This weekend was the 4th of July, Independence Day. It’s the most patriotic holiday of all, at least for Americans. We celebrated it in the usual way, with parades, fireworks, the odd lost digit or two, and barbecues. Unfortunately, there’s another thing that the 4th of July inevitably brings on as well, and that’s the invocation of liberty to support dubious causes. Given what happened last year around this time in California, regular readers probably have an idea where I’m going with this. Yes, I’m referring to antivaccine activists invoking “rights” and “freedom” to justify their refusal to vaccinate their children. The invocation of “parental rights” and “health freedom” are the ultimate dog whistle for antivaccinationists, wherein patriotic ideas like “freedom” are co-opted in the cause of not vaccinating. Dr. Bob Sears excels in this; he’s not even subtle about it. Conservative politicians with a propensity for antivaccine views, like Rand Paul or my very own state senator, also like to conflate “freedom” in general with the “freedom” not to vaccinate. That’s leaving aside even the most loony antivaccine politician of all, Donald Trump.In California, as SB 277 took effect on July 1 and eliminated non-medical exemptions in California, antivaccinationists lost it even more than they usually lose it.
So whose turn is it this time to use the 4th of July as an excuse to spew antivaccine nonsense and try to repackage it as “freedom”? This year, I’m afraid it’s very disappointing. Seriously, antivaccinationists really do need to find a higher quality celebrity to represent them. Yes, this year they got Robert DeNiro, but his handlers are clearly desperately trying to keep him from publicly spouting too much antivaccine nonsense, and he hasn’t been much heard from since he let it be known that he wanted to make a “vaccine documentary” with Harvey Weinberg. So I guess when the 4th of July rolled around, all they could count on was Rob Schneider.
Yes, that Rob Schneider.
This time around, Schneider wrote something (or someone wrote it for him) for The Vaccine Reaction, a blog published by Barbara Loe Fisher’s Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Blowing that antivaccine dog whistle loud and proud on the 4th of July, Schneider entitled his post We Must Protect Our Vaccination Informed Consent Rights, and, yes, SB 277 seems to be the inciting factor.
But first, experience this introduction:
The most basic of all human rights is the ability to have control over your own body and be able to exercise informed consent when making medical decisions that can harm you or your child.
There is a concerted effort by the pharmaceutical industry, medical trade groups and their lobbyists and our paid elected representatives in state and federal government to persuade legislators to abolish rights that individuals and parents have in making informed choices about what is best for their health and their children’s health.
In 1986, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act and declared that government licensed and recommended vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.” In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court said the same thing when they shielded vaccine manufacturers from vaccine injury lawsuits: vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.” Their words.
Um no. Not quite. Clearly, Schneider’s conflating two different things, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act that formed the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and a legal decision from five years ago, Bruesewitz v. Wyeth. The NCVIA never actually uses the term “unavoidably unsafe.” Rather, it states:
…[n]o vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side-effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.
Schneider seems to be taking a common antivaccine trope in the wake of Bruesewitz v. Wyeth and, as is his usual habit, not thinking clearly about it; that is, ife he can even think at all. First of all, as Dorit Reiss explains, even if the NVCIA did characterize vaccines as “unavoidably unsafe,” that doesn’t mean they are dangerous or, just as importantly, defective. To be defective, a product has to be unreasonably dangerous, either because it was poorly made or designed or because consumers weren’t aware of its dangers.
There is such a thing as an “unavoidably unsafe” product, as Reiss explains:
There are some products which, in the present state of human knowledge, are quite incapable of being made safe for their intended and ordinary use. These are especially common in the field of drugs. An outstanding example is the vaccine for the Pasteur treatment of rabies, which not uncommonly leads to very serious and damaging consequences when it is injected. Since the disease itself invariably leads to a dreadful death, both the marketing and the use of the vaccine are fully justified, notwithstanding the unavoidable high degree of risk which they involve. Such a product, properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directions and warning, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous.”
The last sentence is the important one: A vaccine whose benefits outweigh its risks is not unreasonably dangerous or defective – even if the risks are as frightening as those attributed to the Pasteur vaccine, let alone modern vaccines, with their much lower risks.
In other words, an “unavoidably unsafe” product is not a dangerous product. It’s a product with risks, even when properly used, but where the benefits of its use outweigh the risks. This is, of course, true for vaccines, whose risks are very, very low indeed. As for Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, I discussed the case in detail when its ruling was first announced, which is when antivaccine activists latched on to the term “unavoidably unsafe,” and Dorit Reiss discussed it in even more detail a couple of years ago. It was a ruling that the NVCIA preempts claims that a vaccine manufacturer should have sold a safer formulation of a vaccine.
