Busy day at the Trib for vaccines

27 Aug

According to the Chicago Tribune’sOn This Day In History“, on this day in “1906 Albert Sabin, the Polish-American doctor who developed a polio vaccine, was born”.

Coincidentally, the Tribune had a couple of pieces on vaccines in the past few days. The main story, Kids’ vaccinations face risky resistance discusses how fears over vaccines and autism are causing a drop in uptake. This is worrying doctors given this year’s outbreak of measles in the U.S. The authors note:

Doctors say worried parents tend to find scientific data less persuasive than the horror stories they hear about vaccine side effects online or from friends. One expert said attitudes are likely to change eventually, but only after children start dying again of diseases parents have come to think of as obsolete.

Or, to put it another way:

“I think people have a hard time separating out what’s reliable information and what’s not reliable,” Dr. Ruben Rucoba, a Wheaton pediatrician. “What gets attention is not the statistics, but the story. All it takes is one friend of a cousin of a neighbor who they can point to who says, ‘My child got an immunization, and now he has a problem.’ “

Another page listed “Common Vaccine Beliefs“. Number one on the list being:

1. Vaccines cause autism.

The issue usually raised is thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative formerly common in vaccines. It has since been removed from most shots to reduce children’s exposure to mercury. Also, because signs of autism may appear about the same time children receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, some parents think there is a connection. Many studies, including a report by the Institute of Medicine, have concluded there is no association between autism and vaccines that contain thimerosal or the MMR vaccine.

The Trib has included some good links on vaccine information.

Bloggers respond to news. No big deal there. But, I find it is interesting to see one of the Trib’s own bloggers responding to Trib stories. Especially since the blogger, Julie Deardorff, as you can imagine if you know her blog, doesn’t agree with the Trib.

Ms. Deardorff has a number of pieces on vaccines and autism. She also is one of the AutismOne convention’s panelists on the media. She’s the one that AutismNewsBeat caught on video complaining that she isn’t allowed to “attack” vaccines.

Ms. Deardorff’s piece is “Why some parents question vaccines.” A statement towards the end makes it clear some of the mindset of Ms. Deardorff:

Vaccines represent social health without regard to individuals. That’s how they work.

Ah. Yeah. It’s hard to comment well on such rubbish, other than to thank Ms. Deardorff for actually putting that in a public place so we can understand her position. OK, I’ll add this comment–that’s not how vaccines work. She would do well to peruse the links her own organization has provided for some education on how vaccines do, in fact, work.

Scrolling back to the beginning of her piece, we see her actual thesis:

In the past, most parents didn’t question childhood vaccinations because they inherently trusted medical officials and feared common childhood diseases.

She then goes on to discuss that this trust has eroded. She takes no credit for her small part in contributing to this erosion of confidence (nor does she mention any of the other people and groups actively working to erode confidence). Instead she places the blame on public health community:

But the real crisis is not that some parents skip or delay vaccination because they believe vaccines might pose health risks or are linked to autism. It’s that they’re losing confidence in public health officials and policy, partly because vaccines are being forced on them, regardless of their personal desires or beliefs.

She then, without any indication that she sees the irony, lists a number of events and adds her own odd interpretations in order to erode confidence. I pick a few out for example:

In Maryland, parents who didn’t vaccinate their children against chickenpox and Hepatitis B were threatened with jail time and fines.

This is a grand example of Ms. Deardorff facilitating the misinformation campaign of the vaccine rejectionists. Here is the form that people in Maryland have to submit on their children’s vaccine status in order to enter the children in school. The same form has the exemption clause. In other words–the parents could have avoided any and all pressure by filling out that form. Instead, the vaccine rejectionist parents decided to make a political statement by not submitting the forms in order to gain publicity.

The AAP issued a sample letter to pediatricians suggesting that physicians tell parents who refuse to vaccinate that they have a “self-centered and unacceptable attitude” since their child is getting protection from others who have chosen to vaccinate. Parents who absolutely refuse to vaccinate could be booted from your pediatrician’s practice.

I haven’t asked our pediatrician what his policy is on vaccine rejectionist clients. I hope that when I brought my children in at 1 month, 2 months, etc., that they weren’t being exposed to vaccine-preventable infectious diseases like some of the children in San Diego’s recent measles outbreak. Yes, some children caught measles in doctor’s waiting rooms. I have zero problem with pediatricians telling vaccine rejectionist parents to find vaccine rejectionist pediatricians.

I really hadn’t intended to discussing all her points. I started with just one. The one that really caught my eye was this:

Research suggests that America might be over-vaccinating its kids and that we might want to re-evaluate and adjust the immunization schedule. But not because of health concerns; the vaccines might just be unnecessary and waste a lot of money according to the study by researchers with Oregon Health & Science University published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The article she is referring to (I believe) is a favorite of rejectionists groups and websites. The abstract is here, and the full paper is available free.

I have a lot of concerns with the above statement by Ms. Deardorff, but I will concentrate on this on this phrase: “…the vaccines might just be unnecessary and waste a lot of money…”

Which vaccines, Ms. Deardorff? Which vaccines? Your phrase is very vague. I am often vague and don’t use language accurately, but I don’t have the Chicago Tribune’s name behind me. You see, Ms. Deardorff, your statement makes it sound like it is the “vaccine schedule” that is in question. Not a fraction of it, as the actual research would suggest. Sloppy writing is one thing. When it supports your quest to “attack vaccines” it makes me question whether it should be attributed to mere sloppiness.

Let’s take a look at the story that was scary enough to be quoted by JABS. “Report: Vaccine booster shots may be unnecessary”.

