We live in a polarized nation with major schisms of Democrat vs. Republican, religious vs. secular, pro-life vs. pro-choice, believers in mainstream medicine vs. adherents of alternative medicine, those who trust our government and authority vs. those who question our government and authority, etc. The current widespread debate about vaccination is a near-perfect storm that brings many of these into collision, igniting strong feelings, anger and fear in many quarters.
People have passionate views on this subject. Many of those who are “pro-vaccination” seem to believe the “anti-vaxers” are paranoid conspiracy theorists who are unaware that Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research has been (supposedly) debunked (as if that is the entire body of science that questions vaccine safety) and who base their beliefs on the teachings of Jenny McCarthy; after all, how can a former Playboy Bunny who gets most of her information from the internet possibly have anything valid to say about vaccine hazards? (it is nearly impossible to find an article critical of “anti-vaxers” that does not mention Jenny McCarthy).
Most proponents of vaccination and SB 277 appear to have an attitude of smug arrogance as they believe that science is on their side and that it has been firmly proven that vaccines are “safe and effective.” They generally believe those those who question vaccine safety are emotional and “anti-science.” (for a wonderful article that explores the complexities and sublteties of the modern scientific process, both in general and with regards to vaccines, I highly recommend
Some people believe this issue is so black and white that any doctor who questions vaccine safety and efficacy should have his or her medical license taken away. In reality, studies have found that those who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines as a group have a higher level of education and income than those who champion vaccination and these “vaccine-skeptics” include many thousands of well-credentialed doctors and researchers.
Vaccine skeptics tend to see the pro-vax community as mindless people who do not question authority and have been gullible enough to believe the narrative of government officials and the fear-mongering mainstream media which is unduly influenced by Big Pharma, which stands to profit handsomely from more widespread vaccination. Of course those who are pro-vaccine are genuinely afraid and concerned for the health and well-being of themselves and their loved ones and see people who do not
vaccinate as directly threatening their safety. Thus, many in the pro-camp are calling for mandatory vaccinations, which has the “anti-vax” camp extremely fearful of the prospect of being forced to have something toxic and hazardous administered against their will.
No wonder people are so upset!
In the midst of all of this polarizing conflict I would like to take this opportunity to look at the actual facts and examine both what is known and not known about this issue. I am going to focus on what we know for sure, and one thing I know for sure is that not all vaccines are created equal. While many in both camps may see all vaccines as good or bad, the reality is that each vaccine has its own unique sets of risks and benefits, so I going to focus a great deal upon the MMR vaccine and on Measles, as this is the current focus of people’s concerns.
Before delving into this topic I want to briefly review my background and
qualifications. I earned my undergraduate degree in Biology at Stanford University.
I studied Biology because I am fascinated by biochemistry, physiology and
understanding how our bodies work.
I then attended medical school at the University of Michigan where I also completed my residency in Family Medicine. While mainstream Western medicine is often miraculous, it has very few cures to offer for most chronic disease, instead treating superficially and symptomatically with expensive and often-hazardous pharmaceuticals. I thus studied nutrition, herbal medicine, mind-body medicine, homeopathy and other complementary therapies which I integrate with conventional therapies as appropriate. I was a founding diplomate of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine in 2000. I have had a solo family practice in Soquel, CA since 1988. I do not consider my self pro or anti-vaccination but, as mentioned, I look at the potential risks and benefits of each vaccine as well as the health of
the potential recipient. Because these issues are so charged and controversial I encourage my patients to study the research and be involved making in these decisions.
Currently 20 states allow for exemptions from vaccination based on personal beliefs or philosophy, while 48 states allow exemptions based upon religion. Shortly after the “measles outbreak” that started at Disneyland in December 2014 legislation was introduced in several states including California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Washington to eliminate exemptions based on personal beliefs and, in some cases, religious beliefs. As of 4/17/15 this legislation has already been withdrawn in Maryland, North Carolina, Oregon and Washington after encountering public opposition.
Currently the California State Assembly is considering SB 277, a bill that requires ALL children, even if they are home-schooled (with very rare exceptions) be FORCED to receive vaccines for
(2) Hepatitis B.
