Tag: vaccine injury stories

How to Claim a Vaccine Exemption

Don’t want to get your kids vaccinated?

You might be surprised to know that no one is out there trying to force you into vaccinating them.

Want to enroll your kids in daycare, preschool, school, or college?

Then they will need to be vaccinated.

How to Claim a Vaccine Exemption

Of course, depending on where you live, you could get a vaccine exemption and leave your kids unvaccinated and unprotected.

Does your child qualify for a medical exemption? All states allow kids to claim medical exemptions to getting vaccinated. True medical exemptions are rare though, as you can see from the rates in states that actually require screening and approval of medical vaccine exemptions.

Are you a Christian Scientist? In 47 states, laws allow religious exemptions to vaccinations. Ironically, these exemptions are often abused, as you don’t actually need to belong to a religion that is against vaccines to claim a religious exemption to vaccinations.

“When you are challenged by the viewpoint of a denomination, pastor, publication, or atheist authority: You do not worship any pastor, church, religious publication, or denomination. Your pastor’s personal view on vaccines is irrelevant to your stance because pastors do not learn about the biblical implications of vaccinating during seminary and your pastor isn’t God. (Though if you have a pastor willing to go to bat for you, use him.)”

Megan on How To Get a Vaccine Religious Exemption Like a Boss

It is not even a secret that parents abuse the religious vaccine exemption, claiming them even when they don’t have a sincere religious belief against getting vaccinated.

And in 20 states, it is even easier to claim a vaccine exemption. These are the states that allow philosophical or personal belief vaccine exemptions, in which you can typically just say that you are against vaccinating and protecting your kids “for reasons of conscience.”

Vaccine exemptions are too easy to get in some states, but even with an exemption, your child will still be excluded if there is an outbreak.
Vaccine exemptions are too easy to get in some states, but even with an exemption, your child will still be excluded if there is an outbreak.

What reasons? You don’t usually have to go into much detail…

Why Parents Abuse Vaccine Exemptions

It is not hard to understand why some parents abuse vaccine exemptions.

They abuse vaccine exemptions because they can.

In many states, it is easy to abuse vaccine exemptions because medical exemptions aren’t verified and approved and it is often easier and more convenient to get an exemption than to get vaccinated. Believe it or not, some doctors will even sell you a medical exemption for your child. Also, parents are made to feel so scared by anti-vaccine propaganda that they think that they need to get an exemption.

“Permitting personal belief exemptions and easily granting exemptions are associated with higher and increasing nonmedical US exemption rates. State policies granting personal belief exemptions and states that easily grant exemptions are associated with increased pertussis incidence.”

Omer et al on Nonmedical exemptions to school immunization requirements: secular trends and association of state policies with pertussis incidence.

But just because you can claim an easy exemption in a state without strong vaccine exemption laws doesn’t mean that you should.

While there are no benefits to delaying or skipping vaccines, there are plenty of risks. And the risks aren’t just to your unvaccinated child. We continue to see and hear about kids who are too young to be vaccinated or who couldn’t be vaccinated getting caught up in outbreaks caused by others who simply chose to not get vaccinated.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

Not surprisingly, websites and organizations that give advice on getting kids easy vaccine exemptions never mention these risks. They also overstate the risks of vaccines and don’t mention the benefits of getting vaccinated.

Vaccines are safe and necessary. Unless your child has a true medical contraindication to getting one or more vaccines, do a little more research before getting a non-medical exemption.

What to Know About Claiming a Vaccine Exemption

While it is typically not hard to claim a vaccine exemption for your child, since vaccines are safe and necessary, be sure you understand the risks of delaying or skipping any vaccines if your child doesn’t need a true medical exemption.

More on Claiming a Vaccine Exemption

 

Anecdotes as Evidence

Evidence is evidence, right?

Not really.

There is a hierarchy of evidence, from weakest to strongest, that help folks make decisions about science and medicine.

In an age when everything is evidence of something, remember that anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

That’s why you can’t just search PubMed, read abstracts, and say that you have done your research. For any study, you have to review and judge the quality of the evidence it provides.

Is it a case report (a glorified anecdote), case series, or animal study (lowest quality evidence) or a systemic review or meta analyses (highest quality evidence)?

What about case control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials? They lie somewhere in between on the hierarchy of evidence scale.

Anecdotes as Evidence

And where do anecdotes fit in?

“Anecdotes are uncontrolled subjective observations. I have often criticized reliance on anecdotes, which is especially problematic in medicine. The problem with anecdotes is that they are subject to a host of biases, such as confirmation bias. They are easily cherry picked, even unintentionally, and therefore can be used to support just about any position. For every anecdote, there is an equal and opposite anecdote.”

