Thursday, May 10, 2012

Dovie, Ivy, and Pansy: Three Sisters, One Disease

By Jessica Acevado-Parker

I’m sure many mothers can relate when I say that family is my world. My extended family tells me where I came from. My parents helped shape who I am today. My sister was my first friend. My husband is my teammate. My children are my legacy. Family is one thing I will never tire of investing in (though I do have my moments of needing a break), and my children are one thing I will always fight to protect.

Jessica with her children Aubrey (4) and Tristan (1)
I recently got the chance to visit my husband’s family in Virginia. I love knowing our roots, so going through old letters and pictures was a must for me as I spent time with his grandma, Virginia. Seeing her eyes go distant as she spoke of memories from her childhood made me realize she was reliving every moment she recounted, from the good to the bad. It was almost like living through them again with her. I walked down memory lane with Grandma as she told stories of her late husband building churches with his bare hands, funny road trips with four daughters, and the whirlwind of moves she made all over the country with those four daughters. She pulled out a big three-ring binder full of photocopied letters, pictures, and every bit of information available on her eleven brothers and sisters. Grandma started down the list, telling about each sibling, who they married, where they went to school, where they lived, where they died, etc.

However, when she got to her sister Dovie Martin, she paused before sharing that Dovie (born January 4, 1902) died at the age of fourteen. Her sister, Ivy Martin (born April 24, 1912), died at the age of four. The sisters died on the same evening, February 29, 1916, in their home, from measles.

The sisters had contracted measles from their pregnant mother, Lillie. Lillie survived, and gave birth to baby Pansy five days later, on March 5, 1916.

Four months and nineteen days later, baby Pansy died from complications from Lillie’s case of measles.

I took a moment to let this sink in. I thought of my own children, and of what it must have been like for Lillie, pregnant, holding her daughters as they died. To know that the baby that you are carrying is probably going to die as well.

This was the reality of measles in 1916. Measles and other (now) preventable diseases were nothing to be messed around with. You didn’t weigh the risks with the benefits, because the risk was that you most likely died if you got the measles. “Natural immunity” was not sought after, and any sort of pox was avoided like the plague, because, well, it was a plague.

Lillie did not have a blog, or Facebook, or even a phone to share what was going on with her family as the nightmare unfolded. But I do. I have a voice to counter the nonsense and the noise of the antivax community. I have science to back up my choice, and I have the story of Dovie, Ivy and Pansy Martin to share. It doesn’t matter if my voice is small. After hearing this story and seeing how it directly affected my family, I will not stay silent.

My daughter Aubrey is four, the age Ivy was when she died. I can’t imagine burying a child, especially today, from a vaccine-preventable disease. Back in 1916, there was no vaccine for measles. When I asked Grandma what she thought of people who didn’t vaccinate their children, she seemed shocked that some would choose that. For her family, the measles equaled death. There is no debate on that fact. To Grandma, a vaccine for measles and other diseases she lived through is a precious commodity. She reminded me how lucky I am to have had children in 2007 and 2010. She reminded me not to take them or their health for granted.

The risk of these diseases is real. It is not to be messed around with or “researched” with the search bar. This is life and death, folks. Dovie, Ivy, and Pansy Martin were robbed of a full life. They missed out on friends, school, marriage, children, and grandchildren. Thanks to science and a tireless effort from vaccine advocates everywhere, measles will not be what robs my children of those joys in life, but that’s because I vaccinate them. Next time you want to weigh the pros and cons, imagine burying your children when you could have saved them, because honest research includes pros and cons from both sides, and this—preventable death of children—is a con of not vaccinating children. To me, it’s an easy choice.

Jessica Acevedo-Parker is a work-at-home mother and wife with a Bachelor of Science in Human and Family Services from Southwestern Christian University. She owns a seasonal snow cone stand in Oklahoma and is the proud mother of two young children.

Editor’s Note: Jessica’s story, in slightly different form, can also be found at Shot of Prevention and Vaccinate Your Baby, two excellent resources for new parents with questions about immunizations.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Mayim Bialik's "Personal Decision"

By Karen Ernst

Normally, I love Science Friday on NPR with Ira Flatow.  The topics are wide-ranging and discussed with real experts who have a real passion for their work. Science Friday on May 4, 2012 was a disappointment for many reasons, but the biggest was the guest and her stance on vaccinations. 

Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler on The Big Bang Theory, has a PhD in neuroscience.  She also write books about her parenting style, some of which may be controversial to the mainstream public.  Rarely does she publicly discuss her decision not to vaccinate her children.  Thus, when Science Friday announced that Mayim Bialik would be the guest, numerous people went to Science Friday's Facebook page and commented that they'd like Ira Flatow to ask her about her decision to abandon all good scientific understanding in favor of the pseudoscience of the anti-vaccine movement.

About halfway through the interview, he did ask her about vaccines.

