Prince George’s County Courthouse protest about vaccine scofflaws: More there than meets the eye?

There’s a rather interesting bit of vaccine politics going on in Prince George’s County, Maryland being reported by the AP and The Baltimore Sun:

Scores of grumbling parents facing a threat of jail lined up at a courthouse today to either prove that their school-age kids already had their required vaccinations or see that the youngsters submitted to the needle.

The get-tough policy in Prince George’s County was one of the strongest efforts made by any U.S. school system to ensure its youngsters receive their required immunizations.

Two months into the school year, school officials realized that more than 2,000 students in the county still didn’t have the vaccinations they were supposed to have before attending class.

So Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols ordered parents in a letter to appear at the courthouse today and either get their children vaccinated on the spot or risk up to 10 days in jail. They could also provide proof of vaccination or an explanation why their kids didn’t have them.

I’m of two minds of this. While I definitely support requiring vaccination against common childhood diseases before children are allowed into public school, I have to wonder if this strategy is a bit heavy-handed. Wouldn’t threats of barring unvaccinated children from public schools, coupled with threat of potentially large fines, be an adequate penalty for failure to vaccinate? Worse, this approach plays into the hands of the antivaccinationists in a big way. Indeed, over the weekend, the antivaccination blogosphere has erupted into a frenzy of stoked outrage over this case. Here are some examples:

  1. From The Age of Autism: Forcing parents to have their children vaccinated seems more like the tactic of a totalitarian state and not a representative democracy. Dr. Sherri Tenpenny put out an announcement about this with a frightening quote from presidential candidate Ron Paul, “When we give government the power to make medical decisions for us, we, in essence, accept that the state owns our bodies.” I wondered where the ACLU was in all this. Wasn’t this an issue dealing with individual rights?
  2. From antivaccinationist Barbara Loe Fisher: Whatever the reasons for parents not vaccinating their children with all state mandated vaccines, it is inappropriate for state officials to threaten parents with jail time. Reportedly, there are about 6,000 truant students in the state of Maryland. Are the parents of the other 4,000 students who are missing from school also being given deadlines and facing jail time their truant children? Or could this military action by what some parents are referring to as “The Vaccine Police” be simply a case of an eager State’s Attorney looking for a political platform teaming up with over-zealous health and education officials to achieve a 100 percent vaccination rate with all state-mandated vaccines in Maryland?
  3. From antivaccinationist Barbara Loe Fisher again: The big difference between being dragged into a Courthouse to get vaccinated and being dragged to church is that an hour of prayer rarely results in catastrophic brain injury or death. I still wonder how many of those children, who were injected with multiple vaccines in the Courthouse, are having vaccine reactions today. Their parents, many of whom are uninformed about how to recognize vaccine reactions, will never know what happened to their children if they regress into chronic poor health after the shots they were forced to get on Saturday.
  4. From antivaccinationist Dr. Sherri Tenpenny: At the beginnings of ‘Public Health’ policy, efforts were made to convince persons to participate through cooperation. Since that late 1960s, the pendulum has swung from education and collaboration to heavy handed coercion through advertisement campaigns designed to shame and terrorize parents into believing the are neglecting their children by questioning, and at times refusing, vaccines. The current example of heavy handedly slapping of parents into “compliance” is a further example of how far our freedoms have eroded. While we drop bombs and fire bullets around the world to ensure the freedom of others, we are incarcerating parents for doing what they believe is in the best interest of their children. Wake up, Americans. What will they be incarcerating us for next in the name of compliance?
  5. Über-crank Mike Adams at NewsTarget, who can’t resist going straight for the Nazi analogy (where’s the Hitler Zombie when you need him?): The State of Maryland has now turned to Gestapo tactics to force its medical will upon the People, stripping parents of any right to decide how they wish to protect their own children from infectious disease. Health authorities there have already announced their intent to essentially kidnap parents and throw them in jail, removing them from their children for up to thirty days if they continue to refuse to have their children vaccinated. This will all be conducted at gunpoint, with armed personnel and attack dogs at the ready, making sure nobody steps out of line, and suppressing any attempt at public dissent against the Orwellian vaccination policies.

And, of course, our old friends at the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), publishers of that über-crank journal, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (JPANDS) can’t resist the opportunity to show their true antivaccination stripes in a statement released hot on the heals of the action in Prince George’s County:

Our fight now turns to Maryland, specifically, Prince George’s County (PG County) which is within spitting distance of Washington DC. And since this has developed quickly WE NEED YOUR HELP TODAY!!

In a scene reminiscent of cattle round-ups, the state’s attorney has issued summons to more than 1600 parents of children who have not provided certificates of immunization for their children. These parents have been told to appear in Court on Saturday, and either subject their children to on-the-spot state-mandated vaccines of up 17 vaccine doses, or face imprisonment.

Parents who ignore the court’s demands could face a $50 fine for every day their child is out of compliance or up to 10 days in jail.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, but it’s got to get done,” threatened Maryland State’s Attorney, Glenn F. Ivey. But Mr. Ivey apparently has no problem invoking his own right to informed consent and parental control. In a radio interview on Thursday, he admitted that he chose to refuse the hepatitis B vaccines for his own children.

Of particular note is that this mandate applies across the board to all schools, public and PRIVATE, and even daycare facilities – whether they receive government funding or not…

ALSO, WE WANT TO SPEAK WITH SOME MARYLAND PARENTS WHO WILL REFUSE THE VACCINES. We may be able to provide them with some legal assistance, and want to help them tell their story through the media. We have a number of reporters who are willing to report on the parents’ side of the story if parents are willing to go public. Otherwise, you know the story will be that of the state and school district “that a bunch of crazy anti-vax parents insist on endangering the lives of all of the children in PG schools.”

