How is it that antivaccine pediatricians keep their medical licenses?

One of the most important responsibilities pediatricians have to assure the health of the children they take care of is to make sure they are vaccinated. Over the last 100 years, childhood mortality has plummeted such that it is no longer common to lose a child (or children) to infectious disease. Indeed, it is now very uncommon, if not rare, to lose a child to the diseases that were the scourges of prior generations of children, largely thanks to vaccination. Diseases like polio, whooping cough, smallpox, diptheria, the measles, and several more, that once were the scourges of children everywhere. Even in my father’s generation, childhood mortality was not uncommon. Indeed, my father lost siblings to what are now vaccine-preventable diseases.

In part, that’s why one of the most disturbing aspects of the antivaccine movement to me is how many pediatricians have betrayed their profession and their duty to children by pandering to antivaxers or even becoming antivaccine themselves. It’s particularly frustrating because MDs and DOs should know better. Their training should have, if you’ll excuse the term, immunized them against the pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies of the antivaccine movement. However, pediatricians are humans too, and humans are prone to the same sort of cognitive issues that lead others to confuse correlation with causation and as a result become mired in confirmation bias in which they remember every case or bit of information that reinforces their preexisting views and ignore or dismiss cases or bits of information that contradicts those views.

We’ve seen this phenomenon many times, dating back to the very origins of this blog and earlier. Perhaps the most famous example of a pediatrician who’s betrayed his patients by becoming antivaccine (or at least pandering enthusiastically to the antivaccine movement) is Dr. Robert Sears, better known to his fans as “Dr. Bob.” Another pediatrician “star” among antivaxers is Dr. Larry Palevsky, who appeared in an antivaccine movie. So did Dr. Rachel Ross, a family practice doctor who used to be on the daytime fluff medical show The Doctors and has now hitched her wagon to the antivaccine propaganda movie VAXXED. Indeed, after her “enlightenment” to the “evils” of vaccines, she even went so far as to write a letter of apology for having vaccinated so many children in her practice for so long and, in her mind, having caused so much harm.

Speaking of VAXXED, that’s how I found out about the latest traitorous pediatrician who’s gone antivax. Her name is Dr. Cornelia Franz, and she’s doing videos with antivaccine activist Polly Tommey and the VAXXED crew:

Notice how in the interview she wears her stethoscope. I note that doctors who appear on television or in videos frequently wear the trappings of their profession in order to assert their authority. Think Dr. Mehmet Oz wearing scrubs on his TV show to shout to the audience, “I’m a surgeon, ma-an! Respect my authoritay!” Think, well, The Doctors, where the emergency room doctor also wears scrubs and some of the other doctors sometimes wear lab coats. Dr. Franz doesn’t quite go full flea by wearing a white coat and draping her stethoscope around her neck, mainly because most pediatricians don’t wear white coats when seeing patients because it can scare their young patients. So wearing a stethoscope around her neck serves the purpose.

You know from the very fact that she agreed to be interviewed by Polly Tommey and featured on the VAXXED YouTube channel that Dr. Franz is not going to issue a full-throated defense of vaccines, to put it mildly, and she doesn’t. In fact, she parrots a whole bunch of the usual antivaccine tropes. For instance, she parrots the trope that kids today are sicker than they’ve ever been. Let me put it this way: Even if that were true (and, other than the elevated prevalence of obesity in children and its attendant complications, it’s arguable whether it is true or not), there’s no evidence that it’s vaccines that caused it. Yet Dr. Franz assumes that it is vaccines:

As more time went on, I started seeing truly vaccine injured kids. I started seeing a lot of autistic children, and their parents all said the same thing. They said: My child was fine till they got this shot and then within a week, we lost him. …They quit having eye contact, they lost language. And I heard that so often, and so then I started doing research. And the more I started researching, the more I found that the ingredients were also toxic.

I can tell you today, having been in clinic practice for over 30 years, that the children I see today are sicker than they were when I was a resident. It’s like they’re genetically weaker. And we give four times, quadruple, the number of vaccines that we did when I started practice. …

There’s a sign …that says by the time your kids is five, they get 81 different vaccines. It’s really 117, and it’s not really vaccines, but it’s antigens. So like a DTP is diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough, and there are three ingredients. So you get diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough—you get five of those total. So you get 15 different components there. Hib has three separate strains, so you get four times three, you get 12. Prevnar has 13 strains of pneumococus, so you get four times thirteen, 52. When you add all that up, leaving out the flu vaccine, you get 117 different vaccine antigens by the time they’re five. When I started practice, they got 30 to 33. So it’s huge.

