A letter to the editor on CA SB 277

Not Even Wrong FireflyOne of my friends sent me this article in a local (Northern California) paper that mentions my own State Assembly representative here in Southern California.  The “Letter to the Editor” brief (TL;DR) version is above the fold.  More detail is below the fold.

In full disclosure I have not discussed my position with Ted.  He may disagree with me virulently.  Good.  Any argument he might throw my way would be worlds better than what I’ve heard so far.

The Letter, in re This article from the Press Banner:

California passed SB 277 into law this week, mandating vaccinations for children attending public schools against ten debilitating illnesses. This kind of law should not be necessary but the number of unvaccinated people is rising, threatening our herd immunity and leading to episodes like the recent multi-state measles outbreak which originated here in California and 23 separate outbreaks in 2014. Most but not all of those infected were not vaccinated. Though the efficacy is indisputable and the risks vanishingly low, articles like this one still treat the issue as though there are two equally valid arguments with competing values and priorities. There are not.

The world beyond our borders still suffers massively from preventable illnesses and California sees over 16 million international visitors every year; some of them carry these infections whether they know it or not. Mandated vaccination is a heavy-handed approach and I want to sympathize with those who opposed the bill on the basis of “personal choice.” I want to but it’s a choice that affects at least 3 people: the parent, the child and the very next person with whom they come in contact. That’s not personal. Objections on the grounds that the schedule is too aggressive are a lie. The objectors have not argued to amend the legislation but to kill it. They are advocating against vaccination.

Objection to this bill is not the “other side” positing a rational counterpoint. The “other side” is why we have lower vaccination rates and increased disease transmission risk. There are not two equal sides to this argument. There is the side with settled science and an incredible track record. The objections are disingenuous, ill-informed or both. I understand the desire to show point/counterpoint but it is misleading to place these arguments for and against vaccination on equal footing.

It is regrettable that my own State Assembly Member, Rocky Chavez, is one of those who give support to the opposition on this bill. Fortunately, it passed and I now have the opportunity to reconsider my own vote in the next election.

There is a real concern over government overreach with which I am sympathetic. I am skeptical of any government intrusion into my personal life decisions. On this matter, however, the science is settled, the risk is low and the benefits are huge both to me and my neighbors. The objections in the article are predictably broad and unfounded. They’re also quite typical.

I’ll address them one by one:

Opponents believe the legislation chips away at personal freedom to choose. It violates the individual’s control over his or her own health, as well as that of their children.

What this argument says in essence is that the opponents want to choose not to vaccinate their children. The same argument was made by Mary Mallon in 1907. The problem is that we’re talking about everybody’s health, not just one individual or her children. DUI, food service sanitation rules and campfires have all been regulated in the same way. Without a stronger argument this concern falls flat even as I want to be sympathetic to it. What’s the potential harm of which we are not already aware and mitigating, for example?

What about the child? Doesn’t the child have a choice in this matter? I posed this question to my 14 year old daughter recently as she now has the faculties to weigh these choices. I explained my experience with Chicken Pox (pre-vaccine days), the permanent scars it left and the lifelong risk of contracting Shingles I now carry. Her response? “Dad, is there a booster?” She is old enough to appreciate the argument but a pre-school child most certainly is not. The concept of personal choice only extends to the parent, it would seem. The parent has the choice; the child suffers the consequences. It’s pretty easy to make choices when you don’t have to live with the outcome.

If nothing else, this quote from Wayne Besen is a good summation:
“I also resent this idea that parents own their children. They are raising their children. And the state should stay out of the relationship as much as possible. But, these children aren’t property or slaves. A child is an autonomous human being – who does not deserve to have his or her life put at risk because of the wacky beliefs of parents. You aren’t allowed to beat your children – and you should not be allowed to withhold vaccines.”

I find that refreshingly blunt. Stop treating your children like a piece of property. They’re human beings for goodness’ sake. Give them the best chance to…live.

Many opponents doubt the vaccine efficacy since it has been well publicized that those who have been vaccinated can still get sick.

Many people doubt the earth is older than 6,000 years, too, but ignorance of 8th grade science is not an argument. Vaccines are not 100% effective and many people have legitimate medical reasons why they cannot be vaccinated. The point is herd immunity, a concept that has been explained repeatedly by folks like Phil Plait.

What [Joni Martin] found is that people involved in the movement against SB 277 are not necessarily anti-vaccine. Much like her, they just want to choose their kids’ vaccination schedule, which will now be regulated.

The phrase “I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m just…” has become something of a trope. Let’s not lie to one another. When you say “I’m not anti-vaccine…” followed by anything other than “and we vaccinate our kids” you are decidedly ANTI VACCINE. The argument falls apart in the next sentence, anyway. Laypeople don’t argue this way with the expert advice of plumbers, engineers and architects. It would be inconceivable to say to the mechanic “I know you said I need 4 quarts of oil, now, but I would prefer to just add a quart per year over the next 4 years.” Similarly, that a random parent believes their medical opinions on vaccine schedules are an equivalent counterpoint to the overwhelming medical expertise of our best clinicians, pathologists and infectious disease specialists is the height of arrogance. There is no evidence the current schedule has any deleterious effects and plenty of evidence that spreading the schedule out introduces unnecessary risks.

To top it off, the popularity of personal exemption also roots from the debate about whether vaccines cause autism, auto immune reactions, and other unsavory side effects. The argument over those issues has been ongoing for more than a decade, and is well documented online.

There is no debate. The online argument clearly documents that the entire anti-vaccination movement was a fraud perpetrated by a now disgraced physician whose single paper on the subject and license to practice medicine were both withdrawn. What you’re hearing now are the death cries of a thoroughly repudiated cause. Some vaccines do have side effects, like soreness at the injection site. This is better than full body of sores leaking contagious fluids, I think. I’ve lived through that. I would have given anything for the Varicella vaccine in 1980.

