batteries to tackle all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 1 – the queen of the false authority of the anti-vaxxers – Tetyana Obukhanych.
One of their favorite pseudoscientists of the anti-vaccine religion is Tetyana Obukhanych, someone who appears to have great credentials. Unfortunately, once you dig below the surface of her claims, there is no credible evidence in support.
One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccine movement is their over-reliance on false authorities – they overrate publications (often in worthless predatory journals) or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really isn’t close to being a real vaccine scientist.
Nevertheless, credentials don’t matter – an “authority” on vaccines must follow the evidence that vaccines are safe and effective unless those “authorities” can provide robust, peer-reviewed, published evidence that vaccines aren’t. Someone like Tetyana Obukhanych almost never does.
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.
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss – Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA) – is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines (generally, but sometimes moving to other areas of medicine), social policy and the law. Her articles usually unwind the complexities of legal issues with vaccinations and legal policies, such as mandatory vaccination and exemptions, with facts and citations.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination–she really is a well-published expert in this area of vaccine policy, and doesn’t stand on the pulpit with a veneer of Argument from Authority, but is actually an authority. 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.
Many bloggers and commenters on vaccine issues will link to one or more of her articles here as a primary source to counter an anti-vaccine claim. The purpose of this post is to give you a quick reference to find the right article to answer a question you might have.
Below is a list of articles that Dorit Rubinstein Reiss has written for this blog, organized into some arbitrary and somewhat broad categories for easy reference. This article will be updated as new articles from Professor Reiss are published here. We also may update and add categories as necessary.
On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety.
The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well-grounded.
A new poll from the LA Times and conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies shows that Californians support vaccine laws. These laws mandate vaccines for students entering public or private schools while restricting the ability of some physicians to abuse the medical exemptions allowed in the original 2015 California bill, SB277.
During summer 2019, two new laws, SB276 and SB714, which restrict abuse of medical exemptions through a loophole in the original 2015 bill, were passed by the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom.
According to the new laws, in 2020, the state will review medical exemptions by physicians who have written five or more medical waivers and at schools with a vaccination rate below 95%. In a compromise between the Governor and legislature, the new laws say that the state can only reject medical exemptions issued after 31 December 2019, unless that physician has been disciplined by the Medical Board of California.
In addition, all medical exemptions written by these physicians who have been disciplined can be invalidated.
As expected, the anti-vaccine zealots showed their nasty side by pushing violence against Dr. Richard Pan, odd racist metaphors, and all-around weird behavior. Because of their loud voices, you’d think that they were the majority opinion.
On Monday, 9 September 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB276 and SB714 which restricts California vaccine medical exemptions. These laws were necessary to deal with the rampant abuse of SB277, the 2015 law that eliminated personal belief exemptions for vaccinations prior to children entering school.
On September 5, 2019, Attorney Leigh Dundas, representing an organization called Advocates for Physician Rights, held an anti-vaccine press conference attended by very little press, and organized by anti-vaccine activists.
Ms. Dundas called for a Department of Justice investigation into what she described as a “multi-year campaign to override laws aimed to safeguard the privacy of minor children,” and made accusations of a cover-up. Note that the Department of Justice receives many and constant calls for actions, so just calling them to investigate means little without actually pointing to serious wrongdoing that justifies it. Ms. Dundas did not point to such wrongdoing.
The anti-vaccine press conference addressed efforts in the early days after the enactment of SB277 to address an emerging issue – fake medical exemptions. But in spite of the efforts to present this as a new discovery or a nefarious plot, it isn’t.
In fact, SB277 opponents knew of the efforts in early 2016 and responded in an aggressive fashion, targeting Dr. Charity Dean, who took the lead in them, with many personal attacks and inclusion in one of their lawsuits. There is also no real evidence of anything nefarious. There is, however, abundant evidence that fake medical exemptions were an issue in 2016 and onwards, and SB276 is directed at a real problem. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine press conference about California’s SB276 – checking facts”
The California legislature advanced SB276, sending it to Governor Gavin Newsom for his signature. SB276 would crackdown on unethical medical exemptions for vaccines, which the anti-vaccine religion has abused in response to SB277, a 2015 law that eliminated personal belief exemptions to vaccination for children entering school.
On 3 September 2019, the bill passed by an overwhelming 47-17 vote in the strongly Democratic-controlled Assembly. It was sent to the California Senate, which previously passed the bill but the Assembly added amendments that required a revote. On 4 September, the California Senate approved the bill by another overwhelming 28-11 vote.