(3) Haemophilus influenzae type b.
(6) Pertussis (whooping cough).
(10) Varicella (chickenpox).
(11) Any other disease deemed appropriate by the department, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.”
(for the complete text of SB 277 see http://tinyurl.com/n7w7h7p )
The current personal belief and religious exemptions would be removed. The only exemptions allowed would be medical exemptions (more on these below).
SB 277 was recently approved by the California State Senate after being approved by the Health, Education and Judicial Committees despite many hundreds of concerned citizens who came to the hearings to ask the Senators to oppose it (those who attended to oppose it dramatically outnumbed those who expressed support).
(On a personal note, I have been a life-long liberal Democrat. To the dismay of myself and many others who oppose this bill, it is the Democrats who are strongly pushing SB 277 and the Republicans who are questioning its wisdom.)
Our local State Senator, Bill Monning, played a key role in the passage throught the Senate because he sat on all 3 committees that approved it. I am among Senator Monning’s many local constituents who requested to meet with him to discuss this important bill. To the great disappointment of many in our community, Senator Monning refused to personally meet with any of his constituents about this issue despite many pleas to listen to our views.
As Senator Monning is my district’s representative, I wrote him a letter before the 4/8 vote summarizing why I feel SB 277 would be a huge mistake. I am sharing that letter here:
Dear Senator Monning,
I am writing to express my concerns about SB 277 as a Family Physician who has practiced in California since 1984. I am a graduate of Stanford University (where I earned a degree in Biology) and the University of Michigan Medical School, where I also completed my residency in Family Medicine.
As most members of the Senate Health Committee probably already know, in 1970 the normal childhood vaccination schedule included 23 doses of 7 vaccines. There are currently 68 doses of 16 vaccines recommended by age 18 (35 of which are given in the first 18 months). There are currently nearly 300 new vaccines in development. If Senate Bill 277 passes, we are agreeing to not only to most of the current schedule without any adjustments, but we are also agreeing to force children to take any future vaccines that are introduced to the schedule and “deemed appropriate by the department” without giving parents or doctors the option to choose.
A central tenet of SB277 is the elimination of all exemptions from any vaccination on the state’s prescribed schedule except for “medical reasons.” These medical reasons are not further defined in the bill as currently written, but the CDC contraindications for vaccines, which many doctors would likely use as guidelines for issuing medical exemptions, are extremely restrictive. I believe that doctors will feel quite constrained in their abilities to approve medical exemptions, so virtually all school-aged children and those in daycare will be forced to comply. Conscientious doctors who believe that some of their patients might benefit from an altered vaccination schedule, beyond the narrow contraindications in the CDC’s “Pink Book,” will either feel they can not grant exemptions or might very well come under attack for deviating from “standards of care”. This troubles me deeply.
One of the primary tenets of medical ethics is voluntary informed consent. Quoting the American Medical Association, “Informed consent is a basic policy in both ethics and law that physicians must honor, unless the patient is unconscious or otherwise incapable of consenting and harm from failure to treat is imminent.” This means explaining to a patient the risks and benefits of any medication or procedure before administering it,
especially when the risks include serious injury or death, and then allowing the patient a choice whether to receive the treatment.
Every medication has inherent risks. Anyone with online access can quickly find a list of 20-30 common and/or serious potential reactions to any vaccine, including in the manufacturers’ own product information pamphlets. The adverse reactions listed tend to be only those that are obvious within a few days of vaccination (generally only reactions obvious within 4 days) and the frequency of serious long-term effects such as autoimmune diseases are unknown. There are, of course, also risks with any illness so it is also important to educate people about those as well. When I meet with patients, we discuss, for example, the hazards of high blood sugar or obesity or measles and then discuss the risks and benefits of various treatments. Then I allow my patients to choose whether a particular treatment or medication is right for them. SB 277 TAKES AWAY INFORMED CONSENT. I find this an outrageous assault on personal liberty, and it is deeply disturbing to me that, due to this legislative action, I will be prevented from helping a parent make an educated, informed, and appropriate decision for one of my patients.