“My family member got Guillan-Barre syndrome following a vaccination,” said Scotts Valley resident and child educator Judy Corbella. “Requiring vaccines of everyone else is like you worrying about bacteria in your kitchen so you use bleach … but you aren’t satisfied so you pass a law that everyone must use bleach as you do.”

Judy Corbella is suggesting a specific vaccine causes Guillan-Barre, which might earn her a Nobel prize if she could prove that case. My son broke a rib one time after a vaccination; vaccines do not cause broken ribs. Anecdotes are not evidence, especially with a syndrome for which the medical community still doesn’t understand its root cause. The analogy is a poor one because I’m not forced to enter your home and lick your countertops. If I were, yes, I would ask you to use a diluted bleach disinfectant. By contrast, the people at Disneyland during the last Measles outbreak did not have a choice and did not know they were coming into contact with infected people or surfaces. Her choices put everyone else at risk. A better analogy is this one:

“Requiring vaccines of everyone is like you worrying your kid and others like her with Leukemia might be more susceptible to death from the chicken pox, measles and pertussis because she cannot be vaccinated.”

While some ponder over whether vaccines are filled with carcinogens…

Who are these “some?” The idea that vaccines are filled with deadly mercury or mind control compounds is coming from desperate, deluded and willfully ignorant minds. These matters have been debunked, explored and re-debunked so many times as to make even mention of it laughable. Giving these folks credibility insults the entirety of the knowledge we have earned with our own blood and sweat against the mystics and witch doctors these people seem to want to bring back.

“It’s been historically difficulty to get a medical exemption, there’s all kinds of pressure on doctors and there are financial incentives,” said [Joni] Martin.

It’s difficult to get a medical exemption because there are few medical reasons for being exempt, thankfully. By that, I mean thankfully there are not more people suffering from cancers, immune deficiencies or severe allergies that would make them unable to vaccinate. Joni now intimates there is a “Payola” of sorts for doctors to deny legitimate medical exemptions. That’s a pretty serious accusation that should be backed up with some evidence.

[Joni] learned that doctors may be dropped from insurance companies, or be inclined to stop treating patients who resist vaccination in order to fill a quota. 
“This to me is completely unethical,” Martin said.

Much of the health insurance delivered in California is through an HMO, which is focused on well-being and preventative maintenance, which is then ultimately supposed to lead to lower incidence of major care issues. HMOs are profit driven and it’s not a difficult math problem to show how vaccinated people are cheaper to care for than those hospitalized for life threatening infections because they were not protected.

I have heard of physicians dropping patients who refuse to vaccinate for two reasons: on the one hand, they assert the risks to their other patients are too great. On the other, why should they continue to provide health care to you as a patient if you simply refuse to accept that care? Never have I heard of a “quota” being mentioned. This is another potentially criminal and certainly ethical allegation that should be backed up with evidence.

But Martin said SB 277 is written in such a way that the government may add any vaccine they wish to the schedule in the future. “I am very concerned about this blank check,” she said.

I’m concerned, too, because “any vaccine they wish” sounds pretty scary. Here’s the “blank check”:

“120325(a)(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.”

Martin is technically correct. Any vaccine…recommended by the overwhelming majority of experts in this specific field. Keep in mind that the California law enforces a much smaller vaccine list than even these groups or the CDC recommend. In that context, the “any vaccine they wish” concern is a bit empty. This list could have been longer. Let’s hope that never becomes necessary.

Nevertheless, in Sacramento, Martin said legislators acted surprised to see so many well-informed people from diverse backgrounds protesting the bill.

I have to object to this sentence simply because these protestors are, in large part, poorly informed by charlatans, hucksters and snake-oil peddlers. The quotes in this article alone prove that point repeatedly. Vaccines don’t cause Autism, Guillan-Barre or cancer.

“Once the first child is denied education based on not having an updated vaccine schedule, law suits will start,” said Martin. Then, it will become clearer whether the law is here to stay as is, or evolve.

I expect this will be the case. I certainly hope those lawsuits do not prevail. What about that septuagenarian who contracts the Chicken Pox or Measles from your unvaccinated kid and dies? Who shall his family sue?

If you want to argue this law is troubling because it takes certain choices away from you, I get it. There is an extreme libertarian bent to this point of view to which I can moderately relate. Unfortunately, you’re not offering your children or the people around you and them the choice. You’re making a choice for an entire community. I’m absolutely more opposed to others imposing their risks on me than I am of vaccinations which mitigate those risks for everyone. When lice break out because that’s what lice do, you don’t have a choice to send your infested child to be with others. Similarly, your unvaccinated child poses risks to the entire population and not just him or her -self.

Again, legislation is a heavy-handed way of dealing with this critical issue but the insanity of the past decade has shown, just as it did with Typhoid Mary, that legislation may be the only way to protect against some of the most virulent strains of death and disfigurement ever to have evolved.  Until we stop giving equal air time to the notion that vaccines are somehow dangerous, untested experiments this kind of law may be the only way to insure our globally exposed community does not fall to previously defeated microorganisms.

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2 Responses to A letter to the editor on CA SB 277

  1. Peter says:

    Correction: I said “my son broke a rib one time after a vaccination.” It was actually his wrist.

    My apologies. I need to get these things right. I’m actually suffering a bruised rib at the moment and was unfairly projecting.

  2. alicia burt says:

    Great post! The Press Banner is my local paper and I wrote them a letter along the same lines. Your letter does a nice job of addressing each point in the article. Thanks.

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