Saturday, April 26, 2014

Invisible Threat: Speaking Up

In recognition of the national launch of the Invisible Threat movement on May 1st, 2014 the Moms Who Vax blog is participating in a blog relay to raise awareness of the threat the film explores—the anti-vaccine movement. Each day, a different blogger discusses his or her personal perspective of the film as part of an exciting ten-day countdown to a kick-off event for the film, which will be attended by national legislators at the Capitol Visitors’ Center in Washington, D.C.  You can follow along to find out how you can join us in this movement, arrange for a local screening of Invisible Threat, and continue our fight against infectious diseases.

Karen Ernst

Teenagers are amazing people. If you want to view the world through a lens of optimism and idealism, ask for a teenager’s perspective. My other career--the one I began long before I had children or embarked on my mission to get parents to pitch in and help prevent disease outbreaks--is teaching. I began my adult life as an English teacher and became who I am today because I spent my hours learning along with the teenagers who populated my classroom and my life.

So I am difficult to surprise with news about how incredible teens can be. Stories in the media detailing how these young people are transforming our world through their activism and creativity often feel like merely revealing the spirit of what it means to be on the cusp of adulthood.

But a group of student-film-makers has surprised me. By delving into the world of vaccine-preventable disease and rationally examining the claims of the anti-vaccine movement, the student-creators of Invisible Threat have done what many adults fail to do: discover the objective facts about vaccines. Before all of us pro-vaccine parents go patting ourselves on the back for arriving at the truth about immunization, we need to recognize that these teens have also gone above and beyond what most of us do. They’ve chosen to speak publicly about the importance of vaccination.

Most vaccinating parents are not telling their stories. Some of us are afraid to cause discord in our families and so we don’t speak up. We have looked at the science, but don’t want to start debate because it’s just not our area of expertise. So we remain silent, and by our silence we allow the anti-vaccine voice to be the default voice of parents.

The Invisible Threat filmmakers faced steep challenges when creating their documentary. They came to the topic green: with no experience with any vaccine-preventable disease, and largely unaware of the anti-vaccine movement, they read materials both for and against vaccines. They sought out experts and got their opinions. The interviewed anti-vaccine parents. They discussed among themselves what all the information meant and came to a conclusion that was both reasonable and in line with the scientific consensus: vaccines are safe and save lives.

Invisible Threat follows the evolution of their thoughts on vaccines, but behind the scenes, these students faced the same obstacles that we vaccine advocates face. Lisa Posard, parent volunteer and executive producer, explained that when news about the topic of this documentary first came out, anti-vaccine bloggers wrote about the teenagers. Anti-vaccine activists even called their school to try to convince them not to do the film.

Despite this harassment, the students were adamant that they would not be bullied out of tackling vaccines. These young people have done the hard part, and we can do something easy right now. We can invite our senators and representatives to an event on May 1st at 10am in Washington D.C. to discuss the issues behind the documentary.

Invisible Threat is a fantastic documentary, and we are fortunate the filmmakers had the moral fortitude to stand up to those who were trying to shout them down. Next time we are tempted to be quiet about vaccines because we don’t want to make enemies or because we aren’t up-to-date on all the latest science or because it takes effort and we are busy, we need to remember that making a difference means taking a risk. It might mean we have to hearken back to our youth and our days of idealism, when standing up for something was critically important. And what could be more critically important than the health of our children and our communities?

You have the ability to make a difference in our fight against infectious diseases. Follow the Invisible Threat Blog Relay and find out how you can be a part of the movement. Tomorrow's post will be hosted by MOMentumNation.  And be sure to like the Invisible Threat Facebook  and follow the filmmakers on Twitter @InvisThreat.

Friday, April 11, 2014

And here's what my letter looks like...

In the post below, I urged you to write to Colorado legislators to express your support of HB1288 and to counteract the anti-vaccine rhetoric with which they've been deluged. Putting my money where my mouth is, here is what I've written. It's not perfect, it's not polished, but it's from the heart. Yours can be too!