The reason given by proponents of this bill is that those who do not get vaccinated are endangering others, but over 90% of children in California are fully vaccinated and most of the rest are partly vaccinated. Only 3% of children have parents that file the personal belief exemptions that this bill outlaws. Unfortunately, vaccines are not universally effective. For example, up to 15% of those who are fully vaccinated for measles are not immune to it, and some of the 3-5% of children who have not gotten measles vaccines are likely immune because those who have not been vaccinated may catch the vaccine version of the virus from their friends and become immune (while it has been documented that some children can shed the attenuated measles virus in the MMR, it is not known how commonly this occurs). The 5-15% who have been vaccinated but are not immune are a greater risk of spreading measles than the unvaccinated, since they outnumber those who are unvaccinated. Even fully vaccinating everyone will probably not wipe out measles and many other diseases such as whooping cough due to limitations of the effectiveness of vaccines (there have been documented measles outbreaks in populations that are 99% vaccinated).
As for the measles outbreak that apparently precipitated SB 277, as of 3/27/15, in a nation of over 300 million people there have been 178 cases of measles (120 in California), with 74% related to the Disneyland case. Less than half of those infected are known to have not been vaccinated (see http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html). Not one single person has died; in fact there have been no confirmed deaths from measles in the US since 2003.
As a medical doctor I have additional concerns. Every disease is different and every medication is different. Thus, each vaccine has a unique set of risks and benefits so it makes little sense to mandate all 10 that are mandated in SB 277. For example, the Hepatitis B Vaccine is typically given during the first day of life. However, a young child can only contract Hepatitis B from IV drug abuse, sexual activity with an infected partner, a blood transfusion using contaminated blood (and all blood is first screened) or from its mother. Thus, the only significant risk is if the mother has Hepatitis B infection. If a mother has been screened for this (as most mothers have), there is NO rational reason to expose a newborn to this vaccine, which is not without risk (see pages 5-7 for a lengthy list of adverse reactions from the official package insert:
Many studies in the peer-reviewed medical literature have documented that receiving the Hepatitis B vaccine is associated with increased risk of an autoimmune disorder similar to Multiple Sclerosis as well as arthritis and other serious hazards ( see
The CDC states “There is no confirmed evidence which indicates that hepatitis B vaccine can cause chronic illnesses.” I believe the studies I just cited are “confirmed evidence” of this and this is evidence why the CDC, unfortunately, can not always be trusted. Quoting French vaccine researcher Dr. Marc Girard “hepatitis B vaccine is remarkable for the frequency, variety and severity of complications from its use. The toxicity of this vaccine is so unusual that, even if crucial data are regrettably concealed or covered by Court order, scientific evidence is already far higher than normally needed to justify severe restrictive measures.“
The objectivity of the CDC in these matters has been questioned by many including US Congressman Bill Posey who criticizes “the incestuous relationship between the public health community, vaccine makers, and public officials” including the CDC (see http://nsnbc.me/2014/04/17/congressman-blasts-cdc-incestuous-relationships-vaccine-makers/ ). Mandating that all newborns receive the Hepatitis B vaccine, even when their mother is proven to not have Hepatitis B, makes absolutely no sense from a public health perspective. I can think of no rational reason to mandate this vaccine (other than to increase the profits of Merck and GlazoSmithKline).
As for the side effects of vaccines, while a medication may be safe for most, I am not aware of a single medicine, herb or supplement that is safe for everyone. For example, penicillin clearly saves lives and is safe and well-tolerated by most, but many also have life-threatening reactions so it would be unwise to mandate that everyone who has an infection must get penicillin. While some would counter that medical exemptions are allowed, it is likely one could only obtain a medical exemption for someone who has
already had a severe reaction. While a reaction to penicillin will not have long-term consequences (if one survives the acute reaction), reactions to vaccines can result in life-long disabilities.