She responded: “Attachment Parenting as defined by Dr. William Sears and Attachment Parenting International has absolutely no opinion on vaccines.  It is a completely separate issue, one that I do not discuss in the book for that reason.  What I do mention in the book is that I give some resources for some kind of pros and cons kind of books. . . What I do say is that we researched every single vaccine, and we spoke about each individual vaccine with our pediatrician.  We went to the CDC sources.  The number of vaccines that we received when you and I were kids is a third or a fourth less than kids get now.  So my feeling is, you can really do whatever you want, just like I get to do whatever I want.  But I don't inherently think that no one should get the flu [vaccine], for example.  That's my personal opinion.  Meaning, to me, the things that people choose to vaccinate against are not necessarily things that were vaccinated against 20 or 30 years ago.  My feeling is that everyone gets to decide and do research based on their family and their needs as to what they want to do, but it's completely separate from Attachment Parenting or from my book.”

What is a parent supposed to think when this sort of information is presented without challenge?  After all, a parent might assume that since Bialik is well educated in the sciences, she knows what she is talking about.  And when a respected science journalist like Ira Flatow does not question any of her ideas, they seem all the more legitimate.

Mayim Bialik has made a mistake by refusing to vaccinate her children, and she has done so based on bad information and erroneous logic.

First, she relies on doctors who are not experts in the field of vaccines, immunology, or epidemiology.  While Attachment Parenting International does not take a position on vaccination, they are not a medical organization like the American Academy of Pediatrics.  As Ira Flatow pointed out when introducing the question, the AAP supports breastfeeding, as well as on-schedule, full vaccination of children.  Bialik also misconstrues the position of Dr. William Sears, who, in The Baby Book, explains that our “present vaccine schedule carries very little risk.  The benefit of preventing these diseases, all of which are potentially fatal, far outweigh the tiny risk of the vaccines.”  This sound risk-benefit analysis clearly promotes vaccination. 

Bialik relies on other M.D.s who have made careers out of catering to wealthy non-vaccinating clientele, and much of the rest of her explanation on Science Friday comes from their books.  She mentions the “pros and cons” of vaccinating.  The pros of vaccinating are preventing disease and its possible accompanying complications of hospitalizations, disability, and death.  The cons are uncomfortable but not dangerous: pain, swelling, and fever.  Very rarely, a serious side effect can occur, such as an anaphylactic allergic reaction.  These reactions occur in one of of every half million or million injections, depending on the vaccine. (  When presented with this information, most parents realize that the benefits of vaccinating are indeed worth the potential but unlikely risks.  These are not the cons Bialik is considering.  She is considering cons that have long been discredited by peer-reviewed, replicable studies that have been published in the most prestigious science and medical journals around.  The cons she is considering exist only in the imaginations of people writing books against vaccines and promoting them on their websites.

Bialik next claims that she studied each vaccine and discussed them with her pediatrician.  Her pediatrician may or may not have also discussed the diseases these vaccines prevent.  I do hope that pediatricians discuss with their patients the 222 measles cases in the United State last year, including the third of those patients who were hospitalized due to various complications. (  I also hope they discuss the 27,550 pertussis cases ( ) in 2010 and that they include the stories of Everlee (, Kahlia (, and Brady ( Sadly, these are no longer isolated cases. Because she is trained as a neuroscientist, one would hope the Mayim Bialik would factor the real risks of disease into her decision not to vaccinate. 

One of Bialik's rationale for skipping her children's vaccines centers on a fear of newer vaccines.  Rather than seeing vaccines that prevent more diseases as a triumphs of science, she fears exposing her children to something she didn't have as a child.  Forget for a moment that she did not have the Internet, cell phones, five-point harness car seats, and various other scientific advances for a moment.  Bialik makes the assumption that because she did not have these vaccines, the diseases which they prevent are not dangerous.  She is dead wrong.

For example, before the vaccine, approximately 20,000 children in the United States suffered Haemophilus influenzae B. Between 2-5% of these cases were fatal, and up to 30% of cases result in permanent disability, including blindness, deafness, and serious neurological damage.  (  Pneumonia is another disease my children are protected against when I was not. 

In fact, as an infant, I was hospitalized with pneumonia.  I was lucky to escape without permanent damage since pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under 5 worldwide, killing 1.4 million children every year. (  These are only two of the diseases that our children are lucky enough to escape. 

The other part of Bialik's longing for the vaccine schedule of the 1970s and 80s hints at the “too many, too soon” argument popular in the anti-vaccine movement.  Parents should rest assured that the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) reviews the vaccine schedule every year to make sure vaccines are given at times and in combinations that are safe and that offer children the best protection against disease possible.  Parents should also rest assured that the vaccine schedule has been studied (through studies like On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes and found to be safe.  The science is clear: today's vaccine schedule prevents dangerous disease as safely and effectively as we can at this time.

