Monday, February 25, 2013

Poking a Wasp Nest

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about two bills that had been introduced in the Vermont House of Representatives, H.114 and H.138, that would improve public health by tightening up religious and philosophical exemptions in public schools and, in the case of H.114, child care facilities. The first bill was introduced as a result of the pertussis epidemics going around the country, with Vermont being the second-hardest hit in 2012, with 100.4 cases per 100,000 people, roughly 7.5 times the national average of 13.4 cases per 100,000 people. This outbreak was driven by several potential factors: waning immunity in teens (necessitating an additional booster), possible mutations in the bacteria (rendering the vaccine less effective), pockets of low vaccine uptake (e.g, a 13.16% overall opt-out for philosophical reasons among kindergarteners [Excel file] in Vermont private schools in the 2011-2012 school year, and a 9.73% opt-out among middle schoolers), and adults whose immunity had waned (nationally, adults have historically had poor pertussis vaccine uptake). The second bill focuses on keeping herd immunity at necessary levels within public schools, by implementing temporary bans on religious and philosophical exemptions on a vaccine- and school-specific basis when immunization rates fall below 90%.

As I mentioned in my previous post, both bills face an uphill battle. Some legislators, like Rep. Mike Fisher, chair of the House Committee on Health Care, and gubernatorial appointees, like Health Commissioner Harry Chen, seem not to want to deal with the headaches that come part-and-parcel with the topics of immunizations and exemptions. Last year, they got an earful from individuals opposed to vaccines, resulting in the blunting of a bill that took a small step toward improved public health. This year does not look to be much different, as the same people, the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, are once again rallying their forces to lobby legislators to oppose these bills.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oregon Looks to Educate, Improve Public Health

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about two bills introduced in Vermont aimed at improving public health through modifications of the state's religious and philosophical exemption laws. One, H.114, would remove non-medical exemptions for the pertussis vaccine, since Vermont had the second highest incidence of pertussis in the entire nation in 2012. The other bill, H.138, would only suspend non-medical exemptions on a vaccine- and school-specific basis if uptake for the vaccine at the school drops below 90%. Once uptakes improve to 90% or more, non-medical exemptions will once more be allowed.

Now it's Oregon's turn to work on boosting public health.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Vermont Rolls Up Its Sleeves Again

Last year, Vermont legislators debated a bill that tried to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions from school immunizations. It was rather hotly contested, with anti-vaccine activists up in arms and the misnamed National Vaccine Information Center urging people to write to their state congresscritters to oppose the bill. In the end, a sort of compromise was reached. The bill was signed into law, but with rather significant revisions. Parents in Vermont can still get a religious or philosophical exemption for their child, but they must sign a statement indicating that they have reviewed the educational material provided to them and that they understand that their decision increases the risk of disease for their child and those around them, including children with special health needs in the child's school who may suffer serious complications if infected. It's one of the more strongly worded laws requiring education before an exemption is granted. It would have been better if the law had passed as originally written, but baby steps.

Well, it looks like the sponsor of that bill is back in action this year. Rep. George Till (D-Chittenden) and others have introduced two new bills (H.114, full text available here, and H.138, full text here) that are more narrowly focused. While still addressing the concerns of religious and philosophical exemptions, the bills focus on pertussis immunization and individual schools, respectively.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Happy (Belated) Blogiversary

So, I missed my own blogiversary yesterday. At least I remembered it was sometime in February. At any rate, three years ago, on February 5, 2010, I started this blog. Back then, it was name Silenced by Age of Autism. It was an apt name at the time, since my primary intention was to give people a voice to post their comments that the editors at Age of Autism blog censored. I had attempted to engage Kim Stagliano and some of the other commenters over at AoA in reasonable discussion. I followed their commenting guidelines. I kept my tone civil, even though I disagreed with what they were saying, and yet they saw fit to ban me. And even though I asked, I still have not received any answer.

Not that I need one. Age of Autism is an echo chamber of anti-vaccine conspiracy-think. The editors want to give parents who mistakenly believe that vaccines cause autism a "safe" and "comfortable" place to gather. By that, they mean no dissenting opinions; no questioning of the status quo. Such things might make people feel uncomfortable (having their beliefs questioned) and, horror of horrors, it make them actually think, and no one enjoys that. So instead, if it looks like someone can pose a serious threat to the calm, tranquil, hate-fueled environs of AoA, they are silenced. That's how it all started, but things have changed.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

There is a certain lie that floats about anti-vaccine groups. Before I go on, let me be clear about my use of that word: "lie". Because of certain, um, frivolous proclivities among some of the folks who perpetuate this lie, I feel it behooves me to define just what I mean. In this post, I am going to use the term "lie" with it's definition of "a falsehood". It should not be construed, unless I explicitly state otherwise, that I am implying an intention to deceive on the part of the person uttering this lie. Suffice to say that, whether through deliberate action or mere misunderstanding, many among the anti-vaccine movement persist in forwarding this lie, this falsehood, as if it were truth.

Now what lie am I going on about? This: "the Supreme Court of the United States has completely shielded vaccine manufacturers from product liability". You've no doubt heard some version of this before, often in the form "parents can't sue vaccine manufacturers". As it is frequently stated by those opposed to vaccinations, this simply is not true. Some parents just repeat this because they read it somewhere and believed it. They haven't actually read the relevant documents to find out for themselves what's really going on. I don't blame them for that. It's sloppy thinking and intellectually lazy, but I'm not going to harp on it. I'd just recommend that they (temporarily) put aside their blinders, read the actual source documents and think for themselves. Don't even take my word for it.

Then there are those who ought to know better, and, I suspect, probably do. Whether they just really do not understand or are knowingly misrepresenting facts, there are those who hold themselves out as fierce advocates of informed consent who, if they were truly devoted to that, would actually present truth, rather than falsehood. People like Barbara Loe Fisher.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Voices for Vaccines, Bust a Move, Burning Bridges

I've been having trouble focusing on blogging lately. A combination of lack of time and lack of will have led to a bit of a dry period. It's not that there isn't a lot to write about; there's tons. But I've been having trouble finding the motivation.

Recently, though, there are a few things that have cropped up that I felt I should write about. Each one could be the subject of a short post, but since they're all rather timely, I thought I'd just cram them all into a single post. I've put in some subject headers to help you skip around, if you prefer, but I hope you'll read it all.