Category: Blog

What Is Vaccine Choice?

Have you heard about the idea of vaccine choice?

The “right to choose” is being pushed by anti-vaccine groups in many states because they think that laws mandating kids to have vaccines to go to daycare, school, and college violates their parental rights and civil liberties.

“Their claim that vaccines are 100% safe and effective for all people all of the time is not based in science and is not supported by facts or evidence, making it more of a religious belief than an adequate basis for their mandate argument.”

Texans for Vaccine Choice

And of course, they use a lot of anti-vaccine talking points to try and scare parents into believing them. Vaccines are safe and they work, but no one says that they are 100% safe or that they are 100% effective.

What Is Vaccine Choice?

Right away, you should see another big problem with the vaccine choice movement.

No one is forcing anyone to get vaccinated. Everyone has a choice. It’s just that some folks don’t like the consequences that come with that choice of not vaccinating their kids – having to home school their kids instead of going to a public or private school.

So basically, vaccine choice is just the anti-vaccine movement moving the goal posts yet again.

“If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f–king measles.”

Jenny McCarthy

Study after study showed that vaccines are not associated with autism and what did we get, measles outbreaks in unvaccinated kids.

What’s Missing In the Vaccine Choice Argument?

In addition to facts, one big thing that is missing from the vaccine choice argument is that by pushing the idea that unvaccinated kids should be allowed to skip or delay any or all vaccines without consequences, that takes away the choice for the rest of us who want to keep our kids protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Can’t we just vaccinate our kids?

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

We do!

But that doesn’t take away all of the risk if you don’t vaccinate your kids.

“…the increased risk of disease in the pediatric population, in part because of increasing rates of vaccine refusal and in some circumstances more rapid loss of immunity, increases potential exposure of immunodeficient children.”

Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation

There are kids who are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated, kids who can’t be vaccinated because of true medical vaccine exemptions, and folks whose vaccine didn’t work, after all, vaccines aren’t 100% effective.

The “choice” folks don’t talk about those things though.

Make an informed choice about vaccines before you think about leaving your child unvaccinated and unprotected.

What To Know About Vaccine Choice

Listen to anti-vaccine propaganda, skip or delay vaccines and leave your kids unprotected or do your research and understand that vaccines work and are safe and necessary and get them vaccinated and protected – that’s your vaccine choice.

More on Vaccine Choice

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

In 2002, Dan Rather did a report for 60 Minutes on “The Most Dangerous Vaccine.”

Can you guess which vaccine he was reporting on?

Which Vaccine Is the Most Dangerous?

You are thinking his report was about MMR, the so-called “autism shot,” right?

“And then the nurse gave my son that shot. And I remember going, “Oh, God, no!” And soon thereafter I noticed a change. The soul was gone from his eyes.”

Jenny McCarthy on Oprah

It was around the time that the “media’s MMR hoax” was in high gear.

“Whatever you think about Andrew Wakefield, the real villains of the MMR scandal are the media.”

Ben Goldacre on The MMR story that wasn’t

But 60 Minutes had already done a segment on “The MMR Vaccine” with Andrew Wakefield back in 2000.

The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.
The smallpox vaccine was considered the most dangerous as President Bush decided whether or not it was necessary to vaccinate millions against this deadly disease.

No, this story was about the smallpox vaccine.

And if you had to rank vaccines from safest to most dangerous, then yes, you could say that the original smallpox vaccine, the one with the most side effects, is the most dangerous.

Fortunately, that very same smallpox vaccine helped eradicate smallpox and few of us need to even think about getting a smallpox vaccine. It is still given to some folks in the military though and is available if necessary.

The story was about a plan to vaccinate many more people, including hospital workers. At the time, there was a worry about terrorist attacks using smallpox.

“Here’s another way to do it. We can make the vaccine. Make sure we understand who’s going to get it, who’s going to be giving it. Then wait, wait for there to be one case of documented smallpox somewhere on the face of this earth and then we can move into vaccinating people, large numbers of people.”