Dear Senators,

My name is Ashley Shelby, and I am a mother of two. I am moved to write you today because it has come to my attention that you are receiving a great deal of contact from anti-vaccine parents and activists regarding HB1288, which strengthens immunization rules for the state that will protect children and infants, individuals going through immuno-suppressive therapies like chemotherapy, and the elderly from needless suffering. These anti-vaccine activists often refer to their beliefs as having to do with personal choice, personal liberty, informed consent, and other terms that mask the fact that they want the right to not vaccinate their children while still enjoying the public spaces, like schools, where their decision could harm others. To me, anti-vaccine parents who fight against HB1288 are like people who feel it's their right to shout "fire" in a movie theater, a right which has been denied by courts for decades. Your freedom may not infringe on my safety--and that's exactly what anti-vaccine parents are doing, so far without any obstacles thrown in their path. Their "personal liberty" is making it hard for me to exercise my own.

I am speaking up because these individuals do not represent parents. In fact, they are a vocal fringe group, who have an impact because of the nature of herd immunity. Although the overwhelming majority of parents support vaccines, even if five percent of parents choose not to vaccinate, diseases like measles, mumps, and pertussis gain a foothold in our communities. And they have. You are no doubt aware of the measles clusters in California and New York, the mumps outbreak in Ohio, and the pertussis cases all across the country. The majority of these cases started with and were spread by unvaccinated individuals. 

Please help parents protect their children from vaccine-preventable disease by voting yes to HB1288. Parents still have the right not to vaccinate their children--they just can't send them into schools and day cares. Voting no to HB1288 is not a vote for personal liberty. It's a vote that indicates that people can endanger public health with absolutely no consequence to themselves, and all the risk on the shoulders of people who are forced to share a public space with them. 

Thank you for considering my point of view.

Don't Let Anti-Vaccine Movement Sink Colorado Bill

Editor's Note: I made a mistake in my initial post--Colorado is not trying to eliminate personal belief exemptions (I wish)--the bill simply adds an educational component. 

We need your help.

Colorado is trying to strengthen immunization rules by adding an educational component to personal belief exemptions. These exemptions are the manner in which anti-vaccine parents can opt-out of vaccines and still enroll their children in schools and day care facilities, putting children and vulnerable members of our community at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. We've seen the result of these exemptions: measles outbreaks, mumps outbreaks, devastating pertussis outbreaks that have killed infants.

And while support for the measure is strong in Colorado's House, its Senate is less likely to pass the bill, titled HB 1288, "Strengthening Personal Belief Exemptions for Immunization Requirements."
Part of the reason is because legislators are being deluged by phone calls and e-mails from anti-vaccine activists, purporting to represent parents. What's more, they are framing this debate as one over personal liberty. Missing from their arguments is the idea that with personal liberty comes personal responsibility, something anti-vaxxers do not exercise, and which is harming public health and the communities in which they live. Unfortunately, it turns out that several state legislators have bought into this personal liberty argument--and with the majority of the calls and e-mails they are receiving being from anti-vaxxers, they are more and more likely to vote against this important bill. 

Let's help. One approach is to talk about recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease and how lack of immunization has lead to needless suffering. Another approach is to take apart the personal liberty argument that the anti-vaxxers are now using to stop this bill. Where does personal liberty bump up against the needs of the community--the anti-vaxxers want the right to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. 

The Colorado Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee will vote on the bill on Monday.

Once passed by this Committee, as is likely, the bill will be considered by the full Senate. It here that the bill looks to be in trouble, when it reaches the full Senate. 

This is where you come in. Please contact Colorado Senators as soon as possible to urge them to support House Bill 1288. Here is the CO general assembly senate directory:  Colorado General Assembly Senate Directory

Because the majority of calls and e-mails right now are angry anti-vaxxers, all Senators, even the ones who look like they will vote yes, need to hear from you. Encouragement for those likely to vote yes, reasoned and compelling (and personal) words for those likely to vote no. Here is the list of senators we believe are most in need of a call or e-mail.

Senator Cheri Jahn (D); Cap: 303-866-4856 E-mail:
Senator John Kafalas (D) Cap: 303-866-4841; E-mail:
Senator Mary Hodge (D): Cap: 303-866-4855; E-mail:
Senator Jeanne Nicholson(D): 303-866-4873 E-mail:
Senator Ellen Roberts (R)Cap: 303-866-4884 E-mail:
Senator Bernie Herpin (R)Cap: 303-866-6364; E-mail:
Senator Steve King (R) Cap: 303-866-3077; E-mail:
Senator David Balmer (R) Cap: 303-866-4883 E-mail:

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Wasserman, Executive Director of The Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition at