Children’s Health Defense: Ten lies about vaccines

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.