Paul Offit, MD

Not everyone was on board with the plan though. Dr. Offit, for one, didn’t think that it was a good idea to start vaccinating people for a threat that we didn’t know would appear, especially since the older smallpox vaccine had more side effects than other, more modern vaccines.

Again, that doesn’t mean that the smallpox vaccine is dangerous.

Smallpox is dangerous and deadly. If there is a risk that you could get smallpox, then you would much rather have the smallpox vaccine, even with its side effect profile.

And fortunately, a new attenuated smallpox vaccine, Imvamune, is also available and has less side effects. Two other smallpox vaccines, ACAM2000 and APSV, which are similar to the original DryVax vaccine that was used in the US, are also still being used until Imvamune is formally approved by the FDA.

Vaccine preventable diseases are dangerous.

While they aren’t 100% without risk, vaccines, from rotavirus to HPV, are safe and necessary.

What To Know About the Most Dangerous Vaccine

All vaccines are safe and effective, but if you had to rank them, the original smallpox vaccine would be the most dangerous because it has the most side effects.

More on the Most Dangerous Vaccine

 

Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

We often hear the argument that anyone who supports the ideas that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary must be a shill for Big Pharma. And that pediatricians, even though they are among the lowest paid doctors, are making tons of money from vaccines and even getting bonuses to get kids vaccinated.

Of course, none of these myths and conspiracy theories are true.

Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

But guess what motivates many of the folks in the anti-vaccine movement?

“Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems.”

Claire Dwoskin

For some, it is the idea that vaccines damaged their child.

And then there’s the money.

CNN did a report several years ago on how a few groups were funding researchers and organizations that put out much of the material that scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

It wasn’t a surprise though. Many others had been saying the same things for years about:

  • the Dwoskin Family Foundation and CMSRI
  • Barry Segal and Focus for Health
  • JB Handley and Generation Rescue

But anti-vaccine experts aren’t just motivated by the money they directly get from those with deep pockets.

Selling supplements is big business for integrative, holistic, and anti-vaccine folks.
Selling supplements is big business for integrative, holistic, and anti-vaccine folks.

They have discovered many ways to turn the anti-vaccine movement into a money making industry.

Paul Thomas doesn't mention that he gets a big cut of the sales for a "free" summit that costs $197 as he promotes his anti-vaccine lecture.
Paul Thomas doesn’t mention that he gets a big cut of the sales for a “free” summit that costs $197 as he promotes his anti-vaccine lecture.

Many of these folks also get money by:

  • selling anti-vaccine books, e-books, videos, seminars, and movies
  • getting paid to speak at anti-vaccine conferences and summits, often for chiropractors or folks like Gwyneth Paltrow, pushing her GOOP
  • selling supplements and vitamins in a “wellness” store, either online or in their offices, that they claim can detox you from vaccines, protect you from toxins, and even prevent autism
  • ads on their websites and Facebook pages
  • appearing as “experts” in court, as they push the idea that everything is a vaccine injury
  • soliciting donations

Those who are health care providers can also establish integrative or holistic medical practices that don’t accept insurance and only see patients that can pay cash. In addition to selling supplements, these providers offer unproven and disproven alternative therapies, like homeopathy, integrative testing, IV therapy, and cranio-sacral therapy.

Does your holistic pediatrician accept insurance?
Does your holistic pediatrician accept insurance?

But only if you have plenty of cash handy.

Kelly Brogan, MD, for example, who believes in a paleo approach to vaccines and thinks we should co-exist with viruses and bacteria, charges up to $4,497 for your first appointment! But if that’s too much for you, for only $997, you can start living a “happy, healthier life” with her 44 day online program.

“We coexist with bacteria and viruses to a level of enmeshment that makes the perception of ‘vaccine-preventable infections’ a laughable notion.”

Kelly Brogan, MD on Where do Vaccines Fit into a Paleo Lifestyle?

