CNBC publishes an antivaccine press release from the Weston A. Price Foundation and Leslie Manookian

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last decade of covering pseudoscience and quackery from a skeptical point of view is that no pseudoscientific trope ever really dies. This is particularly true of antivaccine tropes. No matter how many times this piece or that of antivaccine misinformation is slapped down, sooner or later it always resurfaces. Indeed, I remember one article that I’ve seen resurface on several occasions that inevitably bears a title that is some variation of a statement that a “new study vindicates Andrew Wakefield.” Every time that article pops up, various antivaccine advocates will spread it all over Facebook and other social media. The article then disappears, only to reappear months—or even years—later. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Another thing that I’ve noticed over the years is a particularly sneaky tactic of antivaccinationists, and that’s to get a press release or other bit of propaganda published in such a way that it looks as though it’s a legitimate news story. Just this week, it’s happened again. It’s a story that fulfills all the criteria of such a technique: (1) it looks like a real news story if you don’t look at it that closely (which most readers don’t) and (2) it spreads antivaccine nonsense. In this case, it’s a press release from the Weston A. Price Foundation that popped up on CNBC’s Globe Newswire entitled Public Health Officials Know: Recently Vaccinated Individuals Spread Disease that’s led people to question Why Is CNBC Posting Anti-Vaccination Propaganda? It appears on a web page in such a way that it looks like a legitimate story. A reader has to scroll all the way down to the very end of the story, with the contacts buried even beyond all the references:

CONTACT: Kim Hartke, 703-860-2711703-860-2711, [email protected] Leslie Manookian, 208-721-2135 208-721-2135, [email protected]

Leslie Manookian? We’ve met her before. She’s the producer of an antivaccine propaganda movie (The Greater Good) released a three years ago that was so chock full of egregious antivaccine misinformation that it got an even more detailed than usual patented Orac deconstruction. It deserved it, too, in a big way. She was also the moderator of a debate between Julian Whitaker, who argued the antivaccine side, and Steve Novella, who argued (and won) the pro-science side. In any case, the CNBC press release is virtually identical to this press release from a month ago posted on the Weston A. Price website entitled, Studies Show that Vaccinated Individuals Spread Disease Should the Recently Vaccinated be Quarantined to Prevent Outbreaks?

Just see how it starts out:

Physicians and public health officials know that recently vaccinated individuals can spread disease and that contact with the immunocompromised can be especially dangerous. For example, the Johns Hopkins Patient Guide warns the immunocompromised to “Avoid contact with children who are recently vaccinated,” and to “Tell friends and family who are sick, or have recently had a live vaccine (such as chicken pox, measles, rubella, intranasal influenza, polio or smallpox) not to visit.”

A statement on the website of St. Jude’s Hospital warns parents not to allow people to visit children undergoing cancer treatment if they have received oral polio or smallpox vaccines within four weeks, have received the nasal flu vaccine within one week, or have rashes after receiving the chickenpox vaccine or MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine.

“The public health community is blaming unvaccinated children for the outbreak of measles at Disneyland, but the illnesses could just as easily have occurred due to contact with a recently vaccinated individual,” says Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation. The Foundation promotes a healthy diet, non-toxic lifestyle and freedom of medical choice for parents and their children. “Evidence indicates that recently vaccinated individuals should be quarantined in order to protect the public.”

Yes, The Weston A. Price Foundation and Leslie Manookian resurrected this hoary old corpse of an antivaccine myth, cleaned the dust off of it, propped it up like a mannequin, and somehow snookered CNBC into publishing it as a press release. For those not familiar with the Weston A. Price Foundation, just peruse its website. Take a look at its take on health topics: homeopathy, liver detoxification, anti-fluoridation propaganda, smart meter fear mongering, and exaggerated fear mongering (is there any other kind?) about root canals, among other serious woo.

It’s very clear that the claim that children shed virus and are thus potential vectors for infection is important to antivaccinationists because it allows them to portray others as equally, if not more, the cause of outbreaks than their children, but is there anything to it? Regular readers can probably guess the answer to that question. The answer, of course, is that there’s far less to the issue of virus shedding than meets the eye. For one thing, virus shedding can only occur with live virus vaccines, such as the rotovirus vaccine, oral polio virus vaccines (which are not really used in the US any more because of a one in 2.7 million risk of paralysis from the vaccine strain of the virus), or intranasal flu vaccines.

Of course, there’s a difference between shedding and causing disease. For one thing, the strains of virus used in live attenuated virus vaccines are just that—attenuated. They’ve been weakened in some way so that they don’t cause the actual disease. Otherwise, a live virus vaccine would be the equivalent of giving the disease to the person vaccinated, which would rather sabotage the whole point of vaccination, which is to produce immunity to the disease without the vaccinated person actually having to suffer through the disease itself. (Scratch that, it would be exactly the same as giving the person the disease.) The question, then, is whether secondary transmission (transmission of the vaccine strain virus to others who haven’t received it) is a major concern. The answer to that question, is no, as these articles entitled Secondary Transmission: The short and sweet about live virus vaccine shedding and Live Vaccines and Vaccine Shedding.

