Roger A. Sabbadini

Editor's note: This column has been corrected to fix a misstatement about how the vaccine bill died.

Recently, I attended a town hall in Bend, organized by state Sen. Tim Knopp (Senate District 27) where the issue of childhood vaccines came up as the senator explained his opposition to House Bill 3063, which would have ended exemptions for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children based on religious or personal philosophical beliefs. One supporter of Knopp’s position commented that “there is no evidence that vaccines have ever proven effective.” A collective “argh” of frustration and surprise rang out from those of us who could not believe such an ill-informed opinion could exist in our community.

The current movement to refuse vaccinations against communicable diseases is a troubling denial of science and the facts and represents a regression away from modern medicine. Global vaccination programs against infectious diseases have been the single most effective public health measure of all time, preventing 2 million to 3 million deaths each year according to the World Health Organization. Over 80% of children worldwide are immunized against diseases such as polio, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, measles, pertussis, pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhea. In 1980, the WHO declared that the deadly smallpox virus had been eliminated from the human population. As a result, children no long require the smallpox vaccine. During the 20th century alone, smallpox was responsible for 300 million to 500 million deaths. Over 80% of infected children died.

Those of us who are old enough remember as children the dread of the crippling polio virus. We were afraid to swim in public places for fear we would end up in iron lung machines, gasping for air. The Salk/Sabin vaccine saved us from that terrifying fate. Now there are fewer than 1,000 polio cases per year worldwide, down from 350,000 in 1988.

Despite this robust epidemiological data, vaccine hesitancy has grown over the past 20 years such that there have been recent sizable outbreaks of measles linked to undervaccinated communities around the globe but also in the U.S. and here in Oregon. The anti-vaccination movement has grown due to disinformation appearing in the social media. Unscientific and unfounded conspiracy theories claim that immunization such as the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) cause autism, diabetes, attention deficit disorder and other maladies. Other misconceptions falsely charge that vaccinations compromise immunity rather than boost it. Some conspiracy theorists believe vaccination policies are contrived by pharmaceutical industry as tricks to increase their profits and that companies underreport adverse reactions in order to deceive us into thinking that immunizations are safe.

As a result of this disinformation, the WHO listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten greatest threats to global health for 2019. YouTube videos, blogs and other nonacademic social media sources fuel the anti-vax movement despite efforts of reputable scientists to provide fact-based evidence to the contrary.

At issue is the inability of society to rid itself of serious preventable disease. Moreover, it erodes the trust people must maintain in scientists and healthcare providers who make heroic efforts to promote the general welfare of society. Denying the value of immunizations in preventing pandemics or devaluating the science of climate change represent tangible threats to humanity.

On the local level, those who do not immunize their children in the name of personal or religious freedom, deny the freedom of health for the rest of us and put our precious children and others at serious risk. Immunocompromised people such as cancer patients can die if exposed, and infants who are too young to be vaccinated are a risk of contracting infectious diseases from the unvaccinated segment of the “herd.” We live in a nation of laws enacted for the benefit of society. We wear seat belts and obey traffic lights. While these measures limit our personal freedoms, they are in place because their benefits far out-weighs the risks. Such is the case of vaccinations and their unquestioned public benefit.

HB 3063 died last June. It passed the Oregon House of Representatives by a 35-25 margin with Republican Cheri Helt (House District 54) of Bend voting in favor of the legislation and representative Jack Zika (House District 53) of Redmond voting against. The bill died in the Senate as part of a deal to urge the return of Republican senators in the first Republican walkout of the 2019 session.

Roger A. Sabbadini, Ph.D., is an emeritus professor of biology at San Diego State University. He lives in Bend.

(2) comments

Bob S

The author of this opinion piece is employing the now standard gaslighting claims that “anti-vaxxers are spreading disease and misinformation. He claims that “there have been recent sizable outbreaks of measles linked to undervaccinated communities around the globe but also in the U.S. and here in Oregon. The anti-vaccination movement has grown due to disinformation appearing in the social media.” Both of these claims are false. The truth is a healthy unvaccinated person creates no risk to anyone and in particular, if vaccines work the way they claim, a vaccinated person should be completely protected against contracting the diseases. Moreover, having been born before the measle vaccine was created, I remember the days when no one feared measles because it was a “deadly” disease but was considered a relatively mild, short term infection and a rash.

It is ironic that the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy as a threat to world health and blames the growth of the movement on “misinformation.” Well, that’ not what the worlds vaccine experts say.

In fact, a little more less than two months ago, the WHO held a Global Vaccine Safety Summit attended by vaccine experts from around the world and with cameras rolling they didn’t just talk about vaccine safety, they talked about the LACK of vaccine safety studies.

In fact, Heidi Larson, World Health Organization Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project said that they really needed to stop saying that vaccine risk averse people are spreading misinformation because a lot of what they are saying is not misinformation and that the world needs to stop labeling them as “antivaxxers.”

“There's a lot of good safety science that is needed......you can't repurpose the same old science to make it sound better if you don’t have the science that's relevant to the new problem so we need much more investment in safety science. I think we cannot overemphasize the fact that we really don't have very good safety monitoring systems.”

Another attendee at the summit stated "Pre-licensure clinical studies may not be powered enough." Those are the studies used in order to license the vaccines for mass use upon everyone, meaning the studies are either too short in duration or have an insufficient number of participants in order to be able to derive statistically significant trends of adverse reactions.

It isn’t just the vaccine hesitant people who are saying this but the world’s global experts on vaccines are saying this!

The bottom line though is this. If we are not in control over what gets injected into our bodies or our children’s bodies, then we become slaves to the pharmaceutical industry. If we can be forced to inject a for profit product made by an industry insulated against all liability for any harm caused by that product, then we are at the mercy of that industry and whatever new vaccine they want to create and add to the burden on our bodies.

Where does the line get drawn? If vaccines can be required to be injected, how about forced sterilizations or forcing people to inject RFID chips so everyone can be tracked?

Kelly Yzaguirre

I was at this town hall as well. Roger seems to have left out why the issue of vaccination was even brought up. There was an informational slideshow about the top controversial bills and evidence as to why these bills might be opposed. One of the slideshows had the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) on it, which is a grossly under-used compensation program for families that have experienced vaccine injury and death. It is estimated that only 1% of reactions are reported since doctors and nurses aren't given enough education about adverse events, and parents are either blown off when a reaction happens or just aren't given adequate informed consent. Vaccination is a medical procedure, the same as any other with not only benefit, but risk. I find it interesting that this piece has "denial of science" in the title. Where is the science that vaccines are safe? VAERS? Where is the science that they are effective? The fact that over half of the whooping cough cases here in Deschutes were fully vaccinated? Or that fully vaccinated individuals all over the US are still contracting mumps? The reason that someone in that town hall may have said "there is no proof that vaccines have ever proven safe and effective" is that the studies are flawed. With science ever-evolving we are now capable of deciphering causal relationships more easily. We are talking about the relationship between toxic ingredients and health. For instance, the ability of DDT and heavy metal pesticides to induce poliomyelitis. The research available to parents is out there, and judging from Roger's "set in stone" beliefs it seems he has stopped looking for answers. Also at this town hall, a concerned mother who happened to have a vaccine-injured son confronted Roger to try and find common ground. She was completely blown off, called an "anti-vaxxer" and told she was wrong. This is the type of close-mindedness we don't need in our society. Telling a concerned mother she is wrong before she even opens her mouth.

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