Steven Novella on The Context of Anecdotes and Anomalies

Anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, some people use anecdotal evidence to make some very serious decisions, including skipping or delaying their children’s vaccines, leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected.

“An anecdote is a story – in the context of medicine it often relates to an individual’s experience with their disease or symptoms and their efforts to treat it. People generally find anecdotes highly compelling, while scientists are deeply suspicious of anecdotes. We are fond of saying that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.”

Steven Novella on The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine

Believing that anecdotes are important scientific evidence is also what often drives some pediatricians to pander to fears that parents may have about vaccines, helping them create non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules.

What else do you need to know about anecdotal evidence?

Anecdotes are basically the fuel of the anti-vaccine movement.

“With little or no evidence-based information to back up claims of vaccine danger, anti-vaccine activists have relied on the power of storytelling to infect an entire generation of parents with fear of and doubt about vaccines. These parent accounts of perceived vaccine injury, coupled with Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent research study linking the MMR vaccine to autism, created a substantial amount of vaccine hesitancy in new parents, which manifests in both vaccine refusal and the adoption of delayed vaccine schedules.”

Shelby et al on Story and science

Well, anecdotes and fear – often combined in vaccine scare videos.

If you have been making your vaccine decisions based on anecdotes, it is time to do a little more research and get better educated about vaccines.

What to Know About Anecdotes as Evidence

Anecdotes, although they are easy to believe, are not scientific evidence, and certainly shouldn’t persuade you that vaccines aren’t safe, that vaccines aren’t necessary, or that vaccines are associated with autism.

More on Anecdotes as Evidence

 

We Don’t Know How To Talk About Vaccines

There is a dirty little secret about vaccines that people don’t seem to like to talk about.

No, it’s not about toxins or autism.

“Our systematic review did not reveal any convincing evidence on effective interventions to address parental vaccine hesitancy and refusal. We found a large number of studies that evaluated interventions for increasing immunization coverage rates such as the use of reminder/recall systems, parent, community-wide, and provider-based education and incentives as well as the effect of government and school immunization policies.

However, very few intervention studies measured outcomes linked to vaccine refusal such as vaccination rates in refusing parents, intent to vaccinate, or change in attitudes toward vaccines.

Most of the studies included in the analysis were observational studies that were either under-powered or provided indirect evidence.”

Sadaf et al on A systematic review of interventions for reducing parental vaccine refusal and vaccine hesitancy

It’s that we don’t really know how to talk about vaccines to vaccine hesitant parents, at least not in a way that we know will consistently get them to vaccinate and protect their kids.

Understanding Studies About Vaccine Hesitancy

Sure, a lot of studies have been done about talking to vaccine hesitant parents.

We have all seen the headlines:

  • Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind
  • Pro-vaccine messages can boost belief in MMR myths, study shows
  • UWA study shows attacking alternative medicines is not the answer to get parents to vaccinate kids
  • Training Doctors To Talk About Vaccines Fails To Sway Parents

Does that mean that you shouldn’t try to talk to vaccine hesitant parents?

Of course not.

“How providers initiate and pursue vaccine recommendations is associated with parental vaccine acceptance.”

Opel et al on The Architecture of Provider-Parent Vaccine Discussions at Health Supervision Visits

Just understand that these headlines are usually about small studies, which if they were about treating a child with asthma or strep throat,  likely wouldn’t change how you do things.

Why do anti-vaccine websites still post misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?
Why do people continue to believe misinformation about fake recommendations to stop breastfeeding?

In one study that concluded that “physician-targeted communication intervention did not reduce maternal vaccine hesitancy or improve physician self-efficacy,” the physicians got a total of 45 minutes of training!

So they shouldn’t have so much influence about how you might talk to parents about vaccines that you throw up your hands at the thought of talking to a vaccine hesitant parent and won’t even think about learning how to use the CASE method, why presumptive language might work, or about vaccination-focused motivational interviewing techniques.

The bottom line is that no matter what the headlines say, we just haven’t found the best way to talk to vaccine-hesitant parents and help them overcome their cognitive biases. And until more studies are done, none of the existing studies about anti-vaccine myth-busting should likely overly influence how you do things.

