Dear Livelihood Magazine,
I’d like to first of all express my gratitude and congratulations to Livelihood for publishing the first and only article out there offering a fairly well-balanced perspective on the passage of S2994 and the issue of vaccine choice. Bravo.
The author makes it clear she understands one of the foundational issues that led to the passage of this draconian law—a misunderstanding of and disrespect for sincerely held religious beliefs—when she writes that legislators “cited the fact that no prohibition on vaccination is to be found in the foundational doctrine of any mainstream religion, hardly surprising given that those doctrines were written long before the advent of vaccines.” These same legislators called the religious exemption “a loophole,” a “so-called religious exemption” and referred to those holding it as “flat-earthers,” and their beliefs as “hogwash.”
However, I believe that this profound disdain and disrespect for religious beliefs, which permeated the culture in Albany this legislative session was only half the story of what led to many of the “yes” votes on S2994. The other half was an unfortunate misunderstanding of the science, not only around vaccine safety and efficacy, but also around the idea that the unvaccinated carry and transmit disease, and that measles is a threat to public health.
So first of all, let’s clear up one thing: there is zero science behind claim that healthy, unvaccinated individuals spread disease. Unfortunately, many legislators did not understand this fact, and some legislative staff even donned dust masks and refused to shake hands when visited by those lobbying against S2994. They must have been reading the April 30 Washington Post article titled, “Anti-vaxxers are dangerous. Make them face isolation, fines, arrests,” which suggested that communities create an inventory of the unvaccinated “in the same way we have created sex-offenders lists.”
Then there’s the measles. Even your well-balanced article begins with the usual line about New York being at “the epicenter of the largest outbreak of measles in the United States since 1992,” a statement which sounds, frankly, somewhat scary for those who may not know that there have been no deaths or lasting adverse health effects from the measles during this epic outbreak. In fact, there has been only one death from measles in the past 20 years in the United States. Not surprising, given that the case fatality rate for measles in 1962, the year before the vaccine was introduced, was—as per the CDCs own data—approximately one in 10,000. Which, just by the way, is approximately the same as one’s lifetime risk of being struck by lightning.
Lastly, there is an assumption, also not backed by science, that it is only the unvaccinated who are spreading and contracting the measles. Though we do not have statistics yet for this year’s outbreak in New York from the Department of Health, we have only to look back at the famous Disneyland outbreak of 2015 to know that the vaccinated both catch, and transmit measles—almost 40% of those cases were actually vaccine-strain measles!
Clearly, we need more well-balanced articles like yours to bring a greater public awareness to the issues surrounding the passage of S2294, a law that was passed based on misinformation, much of which was propagated by the media’s misreporting. So keep up the excellent journalism, and hopefully others will catch on!
Anna Steinhardt, MD, New Paltz, NY
The history of medicine, and the current discussions about vaccination, would likely have been different if Edward Jenner had not heard of complexions unblemished by smallpox on milkmaids who had cowpox illness. Jenner’s famous achievement defeating smallpox provided a role model for generations of immunologists, leading to the current US vaccine schedule of 72 vaccinations targeting 16 diseases.
There was not a role model of comparable fame dealing with toxicology. Thus, the accompanying increase in vaccine preservatives ingested as the number of recommended vaccinations grew was not tracked by industry, government, or medical authorities.
In parallel, there seemed to be an increase in children who, in various ways, did not function normally.
Around 2000, the possible connection was noted, and came to public view November 10, 2002 in the New York Times Magazine, in an article entitled, “The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory”, raising the possibility that increased mercury preservative ingestion might explain the increase in children functioning abnormally.
Authorities, however, dismissed any connection. Just to be sure, they said, amounts of mercury in most vaccines were greatly reduced, though not for flu vaccines created in quantity each flu season. The left-over vaccines with mercury were routed to countries thought to have inadequate medical storage, including, surprisingly, Australia.
The Times’ article quoted lawyers noting the potential for damage claims, even for subtle effects, due to mercury’s long-known neurotoxicity. Authorities may have noted the same potential. The government rerouted vaccine injury cases to special vaccine courts. The courts have denied about half of all claims, though still paying over $4 billion dollars in claims. Anne Pyburn Craig, in two recent articles (Chronogram, Livelihood) discussing vaccination, downplays the significance of moving to what is essentially mandatory arbitration for vaccine injury, but my impression is that organizations prefer mandatory arbitration over regular courts because arbitrators tend to be less favorable to plaintiffs. Contrary to the suggestion of “swollen arm” injuries in Ms. Craig’s May 2019 Chronogram article, the $4 billion was mostly paid for serious damage and death.
A Virginia United Methodist minister’s son suddenly regressed. They searched for an explanation, and had the boy checked for abnormal amounts of toxic metals. Only one was found—mercury. So Rev. Lisa Sykes, who describes herself as the last person to get involved in activism, began an effort to remove mercury from all vaccines, bringing the cause to the U.N. treaty dealing with mercury. While the treaty did restrict some uses of mercury, industry succeeded in blocking Rev. Sykes’ effort on vaccines.
Contrary again to Ms. Craig’s two articles, it is quite feasible to evaluate vaccinated versus unvaccinated children, and the appropriate procedure was recommended to the government by its own advisory panel—compare the health history of matched groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated children over time. As Ms. Craig has noted, there is still a substantial population of children who have never been vaccinated. If vaccination is beneficial and has no negative effects, one would expect the vaccinated sample to have had a better health history. Why wouldn’t the government want to do the study? But it remains undone.
Should the government, through vaccine mandates, achieve 100% vaccination rates, then the study suggested could not be done, and the question of possible negative effects of vaccination in the U.S. would remain a mystery.
With so many committed to vaccination policy among officials, industry and medical professionals, the study should really be done by those with no direct stake in the outcome.
The elephant in the room in the vaccination debate, as the New York Times Magazine article suggested, is children with the range of problems under the umbrella term autism. The government is adamant that vaccines are not the problem. But oddly, there seems to be no sense of crisis. One would expect that dysfunction in one of every 59 children would trigger a massive no-stone-left-unturned effort.
Suppose that, having developed vaccines for the major serious illnesses, we had back then ranked future possible ways to improve health. In a nation with epidemic diabetes and cancer, more vaccines likely would have been some way down the list. But we didn’t do that—government, researchers and industry did what had worked for Jenner, had worked for measles, what public health work emphasizes, and thus more vaccines, for less common illnesses, were added. The road not taken.
Readers will notice this article managed to discuss vaccination without once using pejorative terms, a practice I encourage people of all views to adopt.
Recently, huge damage awards based on evidence at trial have been won by lymphoma patients who contended the chemical glyphosate caused their illnesses. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency regards glyphosate as “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” One can understand puzzlement by citizens—which is it?
Parents want to be sure about vaccination, and deserve the recommended study that can resolve concerns.
Readers who wish to investigate both sides can see the official view here (cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/index.html), and a dissenting view listing many studies and issues regarding vaccines here (chiropractic.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/1200-studies-The-Truth-Will-Prevail-3.pdf)
There are many other web sites offering views of both sides of the debate, and there have been scientific studies going back decades.
Our scientific and technical achievements have been so impressive that people put great faith in scientific authorities on issues such as vaccination. Two things might be kept in mind: First, not all sciences are the same. The level of confidence in, say, the interaction of a rocket with gravitational effects of the sun, earth, and moon is a lot greater than in the interaction of drugs and preservatives on the several trillion cells of the human body over the years of a child’s development. Second, scientists are people, and subject to the same ambitions and fallibility as others, illustrated by the claim by the editor of a prestigious scientific publication that half of all research was likely wrong:
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