So, it isn’t the schedule in whole, it isn’t even really the pediatric schedule for the most part, it’s the booster shots. What they found is that in adults–most of whom had immunity from infections, not from vaccines, by the way–kept immunity for a long time. Half-lives of immune cells were longer than human life-spans.

They measured half-lives for both people with natural immunity and for people with presumed vaccine immunity The group with the presumed vaccine-induced immunity was quite small, as noted in the supplemental information given online:

However, it is important to note that this is based on a very small sample size (n = 2-5 subjects) and more studies on a larger group of vaccinated individuals will be necessary to determine statistically significant antibody half-life measurements.

Thus the data on vaccine-induced immunity are quite limited. But, taking the data that we have, they don’t say “… the vaccines might just be unnecessary and waste a lot of money…” as Ms. Deardorff interprets them.

I found the study rather interesting, actually. I found it interesting since one of the tried and true arguments promoted by vaccine rejectionists is that vaccine immunity is short lived and “natural” immunity is somehow better. I find it interesting that JABS, GR (they host the paper on their website) and other groups latched on to this study, yet, they seem to neglect what it may actually teach.

What I also found interesting was some information I found searching for Dr. Slifka (the anchor author on that study). Turns out he wrote a review of Dr. Offit’s book “Vaccinated”. I’ll leave you with two quotes from that review:

More recently, unfounded concerns over theMMRvaccine and the use of mercury-containing preservatives have fueled a fiercely debated controversy over childhood vaccines and their suspected links to autism


Offit ends by emphasizing the power of preventive medicine and hopes that the great strides in vaccinology, in large part due to Maurice Hilleman, will not fall to complacency and ignorance.

8 Responses to “Busy day at the Trib for vaccines”

  1. Another Voice August 27, 2008 at 09:59 #

    Thanks for this post. Each year we generally have a fresh kick-off for the vaccine argument right about now; the start of school and a general impetus to have everyone caught up on the vaccination schedule adds the necessary fuel.

    The majority of points raised in the arguments will do very little to change opinions or to help increase the other person’s understanding. But pointing out some sources of misinformation is helpful. Your comment about the booster shots, not the entire schedule, being in question and why, presents a different picture than some have attempted to paint. Showing the form that the folks in PA. could have filled out was also helpful.

  2. farmwifetwo August 27, 2008 at 12:38 #


    If your kid hasn’t had his shots, I don’t recommend Vancouver BC as a destination spot.


  3. TheProbe August 27, 2008 at 14:34 #

    Excellent analysis of Deardorf and her anti-vaccination campaign. Perhaps Olmsted and Kirby could hire her as a cub reporter, since she disagrees so much with the Trib.

  4. Orac August 27, 2008 at 19:03 #

    Ugh! That “overvaccinated” paper is a favorite of Deirdre Imus. I deconstructed it here:


  5. Sullivan August 27, 2008 at 19:41 #

    Thanks Orac,

    I figured that someone must have taken the misinterpretation of that study apart.

    Odd that Ms. Deardorff still clings to a misinterpretation. Odder still that her language was so poorly constructed as to make the message even worse than the misinterpretation would allow.

  6. Schwartz August 28, 2008 at 01:41 #


    I wouldn’t count on the shots to protect your children against mumps, unless they got them recently.

    The mumps outbreak in the US midwest in 2006 was blamed primarily on Vaccine failure. The MMR vaccine immunity for mumps doesn’t last as long as advertised (twice now).

    Since mumps seems to be much more prevalent in schools and universities, it is likely we will see official recommendations of vaccine boosters for mumps for teenagers in the future.

    I’m going to guess that we’ll see similar recommendations for measles in the future.

  7. qchan63 August 28, 2008 at 07:18 #

    I think Deardorff’s work poses an ethical quandary for the Tribune. If she’s a bona fide health reporter there, then getting that cozy with the Autism One/DAN brigade — people who are smack at the center of her beat — is really not journalistically kosher.

    I guess her argument is that when she writes on her blog, the same rules don’t apply as they might in the paper. Sorry, i don’t agree. It’s still a Chicago Tribune blog, by a Chicago Tribune reporter (or whatever her position there is). And what she writes there — the opinions she expresses and stances she takes — colors her coverage everywhere else, at least in terms of reader perception.

    I note that on one of her websites she terms herself a 2001 Pulitzer Prize winner. That was for a Pulitzer that was awarded to the entire Tribune staff (which she does note in parentheses). Although her byline does not appear on any of the stories in the winning series, i suppose her taking of credit is technically correct. Still, though, it’s maybe a bit … bold.

    But whatever. More power to her. What i really object to is this sort of language, the lede of a piece she wrote earlier this year:

    “One of my greatest fears is that autism will break into my house and steal my son …”

    Personally, one of my greatest fears is that lazy and sensationalistic cliches about autism will never cease to plague my own son. (They’re already giving me a headache.)

  8. Kathleen Seidel August 28, 2008 at 12:31 #

    Sullivan, thanks for pointing out that the erosion of popular confidence in vaccines and in those who develop and administer them has been deliberately cultivated by specific organizations and individuals — most notably those promoting the interests of vaccine-injury plaintiffs. Here’s “John Gilmore”:http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EOHarm/message/719 talking back in 2005:

    “Thanks to David [Kirby]’s incredibly hard work the book has done phenomenally well. Two years ago this was the province of the loonie fringe. EOH has put us in the mainstream. Our main job is to destroy the credibility of the vaccine industry and that’s just what EOH has done.”

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