Tag: book review

The Vaccine-Friendly Plan Book Review

The Vaccine-Friendly Plan is the latest book about vaccines that claims to offer a “safe and effective approach to immunity and health.”

What’s the problem with it?

In addition to the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any evidence in the book to support that any of its ideas are indeed safe or effective, the book pushes just about every anti-vaccine talking point out there today.

Misinformation in The Vaccine-Friendly Plan

If you want to skip or delay some of your child’s vaccines and are looking for something to help you feel better about your decision, then this is the book for you.

While Dr. Thomas and Jennifer Margulis talk about providing balanced information, it was right after he stated that “I realized we had poisoned a generation of children with a mercury-derived preservative called thimerosal” and then goes on to talk about how kids are overvaccinated.

So much for balanced information…

But Dr. Thomas isn’t just worried about vaccines. He is also worried about Tylenol, that the chemicals in plastics are endocrine disruptors, GMOs, flame retardants, pesticides, fluoride, artificial sweeteners, chemical dyes, and all of the other toxins that other doctors and the CDC supposedly ignore.

What about the “science” that supports his ideas?

Sure, he is quick to cherry pick studies that support the ideas he likes and label them as “important studies” among “a growing body of evidence,” but if the studies don’t, then they are “a handful of poorly designed, anecdotal studies.”

We see a lot of other anti-vaccine propaganda techniques in the book too.

“Giving a quadruple live-virus vaccine to a toddler is a mistake. When a toddler catches an illness naturally, he does not catch all four at once. I have serious concerns about hitting the immune system of a twelve-month-old baby with four live viruses, even though they are weakened.”

Does Dr. Thomas understand how the immune system works or how many different things our immune systems get “hit” with each and every day? Children are exposed to a lot of live, unweakened viruses and other germs every day and fight them off just fine.

Dr. Thomas also routinely downplays the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases (they all seem to be easily treatable in his world), overstates the risks of vaccines (they all seem to be full of horrible poisons in his world), makes heavy use of anecdotes, repeatedly makes it sound like every other pediatrician is doing something wrong, and again, makes full use of anti-vaccine talking points to scare parents:

To see how silly his arguments are, consider that when talking about giving any amount of formula to a baby, he is quick to say that “Cow’s milk is for calves, human milk is for human babies.”

“I also know several strapping young people who drank bottles of raw goat’s milk (instead of store-bought formula) when their breastfeeding mothers needed to be away from them for several hours…”

Raw goat milk is for kids = baby goats. Don't give it to your baby!
Raw goat milk is for kids = baby goats. Don’t give it to your baby! Photo by Shannon McGee (CC BY-SA 2.0)
But what about goat milk?

Is it just for baby goats?

You won’t hear this from Dr. Thomas, but unless your ‘kid’ is a baby goat, don’t give him raw goat milk!

So what’s the take home message about Dr. Thomas and his book?

Despite his frequently using the word science in the book, the only “science” in The Vaccine-Friendly Plan is that it is full of pseudoscience.

You can even see this in his ideas about gluten sensitivity. Why do so many of his patients show a sensitivity to gluten? He uses an IgG food sensitivity test that most experts say is basically worthless.

Making a Case for Getting Vaccinated

Perhaps the only good thing about Dr. Paul Thomas’ book is that he makes some very good cases for why you should vaccinate your kids.

Wait, what?

His introduction starts off with the story of the death of his three-year-old playmate in Africa. Tragically, the child died of measles.

Like many other pediatricians, he also talks about “the miracle that the Hib vaccine was when it was introduced in 1985.”

“Then in 2012 I had about twenty children in my practice with pertussis: eighteen were school age kids, and two were infants. Interestingly, fifteen of the twenty were fully immunized for pertussis, and the other five were from the small group of families in my practice who refuse all vaccines.”

His story about pertussis in his practice is also very interesting, but not for the reason that Dr. Thomas believes.

Consider that most kids are vaccinated, even in Dr. Thomas’ practice, so the fact that 25% of the kids who got pertussis are unvaccinated means a very high attack rate among unvaccinated children. So even with the problems of waning immunity with the pertussis vaccine, you are still much better off to be vaccinated and protected, even if that protection isn’t perfect.

“Since I opened my practice in 2008, not a single child has received the rotavirus vaccine. I refuse to stock it. Yet only one child in seven years has been hospitalized for severe dehydration. The unvaccinated children in my practice either are not getting rotavirus, or the illness is so mild that it requires no intervention.”

And so much for vaccine choice. How can his patients make a decision to get vaccinated if he doesn’t even have the vaccine?!?

But why don’t they get rotavirus? It is not because the vaccine doesn’t work or isn’t necessary. It is actually called being a free-rider or hiding in the herd.

Like most vaccines, the rotavirus vaccine works and helps create community immunity.

The Most Dangerous Advice in The Vaccine-Friendly Plan

Unfortunately, the dangerous advice in this book extends well beyond repeatedly telling parents to “say no thank you” to multiple vaccines and to delay others.

The advice to “decline vaccines” during pregnancy has to be right up there with the most dangerous advice in his book, but you be the judge…

“It depends on the medication, but the short answer is that it’s best to avoid all over the counter and prescription medications during pregnancy.”

