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Children’s Health Defense: Ten lies about vaccines

Children’s Health Defense is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s antivaccine group. Recently it posted a list of ten “facts” about vaccines. In reality, it’s ten bits of disinformation, half-truths, and lies.

Today is a day dedicated to #DoctorsSpeakUp/#NursesSpeakUp/#PublicHealthSpeakUp/#ParentsSpeakUp on Twitter and other social media. What does that mean? It’s basically a plan to make March 5 a day for healthcare workers and those who care about public health to speak up for vaccines and out against antivaccine misinformation. So, as I mentioned yesterday, I figured I had to do a post about vaccines today. But what should I write about? What…should…I…write…about? Oh, thanks, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Through Twitter and your antivaccine propaganda organization Children’s Health Defense, I learned of this:

Yes! What better way to handle #DoctorsSpeakUp than to deconstruct ten antivaccine “facts” (lies) being promoted by the the lying antivaccine liars who tell them! And, make no mistake, RFK Jr. is one of the lyingest antivaccine liars of all time, as I’ve been documenting ever since 2005. Here’s the link to the post from which those screenshots were taken. Let’s get started. The first one is easy:

The epidemic of poor health in American children started after 1986, coterminous with the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act which resulted in an explosion of the vaccine schedule. For American kids born in 1986, only 12.8% had chronic diseases. That number has grown to 54% among the vaccine generation (those born after 1986) in lockstep with the expanding vaccine schedule.

1. Children have never been sicker than today.

54% of American children have serious chronic health conditions according to a 2011 survey funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Conditions include neurodevelopmental disorders, asthma, allergies, mental health/behavioral disorders and obesity.

The long version of the rebuttal of this antivaccine trope, known as the “sickest generation” trope is here. The short version goes as follows. The figure of 54% of children having a chronic health condition is based on a single cherry picked study from 2011 looking at data from 2007. There are several things to note, The study found that, overall, 19.2% of children met the criteria for Children with Special Health Care Needs, defined as children who “have or are at increased risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions and who also require health and related services of a type or amount beyond that required by children generally.” That is, of course, a rather broad definition and would be expected to produce larger estimate. As was pointed out at Vaccines Work, the estimate that 54% of children have chronic illness of some sort includes children who are obese (which has nothing to do with vaccines, although occasionally antivaxers will claim obesity is related to vaccination) and have risk of developmental delay, which is likely correlated with the number of premature babies surviving birth and the number of drug-addicted babies surviving birth, not vaccines. (We already have numerous studies that do not support a link between developmental delays and vaccines.) The comparison to a figure of only 12.8% of American children having a chronic illness before the NCVIA is also a deceptive sleight-of-hand. For one thing, the study upon which that estimate was based was an entirely different study published in JAMA in 2010 using a different data source and different methodology. It also turns out that the kids are alright.

Next:

2. A growing body of peer- reviewed animal and human studies link childhood chronic illness epidemics to vaccines—

including Vaccine Adverse Event Reports and manufacturers’ product inserts. The world’s most aggressive vaccine schedule has not given our country the world’s healthiest children. We now rank 35th in overall health outcomes —just behind Costa Rica, making the U.S., by most measures, including infant mortality, the sickest in the developed world.

No one has claimed that the “world’s most aggressive vaccine schedule” (which, by the way, ours isn’t) would give our country the world’s healthiest children. That’s a huge straw man. As for the studies cited by Children’s Health Defense and RFK Jr., amusingly the animal study is one that I’ve covered before as part of a post on a “study” that claims to have found that aluminum induces bizarre behavior in sheep. Let’s just say that it was a crappy study that didn’t find what Children’s Health Defense thinks it did, particularly given that it invokes Yehuda Shoenfeld’s fake diagnosis of ASIA. It’s also a study that Children’s Health Defense was flogging when it was first published:

The second study, this time in humans, is Leslie et al, Temporal Association of Certain Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Vaccination of Children and Adolescents: A Pilot Case-Control Study. First note that it’s a pilot study, meaning a first stab at a hypothesis. Its design is as a case control study, which means that cases were compared to controls for whether they had received any vaccination 3, 6, or 12 months before being diagnosed with the various neuropsychiatric disorders examined. Basically, at best, it can be considered a hypothesis-generating study, as it didn’t control for multiple comparisons. It did bivariate analyses. Unsurprisingly, it found some “hits.” The hazard ratios were also surprisingly low. When they broke out their numbers by vaccine, the numbers were all over the map, with some having a slightly elevated hazard ratio, while some vaccines were protective in this model against some of the neuropsychiatric conditions examined. (Unsurprisingly, Children’s Health Defense and RFK Jr. didn’t mention that.)

