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Vaccines & Trumpism

"A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That's the way your hard-core Commie works." General Jack D. Ripper, in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove

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Let's talk about vaccines for a bit — even though doing so in public forums always risks going down a rabbit hole of anti-science, conspiracy theories, and endless random nuttiness.

That doesn't happen in truly scientific and medical forums, as such people are trained to look at evidence and draw conclusions from there. And the conclusions are conclusive — that vaccines have saved so many lives that they are one of the top discoveries of human history and that the downsides of them, in terms of some negative reactions, do exist but are utterly dwarfed by the collective benefits.

Yet controversy continues in some circles (understatement of the week, that). This has always been true — reading objective histories of vaccination reveals an ongoing theme of emotional objection going back centuries now — but in the past couple of decades the objection has been fired up by the wholly-discredited autism non-link to vaccines, new laws requiring some vaccines for school kids, and now by, of course, Donald Trump and his seemingly random Tourette's-like talk of putative vaccine problems.

Trump apparently has considered creation of a vaccine commission, including or even chaired by Robert Kennedy Jr., an attorney who has done great environmental work but who has no scientific training and has started from wholly erroneous scientific misinformation on his own statements on the topic (and had one of his own articles withdrawn due to such falsehoods). Kennedy announced he would serve but Trump's people said, no, not so fast. Anti-vaccine people jump at Kennedy's endorsements though, and at the prospect of such a panel, even though existing such groups at the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already exist and follow a scientifically rigorous and open process to evaluate all aspects of vaccine safety. (and yes, anti-vaxxers cooked up a so-called "whistleblower" scandal at the CDC, also fully discredited — even by the supposed whistleblower). But if you don't like what the real expert consensus is, go find somebody of your own liking, with little or no relevant expertise — that seems to be the Trump model in general.

It makes a perverse sense that Trump might embrace anti-vaccine views, given that he also rejects climate science consensus, seeks to destroy all environmental regulations, and gut healthcare itself. In 2012, Trump tweeted (of course) that vaccines constitute "doctor-inflicted autism." He's met with the guy who reignited the modern anti-vaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield, a man so scientifically and ethically challenged that his research was judged fraudulent and unethical, then withdrawn, his medical license stripped, and the fact revealed that he had big financial interests in what he was doing, with his writing sponsored by attorneys who planned to sue vaccine makers. But he attended one of Trump's inaugural balls, where he no doubt fit right in. At least two other of the most-mentioned anti-vaccine "researchers" have similar histories of withdrawn papers and financial conflicts.  But they still publish in the growing number of bogus journals where anybody can pay to get their so-called "research" out there to fool the gullible. And these are the guys who say "big pharma" and the entire medical and public health professions are corrupt about vaccines. The irony here is monstrously huge.

Now, I'm no fan of the pharmaceutical industry's marketing and other practices, and some of my work is focused on the problems of toxic chemicals, but again, vaccines are non-controversial not only in scientific circles, but among the majority of the public; a recent PEW survey shows that 82 percent of Americans support requiring students in public schools to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella, at a minimum, with almost nine of out ten saying the benefits outweigh any risks. Not only that, but in these fractured times, Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to support a school-based vaccine requirement — how often does that happen?

The pollsters note that among those most opposed to vaccines, "low scientific background"/lower educational levels in general and non-white ethnicity are factors. The former is obvious, and overlaps the latter in many cases. Among the latter, distrust of authority in general and healthcare systems in particular are factors, and have often been justified — but not with respect to vaccines. But it's an interesting fact that anti-vaccine sentiment (that's what it is) is somewhat "U-shaped" with respect to socioeconomic status — the poorer and richer are more susceptible to this infection, for various reasons. "New age" and organic-types can be more likely to suspect vaccines, while also being willing to pay for and ingest all sorts of untested and unproven "supplements" — which, unlike vaccines, have been shown to include items like rat feces, lead, and so on, and perhaps to smoke pot laced with pesticides and other unknown but demonstrably unhealthy substances.