What I can tell you is from clinical practice because my field is clinical practice, not research. I’ve just seen so many vaccine injured kids. It’s over and over and over.

There’s so much misinformation and misattribution to unpack there. For instance, our pediatrician apparently has no clue about the age-old concept that the dose makes the poison. Yes, some vaccines contain chemicals like formaldehyde, but formaldehyde is a byproduct of normal metabolism and the amount of formaldehyde in the vaccines is tiny. Similarly, all the other horrible “toxins” that antivaxers cry about in vaccines are present in such low levels that they are not a concern. A pediatrician should know this, but apparently this particularly pediatrician does not, which is a shame.

Also, what the hell is this idiocy about children today being “genetically weaker”? Does she really think that children’s genetics could possibly have changed significantly in a mere few generations? No one who has clue one about genetics and evolution would say something so completely ignorant, but Dr. Franz did.

Of course, she also bought into the antivaccine trope of doing whatever it takes to make it sound as though the number of vaccines children receive on the CDC schedule is unreasonably, unscientifically huge. Indeed, the bit about the number of vaccines is well nigh incoherent, but even that’s not scary enough. So she starts switching between the number of vaccines and the number of antigens as though the two were interchangeable. Like most antivaxers, she doesn’t do the math. Most likely she can’t.

The key, of course, is that what she can tell you is from “clinical practice” and that her field is “clinical practice.” Does that sound familiar? We’ve heard another pediatrician with a proclivity for pandering to the antivaccine movement invoke his “30 years of personal clinical experience”? I’ve pointed out many times before how deceptive “personal clinical experience” can be, particularly if you have a predilection to blame vaccines for all sorts of health problems and even more particularly if you have sufficient arrogance of ignorance and a tendency to fall into the trap of viewing vaccines as “unnatural.”

Oops:

My practice is integrative. So we do both traditional and non-traditional. In our practice, our policy is we don’t even start vaccines till age one because it’s not the kid’s immune system until really after six months, and it’s really not strong till 12 months. So we don’t even begin until age one. That way, I don’t have a lot of problems with them early on.

“Many parents come to us because they don’t want to vaccinate the traditional schedule with 5 and 6 shots at a time. We support what they want to do, and it’s turned out really well because these kids seem to be much healthier than previous decades.

And check it out. Dr. Franz’s practice offers homeopathy (a.k.a. The One Quackery To Rule Them All). Consistent with that, her entire practice is “integrative medicine,” which “integrates” quackery with real medicine. Just peruse her website if you doh’t believe me. In fact, it goes well beyond that:

Early on in practice, there were kids that would come back that were ill, and I found myself saying, ‘Oh, it’s a coincidence. Oh, it couldn’t be the vaccine.’ And then one day I stopped and went—because I didn’t believe what was coming out of my mouth. I had to stop and think about it, and I went, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’

“So you start looking, and you start listening, and you listen to the parents: ‘What motivation do you have to lie to me? I need you to tell me what’s wrong with your child, and I need you to make connections.’

“I’m also a homeopath, and so we do homeopathy and one of the big things in homeopathy is ‘Never been well since.’ And it happens very often. People will say, ‘I have never been well since I had the flu.’ ‘I have never been well since I broke my leg.’ ‘I’ve never been well since I had a vaccine.’

“And that has to be real. It’s a very clear point in time.

So Dr. Franz has forgotten everything she was taught in medical school. First of all, she’s a homeopath, which means she’s an über-quack just because of that. Remember, to be a homeopath, you have to believe that to treat a symptom you need something that causes that symptom and that diluting a remedy makes it stronger, even if you dilute it so far beyond Avogadro’s number that the chance of there being even a single molecule of the original starting compound left is vanishingly small. She also forgets about the existence of confirmation bias and selective memory, which are both traps doctors need to avoid when they hear a patient say “I’ve never been well since…” whatever incident they’ve come to associate with their illness.

She’s also a quack because she practices pediatrics like this:

…We don’t give the measles vaccine till age 3. I won’t even entertain it. I would then ask you what is your problem with measles. What is your fear, what is your concern? I would educate you on that because measles is a virus. It can cause problems. It’s going to cause more deadly problems in people who are vitamin A deficient because we know the measles, mumps, rubella shot drains vitamin A stores, and then that creates a disconnect in the brain, and many kids become autistic after that. …

I try and debunk what is your fear about measles because there are alternative ways to treat it that are equally as safe, that bring you through it with no harm.