Unbelievably, Dr. Thomas really seems to say that pregnant mothers should try to stop their antidepressants because “women respond differently to pregnancy hormones and some who struggle with mental health issues find the high estrogen and progesterone of pregnancy actually improve mood and mental health.”

He also thinks that it is “reasonable” to skip your baby’s vitamin K shot because of “worrisome ingredients,” like polysorbate 80 and aluminum.

“If bilirubin levels remain extremely high – above 20 – for over a week or two, some of the bilirubin can enter the brain, where it can cause permanent brain damage called kernicterus.”

Hopefully most parents are aware that you don’t want to wait “a week or two” to seek treatment if you baby’s jaundice level is above 20.

And hopefully most parents also understand that:

  • the cutoff for fever in newborns is 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, not 100.6°F (38.4°C)
  • co-sleeping and letting your baby sleep on your chest are not safe things to do
  • skipping an evaluation and antibiotics when mom is GBS positive after delivery and she develops a fever (possible chorioamnionitis) is not a safe thing for baby, especially if mom already skipped getting antibiotics during her delivery  – it’s called gambling that the baby won’t develop early-onset invasive group B streptococcal disease. Several studies have found very high numbers of newborns in this situation with positive blood cultures, even though they had no symptoms.
  • if your pediatrician recommends that your child needs treatment for congenital hip dysplasia (which is actually now called Developmental Dysplasia of the Hip), then you should probably listen, instead of hoping it goes away on its own by wearing “your baby on your front or back with his legs splayed.”
  • you shouldn’t put your baby in direct sunlight without sunscreen for ten to fifteen minutes every day
  • there is no need to routinely check your baby’s vitamin D level – just give a supplement if you are exclusively breastfeeding
  • until polio is eradicated, the risk of getting polio is higher than zero and that all of his unvaccinated kids are at risk even if they don’t travel outside the US, like the outbreak among the Amish in 2005
  • children die from meningococcal disease because it is a severe and terrible disease that progresses very quickly, not because “we pediatricians – so quick to intervene in other, unnecessary ways – fail to listen to a worried mother, dismiss her concerns as “hysterical,” and send a sick child home…” In one study, “Most children had only non-specific symptoms in the first 4-6 h, but were close to death by 24 h.”
  • preschoolers do not need to routinely take 2,000IU of vitamin D each day – the current recommendation is 600IU if they are not getting enough from the foods they are eating and drinking and 2,000IU only if they have been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency
  • about 4,200 women die of cervical cancer in the United States each year, something Dr. Thomas fails to mention when he says that “some strains of HPV can lead to slow-growing, highly treatable cancers.”

Although the whole book is dangerous, these are serious errors that can harm kids, and it is unbelievable that Penguin Random House would publish this book as a Medical/Parenting book. After all, this is the same company that published NeuroTribes!

Conspiracy Theories in The Vaccine-Friendly Plan

No good anti-vaccine book would be complete without some good old conspiracy theories.

Dr. Thomas doesn’t disappoint!

“It took me years to realize something I still wish were not true but which you cannot ignore if you want to have a healthy baby in America today: Our government officials and a handful of well-positioned M.D.’s who advise them have ignored some of the most important peer-reviewed studies and most relevant scientific information about immunity and health, both during pregnancy and throughout infancy.”

Dr. Paul Thomas

What else has he got?

  • the polio vaccines didn’t eliminate polio in the US, instead, it could have been “chlorinating water in public swimming pools” – it wasn’t
  • “severe reactions to the HPV vaccine are actually much more common than parents are being told” – they aren’t, even Diane Harper says the HPV vaccines are safe
  • rotavirus deaths in the pre-vaccine era are “inaccurate and misleading” because they are estimated numbers “based on a retrospective study that looked at morbidity associated with diarrheal disease between 1968 and 1991,” – except that Dr. Thomas looked at the wrong study. The estimates for hospitalizations and deaths in the pre-vaccine era come from a different study that looked at “Hospitalizations and Deaths from Diarrhea and Rotavirus among Children <5 Years of Age in the United States, 1993–2003.” Oops.
  • most flu-like illnesses are not really the flu, which “makes it impossible to distinguish influenza infections from other viruses,” unless you go to his office, where he tests kids for the flu – except that using the influenza-like illness (ILI) case definition has a high positive predictive value during flu season and many doctors and hospitals also do rapid flu testing

Do you really believe that it was the chlorine in swimming pools that eliminated polio in the United States? Or that he has found a magic way to avoid autism by drinking filtered water, avoiding GMOs, eating organic, whole foods, and following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule?

What to Know About The Vaccine-Friendly Plan

The Vaccine-Friendly Plan is a dangerous book that not only panders to parent’s fears about vaccines, it goes out of its way to increase those fears by pushing misinformation, telling parents to skip and delay vaccines, and giving other unsafe pediatric and parenting advice.

The only reason to pick it up is because you are looking for some confirmation bias to make you feel better about a decision to not vaccinate your child. If you read it because you were on the fence about vaccines, please consider doing a little more research.

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