There Is No Vaccine War, Only Smart Parents Making Smart Decisions: An Open Letter to PBS

 

Despite the propaganda from the mainstream media, there is no vaccine war, only thoughtful parents making the best decisions they can for their families. Photo credit: www.flickr.com

photo credit: www.flickr.com

After PBS’s Frontline aired five years ago, I wrote the producers a letter. Their decision to re-air their one-sided and irresponsible documentary tonight has prompted me to republish the letter in a slightly edited form.

When the show first aired live, the voice-over falsely identified me as someone who did not vaccinate my children, despite the fact that I repeated several times to the producer during the many hours that she was filming me that I was (and still am) pro-vaccine.

My lawyer threatened PBS with a lawsuit.

The voice-over was corrected for accuracy. But the damage was done: hate mail and death threats came in from around the country.

Five years have passed.

Here in Ashland we have had our share of chickenpox but there have been no outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases or a single death from vaccine-preventable infectious disease in our community of some 20,000 people. At the same time, however, our small town has grieved the loss of at least two children from cancer: Jack and my neighbor’s son Michael; another youngster is battling brain cancer; my friend’s brother died in a car accident, and we’ve had our share of other tragedies in Southern Oregon, including young people attempting suicide, engaging in self-harming behavior (like cutting), drug overdoses, and high school students running away from home.

There are other problems facing children in Ashland. Our children’s teachers report seeing more students than ever before with debilitating food allergies, asthma, and other auto-immune disorders like Type 1 juvenile diabetes. Cases of autism continue to rise.

It makes for good television but I find it unfortunate that PBS continues to perpetuate a false dichotomy: smart educated scientists on one side versus crazy hippie parents on the other.

The truth is that the best-educated and most intelligent Americans are choosing to delay or forgo some childhood vaccinations.

More doctors than ever before, including this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one, to name just a few, are speaking out against our current vaccination schedule.

PBS did their best to make me look like a “total asshole,” to borrow a term from popular “science” writer Seth Mnookin who used those words to describe me in this public forum after seeing the documentary.

What PBS did not bother to show you, because it does not fit in with their agenda of pretending this is a polarized black and white debate (a “war”), is that I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of infectious diseases. I have lived in Niger, West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world, and seen people who were terribly paralyzed by polio and ravaged by measles, which can be life-threatening in a place without proper nutrition, good hygiene, and clean water. I’ve seen polio in America too. Our neighbor in Cabbagetown in Atlanta was a polio survivor, as was my friend high school friend Jenna’s father. I agree that we should not downplay the possible harms of infectious diseases.

But despite my concern over infectious diseases, I am more concerned by the fact that our current American vaccination schedule does not take the best evidence and the most rigorous science into account. That here in America we vaccinate every newborn for a sexually transmitted disease (hepatitis B) when no country in Scandinavia recommends this series of shots for low-risk families is so anti-scientific it makes my head spin.

So many mainstream doctors agree that the newborn dose of the hepatitis B shot is misguided that they privately advise their patients to politely decline the vaccine. These same doctors choose to forgo the vaccine for their own infants, as any scientifically-minded thinking person would also do.

Those of you who want to hate on those doctors and parents making individual choices for their children about vaccines should keep in mind that unless my baby shares body fluids with your baby, my decision to decline hep B in no way puts any child or immune-compromised person at risk.

That we vaccinate babies who are too small to crawl or walk (and hence have no risk factor) against tetanus also makes no scientific sense. Yes, there is a “scientific” reason for the early tetanus vaccine, but it is not one that has anything to do with tetanus (and since tetanus cannot be “caught” from another person, a parent’s decision not to vaccinate against tetanus also puts no other child at risk.)

PBS also did not mention that for eight years in America there were 0 cases of wild polio, yet eight children a year were paralyzed as a result of the vaccine. Because the live oral polio vaccine–a vaccine I have had twice–was so reactive, it was discontinued and replaced by a safer vaccine.

PBS chose to use a controversial popular actress as a spokesperson against the current vaccination schedule. They did not mention that the late Dr. Bernardine Healy, health editor of U.S. News & World Report and former director of the National Institutes of Health, publicly acknowledged that vaccine safety studies are inadequate and that more research is still needed.

Despite the media’s love of a “war,” you actually can be pro-vaccine and against the current schedule.