“Physicians should aim for both parental satisfaction and a positive decision to vaccinate. Researchers must continue to develop conceptually clear, evidence-informed, and practically implementable approaches to parental vaccine hesitancy, and agencies need to commit to supporting the evidence base. Billions of dollars fund the research and development of vaccines to ensure their efficacy and safety. There needs to be a proportional commitment to the “R&D” of vaccine acceptance because vaccines are only effective if people willingly take them up.”

Leask et al on Physician Communication With Vaccine-Hesitant Parents: The Start, Not the End, of the Story

If you spend any time talking to vaccine hesitant parents, especially those who are on the fence, you quickly learn that many are eager to get good information about vaccines and all want to do what is best for their kids.

It’s just hard for many of them to do what is best when their decisions are getting influenced by vaccine scare videos and many of the 100s of myths about vaccines that are out there.

“…while the drivers of vaccine hesitancy are well documented, effective intervention strategies for addressing the issue are sorely lacking. Here, we argue that this may be because existing strategies have been guided more by intuition than by insights from psychology and by the erroneous assumption that humans act rationally.”

Rossen et al on Going with the Grain of Cognition: Applying Insights from Psychology to Build Support for Childhood Vaccination

So while we need more studies on the best ways to talk to vaccine hesitant parents, don’t dismiss all of the ways that might be effective, such as:

It is also important to become familiar with the myths and anti-vaccine talking points that may be scaring your patients away from getting vaccinated on time.

Why is this important?

If a parent is concerned about glyphosate, you might not sound too convincing telling them not to worry if you don’t even know what glyphosate is.

What to Know About Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

While we learn better ways to talk about vaccines, so that vaccine-hesitant parents can more easily understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, don’t dismiss current strategies because of small studies and attention grabbing headlines.

More on Vaccine Hesitancy Studies

 

Vaccine Injury Stories That Scare Parents

It is not uncommon to hear about parents having ‘panic attacks’ over the idea of vaccinating their kids.

“…many parents are inundated with horror stories of vaccine dangers, all designed to eat away at them emotionally while the medical and scientific communities have mounted their characteristic response by sharing the facts, the data, and all of the reliable peer-reviewed and well-cited research to show that vaccines are safe and effective.”

Federman on Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative

Or simply becoming anxious over an upcoming appointment for routine immunizations or to get caught up on vaccines.

What’s fueling all of this anxiety?

Vaccine Injury Stories That Scare Parents

Some of it is likely from the vaccine injury stories that they read  or videos they watch.

As parents get better at spotting the myths and misinformation behind the anti-vaccine movement, we are seeing more and more vaccine injury stories pop up to scare them.

“…recognizes the importance of examples—testimonials and stories—that are the lifeblood of vaccine-hesitant beliefs.”

Nathan Rodriguez on Vaccine-Hesitant Justifications

Vaccine injury stories aren’t new though.

These types of anecdotal stories were very popular when folks used to think that the DPT vaccine was causing a lot of side effects. It wasn’t though. And it was soon proven that the DPT vaccine didn’t cause SIDS, encephalitis, non-febrile seizures, and many other things it was supposed to have caused.

“Anecdotes – about a new miracle cure, a drug that is not being made available on the NHS, or the side effects of treatment, or some environmental hazard – sell product. Data, on the other hand, which take us towards the truth about these things, are less popular. Anecdotes, however many times they are multiplied, do not point the way to reliable knowledge. As the aphorism says, “The plural of anecdote is not data”.”

Raymond Tallis on Anecdotes, data and the curse of the media case study.

That anecdotes “sell” better than data may be one reason why you see them so often on anti-vaccine websites. Another is that they simply don’t have any good data to use as evidence!

Are Vaccine Injury Stories True?

Vaccines are not 100% safe, so there is no doubt that some vaccine injury stories are true.

There is also no doubt that what many people perceive to be vaccine injuries have actually been proven to not be caused by vaccines, from allergies and eczema to autism and MS.

“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”

Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children

Also keep in mind that in addition to the many so-called vaccine induced diseases, there are many historical vaccine injury stories that have been shown to be untrue:

  • the first deaf Miss America did not have a vaccine injury
  • Johnnie Kinnear supposedly began having seizures 7 hours after getting a DPT vaccine, when he was 14-months-old, but medical records actually shown that his seizures started 5 months after he received his vaccines
  • Dravet syndrome now explains many severe seizures associated with vaccinations

And at least one of Wakefield’s own followers – a mother who claimed that the MMR vaccine caused her son’s autism, was “dismissed as a manipulative liar” by a court in the UK.

Vaccine Injury Stories are Dangerous

Do vaccine injury stories have a purpose? They might help a parent cope with a diagnosis in the short term, but vaccine injury stories are dangerous in so many ways.

