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In defense of parents with informed vaccine skepticism

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 24, 2008 09:49 PM

The New York Times published a piece today about parents choosing not to expose their children to certain vaccines. This prompted blogger condemnations of those parents as “Bobo socipaths” and a recommendation from Glenn Reynolds that “we should make clear that parents who, with no genuine medical reason, forego vaccinating their kids are bad parents, and bad citizens.”

Well, what constitutes “genuine medical reason?” And which vaccines are we talking about? All of them? For all time? Not all vaccines are equal. And if you leave it to the medical establishment and Big Nanny public school officials to determine the definition of “genuine medical reason,” then any parent who questions any vaccine administration at any time in a child’s life will be deemed a “bad” parent and “bad” citizen.

I’ve written before about my first-hand experience with bully doctors who balked at even the mildest questioning of their early-and-often-shut-up-and-give-me-your-baby-don’t-ask questions vaccine regimens after challenging the wisdom of newborn Hep B immunization in 2004:

Why on earth should we vaccinate our newborn baby against Hepatitis B – a virus that is contracted mostly through intravenous drug use and sexual contact? That is the question my husband and I had for the doctors and nurses at the hospital where our son was born two and a half months ago.

We didn’t get very good answers. It was “convenient,” “recommended” and “routine,” the medical staff assured us. We wanted more information. A nurse gave us a brochure, which explained that babies whose mothers had the Hep B virus were at high risk of developing acute Hep B infections. Well, I tested negative for Hep B. The Centers for Disease Control named unprotected sex, IV drug use and being stuck with a needle on the job as the likeliest routes of Hep B transmission. Well, my husband and I both work primarily from home, our two children stay at home, and neither we nor our 3-year-old daughter nor our baby (for heaven’s sake!) live the Kid Rock-and-Pamela Anderson Lee lifestyle.

When we told the hospital staff that we simply wanted more time to think about giving the Hep B shot to our son – doesn’t “informed consent” mean we should be truly informed? – we were badgered aggressively. Some lectured us about the need to “get on the proper vaccination schedule.” Others warned that Maryland, like more than 40 other states, requires all schoolchildren to be vaccinated for Hep B. Teachers, however, are not subject to the mandate, which is driven not just by altruistic concern for children’s health. Ohio legislator Dale Van Vyven snuck the Hep B mandate into a 1998 hazardous-waste bill at the behest of profit-maximizing vaccine manufacturers’ lobbyists.

The “everybody does it” and “for the greater good” arguments worked when we were overcautious, over-trusting, first-time parents who submitted our daughter to every single vaccine without question. This time, we resolved not to be rushed or bullied. We declined to give our son the politically correct Hep B shot, decided to do more research, and then took up the issue with our pediatrician.

Boy, were we in for a rude awakening. Our doctor parroted the American Academy of Pediatrics line and mindlessly emphasized the efficacy of vaccines in eradicating childhood diseases. Well, we weren’t questioning their collective efficacy. We questioned what the individual health benefits and health risks to our newborn were. Physicians have blindly plied vaccines before that have done more harm than good. A childhood rotavirus vaccine, for example, was approved for widespread use in 1998 and withdrawn from the market less than a year later after causing an increase in the incidence of painful bowel obstruction among infants.

Our doctor, however, pooh-poohed our inquiries about potential side effects. He seemed to have no idea what those risks were and no interest in finding out. He was also incredibly condescending: “95 percent of what you read on the Internet” is unreliable, he sermonized, as if we were too dumb to separate scientific fact from fraud.

In the end, we concluded that some of the vaccines were more worth the risks than others. At my son’s two-month checkup, the pediatrician expected him to receive a triple-combination shot called “Pediarix” (consisting of Hep B, inactivated polio, and DTaP, which covers diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis), as well as HiB (for certain bacterial infections) and Prevnar (for meningitis and blood infections). I reiterated my refusal of Hep B, accepted DTaP and HiB, and asked to put off polio and Prevnar. In response, I received a threat: Get all the vaccines or get out of our practice.

“Informed consent”? Ha. This was uninformed coercion.

We’re leaving for another practice, a little bitter but wiser. The strong-arm tactics of the medical establishment mustn’t intimidate parents from challenging the universal vaccine orthodoxy. When it comes to protecting our children’s health, skepticism is the best medicine.

