Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vaccination Research. Or, Why are People Intentionally Deceitful?

I've been doing a great deal of vaccination research these past few days. I have questions and I want answers. But the more I learn about vaccinations, the more I question human behavior. This debate really isn't about vaccinations at all. It's about the evil that lies in people's hearts. It's about dishonesty. It's about money.

People who are not experts in the field spend thousands of dollars to purposefully deceive parents who have suffered loss -- parents who are sincerely looking for answers. And innocent bystanders come across their "research" and make decisions regarding their child's safety based on someone's purposeful deceit.

But first, let's look at where I was almost a year ago. I was pro-vaccine. I was respecting other parent's choices to be anti-vaccine. I was having insightful conversations with mother's who need answers. I'm going to warn you right now, I'm no longer at that place. My time line for listening to opposing opinions has reached it's expiration point.

Some things haven't changed in that year. The title of that original post was "People Lie." In all my recent research I find that title more and more accurate. And it's heartbreaking, because drivers of the anti-vaccine movement are willfully deceiving people who need real answers. And in most cases they are doing this for monetary gain and temporary publicity. Those of us on the pro-vaccine side of this debate need to send our message loud and clear. Their time has expired, and we need real answers.

One of my vaccine related questions was simply "how many deaths are caused by vaccination?" I don't pretend to think vaccinations are 100% safe. I know there are risks. I know there are adverse reactions. I also know the statistics on that are 1 in several million (it varies for each vaccination, but at worst it is 1 in 1.5 million, at best it's 1 in 5 to 7 million). The death rate for the diseases we are vaccinating against are significantly higher, 1 per thousand, and even worse (and that's just death rate, it completely ignores life long complications caused by these diseases). Deciding between those two risks is easy for this non-mathematician, caring mother.

But I was sincere in my hunt for vaccine related deaths. I was sincere in my desire to know why people would choose not to vaccinate. And all I found was deceit, wrapped up nicely under the title "National Vaccination Information Center." Sounds like a legit source, right? That's what I thought, so I read an article titled "Infant Deaths and Vaccines" in it's entirety, and then I went to bed without any answers. Instead, I went to bed angry.

None of the claims on the site made any sense to me. And though I responded in kind, asking for clarification on just a few issues, I feared my comment would be screened and never published on the site. Here we are two days later, and I'm absolutely right. Oh how I wish I'd copied that response so I could post it here. I was nothing but sympathetic and polite. But I was also questioning, so my voice will not be heard. Not only is the site incredibly misleading, varying opinions are not allowed.

Which is terrifying, because it is quite possible thousands of others search "vaccine related deaths," click on that top link, and never take the time question the author's claims.

So what are the questionable claims? Well, her first false claim is that our infant mortality rate has gotten worse since 1960 -- the days of the author's childhood. In 1960 our country ranked 12th, globally, and now we've fallen to 30. So obviously things are worse, right? No. Absolutely not! You see, in 1960 26 infants per every 1,000 live birth died in the first four weeks of life. Where are we now? Only 6 infants per every 1,000 live birth die during that first month. Pretty amazing improvement right? The author totally ignores those numbers and only looks at our global standing.

So what about those global rankings?

Singapore, my beloved Singapore, has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world. Four infants per every 1,000 live births die during that first month. Japan, Sweeden, Iceland, and Finland constantly share the top five spots with Singapore. Basically every European nation and the Asian power houses do better than the US. Take a moment and think about what condition those countries were in during 1960 vs their situations now. I can tell you that Singapore was a malaria infested swamp land in 1960. It wasn't even an independent, sovereign state yet. So it's rise to #1 is not a reflection of our failings, rather it is a reflection of their existence and their success. And the latter could be said for virtually every other nation that bumped us down to 30th.

But why do these numbers even matter? Well, the author's claim is that our infant mortality rate is so high, globally, because we have the highest vaccination rate in the world. That sent red flags up immediately. I find it hard to believe we have double the vaccines Japan and Sweeden have (the author's claim). And I know for sure Singapore has a more rigorous vaccination schedule than we do (it wasn't America that made me get the Japanese Enchipalitis vaccine). Immediately after reading the article I looked up the vaccine schedule of several nations. Here's what I found, and it shouldn't surprise anyone: most developing nations follow the World Health Organizations recommended list and timeline for vaccinations.

Yup, the USA, Japan, Sweeden, and Singapore all use a similar schedule. So how can the author claim our doses are twice as high? It's simple. She uses deceit. Purposeful, manipulative, deceit aimed to prove a hypothesis that is absolutely false.

In Japan, several of the recommended WHO vaccines are voluntary (polio, Hep A and B, and rotavirus). In America, all of the recommended WHO vaccines are voluntary. She's comparing their mandatory to our recommended. And even when you compare our voluntary with their mandatory, there appears to be very little difference.

In Singapore, there are no religious or personal belief exemptions for vaccines. None. Singapore doesn't play that game (just ask the Jehovah Witnesses who were detained for failure to comply with mandatory military service*). If you fail to comply with the Infectious Disease Act -- which requires DTaP before 12 months of age and MMR between 12 months and 24 months -- then you are breaking the law. And since Singapore is such a fine city, your punishment for failure to comply is $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offence (and as far as I can tell, each dose is considered a singular offence -- in short, it's expensive to skip vaccines in Singapore).

So quick recap, Singapore has the lowest infant mortality rate in the world and quite possibly the strictest pro-vaccine laws.

If the author sincerely wanted to understand the rate at which vaccination affects infant mortality, she'd be more honest about which infant mortality rates she is using (is she looking at data from the first four weeks? first year? or the first four years, when vaccines are most routinely given?) and she'd use vaccination compliance data, not recommended scheduling programs. She uses neither.