In response to the vote, the anti-vaccine nutjobs utilized their predictable litany pseudoscientific and illogical rhetoric making all kinds of laughable claims. Along with a few hate-filled violent metaphors, of course.
Dr. Pan seemed to be walking peacefully at the time, not engaging the abhorrent behavior by Bennett during the walk. Dr. Pan appeared to be taken by surprise by the assault since he has had many documented experiences with anti-vaccine crackpots over the years – here’s one where he is verbally assaulted by a woman who claims to be a physician (she’s not, another typical lie from the anti-vaxxers).
Lucky for everyone involved, Dr. Pan was unharmed.
Dr. Pan has been at the forefront of pro-vaccine legislation in California for the past 5 years. He was instrumental in passing SB277, which eliminated personal belief exemptions to vaccinations. SB277 has been instrumental in increasing the vaccination rate in school children in California, which will protect them from dangerous and deadly diseases.
He also has been driving a new law, SB276, which will attempt to reduce the abuse in medical exemptions to vaccines. This abuse has led to a slight downtick in the vaccine uptake in California, and the new legislation will make it more difficult for physicians to write (usually for cold hard cash) fake exemptions for anti-vaccine parents.
As a result, Dr. Pan has been subject to constant harassment, including vile racist memes, a political ad from anti-vaccine crackpot (and fellow Democrat) Robert F Kennedy Jr, and the usual list of logical fallacies and misinformation from the anti-vaccine religion.
When Bennett assaulted Richard Pan, it was just a culmination of the hate-filled rhetoric and violent actions of anti-vaxxers. This is why I have compared the anti-vaccine zealots with pro-gun nuts. They think that violence is their only choice.
Just read some of the more vile comments posted on Bennett’s Facebook page after posting his video (not sure why Facebook doesn’t take it down, but then again Facebook has shown no interest in stopping racism, neo-Nazism, or anything else).
To be fair, some of the comments condemned his actions, but they should have been much more pointed.
Richard Pan is a pediatrician and progressive legislator. His loves children and wants to protect them from diseases that he knows, using his scientific background, education, and experience, will cause grievous harm to the children of California.
I do worry about the violent, racist rhetoric of the anti-vaccine nut jobs. My friend Dorit Rubinstein Reiss was supposed to present at a forum at Loma Linda University in August 2019, but it was canceled because of fear of disruption by the anti-vaxxers.
Let’s be clear about something – Kenneth Austin Bennett assaulted Richard Pan because he had nothing else. He had no science supporting his beliefs. He had no logic. He had nothing, so violence was all he had.
On the other hand, you do not read about pro-vaccine, pro-science people assaulting anyone. You never rarely (if ever) read a comment from a pro-vaccine, pro-science person threatening violence. Because the science and the facts about vaccines are on our side, we don’t have to resort to lies, racist, or violence.
Then again, we don’t generally don’t employ the hateful and violent rhetoric of the right-wing, irrespective of vaccines and science. The fact that Bennett assaulted Richard Pan should be roundly and clearly condemned by every anti-vaxxer – yet all we hear is nothing.
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The bill still allows for legitimate medical exemptions (like immunocompromised children who need to be protected through the herd effect). Of course, Senator Pan is now pushing through legislation in the form of SB276 to reduce the abuse of the medical exemptions by many physicians with dubious excuses.
In fact, the California Medical Board had put one of the more famous anti-vaccine pediatricians, Dr. Bob Sears, on probation for abusing vaccine medical exemptions and other issues. In 2016, the Executive Director of the Medical Board of California, represented by the office of the California Attorney General, then headed by Kamala Harris, brought a complaint against Dr. Sears (pdf).
And in June 2019, a complaint against Dr. Sears was brought by Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the Medical Board of California, which alleges that Sears signed vaccine medical exemptions for two siblings. Those children did not have medically-recognized contraindications for any vaccines, based on their medical records.
Dr. Sears is merely the tip of a huge iceberg of physicians and other medical professionals signing off on fake medical exemptions – many of these physicians charge exorbitant fees for this “service.” There are several Facebook groups where anti-vax parents share information about these physicians who lack any concern for the long-term health of children.
As a result of this ongoing abuse, the California legislature proposed SB276, which puts some stricter controls on medical exemptions. Essentially, SB276 states that the physician writing the exemption would have to submit a copy to the California Department of Health, and the department would create a system to review medical exemptions from schools with less than 95% immunization rates or doctors who submitted more than 5 exemptions.
SB276 won’t eliminate all abuse, but it should help.