Of course, AAPS is not antivaccination. It’s just offering legal assistance and its publicity machinery to parents opposed to vaccination and complaining that they will be represented as “crazy anti-vax parents.” (Ironically, AAPS is unintentionally correct about such parents insisting on endangering the lives of all of the children in their children’s public schools, though. They do.) Still don’t believe the AAPS isn’t antivaccination? Just listen to it:

NOTE: As we have stated repeatedly, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and other members of the “Hands Off Our Kids” Coalition are not anti-vaccines. But we recognize that vaccines are a personal medical decision – a decision that should be made by parents with the consultation of their physician. A state- or school-mandated vaccine amounts to coerced medical treatment without consent. See the AAPS resolution against mandatory vaccines: http://www.aapsonline.org/testimony/vacresol.htm.

Here’s a bit of the rhetoric from this AAPS resolution:

WHEREAS: Safety testing of many vaccines is limited and the data are unavailable for independent scrutiny, so that mass vaccination is equivalent to human experimentation and subject to the Nuremberg Code, which requires voluntary informed consent; and

WHEREAS: The process of approving and “recommending” vaccines is tainted with conflicts of interest;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED: That AAPS calls for a moratorium on vaccine mandates and for physicians to insist upon truly informed consent for the use of vaccines.

When a group like the AAPS compares mass vaccination to being human experimentation, particularly when coupled with a claim for “informed consent” (never mind that “informed consent” is indeed required for vaccinations), and even mentions the Nuremberg code, in my book it’s clearly a bunch of antivaccination nuts. All claims to the contrary are clearly just the standard smokescreen that all antivaccinationists with a modicum of intelligence hide behind.

So, right from the beginning, it’s clear that the antivaccination forces were intentionally trying to make hay of the judge’s order and to whip up a bunch of hysteria. In fact, so good a job did the antivaccination activists do that they managed to slip in a ringer, so to speak. As was reported at Autism News Beat, AP reporter Matthew Barakat appears to have fallen for it, too, as he reports:

Several organizations opposed to mass vaccinations demonstrated outside the courthouse. While the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, some people blame immunizations for a rise in autism and other medical problems.

“People should have a choice” in getting their children immunized, said Charles Frohman, representing a physicians’ group opposed to vaccines.

This is sort of true, but what was left unsaid is far more revealing. You see, Charles Frohman is a paid lobbyist who lists as one of his clients a group known as Health Freedom USA. As you may recall, we’ve recently encountered Health Freedom USA. It appears to be somehow affiliated with the Natural Solutions Foundation, which is the group that first sent out the e-mail spreading what is almost certainly an urban legend, a story of a youth with melanoma who is supposedly being forced by the court in Orange County, California to undergo therapy, a story whose many inconsistencies and dubious claims I have been deconstructing. Clearly, Mr. Barakat was snookered, as simply Googling Mr. Frohman’s pulls up his website on the first page of results. Also painful is the way that Mr. Barakat fell for the false “balance” issue. While he correctly cites that the medical consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective, he can’t resist citing “some people” blaming immunizations for a rise in autism. This is not that much different from citing advocates of “intelligent design” creationism as “balance” in discussions of the theory of evolution. At least the New York Times managed to be less easily taken in when interviewing Mr. Frohman:

Among them was Charles Frohman, who represented the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group opposing mandated vaccinations. Mr. Frohman said the county should have done more to make parents aware of their options. “Reports are that very few folks are really hearing about exemptions,” he said.

Interesting. It does make sense that Mr. Frohman, in addition to representing the Natural Solutions Foundation/Health Freedom USA, would also represent that über-crank physician group, AAPS, though. Its house organ, JPANDS, routinely publishes the most amazing cornucopia of medical crankery, ranging from the mercury militia antivaccination stylings of père et fils Geier, to the even more vile antivaccination claims that the shaken baby syndrome is in reality due to “vaccine injuryrather than physical trauma, to rants about how “vaccine dissent” is dangerous. And these are just examples of how nutty the AAPS is when it comes to vaccines. When it comes to other medical issues, the AAPS is just as nutty, if not more so. For example, it opposes any form of government regulation of physicians, is utterly opposed to Medicare and Medicaid, publishes racist anti-immigration screeds in its pages, and publicizes truly awfully done epidemiological studies purporting to show a link between abortion and breast cancer.

So what do we conclude? To me, it’s very clear from the rhetoric about this court action in Prince George’s County emanating from so many antivaccination websites that there was a concerted effort to bring organized antivaccination forces in to protest. Very likely, the AAPS and Health Freedom USA are at the forefront of this, based on the presence of Mr. Frohman, a paid lobbyist for Health Freedom USA (and now apparently the AAPS, if the NYT account is correct), as the spokesperson of the protesters. No doubt these antivaccination nutjobs saw Judge Nichols’ order as a golden opportunity that they just couldn’t pass up.

In the end, I’m skeptical about just how effective the court’s tactics will be. Personally, if I had been in charge, I probably would have simply instructed the school to send home any children whose vaccination records were not up to date with a letter instructing the parents that their children would not be permitted back until they provided proof that their children had received the required vaccinations. As it is now, although there’s no doubt that remaining unvaccinated children are receiving the recommended vaccinations as a result of this campaign. The problem is that most of these children were probably not unvaccinated as a result of their parents’ being opposed to vaccination, but rather due to sheer laziness or forgetfulness of the parents, and bringing down the heavy hand of the state in such a manner on them concerns. me. It’s why I have to wonder if this success in Prince George’s County doesn’t come at too high a price, namely a major propaganda victory for antivaccination groups like AAPS and its antivaccination allies.

Coming soon: How antivaccinationists have been misrepresenting a recent study.