Is there junk science on the anti-vaccine side? Absolutely. But you can’t address this issue without also addressing the problem with physicians who are unwilling to discuss the full risks of vaccines as well as the benefits; pro-vaccination groups that provide incorrect information about the duration of protection; physicians who refuse to care for children who are not “fully” vaccinated; and the comparative risk-benefit ratios for different vaccines. Mandatory chickenpox vaccinations, for example, are questionable. And should I be forced to give my daughter the cervical cancer vaccine?

As I’ve said before, I am no anti-vaccine hysteric and I have been a staunch defender of the pharma industry against anti-capitalist attacks from the left and right. But I have refused to be coerced or bullied into anything regarding our kids’ health–and that includes vaccines.

Does that make parents like me “sociopaths?” Better than being unquestioning, blind sheeple immediately abdicating parental responsibility whenever anyone in hospital scrubs invokes “the public good.”

***

Commenter HeatherRadish makes an excellent point:

The part that interested me most about the NY Times article is that while they’re hyperventillating about educated, middle-class, mostly white American parents, thousands of unvaccinated people are pouring over the border every day, bringing TB and mumps and other diseases with them, and they think this is a GOOD thing.

Compare and contrast these e-mails I received tonight from two doctors–one who basically understands my main points and one who…doesn’t.

The first:

Dear Michelle,

I am an internist and Infectious Diseases specialist, and I tend to agree with your opinion on vaccines. I think of vaccines in two categories:

1) Vaccines that tend to benefit the patient with unproven or small benefit to the community, such as the cervical cancer vaccine and chickenpox.

2) Vaccines where the patient benefits but there is a great benefit for society, such as polio and measles vaccines.

If the illness is generally not serious, such as chickenpox, or unlikely to occur in a specific population, such as hepatitis B, then if you are confident that your child is low risk, I see no problem in withholding the vaccine. The cervical cancer vaccine has other moral and ethical considerations and since it is not proven to help society as a whole, I have no problem with withholding it from your child.

However, measles and polio (and smallpox in the past) are such horrible diseases, and the vaccines have made major impacts on the health of our country, that these vaccines should not be withheld except in special circumstances. Even a small unvaccinated subpopulation in a community could lead to outbreaks, as occurred in Iowa with mumps, when religious sects had not been vaccinated. For measles, rubella, polio, and a few others, I would agree with the Instapundit that withholding the vaccine from children (except in special circumstances) would be wrong.

Best Regards,

Harold Oster
Medina, MN

The second:

As a pediatrician I really don’t appreciate your articles about vaccines. What is your point? To increase the distrust parents have toward their child’s doctor? Doesn’t Oprah, malpractice attorneys, and the internet do that job well enough? So you had a bad experience with your previous doctor – get over it. It is ridiculous that you are insinuating that every question and concern that you could have as a parent have not already been addressed ad nauseam by pediatricians and government agencies. I am a parent too and I am sure I have spent many more hours of thought and consideration than you have on the subject before I decided to give a certain vaccine to my patients or my children. I actually know something about vaccines, disease, and children’s health.

Yet all day long, modern day physicians get questions from concerned parents like we are going to part of the next Lifetime TV movie. Your distrust of medicine is not a rarity like you
seem to think. It is the trend. Do you have any idea how hard it is to even get a vaccine approved? These issues are not entered into lightly.

For what it is worth, some of my patients do not receive any vaccines at all and I do not dismiss them or “bully” their parents. Some families have developed ridiculous, complicated schedules for their children that we follow. I answer every question no matter how ridiculous it is and if the family is unsure I ask them to think about it and come back later rather than give them a shot that day. None of the other physicians in my community will continue to see children who do not get every recommended vaccine. They think I am crazy and putting my practice at risk. My wife thinks I should dismiss those patients too. And guess what – they are right. I can get sued if any of those children get a vaccine preventable disease that they did not get. It does not matter if they sign a waiver or I document that I have informed the parents of the risk. I can still get sued and I will probably lose. I plan on continuing they way things are now because I think people have the right to decide if their children get a vaccine or not. My children have gotten their vaccines (including the deadly Hepatitis B vaccine!! which is merely a protein made in yeast but of course you know that). I also think the public school system has the right to keep children who do not get a measles shot out of school. I also think that doctors have the right to dismiss patients who do not follow their recommendations. I think you should have switched doctors because you were unhappy. But I don’t think you should continue writing uniformed slander about how awful doctors are because they want to keep children in our country healthy. Despite what you might see in a Hallmark commercial, being a pediatrician is a hard, largely unrewarding job, that we do because first and foremost we care about children and when you write your little rants about vaccines it is insulting.

Thanks for my birthday present,

Jeffrey

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