The bottom line: We all care about the same thing: keeping every child in America safe and healthy. If our current vaccine schedule were actually doing that, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

Without further ado, here’s the letter I wrote to PBS five years ago:

May 17, 2010

To The Producers:

Thank you for your recent episode about vaccines, “The Vaccine War.” While I was deeply disturbed by how the final version of the film turned out, I am grateful to see this issue on national television.

However, Frontline got it dead wrong when it reported that I “chose not to vaccinate” my own children. As I told your producers during more than three hours of on-camera interviews, I am pro-vaccine. But, like hundreds of thousands of other parents (most of whom remain quiet on this issue for fear of negative repercussions that I have experienced firsthand since the film was broadcasted), I am also concerned that the current vaccination regime may be doing more harm than good to America’s children.

Contrary to what was stated in the film, my children are vaccinated. They are not vaccinated according to CDC guidelines and they are not vaccinated as fully as some of the doctors you interviewed in your film would like, but it is utterly false to assert that they are not vaccinated at all.

I am glad to see that you have edited the voice-over to correct this false statement, but the film still fundamentally misstates the view of vaccinations held by me and many others who have given the matter serious thought: Vaccines can help prevent fatal diseases and should be offered when a risk of exposure to those diseases is present, but the current CDC recommendations for vaccinations may be too many, too soon for many children.

I am not anti-vaccine, I am pro-questions. Parents should feel free to question their healthcare providers before agreeing to injections that contain substances whose effects may not be fully understood. After asking the questions, I chose to vaccinate my children selectively. You knew that and you should have reported it the first time around.

I can only theorize that you made this mistake because the producers got carried away by the central premise of the film, which is flawed: that the disagreements over vaccines are a “war” between the medical establishment and people who in effect reject scientific evidence.

In fact, there is a lively debate that includes these factions, but includes many more in a middle ground—doctors like Jay Gordon, M.D. and Robert W. Sears, M.D. (whose balanced views and detailed interviews were both cut from the final version of the film) and well-educated parents and researchers like me who agree that some vaccines do more good than harm, but decline to inject their children with every vaccine their doctors tell them to at exactly the time the doctors suggest.

You should have correctly reported not only the facts about my family, but my views on vaccines, even if they did not fit neatly into the framework of your film.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D.

Jennifer Margulis, author and journalist.

Photo by Bryon Devore

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist, Fulbright grantee, and a champion of children’s health and well-being. A sought-after speaker, she has been researching and writing about issues related to children’s health for over a decade. She is the author/editor of seven books, including Your Baby, Your Way, finalist for a Books For a Better Life Award and (with Dr. Paul Thomas, M.D.) The Vaccine-Friendly Plan (Ballantine, 2016). Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and on the cover of Smithsonian magazine. She has a B.A. from Cornell University, an M.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Ph.D. from Emory. She has taught literature in inner city Atlanta; appeared live on prime-time TV in France; and worked on a child survival campaign in Niger, West Africa. She lives in Southern Oregon with her husband and four children.

Want to know why thoughtful, educated parents delay or forgo vaccines? Read Your Baby, Your Way. It's your pregnancy. Your childbirth. Your baby.

Want to know why thoughtful, educated parents are choosing to delay or forgo some vaccines? Read Your Baby, Your Way to find out.

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Categories: vaccines.

Comments

  1. Nina

    Thank you for your courage in addressing this tough issue! This is something that we need to be able to have open and balanced discussions about. We cannot “call each other names” and expect to be able to talk intelligently about this issue. Whatever “side” we are on (and I don’t believe there are sides, as you so eloquently stated), we need to have open discussions. And we also need to look at the right we have to control what is put into our bodies and the bodies of our children. There is a fundamental error in thinking that anyone should be mandated to inject foreign substances in their (or their children’s) bodies to possibly protect someone else. The science on vaccines is inadequate. A major problem is that it is funded by the very people who have a vested interest in the results of it. To be able to trust any conclusions is very difficult in that scenario. Bravo to you for having the courage to stand up for our rights! For this, I am extremely grateful. Thank you from myself, my family and each and every citizen of this country, whether they realize they need to thank you or not.