For your curiosity, here is the best graph I could find that shows US improvement of infant mortality rates that span that first month and the first year of life.  It's hard to get exact numbers off this graph, but it looks like we had somewhere around 50 deaths per 1,000 live births during a child's first year of life in 1960. Now we have somewhere around 9. Can we all take a minute to celebrate that?

image via the Journal of Nutrition

After my celebration (and an angry night's sleep) I decided to dig a little deeper. What accounted for this big improvement? Surely, the arrival of vaccines had some effect on those numbers? And not a negative one, like the author's claim.

It's difficult to put an exact number behind the lives saved by vaccines, but it is safe to say vaccines have saved an average of 1,000 infant lives (per year) over the past 100 years. The biggest improvement seems to have been the disappearance of diarrhea (saving around 5,000 infants a year) as a cause of death. Combined improvement in nutrition (or lack of malnutrition) and prenatal care (saving nearly 4,000 infants a year) have also positively affected our infant mortality rate. So there are a few things that have proved more helpful than vaccines. But it is nearly impossible to argue that vaccinations aren't part of the top 5 reasons for drastic improvement over the last 100 years.

Just as I thought I was satisfied with my research, I decided to do one last bit of digging. One article I had skimmed for useful information (which it had plenty of) had only mentioned vaccines once. I found that kind of odd, so I checked it's source on vaccinations. I was then sent to an interesting article that could possibly support the claim that vaccines have a negative affect on infant mortality rates. This kind of frustrated me, as I thought I'd put that issue to rest. But since I'm willing to let my hypothesis be wrong, I kept reading. I noticed the article did not prove anything. It could not say vaccines cause deaths, nor could it conclude that vaccines affect global infant mortality rates. It simply wanted readers to look at the possibility that our high vaccine schedule might explain some SIDS deaths. Like the first article I read, it did not compare vaccine compliance to vaccine compliance. And that's when I knew something fishy was going on.

Sure enough I scrolled to the bottom of the page and there it was, the little asterisks letting me know this "scholarly research" had been funded by, take a guess, the "National Vaccine Information Center." I was fuming! This "center" was turning out to be just like that quack who wrote the original "vaccines cause autism" report. This "center" was paying research writers to publish articles that supported their thesis, their lawsuits.

Maybe that doesn't make other people's blood boil as much as it does mine. But I was livid. PEOPLE LIE! Why do people lie? Why are people so evil? Who was the author of that first article I found and what is her motive?

Well, her name is Barbara Loe Fisher. She lost a child the day of his DTap Vaccine back in 1980, two years before I was even born. I cannot imagine her loss. My heart aches for her. No mother should bury a child. I do not question her lifelong search for answers and I recognize her campaign has brought about some needed changes (you can thank her for the info sheet you get every time your child is vaccinated). But (you saw that coming) in her quest for answers she refutes any bit of data that doesn't fit nicely with her hypothesis. She believes that vaccine killed her son (and it might have), so her next natural conclusion is that vaccines kill thousands of children each year and have greatly damaged our infant mortality rate as a nation. Any data contrary to that hypothesis is completely ignored. She pays research writers to try and prove her point, and their questionable work is being sited all across the internet.

How does that help any parent find answers?

A couple final things of note. Fisher's lawyer probably loves her. She creates law suits out of everything. One time she filed a suit against a Doctor who called her a liar in a newspaper interview. So I should probably watch out, she could find this post and sue me. Of course, the courts wouldn't take up the case. You can't sue people for calling you a liar. Also, of course, the Dr was absolutely 100% right, and she was even caught in several lies during her build up of the case.

The whole thing, my quest to find answers, just leaves me heart broken. Some SIDS deaths may be vaccine related, but how does the anti-vaccine movement help us identify the infants who are potentially at risk? It doesn't.

Yesterday, as I walked laps at the YMCA, I tried to sympathize with Fisher. I tried to imagine how my reasoning might be skewed if I thought vaccines killed my child. But I just couldn't find a way to justify her thinking. Yes, the DTaP might have *triggered* her son's death, but thousands of children across the globe get that vaccine every day, every day, and none of them die. So it's impossible to conclude the vaccine killed her son and only natural to conclude he was predisposed to a negative reaction (thus, *triggered*).  Vaccine related injuries are real; I have a living friend who reacted to that same vaccine as an infant (she fully vaccinates her kids). So why aren't we looking for the real cause? Why aren't we realizing that the very kids who have reactions to these vaccines are likely the very kids who would die if the diseases were still thriving? Why isn't Fisher looking for real answers?

I suppose I just don't understand. Human behavior is fascinating to me, but I'll never wrap my head around it. Maybe I shouldn't label her a liar. My heart does ache for her loss. But how can anyone, in good conscience, purposefully mislead thousands of loving parents? Her deceit is intentional. She silences (and threatens to sue) all voices that oppose hers.

So far, every time I've tried to understand the dangers of vaccination, I've found an individual who is driven by money. It's been proven their arguments are built on lies. We deserve better. Their time has expired and voices of the pro-vaccine crowd need to speak up.

*The wording here was changed after initial publication, as it was pointed out to me that I wasn't fairly representing Jehovah Witnesses' beliefs.


Kelli said...

What an incredible article, Liz! I admire your research. So many people just read a couple mommy blogs and believe everything that is written. I also admire your openness to both points of view and your willingness to admit that your hypothesis could be wrong.

Well researched. Well written. Thanks for sharing!

Liz Szilagyi said...

Thanks Kelli. Too bad I'm just another Mommy blog though. Ha ha, I'm serious about that. I know lots of people might read this and not take it seriously. But if that Vaccine Center won't let me post my questions and concerns there, I have to post them here!

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