And now, some doctors are even making money by selling vaccine exemptions!

Oliver argued that Sears likes to have it both ways, seeming to support science-based medicine while once in a while saying things like “vaccines don’t cause autism except when they do.”

The line inspired Oliver to fire back with this: “Don’t worry, opportunist quacks writing books that fan the flames of people’s unfounded fears don’t cause a legitimate public health hazard, except when they do.”

John Oliver takes a shot at the anti-vaccine movement and the ‘opportunistic quacks’ behind it

Mostly they just sell fear though.

But that’s all they need to get their foot in the door and keep some parents from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

What to Know About the Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Although they cry Big Pharma at the drop of a hat, it should be clear that folks in the anti-vaccine movement are often motivated by money.

More on the Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Recommendations for Reporting on Measles Outbreaks

Unfortunately, we hear news reports about measles outbreaks a lot more than we should.

We don’t get much information in many of those news reports though…

Anatomy of a Measles Outbreak Report

The big reason we don’t get a lot of information in those news reports is that many of them are simply repeating health department press releases.

A news release from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
A news release from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Those press releases often leave a lot of important information out though.

Although that information might not be available yet, if you are a journalist covering a measles outbreak, instead of simply repeating the health department news release, you might call the local or state health department and ask a few questions:

  • Where did the person get measles? Most cases these days are imported – an unvaccinated person travels out of the country and returns home with measles, starting an outbreak. If they didn’t recently travel out of the country, then there’s a problem – where did they get measles? Unless there is already an ongoing outbreak in the area, then that means someone else in the area has measles that we don’t know about.
  • Where did the person go while they were still contagious and might have exposed others?
  • Hold old are they and were they vaccinated?

Do we have a right to this information? While the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects a person’s medical information, those rules don’t necessarily always apply in an emergency or outbreak situation. Plus, you are still getting de-identified information.

“Health care providers may share patient information with anyone as necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent threat to the health and safety of a person or the public.”

HHS on HIPAA Privacy in Emergency Situations

How is knowing someone’s vaccination status going to be helpful? Unvaccinated folks tend to cluster together, so knowing the person is unvaccinated, especially an unvaccinated child, might indicate that many more people have been exposed. But then, most measles outbreaks are started by someone who is unvaccinated

Important Points for Covering Measles Outbreaks

An infant hospitalized during a measles outbreak in the Philippines in which 110 people died.
The symptoms of measles include a high fever, cough, runny nose, and red, watery eyes. The rash doesn’t start until 3-5 days later, as the fever continues. Photo by Jim Goodson, M.P.H.

In addition of covering the basics about the person with measles, there are other important points to cover, especially that measles is a vaccine-preventable disease!

Two doses of the MMR vaccine offers great protection against measles, and is especially important if you are unvaccinated and are going to travel out of the country. Even infants as young as six months old should get an MMR before international travel.

While most people hopefully know all that, they may not know:

  • the vaccination rates in your area schools
  • the non-medical vaccine exemption rates in your area schools
  • the number of measles cases in your area and in your state over the past few years
  • that measles is very costly to contain
  • that the incubation period for measles is 10 to 21 days after you were exposed, so it can take that long before you show symptoms
  • that they should warn their doctor or hospital before getting evaluated so that they can make sure you don’t expose other people, as measles is very, very contagious
  • that the quarantine period for unvaccinated people who have been exposed to someone with measles is typically up to 21 days after their last possible contact
  • that a dose of MMR within three days of exposure can help prevent your child from getting measles if they aren’t already fully vaccinated
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.
Vaccine preventable diseases are just a plane ride away.

You should also consider interviewing and quoting a local pediatrician and reinforcing the facts that vaccines work and they are safe.

And obviously, as we see with these outbreaks, vaccines are necessary.

You should avoid also false balance in your reporting.

You should fully cover each outbreak in your area, as they help remind people to get vaccinated and protected.