Next:

3. Vaccine manufacturers and healthcare providers cannot be held liable for vaccine injuries.

In 1986, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act freeing companies from liability for injuries resulting from childhood vaccines—“no matter how toxic the ingredients, how negligent the manufacturer or how grievous the harm.” The act created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) that is governed by HHS. Over $4.2 billion has been paid by consumers for vaccine injuries. The U.S. vaccine schedule has more than tripled since the 1986 Act.

I dealt with this claim yesterday. I’ll just briefly repeat again. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was passed because liability from people trying to sue for vaccine injury was threatening to lead the last vaccine manufacturers to stop making vaccines. A small tax was assessed per dose to fund the Vaccine Court and a fund to compensate those injured by vaccines, and all claims for vaccine injury first have to go through the Vaccine Court. It’s a good deal, too, as the standards of evidence are fairly relaxed, and all legal fees are reimbursed, win or lose. Even then, if a claim fails in the vaccine court, the parents can still access federal courts. Antivaxxers love to mischaracterize how the Vaccine Court works, because, even under fairly lax evidentiary standards, most of their claims are rejected.

The lies keep coming:

4. Vaccines CAN and DO cause injuries. The message that vaccine injuries are rare is not supported by facts and anecdotal evidence.

An HHS-sponsored study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that vaccine injuries, when tracked using electronic medical records, occurs in 1 in 39 vaccines given.

Children’s Health Defense and RFK Jr. are, of course, including mild vaccine adverse reactions, such as sore arms. Even so, this is another example of antivaxxers misinterpreting studies.

Onward and…downward:

5. Post-licensure vaccine safety surveillance is failing the American people and children around the world.

The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), where doctors and patients voluntarily report adverse vaccine events, received 58,381 reports in 2018, including 412 deaths, 1,237 permanent disabilities, and 4,217 hospitalizations. An HHS-funded review of VAERS concluded that “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported” to VAERS. The CDC has refused to mandate or automate VAERS reporting.

Oh, bloody hell. Not this again. Antivaxxers love to portray VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) as the be-all and end-all of post-licensure vaccine safety monitoring. They love to harp on how it’s a passive reporting system and how passive reporting systems are prone to underreporting. (Of course, VAERS is prone to overreporting of vaccine “injuries” that aren’t, thanks to litigation distorting VAERS.) Let’s just put it this way. James Laidler once entered a VAERS report that the flu vaccine had turned him into the Incredible Hulk. (I guess it’s now the Immortal Hulk.) VAERS accepted it.

It’s true that passive reporting systems have a problem with underreporting. So it’s a really good thing that VAERS isn’t the only post-licensure surveillance system for vaccines. It’s a good thing that there are three active surveillance systems in the US that actively look for potential adverse reactions to vaccines. There are, for example: Vaccine Safety Datalink, Post-licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring System (PRISM), and the Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Project. Funny how antivaxxers ignore these redundant systems for monitoring adverse events thought to be due to vaccines.

Continuing in the same vein:

6. None of the vaccines on the U.S. CDC recommended childhood vaccine schedule were tested against an inert saline placebo in clinical trials.

No, no, no, no, no. Come on! This is an antivaccine trope that’s painfully easy to debunk. Seriously. Antivaxxers who parrot this idiotic disinformation aren’t even trying.

Continuing on:

7. HHS has ignored its statutory obligations to study vaccine injuries and improve vaccine safety.

In 1986, Congress—recognizing that drug companies no longer had any incentive to make vaccines safe—ordered HHS to study vaccine injuries, work to improve vaccine safety, and report to Congress on its progress everytwo years. It has not sent one safety report to Congress in over 30 years.

Here’s another one that’s deceptive as hell. So much so that I’m just going to move on:

8. Vaccines are neither completely safe nor effective and the concept of “herd immunity” is a myth.

About 2%–10% of healthy individuals fail to mount antibody levels to routine vaccines, and vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time. Highly vaccinated populations frequently have outbreaks of pertussis, mumps, measles, and chickenpox. Many diseases were on the decline prior to the development of vaccines. Civil engineers, not vaccines, produced the large gains in life expectancy over the 20th century.

Highly vaccinated communities do not “frequently” have outbreaks of measles, chickenpox, mumps, and pertussis. Seriously, Children’s Health Defense, show your work. How “frequent,” for instance, are outbreaks of measles in highly vaccinated populations. Yes, waning immunity is a problem when it comes to the pertussis vaccine, but guess what? That can be taken care of by booster shots! Even if “highly vaccinated” populations did have “frequent” outbreaks, the outbreaks are much smaller and much less frequent than outbreaks in unvaccinated communities.