So not only does Dr. Franz refuse to vaccinate children with a safe vaccine against a disease that can cause very real complications out of a fantastical fear that it will cause autism, but she tells parents that there are “alternative ways” to treat the measles that are safe and will bring the child through measles with no harm. I don’t know which is worse, but that latter claim is utter nonsense, a delusion, pure quackery. There are no such treatments for measles. The only reason that Dr. Franz can get away with practicing this way is because, thanks to the MMR vaccine, measles remains thankfully very uncommon (although pediatricians like her are trying their best to change that through their irresponsible practices) and, fortunately, measles only kills roughly one in a thousand of its victims and produces encephalitis in two or three times that many. Back in the days before the vaccine, there wasn’t much anyone could do about those complications, but today the existence of a safe and effective vaccine there means that there is no excuse not to reduce those complications and death to zero.

I’m also confused. Dr. Franz seems to be saying that measles causes autism, which it doesn’t (although rubella infections during pregnancy can result in autism in the child), although I suspect that she’s just using a relatively incoherent explanation of why she thinks the MMR causes autism because MMR is a live virus vaccine.

Then there’s this:

I’m very adamant and passionate about not giving Gardasil. I did give it to five girls initially …and all five had bad reactions. Fortunately, none of them were lethal, none of them were long term crippling, but it was enough for me. And then when I did the research on that—the last time I looked at the data, Gardasil had killed 120 girls outright, it has maimed over ten thousand, it is causing premature menopause,…

No, it is doing nothing of the sort. Gardasil does not kill, even though that is a frequent claim of antivaxers. (Some have even published a guide to blaming your child’s death on vaccines.) It does not cause premature ovarian failure, even though that is a favorite claim of antivaxers. Gardasil is safe and effective at preventing infection with the most common strains of human papilloma virus associated with cervical cancer.

Then, Dr. Franz goes down the fundamentalist Christian rabbit hole:

I actually have an ethical issue with it too. …What happened to teaching our kids values? …Why do you need a shot?

This is one of the stupidest anti-Gardasil arguments out there, but it’s frequently repeated by antivaxers. They seem to think that girls think, “Wow. I had a vaccine that will prevent me from being infected with HPV and getting cervical cancer in 20 years. I can now have as much sex with as many boys as much as I want!” Besides the utter implausibility of arguments like this, there is plenty of evidence that Gardasil vaccination does not lead to promiscuity.

She’s also very suggestible. During her interview, she goes on and on about vaccine injury; yet when Tommey asks her point blank whether she’s seen vaccine-injury in her practice, she answers:

Not that I can recall from my own practice. I have received patients who have been injured after age one. Yeah, lots of them actually because that’s when the MMR is, after age one. So in that age group of giving it at 12 to 15 months, I think there’s probably the largest number of problems with autism afterwards.

So wait a minute. She’s never actually seen the “vaccine injury” that she’s railing against. She’s only “received patients who have been injured after age one.” Who diagnosed this “vaccine injury”? Or, to Dr. Franz, is any child with autism automatically considered to be “vaccine-injured”?

Yet, since stopping vaccinating, Dr. Franz claims she’s never seen a case of shaken baby syndrome in her practice and this:

The other thing that I’m seeing, and I don’t have any evidence or numbers to back it up, so this is what they call anecdotal or clinical empirical evidence. I’ve been in practice long enough now that some of my own patients are coming back with their kids. …I can actually tell you that the unvaxxed kids are healthier.

I’ve been in practice long enough that I can also tell you that if the unvaxxed kids are a problem, if my population is a problem, then according to what’s out there, they should have a very high risk and there should be a lot of hospital admissions for my unvaxxed kids getting those things. And I’m seeing the opposite. They’re not. …The children I have who are unvaccinated are across the board, healthier. …

They say that the most dangerous words out of any physician’s mouth are “in my experience.” In any case, what you see above is pure confirmation bias. She believes vaccines are harmful; therefore, she be far more likely to remember cases that confirm her bias, such as children with chronic illnesses who were vaccinated and healthy children who are unvaccinated, and to forget cases that do not confirm her bias, such as healthy vaccinated children and unvaccinated children with health problems. As for the reason why there aren’t so many admissions of unvaccinated children for various diseases, apparently Dr. Franz doesn’t understand the concept of herd immunity. As long as vaccination levels stay high enough, the unvaccinated will have some protection. However, as I recently discussed, it doesn’t take much of a decline in vaccine coverage to lead to large increases in vaccine-preventable diseases.

Seriously, the concentration of stupidity and ignorance in Dr. Franz’s interview is black hole density. Whenever I encounter a pediatrician like Dr. Franz, I wonder how she keeps her medical license and board certification.