We learn from the former article that these are commonly given live virus vaccines:

  • MMR – the combination measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine
  • Vavivax – the varicella or chicken pox vaccine
  • rotavirus vaccines – including two oral vaccines, RotaTeq and Rotarix
  • Flumist – the nasal spray flu vaccine
  • oral polio vaccine – the original oral polio vaccine (sometimes called the Sabin vaccine). Again, this has been replaced in the United States by the inactivated polio vaccine (Salk vaccine)

We also know that:

  • the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause shedding, except that the rubella part of the vaccine may rarely shed into breastmilk (since rubella is typically a mild infection in children, this isn’t a reason to not be vaccinated if you are breastfeeding though). What about the rare case of a person developing measles after getting the MMR vaccine? In addition to being extremely rare, it would also be extremely rare for a person to transmit the vaccine virus to another person after developing measles in this way.
  • the chicken pox vaccine doesn’t cause shedding unless your child very rarely develops a vesicular rash after getting vaccinated. However, the risk is thought to be minimal and the CDC reports only 5 cases of transmission of varicella vaccine virus after immunization among over 55 million doses of vaccine.
  • the rotavirus vaccine only causes shedding in stool, so can be avoided with routine hygiene techniques, such as good hand washing, and if immunocompromised people avoid diaper changes, etc., for at least a week after a child gets a rotavirus vaccine
  • transmission of the live, nasal spray flu vaccine has not been found in several settings, including people with HIV infection, children getting chemotherapy, and immunocompromised people in health-care settings

In other words, the claim that virus shedding is a serious problem to the point that vaccinated children, not unvaccinated children, should be quarantined is a myth, the same myth propagated by the Weston A. Price Foundation, aided and abetted by CNBC, that is in this press release. Actually, it’s the same antivaccine myth on steroids, given that I usually don’t see this claim coupled to a suggestion that vaccinated children be quarantined, which goes “above and beyond” (or perhaps I should say, “below and deeper”) than most antivaccinationist claims.

Basically, the only thing that the Weston A. Price Foundation press release is not incorrect about is that there is a concern about immunocompromised children, the same concern that leads to contraindications to vaccinating them with live virus vaccines. On the other hand, the Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation has published recommendations that include:

Close contacts of patients with compromised immunity should not receive live oral poliovirus vaccine because they might shed the virus and infect a patient with compromised immunity. Close contacts can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity.

Particularly important are annual immunizations with inactivated influenza vaccine; scheduled periodic pertussis vaccine (Tdap); pneumococcal vaccine; measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine; and varicella vaccine for older contacts whose routine immunizations might not be up to date

Since live oral polio vaccine is no longer used in the US, this means that there is no reason not to vaccinate close contacts of immunocompromised children and lots of reasons to vaccinate, particularly herd immunity. In other words, Sally Fallon Morell of the Weston A. Price Institute and Leslie Manookian are laying down hot, steaming piles of fetid dingos’ kidneys. They do mention a case of a man who caught polio from the diapers of his recently vaccinated daughter, Dominick Tenuto. I’ve mentioned him before. His daughter received the live oral polio vaccine back in 1979. Once again, we no longer use the oral polio vaccine in this country; so this is a now irrelevant example.

The press release finishes up with an invocation of the “measles is harmless” myth that antivaccinationists have been promoting of late in wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak. Contrary to this claim, measles is not a benign disease.

Yes, I know this is a press release. It’s rather interesting how it ended up on CNBC, though. As I pointed out, it first appeared on the Weston A. Price Foundation website over a month ago. From there it showed up on Alex Jone’s all conspiracy all the time website and various other alternative health outlets, where it was thoroughly deconstructed by Reuben at The Poxes Blog. A month later, it pops up on CNBC, and yesterday appeared on Mike Adams’ under the title Recently vaccinated children a threat to public health: Evidence shows they can SPREAD disease and CAUSE outbreaks, which, this being Mike Adams and all, is a complete lie, introduced thusly:

The following announcement appeared on via Globe Newswire. It is extremely well cited and it shatters the lies and propaganda of the vaccine industry — an industry that’s losing the P.R. on every front due to their verbal abuse of vaccine-damaged children, strong-arm intimidation tactics and attempted government coercion to demand vaccine obedience.

Ah, Mikey. No. As Reuben showed and I re-emphasized here, the citations were either irrelevant or didn’t show what the writers thought they showed, and this press release “shatters” nothing.

Now, I know that someone out there is going to say, “Hey, it’s just a press release!” News outlets publish them all the time. This is no doubt true. CNBC even makes that statement at the bottom, an editor’s comment that wasn’t there when you, my readers, first started sending this link to me but was apparently posted around noon yesterday after all the complaints started rolling in:

This is one of numerous press releases distributed by Globe
Newswire. CNBC carries material from several press release distributors as a service to our readers. (You can find them here …….

These press releases do not reflect original reporting by or the editorial judgment of CNBC.

Yes, perhaps. And certainly this should be a cautionary tale in terms of teaching you and me always to look very carefully at seeming news stories like this. That’s always a good thing to keep in mind. However, CNBC should ask itself this: Why is it that no other reputable news outlet published this press release? I’m sure the Weston A. Price Foundation sent it to other news outlets that publish press releases. I’ve done some Googling with snippets of text from the press release and all that comes up is CNBC, the Weston A. Price Foundation, antivaccine websites like VacTruth, the aforementioned Infowars link, and the like. Alone of all major news organizations, CNBC chose to run this press release. No one else other than crank and antivaccine sources. Just CNBC.

CNBC should ask itself why that is.