What to Know About Reporting on Measles Outbreaks

Journalists can help reduce the size of measles outbreaks with good reporting that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary and by reminding folks to get vaccinated and protected.

More on Recommendations for Reporting on Measles Outbreaks

Elderberry and Oscillococcinum to Treat the Flu

Have you heard of using Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum to treat the flu?

How about taking high-dose Elderberry syrup as part of your post-flu vaccination care plan?

Or taking Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum as part of a flu prevention protocol?

Do Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum Treat the Flu?

Do you think that Oscillococcinum can really treat flu symptoms?
Do you think that Oscillococcinum can really treat flu symptoms?

Even if you have heard of Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum, you may not know what they really are or what they really do…

Elderberry syrup (Sambucol) is supposed to help you get over cold and flu symptoms quicker. Maybe it does, at least in mice with the flu.

Not surprisingly, there is no strong evidence that elderberry works.

What about Oscillococcinum?

As much as Oscillococcinum costs, it must work, right?

Nope.

What Is Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum?

Surprisingly, these natural “flu fighters” are sold in most pharmacies, so the average person has no idea that they aren’t real medicine.

Not real medicine?

Does that make them alternative medicine?

“…there’s no such thing as conventional or alternative or complementary or integrative or holistic medicine. There’s only medicine that works and medicine that doesn’t. And the best way to sort it out is by carefully evaluating scientific studies – not by visiting Internet chat rooms, reading magazine articles, or talking to friends.”

Paul Offit, MD on Do You Believe in Magic?

So Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum fall into the category of medicine that doesn’t work.

That still doesn’t help you understand what they are though…

Elderberry syrup is made from the berries of the European elder tree (and lots of sugar to make it taste sweet). While it is sold like a traditional cough and cold medicine, it is just another herbal remedy.

What’s in Oscillococcinum?

Active Ingredients:
Anas Barbariae Hepatis Et Cordis Extractum 200 CK HPUS

No berries or herbs in Oscillococcinum.

And not much of anything else either.

“Since 1925, Oscillococcinum has been prepared as follows. Into a one litre bottle, a mixture of pancreatic juice and glucose is poured. Next a Canard de Barbarie is decapitated and 35 grams of its liver and 15 grams of its heart are put into the bottle. Why liver? Doctor Roy writes: “The Ancients considered the liver as the seat of suffering, even more important than the heart, which is a very profound insight, because it is on the level of the liver that the pathological modifications of the blood happen, and also there the quality of the energy of our heart muscle changes in a durable manner.” Maybe the French tendency to call any form of not well-being a “crise de foie” (“bilious attack”) had also something to do with it. After 40 days in the sterile bottle, liver and heart autolyse (disintegrate) into a kind of goo, which is then “potentized” with the Korsakov method.”

Jan Willem Nienhuys on The True Story of Oscillococcinum

Wait.

Whose pancreatic juice do they use? The ducks?

While all of that sounds gross, if you have taken Oscillococcinum, you can rest assured that you haven’t eaten any duck heart, duck liver, or pancreatic juice.

Oscillococcinum is a homeopathic medicine and so that mixture is diluted so much, it is impossible that any of the original “medicine” is still in those little sugar pills.

Why People Buy Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum

So if they don’t work, why do so many people buy these products?

As I said, many people don’t know that they are anything different than all of the other traditional cold and flu treatments on store shelves. After all, most pharmacies don’t have a section or shelf for medicine that doesn’t work.

We see the same thing when parents buy homeopathic teething medicines, colic tablets, pain and fever reducers, pinkeye drops, and cough syrup.

Unfortunately,  since there are few good options to treat cold and flu symptoms, especially in younger kids, they buy Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum. It is also the remedy that is pushed on many anti-vaccine websites and by holistic pediatricians.

What to Know About Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum

Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum have not been shown to work to treat the flu or flu symptoms and are mainly pushed by alternative medical providers.

More on Elderberry syrup and Oscillococcinum

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Is this going to be the worst flu season in history?