    • JT Hamlin

      Your argument is why so many people hated on the author. Her argument won’t be interpreted correctly by that part of society in denial. I feel bad that she was made the fall guy in this documentary if what she is saying is true.
      However, it is your responsibility to ensure you and your family do not cause senseless injury or death to other families in your neighborhood and schools. The author is arguing that every single vaccination required should not be because there are a couple that don’t endanger society. You applaud her because you don’t seem to think that any vaccination should be “forced” upon you. Correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Sarah

    Thank you for sharing this and for having the courage to speak up on this issue. I would like to add that the insert on the Hep B vaccine states that “safety and efficacy have not been studied in the pediatric population.” I had to re-read, multiple times, because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

    • Charlie

      Sarah, I understand your concern with this statement. As a physician, I have to say that this is almost certainly a reflection of who the vaccine was tested on during clinical development. It is essentially impossible to enroll children and pregnant women in clinical trials due to the moral and legal implications (i.e., can a child/fetus give informed consent). As a result, the vaccine (or many other medications given on a frequent basis) is not tested on children. As a result, the insert must contain the wording you noted. The statement should not be interpreted as one of warning but of fact.

        • Charlie

          Leon–Almost every medication kids take is not tested on them. As someone who has done clinical research and attempted to start a clinical trial, you almost always exclude children, pregnant women, prisoners, and the mentally ill. Data on medications given to children is often derived from adult studies and animal studies. Kids aren’t being used as guinea pigs. If anything, they are one of the excluded groups not being used as guinea pigs. The alternative would be to enroll children who cannot give good informed consent in studies. I find this much more deplorable. As a result, the insert contains the language stated in the above post.

      • Michele

        So because of moral and legal implications it is unethical to test vaccines on infants and pregnant mothers? But it’s just fine to add it to the CDC schedule without testing it whatsoever on the intended target? What kind of sense does that make? And you consider parents who choose not to vaccinate anti-science? Smh

        • Charlie

          Please see my comment in response to Leon. I am just trying to explain why someone should not be alarmed by the language used in a package insert. it is simply a statement of fact Due to the limitations on study participation.

  3. claudia

    Thank you for speaking up on this issue. I have never been a political person but now that I have a mother of a 5 month old this is an issue of vital importance! I want you to know that I appreciate you speaking up and I support you.

  4. Steve Hinks

    As a small child our daughter had a severe reaction to the MMR vaccine. It was immediately followed by a dose of full blown measles, two weeks later admitted to an isolation ward with suspect meningitis and followed by a large lump (lymph node) in her neck which persisted for 9 months until removed by surgery. we understand why so many wanted to pay privately for single vaccines which are no longer available in the UK. She didn’t have the 2nd shot or booster.
    When at age 12 we were asked to sign a consent form for the HPV vaccine we decided not to take the risk but the school nurse explained to mum that it was nothing like the MMR vaccine, safe and your are denying your daughter a life saving vaccine so she consented. What ignorance or lies!

    Our daughter had an immediate reaction, couldn’t say awake and was full of pain. After 4 months the long sleeps (up to 23 hours each day) turned into a 13 week coma. After 4 years of severe disability, pain, hyper somnolence and missed education there is stil no help from the NHS who tried to blame the family twice for Munchausen’s.

    We investigated and found out that there were c.3000 SERIOUS adverse events (SAE) during the clinical trials but marketing was approved because it was considered that the benefit outweighed the risk!!!!

    We also found out that cervical cancer cases have come down from 8 to 2/100,000 over the last 40 years with no vaccine. Deaths are 2/100,000 and should be zero within 10 years at this rate – WITH NO VACCINE.

    For those that don’t want unvaccinated childern to be allowed to attend school or think their parents are being unreasonable – THINK AGAIN.

    • Carole Rose

      My heart goes out to your family. I can not even imagine what you all have been going through with your daughters’ vaccine injuries. Thank you for sharing your story. There is something very sinister going on with this insane push for more & more & more vaccines being pumped into our healthy babies.

    • corinne

      Hugs to you. My heart goes out to all the lies and misinformation that is peddled to get people to pump this poison into their kids.

