Why Does PBS Call it a “War”?

Posted by on Apr 27, 2010

The storm of controversy over vaccines and autism is not going away

PBS has released a program they’ve called  The Vaccine War.

I’m puzzled by that phrase. I am not “at war” with my colleagues in public health or with parents whose children managed the vaccine schedule unscathed. Why divide the concerned community? Because it gets ratings: Make a basic right a “war”, and watch the scrum ensue.

Any parent wants the same thing: Healthy, able, safe kids. We want clean water, safe food.  Lately, corporate corruption in our food production system and agricultural policy has been much exposed.  It’s not a “war” to point out that maybe Monsanto hasn’t had our children’s health and well being as a top priority when it comes to producing cheap food, or that ConAgra would rather we not hear about the dangers of genetically modified crops. So, why is it a “war” when parents expect safe, effective public health policy vis a vis vaccination, or to expose corruption in the industry that makes colossal profits from vaccines?

It’s a basic right to have water that’s potable, and food that’s safe to eat.  The media doesn’t make those issues a “war” of parents versus scientists.  It’s also a basic right to not be forcibly vaccinated, or harassed for the choice to defer. Risk/benefit on a population level is the balance to strike, while not sacrificing individuals’ health, to make effective vaccine policy. Scaring parents with horrific details of the clinical course of hepatitis B infection in a newborn is coercion more than science; babies in the US were never among the CDC’s notable risk groups for hepatitis B infection, and are literally  more likely to be struck by lightening than they are to get hepatitis B infection in this country. So why are we vaccinating them all against it?  If there were a vaccine that prevented deaths to infants from lightening strikes, but had serious potential adverse effects (seizures, death, developmental delays), would you give it to your baby? Or would you take your chances that your baby won’t be hit by lightening? I reviewed the policy and history on this in a book I released in 2002. What I learned was that for US newborns, hepatitis B vaccine is possibly causing more morbidity and mortality than it prevents –  an assessment now borne out by a retrospective study that found it tripled the risk for autism in boys.

We could tick down the list of recommended vaccines, and may find that more than half of them trigger more trouble than benefit for infants and children, if we could compare them to an unvaccinated cohort – but this work has not been done. Prevnar, though, has been too great a failure, to remain unnoticed: Some data show it has a failure rate >90%, that it may not trigger adequate immunity, and that it causes more virulent ear infections than it prevents. Still, we cling to the hope that vaccines are the best way to prevent an infectious disease – despite data that tell us otherwise. Why does the cognitive dissonance endure? Is it “war” to wonder why?

Our infant mortality ranking in the world has worsened dramatically as we’ve added more vaccines to the infant schedule. My graduate public health training imbued me with the usual reasons for infant mortality: Poverty, poor nutrition, lack of access to clean water, low birth weight, birth defects. Not much was said about SIDS, the third leading cause of deaths for US infants, and a much scrutinized outcome of vaccine reactions. I was drilled in why vaccines are necessary too – but the US has the most highly vaccinated infant population in the world, plus ample access to food, clean water, and health care. Our infant mortality rate should be among the lowest in the world, if the not the lowest. But we lag behind 46 other countries in this regard. Ouch. Cuba, Croatia, Slovenia, South Korea, and the Northern Mariana Islands are just a few of the countries with better (lower) infant mortality rates than the US.

Strong nutrition status, not vaccination status, drives robust immune function in infants and children. Decades of data state this, and it may be time to emphasize this for families, instead of escalating another “war” for the US. I hope more attention can be placed on this in the media, instead of the climate of coercion and fear parents now encounter when asking about vaccine safety.


  1. “It’s also a basic right to not be forcibly vaccinated, or harassed for the choice to defer.”

    Although I am not an American,it is settled law that each state can make whatever laws it wants on vaccination. With the possible exception of medical reasons, states could force vaccinations on people. That isn’t the case now. What there is are requirements to enter public school and sometimes university.

    Whatever one might think of those requirements, the idea that you have some right to not be bothered by those who disagree with you goes well beyond any penumbra theory of the US Constitution.

    By the way, send me some evidence that Prevnar-7 fails when it faces the strains it is designed to protect against 90% of the time. And don’t forget that it is being replaced by Prevnar-13 which covers strain 19A.

    As to infant mortality. A quick search on infant mortality United States brings up a nice chart which you can see better here. http://www.google.com/publicdata?ds=wb-wdi&met=sp_dyn_imrt_in&idim=country:USA&dl=en&hl=en&q=infant+mortality+united+states

    Surprise me. Post this comment.

  2. Dear Sheldon, thank you for posting! What country are you from, you say you are not from the US?

    here is the research that showed Prevnar triggered more virulent, more treatment resistant OM: http://bit.ly/1VVR7q

    Some would argue that if this approach failed so – eg, giving 7 antigens in one shot worsened OM reliably – then why continue down that path, and increase it to 13 antigens? This becomes a shell game, in which you simply rearrange and enhance the opportunity for microbes to succeed in humans. Is this what we want vaccines to do? Meanwhile, nutrition intervention reliably arrests OM and chronic illness/infection in children.