The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since...
The editors from The New York Times really want to know if this is the worst flu season since…

That certainly seems to be how the media is playing it.

Have you read any of these articles?

  • California’s deadly flu season could be worst in a decade
  • Defending against this season’s deadly flu: 5 things to know
  • The CDC says this year’s flu may reach ‘epidemic’ proportions
  • Worst of deadly flu season may still be to come, Dallas County officials say
  • Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades
  • Hospital Overrun By Flu Cases Having To Turn Them Away
  • Get ready, some medical experts are predicting the worst flu season in history

Worst flu season in history? Really?

Flu Season Hazard

Flu season can be deadly.

That’s not hype.

That’s why every one should get a flu shot each year.

Early flu seasons can be bad.

Why? They overlap with RSV season. That means that everyone is sick at the same time with bronchiolitis, croup, colds, and the flu.

They are especially bad because many people haven’t taken the time to get their flu shot yet.

And an H3N2-predominant flu season can be especially bad. In addition to high levels of pediatric flu deaths, the CDC reports that the four flu seasons that were H3N2-predominant in recent years were “the four seasons with the highest flu-associated mortality levels in the past decade.” H3N2 virus strains drift easily, so that flu vaccines are less effective.

Flu Season Hype

Right off the bat, one big problem with most of these headlines, and the way that this year’s flu season is being hyped, is folks going out of their way to use the word “deadly” every chance they can.

Every flu season is deadly!

And guess what?

Flu season reaches “epidemic proportions” each and every year!

“The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. This time of year is called flu season.”

CDC on Frequently Asked Flu Questions 2017-2018 Influenza Season

And we get to the point, in many cities, where a hospital fills up for a few days and has to turn away flu cases. It happens with RSV too. Its called a “code Yellow” in some hospitals.

The biggest problem with the current news coverage though, is that there hasn’t been much evidence that this is going to be the worst flu season that we have seen, although it is starting to live up to some of the hype.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says flu season runs from about September to May. Most years in Texas, a number called the ILI percentage — the number of patients doctors see with flu-like symptoms — checks in at about 2 percent or 3 percent during the offseason and crests to about 6 percent during the worst of the flu season. This year, according to a model developed by a Carnegie Mellon University team led by Roni Rosenfeld, Texas’ ILI percentage has already risen above 13 percent.”

“This is really record-breaking. In the last 20 years [the estimated number of people presenting flu symptoms] hasn’t reached that height,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s the highest it’s been this early in the season, and it’s the highest it’s been period.”

Dallas Observer on Texas Is Suffering Through its Worst Flu Outbreak in Decades

Do you know what is wrong with that report in the Dallas Observer?

texas-flu-season-ili

It misses that the ILI percentage was above 14% in Texas during the 2014-15 flu season too! So no records were being broken.

texas-flu-ili-more-years

The ILI percentage was actually between 10 to just over 14% for three out of four years recently.

Will hyping the flu to make it sound even more dangerous scare folks into getting a flu shot?

Probably not, as the media is also doing a good job of scaring folks into thinking that the flu shot isn’t effective this year!

Routine CDC Telebriefings during flu season used to be a good way of keeping this kind of hype down. We don’t seem to have them anymore…

(We did finally have one the week after I first posted this article though…)

Flu Season Hype or Hazard

What does any of this mean for this year’s flu season?

The New York Times had a good story, with a good headline to match:

They unfortunately followed it up with one that didn’t really seem to fit what the CDC is telling us…

An important take away from their first story? It actually reported on a lower hospitalization rate (at the time, it has since increased) this year than the 2014-15 flu season.

So far, this year's flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.
So far, this year’s flu season is closely following the 2014-15 flu season.

Why is the 2014-15 flu season important?

For one thing, looking at real data and not just trying to scare folks, we can say that this year’s flu season has looked a lot like the 2014-15 flu season. That was also an H3N2-predominant flu season that got off to an early start, but tragically, ended up killing at least 148 children.