We have seen how they create anxiety for many parents, which can scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids from life-threatening vaccine-preventable diseases.

What else can they do?

Driving a wedge between parents and pediatricians does not help autistic kids.
Driving a wedge between parents and pediatricians does not help autistic kids.

They can certainly build up mistrust towards pediatricians and other health professionals. That is one way that the anti-vaccine movement continues to hurt autistic families. They also can lead parents to think that their “vaccine injured” child is “damaged” in some way.

And they push parents towards dangerous, unproven, unnecessary, and expensive alternative treatments. It shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the sites and forums that push vaccine injury stories also promote a lot of dangerous advice.

From recommending goat milk for your baby and skipping your baby’s vitamin K shot to various kinds of detoxing “treatments,” these are not the folks you want to trust with the health of your child.

What to Know About Vaccine Injury Stories

Vaccine injury stories prey on the fears of parents, help drive a wedge between them and their pediatricians, and are considered by many experts to be the lifeblood of the anti-vaccine movement.

More on Vaccine Injury Stories

Vaccine Scare Stories and the Media

We know why some parents are hesitant to get their kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine preventable diseases.

“In today’s world, smallpox has been eradicated due to a successful vaccination program and vaccines have effectively controlled many other significant causes of morbidity and mortality. Consequently, fear has shifted from many vaccine-preventable diseases to fear of the vaccines.”

Marian Siddiqui et al on the Epidemiology of vaccine hesitancy in the United States

These vaccine-hesitant parents have become more afraid of vaccines than of the vaccine-preventable diseases that they have never seen – thanks to effective vaccine programs.

Although there have always been folks around pushing misinformation about vaccines, stoking those fears, there is no denying that vaccine scare stories in the media have played a very big role in the history of the modern anti-vaccine movement.

The Media’s Role in Pushing Vaccine Misinformation

The media has done a good job in helping vaccine controversies either get started or at least spreading to a lot of people.

In addition to helping to publicize the controversy in the first place, you are likely see false balance in their reporting, making it seem like many experts believe that these are real controversies.

“Many recent immunization programs have suffered setbacks from immunization scares. Children have been needlessly put into danger by frightened parents that refused immunization for their children after “scare stories” about particular vaccines.”

WHO on the Impact of rumours and crises

This was certainly true during the “media’s MMR hoax” surrounding Andrew Wakefield.

Why blame the media for Andrew Wakefield’s MMR scandal?

Did a case report about 12 kids really set off a panic about vaccines and autism? Of course, Wakefield deserves a lot of the blame too, but why were his papers so widely  publicized?

“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

Maybe because the British media didn’t learn anything after the pertussis outbreaks of the 1970s and 80s.

In 1973, Dr. John Wilson took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.” What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.

When articles from daily and Sunday papers in Great Britain from the time were analyzed, they were found to be “irresponsible in their attitude” towards vaccines and often depicted “rare, negative events.”

In the United States, Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, one of the first celebrity, anti-vaccine pediatricians, was a frequent guest on Donahue and other talk shows during the 1970s and 80s.

And in 1982, Lea Thompson‘s anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette, helped start the modern American anti-vaccine movement.

“Many activists, like Robert Kennedy Jr., have blamed some vaccines for IQ loss, mental retardation and autism. I think that activists and lawyers may be killing people by frightening the public about vaccines. My own daughter got whooping cough after our pediatrician saw a 20/20 report that scared viewers about the whooping cough vaccine and didn’t give her the final vaccination. Fortunately, my daughter recovered, and she will appear on the program. I confront one of the lawyers about “scaring people for money.”

John Stossel 20/20 “Scared Stiff: Worry in America” (2007)

What followed were vaccine scare stories about DPT “hot lots,” vaccine injury stories on Nightline, and Jenny McCarthy on Oprah. There was also a lot of Wakefield on TV, from a 60 Minutes segment in 2000 to a long interview with Matt Lauer in 2009.

Vaccine Scare Stories

What else have we seen? Stories about:

The New York Times did a report about the First Deaf Miss America, saying a reaction to a DPT shot - she didn't.
The New York Times did a report about the First Deaf Miss America, saying a reaction to a DPT shot – she didn’t. The revised story didn’t get as much attention though.
  • hepatitis B vaccine causing multiple sclerosis
  • DPT and other vaccines causing SIDS
  • the HPV vaccines causing autoimmune diseases and other side effects

Lately, the media seems to be doing a better job talking about vaccines, except for a few cases, including Katie Couric discussing the HPV vaccine on her show in 2013 and the TODAY Show letting Robert DeNiro talk about Andrew Wakefield’s anti-vaccine movie VAXXED in 2016.