Controversy in California has been heightened by a new law requiring kids to be vaccinated to enter public school, absent valid medical exemptions (not "personal belief" ones). A small vocal group protested loudly that this was "forcing" kids to be stuck with needles and toxics; but actually, it just forces parents to make responsible choices, as nobody is going to hold a kid down to vaccinate them. But the state senator who authored the bill, a pediatrician, was subject to death threats and a recall effort that was so feeble it went nowhere.

Meanwhile, resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases in various areas are increasingly tied to more people foregoing vaccination for kids and sometimes themselves. No amount of both biological and epidemiological evidence seems to convince those with a PBF (Precious Bodily Fluid) conspiracy mindset. But, just for the heck of it, here is the conclusion of the most recent sweeping analysis of research, published in Canada in January:

We identified over 50,000 publications, but after ineligible studies were screened out, 315 articles remained. Most of these studies examined physiological factors, followed closely by chemical factors, and to a much lesser extent, nutritional and social factors, associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Despite a vast literature and many heterogeneous studies, several risk factors emerged consistently: chemical factors such as traffic-related air pollutants; physiological factors including advanced parental age, preterm birth, low birth weight, hyperbilirubinemia and clustering of pregnancy complications; and maternal immigrant status. Despite extensive research on vaccines, findings overwhelmingly demonstrate no support for an association with ASD.

Note that — NO link between vaccines and autism. Zero. But — notably — consistent links with air pollution and some more personalized factors. There is vast research underway regarding autism factors, with vaccination now discarded as one of them. Pollution, though, as noted, remains in the running. Anti-vaccine advocates concerned about autism could do much better by focusing on industrial and chemical pollution, regulation thereof, and the like — factors all likely to become much worse, or at least harder to deal with, under Trump (especially if he vanquishes the EPA).

This is not to say there are NO risks.  As a National Academy of Sciences report in 2011 noted, "An analysis of more than 1,000 research articles concluded that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines. A committee of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine to review the scientific literature on possible adverse effects of vaccines found convincing evidence of 14 health outcomes -- including seizures, inflammation of the brain, and fainting -- that can be caused by certain vaccines, although these outcomes occur rarely."

A new report in JAMA notes "Vaccines are extremely safe and harm is rare. Worldwide, more than 30,000 vaccine doses are delivered per second through routine immunization programs, which, in turn, prevent an estimated 2 million to 3 million deaths annually. The occurrence of serious adverse events, such as those that result in death, threaten life, require inpatient hospitalization, or result in significant disability, are rare (eg, <1 adverse event occurs per 10 million doses for tetanus toxoid vaccines, 1-2 adverse events per 1 million doses for inactivated influenza vaccine, and none for hepatitis A").

That's safer than just about any medical or other intervention extant. But the authors still endorse a global vaccine injury compensation system to pay for those rare negative impacts — a system now existing to some degree in some places — and misconstrued by anti-vaxxers as tacit admittance that vaccines are dangerous -which can only be argued from a point of statistical ignorance.

350 medical, public health, and yes, autism organizations just wrote to Trump urging him to follow real science and not alarmist conspiracy theories. They included many references and other resources; hopefully somebody in the White House might read it to him (since he's proudly says he doesn't read much, not that this wasn't already obvious). But he should also be read a new article by journalist Laurie Garrett, who first became renowned in 1995 with her book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. She also wrote a book on anthrax and articles on ebola and bioterrorism and earned a Pulitzer. In January, the journal Foreign Policy published a scathing piece of hers titled Donald Trump and the Anti-Vaxxer Conspiracy Theorists. A few excerpts follow, but the entire piece deserves reading:

Things are getting down and dirty now. And millions of lives are at stake. I cannot possibly state strongly enough how dangerous it is that President-elect Donald Trump has embraced the notion that vaccination is the cause of autism...