As for the claim that sanitation and hygiene, rather than vaccines, were primarily responsible for the decline in infectious disease I like to cite the example of Haemophilus influenza type b. It’s a disease that can be quite deadly, causing a wide spectrum of disease ranging from meningitis to pneumonia. I saw cases during my training in the late 1980s; they were horrible. Before the vaccine for Hib, about 20,000 children younger than five developed severe Hib disease in the United States each year, and about 1,000 died. By 2006, the number of Hib cases had fallen to only 29 for the whole year. I posit that sanitation was fine in the late 1980s, and it was fine in 2006. The only difference was the introduction of the vaccine. Another thing. Sanitation won’t do diddly squat to stop a disease whose spread is primarily airborne through respiratory droplets. While hand washing and other methods to slow the spread of such diseases can have some success, to prevent such a disease requires a vaccine.

Now we get to the conspiracy theories:

9. CDC Vaccine-Researcher-Turned-Whistleblower Dr. William Thompson, Ph.D.

was denied the ability to testify regarding scientific fraud and destruction of evidence by senior CDC officials in critical CDC vaccine safety studies regarding an association between childhood vaccines and autism. Thompson invoked federal whistleblower status and alleges that the CDC destroyed evidence that black boys are 3.36 times more likely to develop autism if they receive the MMR vaccine before age three.

No, that “elevated risk” was based on an incompetent “reanalysis” of the data by a biochemical engineer turned clueless epidemiologist wannabe named Brian Hooker. He’s so incompetent at epidemiology that he thinks “simplicity” is a virtue in doing statistical analysis and that controlling for confounders only muddies up his findings demonizing vaccines. In any case, the “CDC whistleblower” conspiracy theory is merely a variant of what I like to call the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, namely that “they” (the CDC, the government, pharma, the medical community) “know” that vaccines cause autism and a host of harms but are covering it up. This particular conspiracy theory was the basis of Del Bigtree and Andrew Wakefield’s magnum opus of antivaccine propaganda disguised as a documentary, VAXXED.

Finally:

10. Conflicts of interest undermine children’s health.

CDC, frankly, is a vaccine company; it owns 56 vaccine patents and buys and distributes $4.6 billion in vaccines annually through the Vaccines for Children program. Further, Pharma directly funds, populates and controls dozens of CDC programs through the CDC Foundation. The CDC and FDA have become dominated by the interests of vaccine manufacturers rather than acting in the public interest. The vaccine industry is forecasted to exceed $48 billion by 2025.

I’ve dealt with this nonsense before. Personally, most people think that the Vaccines for Children program is a good thing. People who aren’t antivaccine ideologues actually agree that it’s good thing to provide vaccines free of charge to children of low income parents and whose parents don’t have health insurance. The CDC budget is roughly $12 billion, of which less than a billion dollars goes to Immunization and Respiratory Disease, although $4.4 billion does go to Vaccines for Children. Here’s a description:

The Vaccines For Children (VFC) program is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. CDC buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees—i.e., state health departments and certain local and territorial public health agencies—which in turn distribute them at no charge to those private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers. Children who are eligible for VFC vaccines are entitled to receive those vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

See what I mean? The CDC does not “sell vaccines.” It does buy vaccines at a reduced rate as part of this program to provide them for free to children whose families are poor. Contrary to the claims of Children’s Health Defense, the CDC is not profiting from selling vaccines. Also, so what if the CDC holds patents on some vaccines? It funds researchers who develop new vaccines.

Children’s Health Defense (and, obviously, RFK Jr.) are antivaccine to the core, and this listicle is nothing but antivaccine propaganda. As such, it’s populated with disinformation, misinformation, lies, and half-truths, all designed to induce fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines. Same as it ever was.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

32 replies on “Children’s Health Defense: Ten lies about vaccines”

RFK Jr. would probably have a better chance at demonstrating a conspiracy (probably involving Jimmy Hoffa and the Mob) behind the assassinations of his father and uncle. And probably do less damage to the lives of children in the process.

Your link for “animal study” actually goes to “Temporal Association of Certain Neuropsychiatric Disorders Following Vaccination of Children and Adolescents: A Pilot Case-Control Study.”

The study used insurance claims, and, as Orac said, there are a negative correlation in certain cases.

I was merely pointing out the link labeled ““animal study” was incorrect because I thought Orac might want to fix that. I wasn’t commenting on either study.