The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.
The 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like the 2012-13 flu season.

I’m sure that few people remember, but the 2014-15 flu season looked a lot like another  H3N2-predominant flu season – the 2012-13 flu season. That year, we also got off to an early start and again, tragically, we ended up with 171 pediatric flu deaths.

So, is this going to be a bad flu season?

Is there ever a good flu season?

“This season now looking like the 2014-15 season where H3N2 predominated.”

Dan Jernigan, MD, MPH Director of the Influenza Division in the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases

It’s hard to predict, but the odds are strongly against this being the worst flu season in history.

This year’s flu season is starting to live up to some of the hype though.

“The overall hospitalization rate is higher than the overall hospitalization rate reported during the same week of the 2014-2015 season; the most severe season in recent years.”

CDC Influenza Situation Update

On the other hand, fewer pediatric flu deaths have been reported so far (84 pediatric deaths) this year than at the same point in the 2014-15 (86 pediatric deaths) flu season.

Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.
Flu is still widespread in 48 states, but some evidence that we are peaking.

And ILI has finally peaked (hopefully).

At 7.5%, it is the highest we have seen since the 2009 pandemic.

“The majority of the influenza viruses collected from the United States during October 1, 2017 through February 10, 2018 were characterized antigenically and genetically as being similar to the cell-grown reference viruses representing the 2017–18 Northern Hemisphere influenza vaccine viruses.”

CDC Situation Update: Summary of Weekly FluView Report

And we don’t have a mismatched flu strain or a strain that has drifted to be concerned about.

That doesn’t mean that the flu vaccine is going to work perfectly, by any means, but initial reports are that this year’s flu vaccine is much more effective than expected.

It's sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year's flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.
It’s sad that Inside Car News had a better headline for their story on the effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine than Fox News, the WSJ, and HuffPo.

The best news, besides a very good supply of flu vaccines and anti-viral medicines, like Tamiflu, this year?

We saw the same H3N2 strain in the United States last year. Although that might not guarantee immunity if you had the flu last year, it should offer some protection against severe disease.

Also, we have some new flu vaccines, including the cell-based vaccine, Flucelvax, and high dose flu shots and flu shots with adjuvants for adults 65 years of age and older.

Still, like most H3N2-predominant flu seasons, it will at best be a moderately severe flu season.

Worst ever? That’s doubtful.

Ignore the hype, but don’t ignore the advice to get vaccinated and protected against the flu. It’s never too late to get a flu shot. Even with an early start, flu season will continue into the spring.

What to Know About Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Like other H3N2-predominant flu seasons, this year’s flu season will be moderately-severe, but warnings that it could be the worst flu season ever are likely just hype.

More on Flu Season Hype or Hazard

Updated February 17, 2018

What Ronald Reagan Can Teach Us About Vaccine Policy

Many U.S. Presidents, even George Washington, worked to get people vaccinated and protected. Well, Washington got them variolated and protected against smallpox, but that still counts.

As can be expected, some Presidents did a better job than others.

“Government’s first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.”

Ronald Reagan

Do you have to run someone’s life to prevent outbreaks and help make sure folks get protected against vaccine-preventable disease?

Ronald Reagan’s Vaccine Policy

A lot happened in regards to vaccines when Reagan was President. After all, he was the President who signed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) of 1986, which created VAERS and the NVICP!

What else happened?

“…the Reagan Administration starved the Federal program for childhood immunization…”

The Shame of Measles

That’s right, Federal support for vaccine programs reached a low point during Reagan’s years in office, as rates of children living in poverty and without health insurance also increased.

That’s not a good mix!

“During the Reagan years, the price of vaccine went up and Federal funding for childhood immunization went down.”

The Measles Menace

Not only did the price of vaccines go up, but new vaccines were added to the immunization schedule in the mid-1980s.

So even if Federal funding for vaccines had stayed the same, it would essentially have been a big cut!