    I’m not sure what you mean by being “bothered by people who disagree” with those who want vaccine choice?

    In the US, parents are routinely bullied by health care providers for requesting individualized vaccination, the law not withstanding. Some also predict that choice will go by the wayside entirely. I have case examples of parents literally having their children withheld from them in hospital, if they didn’t submit the children to vaccines they are deferring. This is illegal, but it happens routinely. So though you state the law is “settled”, it is not quite so in the US.

    In my public health curriculum, I was taught that yes, a percentage of babies do die from vaccines, but that this is appropriate and necessary collateral damage. I do not think this is constitutional or appropriate, nor would parents I know whose children have died from vaccines. Public health is for everyone, not just those who are not susceptible to death and injuries from a one-size-fits-all policy.

    Thank you for the IMR data. I notice it does not give ranking. The ranking I mention (US being 44th) is from a 2009 CIA site, more recent than the site you’ve shared, here: http://bit.ly/1wlmRH

  3. I must say, it seems a bit disingenous for you to complain about Frontline’s (they are the one who titled the program, not “PBS”) decision to title the program “The Vaccine War”. Yes, ratings matter and such titles sometimes help to catch the viewer’s attention. So labeling a highly contentious and emotional topic as a “war” is too much for, but it’s ok for you to turn around and state that “scaring parents with horrific details of the clinical course of hepatitis B infection in a newborn is coercion and terrorism”. TERRORISM??? Really? It seems your problem with hyperbole only applies to others.
    I checked your link and, I’m sorry, but the CIA site you listed for infant mortality rates does not show what you claim. It ranks the US as 180th in the world and puts the US mortality rate 6.22 per 1,000 birth, this is not even remotely close to the ranking you stated. Furthermore, US Dept. of HHS shows the trend in US infant mortality here: http://mchb.hrsa.gov/healthystart/evaluation/benchmarkreport/introduction.htm
    I realize this graph ends in 2000, but even the 2009 CIA numbers you provided show that the mortality rate has continued in it’s decline, and is now even lower than it was in 2000.
    Maybe you meant to say newborns are now four rimes LESS likely to die in their first year? Because that would statement would be supported by the numbers.
    Lastly, did you miss the irony of a dietitian making the stamtement “strong nutrition status, not vaccination status, drives robust immune function in infants and children” almost immediately after stating “MDs are hypnotized to believe that only vaccines prevent disease”. So you’re saying that what you’re hypnotized into believing is correct? I must assume that you’ve been hypnotized, since even data you provided does not support your claims.

  4. Dear Paul,

    Thank you for posting, and for giving me the opportunity to clarify: It’s common for laypeople to have difficulty understanding what an infant mortality rate is and how to interpret it. You have confused a rate numerator for rate ranking, and reversed the ranking itself.

    At the CIA site, you will see – if you look more carefully – a list of 224 countries, with the bottom number (224) representing Singapore, with the lowest (best) IMR in the world. Out of 224 countries, US is at 180, meaning it ranks 44th behind Singapore (not to mention several less developed countries).

    Ranking and the fact that ours has slid precipitously is the salient point, not what the numerator of the rate is today. It gives no context to only use the numerator, which is what you’ve done – and which is also what the CDC prefers to do, since it obfuscates the reality of how vaccines fail. 6.22 is the numerator of the rate, not a ranking. This IMR currently places the US at 44th in the world. In 1960, we were 12th. Hope this helps.

    Otherwise, I’m not sure how to help you understand the piece about nutrition status and the fact that MDs don’t tap it to support the children in their practices. Much data over many decades from around the globe illustrate that strong nutrition status protects children from morbidity and mortality from infectious disease. See the work of Pelletier et al (he is from Cornell Univ). For example: http://bit.ly/dbCsjp

  5. Hi Judy,
    I posted a link to this blog on Huffington Post, which brought Sheldon101 to your doorstep. He is a Canadian and a vaccine enthusiast.

    Perhaps I should apologize!

    When does your new book come out? I want to get it for the public library I run.

  6. Sheldon101 – no one… and I do mean absolutely, positively NO ONE… should ever be forced into a medical procedure against their will. Make no mistake, making vaccines mandatory for the general public is just that – a FORCED MEDICAL PROCEDURE!

    If vaccination truly worked and the vast majority are vaccinated (as stats indicated), then why are those who’ve had these shots so afraid of the non-vaxxed? You would be the ones [allegedly] protected if they worked wouldn’t you? Nothing to fear for yourselves then, so leave the rest alone.

    I would strongly disagree with any one regarding “acceptable collateral damage” for children suffering adverse reactions too. I AM a parent of a child who went through this… who is still suffering after 22+yrs.. I was coerced into it and treated like a complete idiot for even daring to question them on their procedures and the safety of these vaccines.

    Well, you know what? We won’t go away. We won’t allow for our rights to make INFORMED CHOICES for our own families be taken away. We will continue the fight.

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