What bothers me most is how the woo-entranced select their experts – why do they listen to information- made-up, mis-quoted or purely mendacious- from people like Kennedy, Null, Adams, AoA ,Del or Andy ?

According to studies, anti-vaxxers identify with rebels, those who stick it to the Establishment. They are outside the common mold and fight the power.
They tend towards conspiracy theories, paranoia and value purity and freedom whilst they despise corporations, pharma and governmental authority.
Experts and universities are considered pawns of the entrenched power brokers.
So the good work of Drs ZDogg, Baldwin and DG is automatically discounted by them.

HOWEVER I venture that people with that constellation of issues are a only small section of the population and most people will listen to reason and data if it is presented in an amenable format.
Recently, a study showed that people who get information from Social Media are more likely to accept anti-vax material ( slightly less than 20%) than those who get information from more traditional news sources like television and news outlets.
Similarly, a referendum to rescind a law that eliminated all non-medical exemptions in Maine failed 3 to1, only attracting about 40% of voters.

#DoctorsSpeakUp is being hijacked by anti-vaxxers ( Newsweek). AoA and Kennedy have called for their followers to contribute. This might be a good thing because their balderdash will be visible and posted next to reality based tweets..

Lucky Tran of the Guardian ( Nov 2019) calls anti-vax “education” firehosing: spewing loads of lies at a quick pace.

Thank you for all you do. As one still in the trenches of providing healthcare, I all too frequently encounter those that “have done their research”. I am frequently amazed at the complete inability to grasp the basics of the scientific process and they possess no critical thinking skills. It is especially trying when they are family members. Your diligence and expertise are greatly appreciated

Repeating things they know are untrue makes it so much worse. Thank you for going through this. I already shared this in response to them sharing the original.

You are correct:
repetition is a surefire way to consolidate memory. Unfortunately, anti-vaxxers/ woo-meisters use the SB findings of cognitive psychology to “educate” their followers into a totally unscientific belief system.

They associate new material to what was already “learned”
they make use of extremely emotional content
they illustrate their articles with heartwarming images of infants/ terrifying images of sick children,
they repeat their selling points frequently
they insert their views into well-established material
they contrast themselves with other factions
they try to say something first ( prior entry)
They use intervals to solidify the “learning:

Cognitive scientists know that you might remember things you never heard if they are part and parcel of a group of statements which you have heard e.g. if a study shows you sets of statements AB, AC ,AD, BC, CD, ABC, BCD, ACD, ABD etc Ss may believe that they heard ABCD when they never did. So they game memory and “learning”**

** if you learn something that is made up is it actually learning? Is “education” possible with bogus information?

Depends on your definition of “education” and “learning”. Most advertising works along these lines. Likewise, many governments have used, and continue to use, these methods for nefarious purposes–see 1984 for a fictional example, but there are too many instances of politicians and flimflammers using 1984 as an instruction manual.

In the long run the truth will come out. But the long run can take a lot longer to happen than any of us would like.

Just read the article – viral DNA as the basis for a cancer probe? It’s just what ‘they’ want you to think….

Allow me to contribute some additional comments on several of Kennedy’s bullet list:
… 1. 54% of American children have serious chronic health conditions bla bla bla …
This is in fact two lies in one: Not only are the numbers completely wrong, but even if they were right, this still doesn’t mean that vaccines are to blame. And no, Kennedy c.s. do not come up with any solid evidence for this.
2. A growing body of peer- reviewed animal and human studies link childhood chronic illness epidemics to vaccines
The very stupid thing here is that as ‘evidence’ they essentially come up with … ta-daa! The previous point! “The world’s most aggressive vaccine schedule has not given our country the world’s healthiest children.”
5. … An HHS-funded review of VAERS concluded that “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported” to VAERS.
Well … yes, of course. Because those 99% ‘missing’ reports of adverse events almost all concern known, expected, mild side effects — side effects that according to most people do not merit the trouble of filing a report. In fact, if every sore arm and every crying child would be reported to VAERS, then antivaccine people would be even less happy because VAERS would then reflect reality even better, i.e. that severe side effects from vaccination are exceedingly rare. And, of course, serious events ARE reported FAR more often than just in 1% of cases.

@ Richard

Re: point 2,
I personally like how, for the “growing body of peer-reviewed studies”, the leading examples are that:

including Vaccine Adverse Event Reports and manufacturers’ product inserts.