One of the many things that can contribute to the toxicity of vaccines is that many of them contain aluminum as an adjuvant (including 5 of the 10 currently mandated by SB 277). Quoting from “Aluminum Vaccine Adjuvants: Are They Safe?” by Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic and Dr. Chris Shaw, a Neuroscientist and professor at the University of British Columbia, “Aluminum is an experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin and the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant. Despite almost 90 years of widespread use of aluminum adjuvants, medical science’s understanding about their mechanisms of action is still remarkably poor. There is also a concerning scarcity of data on toxicology and pharmacokinetics of these compounds. In spite of this, the notion that aluminum in vaccines is safe appears to be widely accepted. Experimental research, however, clearly shows that aluminum adjuvants have a potential to induce serious immunological disorders in humans. In particular, aluminum in adjuvant form carries a risk for autoimmunity, long-term brain inflammation and associated neurological complications and may thus have profound and widespread adverse health consequences. In our opinion, the possibility that vaccine benefits may have been overrated and the risk of potential adverse effects underestimated, has not been rigorously evaluated in the medical and scientific community. (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21568886 ).
One of the reasons I mention this is that the toxic effects of aluminum do not manifest within the 4 days after vaccination during which adverse reactions to vaccines are typically studied.
Another concern about vaccine safety is that, just as two medications can be reasonably safe when given individually, they may have serious and even fatal interactions when given together. There have been NO research studies on the safety of the current schedule of 16 different vaccines. There have been NO studies comparing the health of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated populations, so there is no research proving that there is a benefit to the current schedule. Clearly, most authorities and doctors, as well as the authors of this bill, simply assume that the vaccination schedule is beneficial but this should not be mandated for everyone without clear unequivocal scientific evidence, and this is, unfortunately,
completely lacking. While vaccination almost certainly has reduced the incidence of many serious infections, many highly-credentialed scientists and researchers believe that there is strong evidence that vaccines increase the incidence of a variety of chronic autoimmune diseases.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”
(Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC131 S. Ct. 1068, 179 L.Ed.2d 1)
Another important consideration that is often overlooked is that naturally acquiring certain infections such as measles may result in significant long-term benefits to immune function and thus health. There are several studies in the peer-reviewed medical literature showing that adults who had measles in childhood have significantly lower rates of several common forms of cancer than those who did not have measles (see
While there is an approximately 1 in 7000 risk of death in those who get measles, of the 7000 who do not get measles due to getting the MMR vaccine, there might be literally hundreds of cases of cancer that they would not have gotten if they had gotten measles instead of the vaccine.
I am not saying that vaccines do more harm than good. Clearly most who have been fully vaccinated enjoy good health. However, there is no denying that a significant number of children have had serious disabling and even fatal adverse reactions to certain vaccines. Until there is a quality study comparing the health of vaccinated to unvaccinated populations, it is impossible to know for certain if the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks. And since we can not yet be certain that the current vaccine schedule ultimately improves the health of our population, it is premature to mandate it for those who would prefer to be cautious and exercise their rights to decide whether they or their children should do a particular medical treatment that has known risks.
Thus, I can find very little scientific rationale for mandating universal vaccination. There is no current imminent (or foreseeable) threat to public health drastic enough to warrant such a draconian, intrusive law that is such an extreme violation of individual liberty and informed medical choice. The state legislature enacted AB2109 very recently to encourage more conversation between doctors and parents who wish to have their children on an adjusted vaccination schedule or to forgo some vaccinations. This type of law has been effective in other states at reducing exemption rates, and it appears to be working in California as well. Doctors can be very persuasive with parents, and we are also able to note differences in individual situations that can’t be accommodated by a forced, one-size-fits-all mandated vaccination schedule.
Please drop this proposed bill, as states like Washington, Oregon, Maryland and North Carolina have recently done, and please focus on other ways to achieve the public health goals that do not infringe upon the relationship between doctor and patient. A better approach would be one that focuses on education and encouragement (as the federal government recommends in its National Adult Immunization Plan), particularly targeting areas of concern that parents have regarding vaccine safety.
Lobbying the federal government to fund more scientific work to better understand why some children experience serious adverse effects from vaccines could be an excellent long-term component of such an “educate and encourage” approach, as well as conducting overdue research on the long-term health outcomes of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated populations. Gathering better data about our actual public health situation is important before considering any change in vaccination legislation.