  5. Steve Hinks

    ALL vaccines are SAFE and EFFECTIVE! They have been approved following clinical trials.
    Then why were the following withdrawn?
    Trivirix MMR vaccine made by GSK Canada caused meningitis, Plusrix MMR vaccine made by GSK UK caused meningitis, Immravax MMR vvacine made by Aventis Pasteur caused meningitis, Rotashield rotavirus vaccine made by Wyeth Lederle caused bowel obstruction, Polio vaccine made by Medeva caused vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease, Lymerix Lyme disease vaccine made by GSK caused Lyme disease and severe arthritis, BCG vaccine made by PowderJect did not meet the end-of-shelf-life specification, Imovax hepatitis B, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type B made by Aventis Pasteur tested positive for the live vaccine, Hexovac diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough vaccine made by Sanofi Merck provided inadequate protection, PedvaxHIB haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine made by Merck was contaminated with a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, Comvax haemophilius B and hepatitis B vaccine made by Merck was contaminated with a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, Menjugate meningitis C vaccine made by Novartis was infected with bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, Fluvax flu vaccine made by CSL caused seizures, Preflucel flu vaccine made by Baxter Healthcare caused fatigue, muscle pain and headaches and Pandemrix flu vaccine made by GSK caused narcolepsy.
    Worse than all of the above is the HPV vaccines. But for now the HPV vaccines are still considered safe (by the authorities – not by most parents!)

  6. Steve Hinks

    A court in Milan (Milan November 2014) insisted that GSK disclose a 1271 page ‘CONFIDENTAIL TO REGULATORY AUTHORITIES’ document concerning the clinical trials for Infanrix Hexa vaccine. It contained a record of 5 cases of autism which were omitted from the list of adverse events that were submitted for marketing authorisation. The judgement made was “clearly established a causal link between the vaccination and the disease”.
    The report also identified thousands of serious adverse events during the clinical trials including 22 deaths, 21 eating disorders, 47 sleep disorders, 169 loss of consciousness, 22 encephalitis, etc, etc.
    GSK and the Regulatory Authorities had always stated that the vaccine is safe!

  7. Sara

    Thank you very much for speaking out on this controversial topic. The way this topic is portrayed in the mainstream media is very disturbing and polarizing. With 300 vaccines in clinical trials, I fear for the health of future generations.

  8. Liz Schmidt

    Thanks, Jennifer, for your brave and truthful words. I wonder if standard physician training in this country talks about possible complications of vaccinations; or how the immune system is supposed to develop during the early years of life; or how infectious diseases were in steep decline prior to the introduction of related vaccine; or about the woeful inadequacy of vaccine testing and inherent conflicts of interest. After my own extensive research I feel much more informed than the doctors I’ve heard who flippantly dismiss highly educated parents who chose an alternative vaccine schedule for their children.

  9. D. Saul Weiner

    Tell me again why we need a government TV network to convey propaganda in support of one of the government’s sacred cow programs?

  10. MTMAMA

    Not sure how you can be pro vax and know about dangers. You have to much faith in the science of how they work if your getting them, Also history shows NO decline in illness with vaccine. If you really look into how the body works to fight off illness and gain immunity you would know vaccines in no way follow this perfect path. Your feeding the monster. People need more common sense and not ride the fence, everyone is provax till their child is hurt unless they have read research on the matter. Then if you still put your child at risk your just stupid and neglectful.

  11. Charlie

    I am a Gastroenterologist who recently watched the Frontline documentary in which you appeared. I agree that you were not portrayed accurately. However, you are wrong in regards to the transmission of Hepatitis B. HBV can be transmitted sexually. It can also be passed through needle sharing and other blood exposures. HBV is actually very easily transmitted by a needle stick injury (as high as 33%), especially when compared to HCV (2-6%), and HIV (0.3%). Even if HBV was strictly a sexually transmitted disease it is important to remember that HBV is endemic in many Asian countries. In an increasingly shrinking world, it is certainly possible that someone not vaccinated for HBV could engage in a sexual relationship with someone who has been infected from birth. HBV can cause both acute liver failure and chronic liver disease that can progress to cirrhosis. Chronic HBV is also a risk factor for hepatocellular carcinoma, regardless of whether or not someone with HBV develops cirrhosis. Finally, HBV, while usually treatable is rarely cured when it becomes chronic. Treatment is focussed on suppression of the virus rather than eradication. I would urge you to revise your statements in regards to HBV transmission and to also consider vaccination against HBV.

    • Ann

      i don’t think anyone is questioning whether HBV is dangerous disease. However, newborn babies are not going to be having sex or sharing needles with anyone for at least a number of years. Why not have a discussion about whether it would be wiser to wait a few years for this vaccination? Also, why not examine whether this vaccine is related to the fact that the U.S. Has the highest infant mortality rate in the world within the first 24 hours after birth? And why do we need to vilify people for wanting safer vaccines?