But I’ve spent more time discussing this point that I had planned. What stands out in particular is the dog whistling going on here. Notice how Schneider claims to be standing up for the right to “informed” consent, when in fact nothing in SB 277 invalidates informed consent. Parents can still refuse to vaccinated, but there is a consequence. Their children can’t access services where the presence of unvaccinated children endangers everyone by degrading herd immunity and facilitating outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. In reality, what antivaccinationists want is not informed consent, but what I used to like to call “misinformed consent,” because what antivaccinationists want to use as the basis for informed consent are misinformation and pseudoscience that vastly exaggerate the risks of vaccines and vastly underestimate the benefits. I say I used to like to call it that because these days I think I prefer calling it “misinformed refusal,” to contrast it better with true informed consent. Maybe I’ll start doing that, because “misinformed refusal” of vaccines is exactly what people like Rob Schneider are promoting, while invoking freedom:
All pharmaceutical products, like prescription drugs and vaccines, carry a risk of permanent injury or death. No drug or vaccine is 100% safe or effective 100% of the time. It is also true that, as individuals, we do not all respond the same way to drugs and vaccines.
When there is a risk of permanent injury or death from any drug or vaccine, we must have a choice. If choice is taken away and people are forced to use any drug or vaccine licensed and mandated by our government, then we are no longer a free people but live in state sponsored medical tyranny.
I’m just waiting for Schneider to paint his face half blue, as Mel Gibson did playing William Wallace in Braveheart, and start yelling “FREEDOM!” imagining himself meeting William Wallace’s fate as a martyr for freedom.
Not surprisingly, this being Rob Schneider and all, his next move is to repeat common, easily refuted antivaccine tropes. For instance, he rants about how THREE BILLION DOLLARS have been paid out to children and their parents under the VICP since 1988. Whenever I see an antivaccine activist capitalizing “THREE BILLION DOLLARS” I can’t help but think of Doctor Evil in the Austin Powers movies demanding for his ransom one…MILLION DOLLARS! (Muahahahahaha!) It’s basically a rehash of the misinformation Schneider laid down three years ago about the Vaccine Court. For instance, he claims that most parents don’t know the deadlines for applying to Vaccine Court for compensation, without actually citing any data that this is true, and points out that 2/3 of claims are rejected. Of course, given how many people believe that vaccines cause autism and conditions that they don’t cause, labeling such conditions “vaccine injury,” it strikes me as pretty good if the VICP compensates 1/3 of complainants, assuming that Rob Schneider’s figures are correct, which is something I never assume. For example, one wonders what the percentage of complainants compensated is if you leave out the 5,000 cases of the autism omnibus, whose claims that vaccines cause autism were rejected based on test cases.
Much of the rest of the post is a “greatest hits” of the antivaccine movement. For instance, Schneider claims that Congress and the Supreme Court gave vaccine manufacturers COMPLETE IMMUNITY from product liability and personal injury suits when in fact that is not true. If a complainant is not compensated by the Vaccine Court, that complainant can then access the regular courts. All the VICP does is to require that the first step be the Vaccine Court, which uses a loosened standard of evidence for determining vaccine injury and even pays the court costs of complainants. The only reason antivaccinationists hate the Vaccine Court is because unscrupulous lawyers preferring to gamble on the chance to get big payouts from the regular courts rather than accepting the certainty of being paid much less by the Vaccine Court have convinced them that they could be compensates so much more if the Vaccine Court didn’t exist. In reality, these lawyers do not have the best interests of the truly vaccine-injured (as opposed to those whose parents only think they’ve been vaccine-injured) at heart at all. It is far better for such parents to have a higher probability of payout and have their court costs covered even if they lose than it is for them to gamble on big payouts with the vast majority of them receiving nothing at all.
Others are there, too, such as the claim that vaccines cause all sorts of horrible problems, that children receive more vaccines than any other generations, and how it was “media hysteria” over the Disneyland measles outbreak last year that lead to SB 277, making the claim that only “2.5% of children attending kindergarten in California had a personal belief exemption on file but those children will be blocked from getting a school education starting in the fall.”
Or you could look at it this way, the way a study in February looked at it:
The percentage of fully vaccinated kindergartners entering the state’s schools in 2015-2016 was the highest in a decade: 92.9%, up from 90.4% last year. State health officials say the measles outbreak at Disneyland a year ago might have scared a few parents off the vaccination fence, but SB 277, combined with another bill from 2012 that required parents to talk to a pediatrician before obtaining an exemption, had more to do with it.
That could be the difference between effective herd immunity and ineffective herd immunity.
After all that, Schneider concludes:
Now there is a concerted effort by public health officials to mandate vaccines for adults, too. Health care workers are being fired if they don’t get an annual flu shot, which CDC admits is a vaccine that doesn’t work half the time!
With hundreds of new vaccines being developed by industry and government, it is very important that we protect our legal right to exercise informed consent to vaccination for ourselves and our children because our civil rights also are being threatened if vaccination is tied to our ability to get an education, a job or medical care.
First off, no one is tying vaccination to our ability to receive medical care; that’s just not going to happen. As for tying vaccination to our ability to get a job, yes, that can happen, but only in health care fields involving direct patient contact, which is as it should be.
Of course, Schneider views this all as a huge conspiracy between industry and government to “force” vaccination when in reality it is nothing of the sort. It’s an effort to keep vaccination rates above the threshold of herd immunity in the face of antivaccinationists like Rob Schneider.