While there is a great deal of misinformation and inflammatory rhetoric on both sides of this heated issue, I believe every statement I have made is both factual and verifiable. Thank you for considering my perspective. I would be happy to speak or correspond with any members of the Health Committee about any of these points.
Randy Baker M.D.
Soquel, CA 95073
As you can see, I covered quite a bit of ground in my letter but there are a few more points I wish to make and a few articles I wish to share for any of you readers who have been interested enough to read this far (and if you are among those, I appreciate your time and interest!).
One of my first thoughts when I learned about this bill is that some people believe vaccines are safe and effective while some question this. Those who support this bill obviously believe vaccines are safe and effective. If this is the case, why are they so concerned that a small percentage of their children’s classmates are not fully vaccinated? If they believe vaccines are effective, then they should have faith that their fully-vaccinated children are fully protected from any exposures they might get from unvaccinated classmates.
However, Dr. Pan and other proponents say they are concerned about immunocompromised children, such as those who are receiving chemotherapy for cancer and who are thus unable to be immunized and who might have serious illness if they got an illness such as measles. However, such immunocompromised children are far more at risk from getting common viruses like cold and flu viruses that their fully-vaccinated classmates often get. Typically children who are significantly immunocompromised do not attend classes at their public schools and the schools provide teachers who visit them at home. This is wise, as immunocompromised children are more likely to be exposed to live vaccine viruses shed by classmates recently immunized with the MMR or varicella or live influenza vaccine than a classmate ill with “wild measles.”
As an interesting aside, there is research being done showing that modified versions of the measles virus can be very effective in treating certain forms of cancer! See
If SB 277 passes, children will be required to get a large number of vaccines in a relatively short amount of time as advised by the CDC’s “catch-up schedule,” the safety of which has not been studied.
Even if one agrees that it is wise to vaccinate children for infectious diseases, some of the requirements of SB 277 make no sense. For example, all children would be required to be immunized for Haemophilus influenza Type B (Hib), even though the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices does not recommend routine Hib vaccination of healthy children 59 months of age or older, even if they have no prior history of Hib vaccination. So why does SB 277 mandate this?
Update: on the afternoon of 4/17/15 some anti-SB 277 constituents had an opportunity to briefly chat with Senator Monning at a reception at his office. One reported that he said something to the effect that “the needs of the few are outweighed by the needs of the many.” Even if one agrees with this, one can say that the vast majority of the population that wants the protection of vaccines are fully vaccinated and thus not significantly threatened by the 8% or less who are not fully vaccinated. So if one considers the needs of those who can not be vaccinated because they are immunocompromised, those few are FAR outnumbered by those whose parents would rather decline full vaccination. So the needs of the few who can’t be vaccinated should be outweighed by the needs of the (relative) many who do not want to be vaccinated.
In my letter I mentioned evidence that getting actual measles as a child reduces risks of adults getting several types of cancer. There is also evidence that getting measles can prevent lifelong allergies:
A good review of the research on how effective (and ineffective) the MMR vaccine is:
An Open Letter to Legislators Currently Considering Vaccine Legislation from Tetyana Obukhanych, PhD in Immunology:
It has been interesting to observe media coverage of SB 277 and those who are opposing it. Major papers like the Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee have run editorials and opinion pieces in favor of SB 277, which invariably mention scientifically-proven safe vaccines and emotional opponents who are “science-deniers” such as this quote from an editorial by the Sacramento Bee urging the passage of SB 277: “It simply makes it harder for a vocal, misinformed minority of science deniers to endanger the health of the majority’s children.” (see
I was honestly surprised that no one at these papers seems concerned about how obtrusive this bill is but this excellent article may explain why there is such uniformly biased coverage in the mainstream media. This article explains why this issue is symptomatic of the insidious corporate takeover of American politics:
Some additional commentary on the politics of this debate and how this could even lead down the slippery slope of a totalitarian state; at first that may sound extreme but is a country where people are forced to have toxic chemicals and biological agents injected into them against their will a free country?
Thanks for reading!
PLEASE feel free to share this essay with anyone who you believe would be interested…
Those who want to read my overview about the Vaccine Debate written in 2012 can visit
Randy Baker MD 4/17/15t