Worldwide, most vaccine scare stories are limited to tabloid type papers these days. The mainstream media is finally learning about the damage false balance in reporting can cause.

CBS News, who previously had been credited with having a four year run of “extremist views of vaccines and autism,” even ran a story recently educating viewers that dozens of studies have confirmed that the HPV vaccines are safe and that “We need to do better at protecting our children from cancers they never need to get.”

“The stories in the media have focused on anecdotal reports of adults and children who developed several different disorders after vaccination.”

Institute of Vaccine Safety Position on Hepatitis B Vaccines

Unfortunately, yesterday’s vaccine scare stories have been replaced by vaccine injury stories on Facebook and YouTube. These also focus on anecdotal reports of  children developing different disorders after getting their vaccines.

Are they the new fuel for the modern anti-vaccine movement?

Or is it talk about choice and mandates, making parents fear that they will be forced to vaccinate their kids?

Get educated about vaccines so you don’t get scared away from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

What To Know About Vaccine Scare Stories

Vaccine scare stories in the media, fueled by anecdotal reports and false balance in their reporting, have helped scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

More About Vaccine Scare Stories

Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn't survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.
My uncle got polio just before the vaccine was developed. He was hospitalized for six months, almost didn’t survive, and lived with atrophied muscles in one of his legs.

A rather strange anti-vaccine argument you might sometimes hear is that you can’t unvaccinate your kids (even though they push detox plans that say they do exactly that), so go ahead and wait to vaccinate them until you have “done your research” and are sure.

The problem with that argument, like most others that anti-vaccine folks use to justify their decisions to skip or delay vaccines, is that you can wait too long.

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

Benjamin Franklin Autobiography

Tragically, Ben Franklin wasn’t the last parent to regret not vaccinating his child.

More Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids

Roald Dahl, who famously wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is less well known for having a daughter who died of measles. It was just before the measles vaccine came out, so he didn’t regret not vaccinating her, but in urging other parents to protect their children, he did seem to regret that a vaccine wasn’t yet available.

For many other parents, a vaccine was available that could have kept their kids from getting sick.

“In 1989, the Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine was relatively new and not yet routine. I was aware of the vaccine’s availability, but, busy mom that I was, I had not yet made the trip to the health department to get the immunization for my two-year-old daughter, Sarah. I will always regret that bit of procrastination and the anguish that it caused.”

Peggy Archer

Some of them have shared their personal stories, including the parents of:

  • Abby Peterson‘s “pediatrician steered her away from vaccinating her daughter” against chickenpox and her mother, Duffy Peterson, now says that “she wishes she had questioned the doctor’s recommendations more forcefully.” Abby died of a chicken pox infection.
  • Emily Lastinger who was unvaccinated and died of flu.
  • After all seven of her unvaccinated kids caught whooping cough, this parent regretted not having them vaccinated.
  • Claire Noelle Bakke who got pertussis when she was five weeks old
  • Scarlet Anne Taylor who died of the flu during the 2014-15 flu season
  • this unvaccinated three year old who spent six days in the hospital (part of it in a slight coma, during which they weren’t sure he would survive) with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Abigail who was unvaccinated and died of invasive pneumococcal disease
  • these two unvaccinated kids who developed severe dehydration from rotavirus infections
  • Sarah who was unvaccinated and developed a croupy cough when she was two-years-old and ended up on a ventilator with Haemophilus influenzae type b epiglottitis
  • Ashley who died from the flu and had never gotten a flu shot
  • Evan who died of a vaccine-preventable disease because his mom was not told about the vaccine that could have prevented it

There is another group of parents who have regrets about vaccines. Those parents whose kids can’t be vaccinated (too young to be vaccinated, have cancer, or have another medical exemption, etc.) are put at risk and exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases by intentionally unvaccinated kids. These parents typically regret that those around them don’t get vaccinated and protected.

Your decision to get educated and vaccinate your family shouldn’t be based on fear or concerns of regret if you delay or skip any vaccines, but these types of personal stories are important to review, especially if you also hear, watch, or read any stories about vaccine injuries.

What To Know About Regretting Not Vaccinating Your Kids

Delaying or skipping one or more vaccines isn’t safer or healthier, it just puts your child at increased of catching the vaccine-preventable diseases the vaccines protect you against and might lead to feelings of regret if you wait too long.

More On Parents Who Regret Not Vaccinating Their Kids