I bitterly recall walking through pediatric wards in northern Tanzania in 1983, filled to capacity with tiny children, covered in measles rash, fighting for their lives.... But since 2000, measles vaccination has spared 17.1 million children's lives. If worldwide contributions to vaccine efforts stay on course, the combined impact of all immunizations from 2011 to 2020 will be 23.3 million lives saved, most of them babies...

Trump should know that the most virulent anti-vaccine force on Earth is the Taliban, which has executed, bombed, kidnapped, and maimed about 10 times more polio vaccinators in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2005 than there are children who have contracted polio. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has blocked immunizers and spawned outbreaks of polio and measles...

Mumps outbreaks are cropping up all over the USA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measles caseloads are also increasing, and more than half are linked to parents' refusal to vaccinate. Whooping cough, or pertussis, is soaring across America – another disease prevented with proper vaccination...

Vaccine-refusal rates are highest in American communities of wealth, such as Marin County, California. Those school districts are most likely to have elected boards of education that offer families opportunities to opt out of immunization, while still enrolling their youngsters to sit with other children in the classroom... 

They are, of course, wrong. Unimmunized children are already growing up, going to college, and falling victim to whooping cough, measles, mumps, and other microbes lurking in their dormitories, gyms, and elsewhere... 

Taking any steps that lend credence to the anti-vaxxers' conspiratorial fears will only prompt more parents to resist giving their children the same life-saving treatments as were given to them, decades ago. Shame on anybody who would dream of putting children's lives at risk, all over the world, for the sake of political expediency or the fears of rich white people.

Strong words. But true ones, too. Somebody should inject them into the awareness of our so-called President.


  1. Mark Wax February 16, 2017

    “Vaccines Are Unavoidably Unsafe”
    Don’t take my word for it. These are the words of Justice Scalia in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, LLC in a Supreme Court decision in 2011. Unfortunately, due to the protections afforded the vaccine maker in the National Childhood Vaccine Act of 1986, the Court ruled against a vaccine injured plaintiff in the case. How?
    In the 1980s, children were having adverse reactions to the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine. Lots of lawsuits were being filed against docs and vaccine manufacturers. This caused the pharmaceutical industry to threaten pulling out of the vaccine market, and the alarm bells rang that the nation’s health and safety were at risk. Why were vaccine manufacturers getting ready to take their ball and go home? Because vaccines fall into a class of products considered “unavoidably unsafe.” I am not kidding you. This “unavoidable” word comes from the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act itself “products which, in the present state of human knowledge, are quite incapable of being made safe.”
    In 1986, Congress decided on a way to compensate folks for these avoidable injuries and death. It is called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. From 2001 until 2011 the program has compensated about 2500 families a total of $2 billion. There has been close to $4 billion paid to date since inception. But, that represents only a small fraction of those who actually brought claims to the Vaccine Court. You see, there is a 36 month window to bring the claim. There is no “tolling” granted for minors, unlike all the Civil Courts in the U.S. Guess what? Neurological injuries may not present in infants for long after 36 months. Furthermore, who knows how many cases were never brought by attorneys on behalf of a vaccine injured child, because the statute of limitations ran out?
    Don’t let anyone tell you that vaccines don’t cause injury. They have, they do and they will do so in the future. For years, Thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vials. While still proclaiming it “safe”, vaccine makers “voluntarily” removed Thimerosal. It is still present in trace amounts and in flu vaccine. Thimerosal was never approved by the FDA, as the patents predated the establishment of said regulations. Worried?
    With nearly 6,000 cases pending the USCFC held the “Omnibus Autism Hearings.” They decided not to make “autism” a “table injury.” How convenient. Since there would never be enough money to pay for all who claim an “autism” injury. But, there have been many cases compensated for “encephalopathy” as a diagnosis with reference to autism. You can read it:
    For the record, I am not “anti-vaccine.” Both of my children were fully vaccinated. Unfortunately for us, our son was neurologically disabled by vaccines. It is indisputable, yet the government and the vaccine makers still think that there is a “greater good” to be served. They may be right. But, let’s not fool ourselves. Vaccines can be made safer. It is about money.

