No, no, no! Fifteen times, no!

A couple of weeks ago, I noted a new trend among the antivaccine glitterati, or maybe I should refer to it as a new trope. That particular trope is to refer to anyone who has the temerity to stand up for science, support vaccines, and criticize antivaccinationists like the crew at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism or the moms full of the arrogance of ignorance over at The (Not-So) Thinking Moms’ Revolution as “bullies.” Part and parcel of this trope is to try to portray aggressively countering the antivaccine misinformation that flows from such sources in a seemingly unending stream as the brutal bullying of unfortunate mothers of the victims of “vaccine injury” who are only trying to bring The Truth About Vaccines to the world and, in their view, prevent other mothers from making their children autistic by—gasp!—actually vaccinating them according to the CDC-recommended schedule.

Well, they’re at it again.

I had meant to get around to this post, but news about Stanislaw Burzynski (about whom there very likely will very soon be more blogging soon, given that his response appears to be hitting the interwebs) and the irresistible target that is Deepak Chopra distracted me as much as a squirrel distracts Dug the Dog. No problem. There was plenty of time, and I’m back to it now. After all, a juicy target like Laura Hayes’ epic piece of arrogant ignorance on AoA entitled Dear Emily Willingham, Dorit Reiss, Christopher Hickie and other Vaccine Bullies is just too tasty a morsel to resist.

First off, I must confess to a bit of disappointment. What do I mean? Well, it’s hard not to be disappointed that I wasn’t included in the list of “vaccine bullies.” Come on, Ms. Hayes! Who’s the biggest, baddest, most obnoxious “vaccine bully” of all? With all due respect and admiration Emily Willingham, Dorit Reiss, and Christopher Hickle, who are obviously thorns enough in the side of AoA that they have their very own attack post directed at them, thus earning my respect, I can’t help but point out that they are nowhere near as—shall we say?—Insolent as this particular “vaccine bully.” In fact, I should have a T-shirt made that says “Vaccine Bully,” or maybe I’ll contact Surly Amy and ask her to make a “Vaccine Bully” Surly, as a companion piece to the “Vaccine Gestapo” Surly that I still occasionally wear, especially to skeptics events.

But on to the fun. Basically, Ms. Hayes asks this question:

Do you believe anyone has the right to be exempt from vaccines? Does the Constitution protect the individual’s right to refuse a vaccine?

What about under these circumstances?

She then lists 15 different circumstances. I was half tempted to simply respond with no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no and leave it at that. Then I thought that perhaps I could simply say that it doesn’t matter if you “believe” in a Constitutional right to refuse vaccines, because adults already have the right to refuse vaccines, as they have the right to refuse pretty much any medical intervention. It’s children we’re talking about here, though, not adults. So the question is actually whether parents have the right to refuse vaccines for their children, and the answer to that question is already known. The Supreme Court gave the only opinion that matters, and that’s that philosophical and religious exemptions from vaccination for children are not required.

This is, however, Orac we’re talking about. I don’t roll that way.

Ms. Hayes then starts listing conditions:

  1. If one child in a family experienced one or more adverse reactions to one or more vaccines, would you be okay with that parent exempting that child and his/her siblings from any future vaccines?
  2. If a parent had one or more adverse reactions to one or more vaccines, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?
  3. If a parent witnessed a close relative (e.g. nephew, niece, first cousin, etc.) have one or more adverse reactions to one or more vaccines, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?
  4. If a parent has had a child die from a vaccine(s), would you be okay with that parent exempting their remaining and/or future children from vaccines?
  5. If a parent witnessed a friend’s or neighbor’s child having one or more adverse reactions to one or more vaccines, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?

All of this, of course, is irrelevant to whether a child is likely to suffer another “adverse reaction.” In particular, it’s irrelevant if a friend’s or neighbor’s child has a reaction, it has no bearing on whether a parent’s child will have a reaction. While it’s understandable why a parent might be frightened if she saw (or, more commonly, was told about) an adverse reaction to vaccination, it has no bearing on whether there is a “right” to refuse vaccines. It would likely call for more understanding and reassurance, but if that fails, neither the child nor the children with whom that child will come into contact, should be endangered because of fear. Of course, in many states it’s a moot point, anyway, because they permit philosophical exemptions to vaccination. Such a parent already has a “right” to refuse vaccination for her child, as misguided as such policies might be. I support school vaccine mandates. Parents can refuse to vaccinate their children, but if they do their children shouldn’t be allowed to endanger other children in public spaces where children are in close proximity, like schools and

In addition, for most medical purposes of taking a family history, nephews, nieces, cousins, and the like are not really considered “close relatives.” Many of the rest of the 15 questions are variations on the same theme. Hayes asks if it matters if the parents’ siblings, the child’s grandparents, and various other relations had a “vaccine reaction,” then should the parents have the “right” to refuse vaccines? The same answer applies. As for first degree relatives like parents or siblings, I’d rely on the physician and science-based medicine to determine whether vaccination is medically contraindicated. If vaccination is medically contraindicated, then the child should be given a medical exemption. If it’s not, then the school vaccine mandate should continue to apply.

This brings us to religion, of course:

  1. If a parent believes that vaccines are an abomination to God, whom they believe to be the Creator of them and their children, and whom they worship above all else, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?
  2. If a parent believes that sacrificing children and/or harming children is against their personal religious beliefs (it is a fact that vaccines have the power to both harm and kill), would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?

Again, it doesn’t matter what I think. The Supreme Court has already answered the question. Personally, I don’t like the privileging of religion above everything else as a reason to permit deviations from public safety like vaccine exemptions. Personally, I tend to think that either both philosophical and religious exemptions should be banned or they both should be allowed, and I’d tend to prefer the former. To do otherwise simply perpetuates the privilege of irrational religious beliefs in the law and public life.

This leads to #14, which was so hilariously off-base that Ms. Hayes almost owes me a new keyboard, as I was drinking tea at the time I was reading her little screed. Fortunately, I had just swallowed my drink and didn’t spew it all over my laptop. I suggest that, if you’re drinking anything right now, you do the same before you read this:

If a parent has independently researched vaccines, possibly to a level that exceeds that of any healthcare practitioner they might see, and is confident that they have reached the best decision for their family, would you be okay with that parent exempting their children from vaccines?

I’m sorry, but if you say something that stupid, you’re going to be criticized for it. Ms. Hayes seems to think that a parent, no doubt like her, can actually “independently research vaccines” to a “level that exceeds that of any healthcare practitioner” she might see. (Emphasis mine.) If there’s any sentence that epitomizes the arrogance of ignorance, in which someone thinks that University of Google knowledge trumps scientific knowledge and practical experience gained over years of advanced study, it’s Ms. Larson’s gem above. It’s simply spectacular, particularly because Ms. Hayes then proclaims that the vaccine schedule is “completely untested.” Oh, really? Completely untested? That’s simply nonsense. She might claim that it hasn’t been tested enough, although she’d be wrong, but to claim it is “completely untested” is ludicrous.

She also brings up the tired old antivaccine ploy of claiming that there has never been a study comparing the outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated children, which is also an exaggeration, as there have been such studies. The problem with doing such studies, however, is that there are—fortunately—relatively few incompletely unvaccinated children, which means most such studies involve looking at children who received all the recommended vaccinations versus children who received only some of their vaccinations. That is an inherent difficulty in doing this sort of research, and a randomized controlled trial of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children is completely unethical because it would leave one group vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases. None of this stops her from citing “informal surveys and assessments” that, according to her, show that unvaccinated children are healthier. These “studies” are generally complete crap. One was an Internet survey by a German homeopath. Another was an incompetently administered phone survey commissioned by the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism.

My amusement at Laura Hayes’ arrogance of ignorance aside, her post is only the most recent and arguably overwrought example of the new antivaccine technique of demonization. It’s becoming a drumbeat, “Help, help, I’m being repressed!” It’s also a particularly hypocritical and cynical ploy, given how willing antivaccine warriors are to harass their critics online, poison their Google reputation, and even try to get them fired from their jobs.