Monday, May 12, 2014

Letter to an Anti-Vaxxer from a Pro-Vax Mom

By Amanda Z Naprawa

I am pro-vaccine.

Vaccines are one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the twentieth-century.  I believe vaccines  should be mandatory, except for a few very limited exemptions.  That because vaccines save lives. They prevent complications from disease by preventing the disease itself -- complications like blindness, deafness, infertility, paralysis. I am fully vaccinated. My children are vaccinated according to the recommended schedule. We all get flu shots every year.    

I'll say it again and without hesitation: I am pro-vaccine. 

You, on the other hand, are anti-vaccine. You may also be a beautiful celebrity or a best-selling author of childcare books. You may be the president of a "vaccine information group" or the leader of your local "clean living" club. But you are also anti-vaccine.  Please stop referring to yourself as "pro-informed consent" or "pro-safe vaccine" or any other name that tries to hide the truth of your position.

Individuals who urge parents to avoid vaccinating their children based on a slew of myths are anti-vaccine.  If, in the face of dozens of peer-reviewed, scientifically sound studies, you continue to scare parents into believing that vaccines cause autism, you are anti-vaccine.  If you use your good looks and flashy smile to convince parents that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they aim to prevent, you are anti-vaccine. If you smile benevolently upon chickenpox parties, and mock concerns over the spread of measles, you are anti-vaccine.  If you threaten the scientists and doctors who have worked to create vaccines with bodily harm and death, you are anti-vaccine. If you bully high school students for making a documentary exploring the anti-vaccine movement, then, yes, you're anti-vaccine.

You are anti-vaccine, not "pro-informed consent."  If you were really for "informed consent," then you would push accurate information. True informed consent  requires that the relative risks, benefits and  uncertainties for each alternative treatment option be given to the patient.  When my child gets a vaccine,  my physician gives me an information sheet filled with all the benefits and potential risks of each vaccine.  I vaccinate my child knowing that the vaccine will offer significant protection against serious illness, and that my decision to vaccinate comes with a very, very small risk of some side effects.  I am fully informed.

If you were really pro-informed consent, then you would be giving the true risks of vaccines and the true benefits of vaccines.   You would tell parents --honestly -- that some vaccines carry an extremely small risk of seizure. You would also tell parents -- honestly -- that there is simply no evidence (aside from anecdotal, post-hoc stories) that vaccines carry a risk of autism.  You might tell parents, that you really really hoped that autism could be explained by vaccination (we would all like a simple explanation for autism)  but its not.

You claim to be pro-informed consent.  Informed consent requires that you give accurate, unbiased information necessary to make an informed medical decision.  If you were really  pro-informed consent, you would tell parents that the diseases that vaccines prevent are real. They are scary. They are dangerous.  Yes, many people have had diseases like measles and survived without lasting harm.  But why take the risk? Why let your child suffer an illness that is preventable? In the pre-vaccine era, 400-500 children died a year from measles. Per year. In contrast, 142 people have been compensated for measles vaccine-related injuries over the last eight years.  That's information that a parent can use to make an informed decision about vaccination. That's pro-informed consent.  But that is not what you are about. You minimize the death of children from vaccine-preventable disease by "putting them into perspective."

You are so proud of your accomplishments in increasing awareness of the alleged dangers of vaccination. You have worked so hard to increase the number of states with exemptions to mandatory vaccination. You have tirelessly spread the news that the government cannot be trusted, that vaccine manufacturers cannot be trusted, and that the average vaccine-friendly pediatrician cannot be trusted either.  You have made money, sometimes lots of it, selling the idea that vaccines are dangerous and should be avoided.

There's a name for that. And its got nothing to do with informed consent.

Amanda Z Naprawa is an attorney and graduate student in the Masters of Public Health program at University of California, Berkeley. She believe in promoting immunization through the dissemination of accurate information about vaccine safety. She is the author of various articles, including "Don't Give Your Kid That Shot: The Public Health Threat Posed by Anti-Vaccine Speech and Why Such Speech is Not Guaranteed Full Protection Under the First Amendment." 11 Cardozo Pub. L. Pol'y & Ethics J. 473 (Summer 2013)

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