    • Harvey Reading February 18, 2017

      Scalia? Really? Thank goodness, he’s good and dead.

      • Mark Wax February 18, 2017

        I was not a fan of Scalia. In fact, I pointed this out as part of the “irony” of using the “unsafe” to rule in favor of Wyeth.

  2. Jim Updegraff February 16, 2017

    Not getting vaccinations for your children is child abuse.

  3. Whyte Owen February 17, 2017

    Childhood vaccination rates in industrial countries vary between 95% and 98%, which equals the likelihood that a child with autism, or any other condition, developed it after receiving a vaccine. Not even math, just arithmetic.

    Not vaccinating children is not just child abuse, it is a form of assault against the general public health.

  4. Eric Sunswheat February 19, 2017

    Trump believes that his youngest son Barron, was adversely affected by a round of vaccines. That is where his interest stems from, a personal experience. Hope you all that parrot the vaccine cartel, are sincere in your belief, and are making sure your offspring are being set up for the 300 injections coming down the pipeline, along with the current mercury flu vaccine being injected to many pregnant women. I could prepare a media news clippings collage on vaccine news truths that are filtering through the world media in the last week where Gates attended, and also where RFK Jr. was, but you guys are bent on lock step. We can have a multi-generational impact pandemic in slo mo by vaccine injection, while me and the billionaires are off, munching on Marin Grassfed Burgers in San Anselmo.

  5. sohumlily February 20, 2017

    I’ve had a family member affected , too. It took years to get a diagnosis, and by then, of course, it was too late to hold the pharmaceutical company responsible (see Mark Wax’s post above).

    How many vaccines are required for children under 5 these days? Waaaaaay more than were required when my family member was harmed. (He lives in a group home and is a ward of the state; has been since he was a teenager.)

    Humans and their hubris will kill us all yet.

    • Mark Wax February 20, 2017

      Sir or Madam,… feel free to review Wax v Aventis: et al. Then see Wax v. H.H.S. You may reproduce all, as it is part of public record. See how we were denied due process of law, first by the “Lilly rider” attached to the Homeland Security Bill in 2002 and subsequently denied “tolling” rights in the USCFC. Where do I go to get my son’s life back?

      • sohumlily February 20, 2017

        I’m so sorry, Mr. Wax, for your pain and frustration. Life just sucks sometimes and is most definitely not fair. I know in my case, I have learned tons and have grown in ways others who are more sheltered by good fortune will never do. But even they have their ‘crosses’ to bear….this being human thing is tricky.

        Best wishes to you and your family.

    • sohumlily February 20, 2017

      The source tells all.

      WP??? you gotta be kidding

      Does it not strike you as a bit creepy to be *mandated* by law, to make your children go thru a traumatic, INVASIVE procedure, (how many times before the age of 5???) that financially benefits giant, greed driven CORPORATIONS who lie all the time about their motivations and honorability? And then to have the court system PROTECT those corporations from damages caused by their MANDATED invasions?

      Huh. Sheep. Who only see what they want to see unless something goes awry in their own in-person experience.

      • sohumlily February 20, 2017

        Medical care; 3rd leading cause of death in the US.

        I myself am dealing with severe iatrogenic damage caused by following ‘treatment’ as per various physicians, who are suppose to go by the old saw, “First, do no harm”.

        Yeah, why are there so many of us ‘wing-nuts’ out here, raining on your parade?

    • Mark Wax February 20, 2017

      Except of course for the children compensated by the VICP with “encephalopathy”,…. which jo so happens to also result in a diagnosis of autism by their physicians. Why bother to count the thousands barred from making claims or the tens of thousands who cannot obtain legal representation because the arbitrary 36 month statute of limitations with no tolling set up by the USCFC, just suffer silently. Yea sure, safe, but not for those families destroyed forever.

  6. Eric Sunswheat February 20, 2017

    You may be a student or victim of manufactured consent. Keep the blinders on. The evolution will not be televised. Don’t look at the statistical situational framework on vaccine industry support, which manipulates the outcome of safety studies, with two variables, not one as required in any other field of statistics. The true research heroes and heroines have often been vilified and outcast, but there are notable exceptions you won’t read in the Washington Post. It’s not worth the wasted breath on your blinded vision. Can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Vaccine up, among the disposable dispossessed, but not in my unvaccinated immunological nutrition resistant community with your mandate. Imagine, that the unvaccinated are a threat to your over vacccinated ass. What heresy is that, what logic is there, if what you get is so good. The vaccine aluminum may have already seeped through your blood brain barrier, made leaky by the glyphosate in your commercial gruel. Cowboy up!

  7. Jim Updegraff February 20, 2017

    I am an old guy who predates most of the vaccines that now are available. There were kids in our school that died or went into iron lungs because of polio; died from measles or went to a sanitarium for a couple of years due to T. B. I almost died from whooping cough.
    The anti-vaccine crowd as far as I am concerned is medical quackery and are guilty of child abuse.

    • Eric Sunswheat February 20, 2017

      Update: Iron lungs are no longer in vogue. There are less cumbersome, more portable simple contraptions these days used for a variety of lung impairment problems. But if you and Bruce want to stay stuck on polio and iron lungs, go at it and humor the world.

  8. heilig Post author | February 20, 2017

    Thanks to all who have replied, even if some obviously didn’t bother to actually read the piece; you’ve proven my opening sentence to be all too true, alas.

  9. sohumlily February 20, 2017

    I read your piece, and you failed to link to any ‘studies’, only quoting JAMA and *Canada*. Who sponsors *governments* and front line medical journals? You admit that there’s risks involved, but for the greater good, we should all just line up like good sheep and take our chances.

    To mock those of us who are ‘anti-vaxxers’ and to imply that we’re uneducated and have poor information, is offensive. My degree is in *medicine*, and I’ve come to the conclusion in my old age that very nearly only thing ‘modern medicine’ is good for is emergency intervention. Most people stay far healthier by avoiding industrial medical ‘care’.

    Contagious diseases can be controlled by good hygiene, adequate housing and waste disposal, and vector elimination. Funny how vaccines became prevalent as ‘developed’ countries’ standard of living improved. You do have a point when it comes to populations in underdeveloped areas of the world, and I think ideally, judicious and careful individual vaccines programs tailored to the individuals vulnerabilities and upon careful research of the vaccine involved is desirable. But the numbers required by the ‘state’ now are preposterous.

    For you to pat me on the head and poo-poo my concerns as being *ignorant* is offensive. Because I’ve seen with my own eyes the damages caused by vaccines, not just my own close relative, but others in my community, I feel my concern is justified. There is information out there not sponsored by drug manufacturers. I did the digging. Quoting WaPo, or JAMA or the CDC is a joke.

    Medicine keeps evolving, and to be smug and to think that whatever current practices happen to be are the final word is silly. Past practices have been debunked and newer ones take their place over the course of time.

    • Mark Wax February 21, 2017

      Well said. Never resort by stooping to the level of your detractors. I have found throughout our journey that this issue is driven by two distinct forces. One is Big Pharma. They have paid shills and self centered agency puppets, only motivated by greed. It is only about money for them. I allow deference to those who genuinely think that the “greater good” has been served by vaccines. They have the broad data to lean on. I simply scratch my head when real scientists simply ignore the system on which science is built. They ignore other science which is valid. The most disturbing to me is the failure of our justice system. Fundamental principles of due process have been twisted to serve those in power. I continue to fight for both justice and using science to help and protect people, rather than accepting the status quo.