    • Nora

      First, I want to thank Jennifer for her courage in speaking out so eloquently.

      But I need to comment on your take away doctor Charlie .
      You cannot see the forest for the trees if I may put it bluntly.
      There is a doctor Paul Thomas a pediatrician who believes in vaccinations, but forgoes the hep B vaccines in newborns siting the large amount of aluminum in that vaccine. He also vaccinates children on a selective schedule. Guess what? Among the thousand or more babies he has treated and that have grown up in his practice there are none with autism. He statically should of had 1 in 50 or around 20.
      Doctor Charlie have you read the above two comments by Steve Hinks? His daughter’s reactions and his list of vaccines removed are also statements of fact. Please Add to Mr. Hinks’s list of vaccines, ProQuad. It was removed by Kaiser (after a study showing too many seizures) and no longer is on the recommended list from the CDC. Merck has not withdrawn this vaccine,(except for the time they revamped), but they just added ADEM to the list of possible adverse events.
      My grandson went blind in his left eye, developed neutropenia (3%), lymphocytosis (93%), vitiligo, seizures, encephalitis, and lost all language, along with many more adverse events after receiving this vaccine. Almost all of these events occurred simultaneously.
      Dr. Charlie the truth is not always black and white. What you see as a necessary world saving vaccine is also a potential villainous vaccine to the succeptible population. Gray areas matter when it involves vaccines.

      • Charlie

        I believe my comment was intended to point out that HBV is not strictly a STD. Needle stick injuries can also occur with a squirmy newborn, as can (as horrible as this is to say) sexual molestation of a child by someone with HBV. Sure, these are extreme and rare scenarios, but it’s not open and shut to wait to have the HBV vaccine until someone is older. While it is obvious that many of you have concerns about vaccines and the schedule, I do not. I believe that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the benefits of vaccination. As a result, I support and participate in the current recommended schedule. I did not come here to criticize the forum, but only to try to clarify statements made about HBV, as it is clearly not exclusively a STD. My other comments earlier in the thread were also meant for clarification.

  12. Thank you, Jennifer, for saying what all of us frustrated and exasperated mothers are thinking and feeling everyday when the confronted with the bullshit and totally unfair information being displayed by the media and the powers that be. I think we all are not that stupid. I think. Last time I checked, I can still read and write and process information. But somehow, we’re intimidated into thinking that only others can truly think for us, so as to accept replies like, ‘just trust me’ and ‘Listen to what I say’ from medical doctors. Wow, 10 years in school for that reply? I expect a little more, Especially when it comes to my precious littles. THANK YOU a million times. And please keep writing. This piece was like a glass of water in the middle of the Sahara. See, I know geography ;P

  13. Thank you for standing up for yourself and all of us who agree with you regarding Frontline’s poor journalism. There seems to be this dominant idea that folks who are vax-cautious (meaning we want to see the cost-benefit in the short-term and long-term) are stupid. The guys from ASAPScience recently said during an interview on Q (Vermont Public Radio) that, “The issue with people who are anti-vaccine is that they are the types who aren’t going to change their minds when presented with science.” Later they repeated the same thing but changed the word science for evidence.

    This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most of us who are vax-cautious (many of whom are being labeled anti-vaccine) spend a great deal of time trying to wade past the junk science — the junk sciencee presented by the folks who profit from vaccines and who are simultaneously immune to any responsibility for risk — to find as much truth as we can from the few studies undertaken by scientists with no ties to pharma and/or studies from other countries where their governments aren’t owned by corporations.

    By the way, I wrote to PBS to complain about this show and the response was this:

    “PBS programs are designed to reach a broad audience, and while we don’t expect to please everyone, we certainly don’t intend to offend anyone either. PBS remains committed to advancing tasteful national programming of the highest standard without compromising the creative process. In addition, we will continue to work with national producers to ensure that they are sensitive to the widely diverse opinions of viewers when preparing programs for broadcast.”

  14. Dara

    Thank you for such an insightful and concise letter. I only wish you lived in CA and could lend your voice to our fight here. I know the bill didn’t pass in your state, but I fear it will do so in ours. Please keep us in your thoughts and reach out to as many people in CA as possible to let them know of the SB277 bill. With gratitude.

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