“Measles is a wholly preventable disease, and it was almost eradicated from the country in 1983, when only 1,497 cases were reported. But by 1990, after Federal budget cuts and the end of the Government’s monitoring of immunization programs, more than 30,000 cases of measles and more than 60 deaths were reported.”

Panel Ties Measles Epidemic to Breakdown in Health System

All of this followed President Jimmy Carter’s National Childhood Immunization Initiative in 1977, which reached its goal of immunizing over 90% of children!

Not surprisingly, this followed a growth in federal grants from $5 million to $35 million towards state immunization budgets. Yes, it costs money to get kids vaccinated and protected. But don’t forget that it costs even more money to control outbreaks once they start.

“Immunization policy during the Carter Administration demonstrated that when both an administration and key congressional actors viewed immunization as a priority and made sufficient funds available to support the public health delivery system and its infrastructure, coverage levels would continue to rise and disease levels continue to decline.”

Johnson et al on Federal immunization policy and funding: A history of responding to crises

Unfortunately, the coverage levels and growth during the Carter administration weren’t sustained for very long after Reagan took office in 1981.

As can be expected, neither were declines in rates of measles.

Instead, we eventually saw big outbreaks of measles across the United States. From 1989 to 1991, at least 123 people died among 55,000 cases, with another 11,000 hospitalized.

“The measles outbreak of 1989–1991 exposed many incorrect assumptions behind the belief that low levels of coverage were sufficient to control the transmission of infectious disease. The changing demographics of society, the mixing of young children in day care settings, new patterns of health care delivery, high rates of uninsured children, and the shrinking size and morale of health departments all fostered circumstances in which disease transmission occurred within major metropolitan areas even though disease reports were low, and state health officials believed statewide immunization coverage was at acceptable levels.”

Calling the Shots: Immunization Finance Policies and Practices

How did it get fixed?

President George HW Bush announced his own immunization action plan to raise vaccinated rates, and we once again put more Federal money into our immunization programs.

The result?

Immunization rates went up and the outbreaks stopped.

The President and the Children

Outbreaks that didn’t have to happen.

A 1987 op-ed in the New York Times warned about was coming and how to prevent it…

“Each dollar spent to immunize young children saves $10 in later medical costs. Yet in 1985, one of four children between ages 1 and 4 was not immunized for rubella, mumps, polio or measles and 13 percent lacked immunization for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Congress would increase funding by about $20 million, enough to immunize 600,000 more youngsters.”

The Reagan administration didn’t listen.

The Children's Defense Budget analysis details how Reagan proposed cutting $2 to $3 million a year from the immunization program beginning with his 1982 budget.
The Children’s Defense Fund budget analysis details how Reagan proposed cutting $2 to $3 million a year from the immunization program beginning with his 1982 budget.

Are we headed for something similar in the years ahead?

Consider that:

  • the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) expired on September 30 and it has yet to be reauthorized
  • the short-term CHIP “fix” took $750 million cut from the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides 40% of the total funding for the CDC’s immunization program
  • the Section 317 Immunization Program was already slated for a big drop in President Trump’s FY 2018 Budget

So we may have fewer kids with insurance and less money for immunization programs.

When did we last see that scenario?

Take Action and remind Congress and our President of the “critical role” they play in protecting our children and that they should #PutKidsFirst.

“As Members of Congress, we have a critical role to play in supporting the availability and use of vaccines to protect Americans from deadly disease.”

Sens. Lamar Alexander et al Dear Colleague Letter

“Supporting the availability and use of vaccines” does not mean decreasing funding for vaccine programs!

And protecting “Americans from deadly disease” certainly does not mean having fewer people covered on insurance plans.

What to Know About Ronald Reagan’s Vaccine Policy

Ronald Reagan essentially starved the Federal program for childhood immunization, which led to lower vaccine rates and deadly outbreaks of measles. Let’s not allow history to repeat itself.

More on Ronald Reagan’s Vaccine Policy