  10. heilig Post author | February 20, 2017

    Hi, whomever you might be:
    Using a fake name is for cowardly trolls. I don’t respond to same. But I will point out the obvious – this isn’t a medical journal, so right, no references. You could easily find the sources yourself, if you really wished to learn that most – not all, but most – of what you’ve written here is bunk. You don’t like what science tells you, so you attack the source, with no real basis to support that –
    Wait a sec – is that you, Mr. Trump?

  11. sohumlily February 20, 2017

    Nope. No Mr Trump here, sorry you feel so defensive. You knew you were going to get some push back, and with commenters saying nazi-like things about ‘child abuse’ and ‘assault’, you bet I’m using a screen name.

    I didn’t attack you, I just disagree with your *mandate* and pointed out that your sources of information are tainted, and gave another point of view.

  12. Jim Updegraff February 21, 2017

    ‘a screen name’ ?? Please note almost all the people who offer comments to the AVA have the guts to use their own name.

  13. Jim Updegraff February 21, 2017

    When I was in the U. S.Army in Korea 1952-1953 we had the following shots every six months: Cholera, Typhoid, Typhus and Tetanus. If you got wounded they gave you another Tetanus shot plus at some point you got a smallpox vaccination. Mr Screen Name you didn’t say no unless you wanted to get a court- martial. At the same time a medic checked you for VD (skin it back and milk it down).
    Back in basic a soldier refused to get his shots and 4 husky D. I.s threw down on a gurney and he got his shots. He had an attitude problem and basic was a very unpleasant time for him.

    • Eric Sunswheat February 21, 2017

      Too bad you didn’t make it to the Gulf War, as military to be experimented on, with the unapproved anthrax vaccine, that was administered without regard to protocol. You might have learned real quick to cut the crap, as to what abuse is. Love America.

  14. heilig Post author | February 22, 2017

    The paranoia of the anti-vaccine crowd is essential to their argument. They feel (not think) a vast crowd of scientists and doctors are complicit in a plot to harm people, and don’t trust any peer-reviewed sources – but are gullible enough to buy into any online fear-mongering, no matter how much that has been discredited by unbiased sources. The primary anti-vaccine figures know most antivax activists couldn’t pass the first exam in Epidemiology 101 and exploit that, but the most visible of these figures have been busted for attempting exactly what their followers fear among the “establishment” – trying to cash in on bad research. Meanwhile Trump proposes tragic gutting of environmental progress and they are silent, caring only about their “precious bodily fluids.” Expertise and ethics don’t matter. And thus, this mentality slides right into the current White House ethos. That’s the sad truth today.

    • Eric Sunswheat February 22, 2017

      You are wrong as usual. Trump has not moved forward in any meaningful way, to substantiate the vaccine industry studies, or CDC patent bias coverup. Trump did not bring vaccines to the discussion table, when he met with the heads of Big Pharma last month, to try to convince them to lower prices of prescription drugs, but they would not budge. Any vaccine conversation there was not reported by the mainstream press. All we have is RFK Jr. coming out of Trump Tower with a press conference, saying he just met with Trump, who asked him to head a vaccine review commission, which subsequently was not confirmed by Trump sources. So that are the true facts you are distorting with the current drift of USEPA deregulation, to smear questions about research studies statistical validation, and ignore peer review from outside vaccine CDC industry controlled field of influence. Are you sure you are not working with Mr. Trump, with your alternative facts. The new secretary of education would be proud of you. Here is a toast to the billionaires, and a vaccine industry with its jaundiced eyes set on trillions, to make America great again. The US is the only industrialized country without universal health care, and the US population life span expectancy is now comparable to Mexico. An MIT senior research scientist in computational biology has done a good job in unraveling the vaccine research bias ‘safety’ and ‘economics’. Keep putting out your swill. The AVA may publish you again.

  15. sohumlily February 22, 2017

    I feel so much safer knowing that my government cares about me and is protecting my health and welfare…/s

    Look, over there, the RUSSIANS!!!!!

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