Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Consumer-Led Charity" Lobbying Your Legislator About Vaccines

Chances are this summer your state's congressmen and women received a letter from a "non-profit, consumer-led charity" urging them to take note of an "urgent need for reform."

That "charity" is National Vaccine Information Center. The "urgent need for reform" refers to state vaccine laws. 

For anyone unfamiliar with National Vaccine Information Center, it is the preeminent anti-vaccine organization in the United States, extremely well-funded by big donors such as Joseph Mercola. You may have seen their billboards in large cities across the country warning parents of the dangers of vaccines. The organization presents itself as a consumer advocacy group, and perhaps once upon a time it might have been. However, it has morphed, under the watch of Barbara Loe Fisher, into one of the most notorious anti-vaccine groups in the world, and it specializes in cloaking its true intentions with proclamations about "vaccine safety" and "personal choice," when its true mission is to make vaccination completely optional and to eliminate any state requirements making it harder for a parent to get her unvaccinated child into daycare, schools, afterschool programs, or any other public space where public health is of particular importance. 

One of the richer sentences from the letter NVIC sent congresspeople, and which I'm going to talk about briefly, is this one: "NVIC does not make vaccine use recommendations and supports the legal right for adults and parents of minor children to make informed vaccine choices." The latter half of this sentence is an exercise in redundancy, which, I suppose, they feel is worth spending millions of dollars on--informed consent is already assured and part of the medical experience of anyone seeking a vaccine. The first half is a falsehood. ThinkTwice Global Vaccine Institute, which advises against vaccination, lists NVIC as a trusted source of information.  Fisher's own blog betrays her true feelings about vaccines, bearing the motto: "If the State can tag, track down and force citizens against their will to be injected with biologicals of unknown toxicity today, there will be no limit on which individual freedoms the State can take away in the name of the greater good tomorrow."

And whenever states begin considering strengthening immunization rules, NVIC is right there, making a stink, usually in the name of "personal rights" and "informed consent."In fact, that kind of opposition to better immunization rules on a state level is a core purpose of the organization. Think about that for a minute: this is an organization that devotes its time and considerable capital to making it easier for unvaccinated children to mingle with the public in public spaces, such as schools and daycares.

I bring this up because over the summer, National Vaccine Information Center sent letters and a slickly produced "book" to congressmen and women in Washington, which NVIC termed a "legislative guide." That guide was titled "Reforming Vaccine Policy & Law." That guidebook indicates to the legislators who receive it that there is an "urgent need for reform of existing state vaccine laws." Translated, this means that NVIC feels that immunization requirements for children entering school, day cares, and for health professionals caring for the elderly and immunosupressed or immunocompromised (such as children with heart defects, anyone going through chemo, etc) are unacceptable. This, even though the vast majority of states have either a religious, medical, or conscientious objection clause in their rules. 

Personally, I find NVIC's hubris (or perhaps cluelessness?) fascinating: to launch a campaign to weaken immunization rules at a time when the country is grappling with outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps, and pertussis. There's no sign that the effort has worked, but the onus is on those of us who care about public health to make sure our legislators are informed about the true intentions of this "consumer-led charity" that warns of an impending crisis of personal liberty (i.e. the closing of certain personal exemption loopholes in some state immunization rules). It would take but a moment to write a quick e-mail to your local representative and senator just to say, hey, you may have received a letter and legislative guide this summer from a group purporting to be an "independent clearinghouse for information on infectious diseases and the science, policy, law, and ethics of vaccination" (a line straight out of NVIC's letter). However, I would like to clarify for you the organization's true position. A simple search of NVIC online or even on this blog will reveal countless examples of NVIC's attempts to dissuade parents from vaccinating. 

While I feel confident legislators grappling with immigration reform, budget issues, and the war on terror are probably not inclined to give NVIC's mailing a second thought, it's never good to let NVIC go unchallenged if you live in a state with pending changes to immunization rules.