IOW, two things which are neither peer-reviewed nor studies;
(OK, the inserts could list peer-reviewed studies, but this is not the parts RFK Jr et al. are talking about)

@Athaic
Well spotted. Indeed, both VAERS and package inserts basically list two categories of adverse events: the ones that can positively be attributed to vaccination (e.g. as they were observed in trials), and those that were reported after vaccination, but without any further information, and therefore may have other causes. The latter category is usually found exclusively in the course of aftermarket surveillance, and includes a wide variety of serious problems — contrary to the first category.
This common antivaccine fallacy also neatly explains how these nitwits manage to shove literally each and every ailment know to man under the ‘vaccine injury’ umbrella: For most people, their whole life, including the majority of medical events, takes place after vaccination. Which to antivaccine nitwits means that any medical event may be attributed to vaccination — and after that, they merely need to substitute the ‘may be’ for ‘is’ to claim that ailment X is caused by vaccines …

they merely need to substitute the ‘may be’ for ‘is’

A processus typical of the bigoted, the religious zealot, and other adepts of grand theories where any question about Life, the Universe and Everything is answered by the existence of a single, malevolent Boogeyman.

Quick to go from suspicion to certitude.
And then to burning witches.

Kind of off topic, but not so much, really: I predict that antivax are going to have a conspiracist field day with COVID-19.
The usual suspects will be rounded up, and of course they will include the CDC, Democrats, George Soros and any other Jews they can focus on, atheists, liberals, the New World Order, Big Pharma, environmentalists, Muslims, Satanists, and so many more.
On an unrelated note, my election prediction has been proven correct. I said that the eventual Democratic nominee would have a name containing the letter “b”, and I was right.

A few days ago, I saw a National Enquirer headline blaming it on the Chinese government. (I was waiting in line at the supermarket.)

I’ve been comforting myself this week that when asked the Voters of your state of Main roundly rejected an AV attempt to strike down a popular law that gets rid of religious or spiritual objections to keeping your child healthy.

I was telling some of my nursing friends yesterday during the ‘speak up thing’ that while these cranks are vicious and vocal they are in reality a small % of the population, and even when they get their hooks in somewhere, once things going south as they did in the Jewish community in NY or in Samoa, again most end up protecting their children.

Though is a bit like whack-a-mole, you drive them away from some place and they pop up somewhere else.

Jeremy says:
” a small % of the population”

Exactly. For years, I’ve been trying to estimate their number. Of course, it depends on how you define “anti-vaxxer” : is it someone who is unsure about vaccines or questions them? Someone who believes them to be dangerous or sinful? Or is it someone who adamantly avoids them? Or someone who actively advocates against them?

Polls and surveys estimate the first category as 20% or more. US states may have as many as 5-6% of children with non-medical exemption ( % of children is not equal to % of voters or % parents or % adults). But activists are another story. Looking at social media pages for well-known groups or individuals associated with anti-vax, I haven’t been able to find many with numbers beyond 50K : Stop Mandatory Vaccines is over 150K and a few hover around 50K and have for years ( The Vaccine Machine Facebook). Even “famous” sites like AoA or well known individuals can’t seem to muster up numbers and I imagine that diehards are trying hard to sign up everyone they know ( maybe even pets).

Anti-vax supporters often imagine that their numbers are truly huge because they are insulated from reality by their belief system. They tried to get a referendum in CA and couldn’t get enough signatures. Their efforts failed to win in Maine. When Coleman’s V groups show up, they can’t drum up hundreds of supporters. Many advocates partake in several groups ( see Blaxill, Wright, Hooker)

Anti-vaxxers who chime in to harass Orac and others may do nothing else except search the net for opportunities to share their stories and hatred. A small percentage indeed but extremely vocal and persistent as RI’s readers know only too well.

“Of course, it depends on how you define “anti-vaxxer”

A preferred definition: someone who stridently opposes most or all vaccines, relying heavily on readily disproved memes and personal attacks.

Over at AoA, the residents are getting super excited about Del’s latest “win” against the CDC. Apparently Del has submitted another FOIA petition, this one requesting all the all studies the CDC has in their possession to substantiate their statement that vaccines do not cause autism and the CDC has replied. With 22 studies.

In the usual antivaxxer frenzy 22 is not nearly enough. Even then 2,222,222 studies would not be nearly enough. A couple of studies retracted due to fraud and incompetence is sufficient for antivaxxers to be sure of their ground.

I made the mistake of looking at the comments, the AV cult rent a mob has swarmed in, its a tsunami of bullshit over there now, poor lady.

Thanks for skewering Kennedy, who has ties to radical environmentalists and neo-prohibitionists, I might add. By the way, Drs. Walter and Gorski, I wonder what are your thoughts on Jeremy R. Hammond?

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