Lastly, Bialik asserts that everyone should make his or her own decisions about vaccines.  In a sense, I agree with her.  Parents should understand and agree to the vaccines their children receive.  However, asserting that the average parent can reach a conclusion about vaccines that is different from the ACIP/CDC recommendations, all while believing it is equally valid, is misguided.  The members of ACIP have spent their lives studying disease, epidemiology, virology, microbiology, and the like and have far more expertise on vaccines, disease, and the vaccine schedule than even a mother with a doctorate in neuroscience, and certainly far more than the average parent walking into an office.  It is perfectly reasonable for parents to present their pediatricians with their concerns about vaccines. It is unreasonable to choose not to believe pediatricians, infectious disease specialists, and vaccinologists, choosing instead to "do your own research" to prove them wrong. The suggestion that they should do their own research and reach their own conclusions is unreasonable and unwise, especially coming from a woman who knows what kind of work goes into a Ph.D. in the sciences.

Asking parents to go rogue with the vaccine schedule also puts our community health at risk.  This blog is based on the concept of “living by the social contract and protecting our kids and yours.”  Pockets of vaccine refusal create opportunities for disease to invade our communities.  The aforementioned measles and pertussis outbreaks are examples of the unvaccinated bringing diseases into the community.  Oftentimes, the people who catch those diseases are parents of children who did not want to be exposed to disease and who were relying on other members of the community to maintain herd immunity.  Julieanna Metcalf, who has been featured on Moms Who Vax did not know that she had a problem with her immune system, and caught Hib meningitis from an unvaccinated child. She almost died--her mother has the pictures of those days in the ICU.  Other people in our communities are too young to receive vaccines or have immune systems compromised by leukemia or chronic conditions, and they depend on us to stay vaccinated and keep disease away.

So the decision about vaccinations is actually not just a personal decision, as Bialik claimed, but a community decision.  As such, it should be made using the best science from the best experts in conjunction with a pediatrician who follows AAP guidelines.  I find it deeply troubling that a woman of science would misuse her education in order to justify her decision not to vaccinate, and I remain terribly disappointed that she was not challenged on that decision.  However, let us not allow her unchallenged fallacies to sway our decisions to protect our children and our community through vaccination.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Request for Comments: Time for Pro-Vax Parents to Step Up

I am writing this email to express my gratitude that there is movement to have the immunization schedule for schools match the CDC recommendations. I am a mother of a 15 month old daughter. I will be enrolling her in day care in the fall. Because of her age she is still too young for some of the vaccines that could prevent diseases. Prior to the anti-vax movement I would have been able to rely on other parents vaccinating their children and therefore protecting my daughter. Of course now there is a much larger risk of my daughter unknowingly contracting a disease that would otherwise be preventable. Anti-vax families are relying on pro-vax families to keep their (anti-vax) children healthy. However, for children that are still to young for some vaccines there is no safety. I stood by science and my conscience when I made the decision to vaccinate. I hope those making this decision will do the same.

The e-mail above was sent to the Minnesota Department of Health this week by a Minnesota mother after she learned that the MDH was considering modifications to the state's "School and Child Care Immunization Law" through the state's rule making process--a legislative process. In order to change any rule, citizens must, by law, be given the opportunity to comment on the proposed changes. In this case, the changes proposed are simply to make Minnesota School Immunization Law line up with the CDC's immunization recommendations. Currently, there are places where they do not match up, leaving children vulnerable.

The Request for Comments period in this process has become critical. That's because the vast majority of individuals who are motivated enough to call, e-mail, or attend meetings on proposed immunization law changes are anti-vaxxers. People who vaccinate their kids, while fantastic public citizens, are often complacent or even unaware that anti-vaxxers pose such a threat to their children and to infants in the community. That's why it's so important this year for parents who vaccinate to take the time, like the mother above, to make their voices heard. Here are the details. 

WHAT: The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is considering modifications to the School and Child Care Immunization Law through the Minnesota rulemaking process. The MDH will be accepting comments on these proposed changes until June 30th at 4:30pm. 

WHERE: You can file your comments by mail, phone, or e-mail. Contact Patricia Segal Freeman, Minnesota Department of Health PO Box 9441, St. Paul, MN 55164-0975, phone (651) 201-5414 or1-877-676-5414; fax (651) 201-5501; TTY users may call (651) 201-5797; email We would also love to post more letters or comments on this site, so if you do write, please consider dropping us an e-mail at momswhovax AT

MDH will hold two public meetings on the rules.
1.     The first meeting will be on Thursday, June 14, 2012 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Orville L. Freeman Building at 625 North Robert Street, St. Paul, Minnesota 55155.
2.     The date and time of the second meeting, which will be a statewide video conference, is Monday, June 18 from 11:30am to 2:00pm. Final details are still being worked out but we expect to have 11 to 13 video conference sites around the state.