Dangerous online writing demands physician attention

Simply not factual. That’s really all that needs to be said in response to Michael Edwards’ opinion piece entitled “Vaccine Side Effects and Why You Shouldn’t Vaccinate” published in Organic Lifestyle Magazine recently. This is clearly a non-peer reviewed, non-fact-checked online publication that Mr. Edwards edits and owns.

That being said, Edwards’ piece is so egregious I’m unable to hold my breath. Although I’m no watchdog, the dangerous writing demands physician attention partly because it’s been published amidst a noteworthy week in the world of vaccine misinformation:

  1. segment aired last week by a local TV station in Las Vegas claimed doctors debating a need for vaccines. The TV station reported false information and misrepresented a chiropractor as a “holistic physician.” There was a noted uproar online, especially when original comments from physicians were, at first, taken down. Here’s more from news watchdog Gary Schwitzer, “Back To School Anti Vaccination Woo.”
  2. Mr. Edwards published false information claiming families shouldn’t vaccinate. More below.
  3. Jenny McCarthy’s credibility erodes further as it’s announced she is now advertising e-cigarettes. A pediatric colleague wrote a blog post entitled, “Jenny McCarthy continues tireless crusade to kill us all.”

Back to the piece in Organic Lifestyle though. What is so dangerous is not just Mr. Edwards’ misinformation but the way his article appears to the eye. Mr. Edwards published his vaccine opinion in a structure that misleads a reader to believe it’s based in fact. There are sections with headers, subtitles with supposed historical reference, and a list of resources at the end. All the while Mr. Edwards warps truth and paints a picture of a fictitious world—one where those diseases now eradicated (small pox) or nearly so (polio) thanks to vaccines, aren’t.

Small pox has been eradicated by worldwide vaccination and thanks to vaccines married with a remarkable commitment from the Gates Foundation, polio is nearly gone too.

Unclear motivation and reckless writing merge in Edwards’ piece. He opens the article with undeniably the biggest falsehood, “We cannot prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that vaccines do more harm than good any more than anyone else can prove that they are beneficial.”

Simply not factual.

Rigorous scientific study proves vaccines have saved lives. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines save the lives of 3 million people every year and reduce suffering of millions more. There are tomes of scientific studies to support vaccine benefit to human health and survival. Furthermore, the 2013 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on immunization safety reviewed over 1,000 studies on vaccine safety and came away stating,

This report is the most comprehensive examination of the immunization schedule to date. The IOM committee uncovered no evidence of major safety concerns associated with adherence to the childhood immunization schedule.

The science is clear that living a life with vaccines is a safer one. Great thing is you can have it best: eat organic, leave a near-zero carbon footprint, and avoid life-threatening infections for you and your children with safe vaccines as recommended by the Center for Disease Control and The American Academy of Pediatrics.

Dr. Edgar Marcuse a pediatrician and epidemiologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and The University of Washington responded to Edwards’ article,

To argue that polio was not eradicated from the Western Hemisphere in the US by the Salk and Sabin polio vaccines would suggest the UNICEF, Rotary Club and Gates Foundation all got it wrong. Mr. Edward’s rant is utter foolishness – filled with errors, specious associations, misleading statements and nonsense.

I’m uninterested in nit-picking all of the sentences Mr. Edwards presents that mislead and perpetuate myth. Studies show when you write about myth coupled with factual rebuttals, many people have a hard time remembering what point was myth and what was fact …

As a pediatrician and mom I’m bewildered by Edwards’ ill-attempt to frighten parents with falsehoods as the school year begins. Certainly makes us wonder if any other claim for a healthy, organic lifestyle as quoted in his magazine has any scientific merit.

Opting for an organic, healthy, natural, pesticide-free and thoughtful life in my opinion is an exciting and healthy choice. Living a long time thanks to minimized infectious disease risk thanks to remarkable vaccine development is a true luxury of our time.

Wendy Sue Swanson is a pediatrician who blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.

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  • Ron Smith

    Well said! What amazes me is that more attention has not been given to the Pertussis issue. In my thirty years Pediatrics practice I’ve diagnosed at least a dozen kids with Pertussis using the florescent antibody to pertussis testing. You know, that’s the one where you insert a calcium alginate swab down the nasal ‘gulley-gulley’ and try to obtain cells and not blood or mucous for dried microscope slide mounts in the special cardboard containers.

    The study in the last 5 or 6 years that revealed that an adult with about three weeks of cough has a 21% chance of having Pertussis is what startled me. In those children I treated for severe Pertussis, the worst case was a 3 year old who had had all her vaccinations on time but spent two weeks in the hospital vomiting continuously from the Pertussis paroxysms.

    What is more is that we have a way to deal with this but it is just not happening. Adult tetanus shots now are available with a Pertussis component. Every adult needs to be vaccinated with this combination instead of the plain tetanus in my opinion.

    So of course, the right thing is not happening because payers or providers or policies are not adopting the new vaccine.

    I routinely offer new parents the tetanus with pertussis when they come in for their newborn checks. This is important because if the child gets Pertussis the probability that it came from a parent is highest and 35% of the time it will be from moms.

    Polio is another one that bothers me. Our success in this country with polio since Roosevelt’s illness with it has been both remarkable and self-defeating. Comments from parents who are concerned about vaccinations often go along the lines of ‘we just don’t see that anymore.’

    I practice just 20 miles from the Atlanta airport…arguably the most busy and one of the most international travel hubs in the nation. Polio is still rampant in India. In the US, failure to vaccinate for polio with resultant illness could have devastating results that dwarf that failed Pertussis vaccination I treated.

    Wendy, I’m so glad you posted that article. Education must continue because vaccine ignorance and opposition is like nightfall…routine and recurring.

    Ron Smith, MD
    www (dot) ronsmithmd (dot) com

  • EE Smith

    “This phenomenon is very similar to those who refuse anthropogenic global warming or gun control”

    Sorry, but some of the most ardent anti-vaxxers I’ve seen have also been trendy leftoids who, just as they embrace the myth of “catastrophic man-made global warming” as a matter of faith, and the claim that gun-control such as they have in Chicago and DC will lower the crime rate without question, also swallow the anti-vaxxers’ myths.

    Signed,

    A citizen who doesn’t believe the government can change the climate and feels far safer in gun-totin’ Texas than in Obama’s Chicago, but accepts the evidence that vaccines save lives.

    P.S. I wonder what anti-vax poster girl Jenny McCarthy’s feelings on gun control and “catastrophic man-made global warming” are. I reckon she’s an unthinking, unquestioning True Believer on those ones too.

    • EE Smith

      P.S. The “Breitbart” website, the “Hot Air” blog, Townhall-com, and several GOP strategists have been critical of Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vax evangelizing. You might need to check your bias.

    • NeuronMD

      “Sorry, but some of the most ardent anti-vaxxers I’ve seen have also been trendy leftoids”

      You’re telling me! No disagreement on this point. Leftoids tend to be much more anti-medicine than right-wingers can be.

      As for AGW…most deniers are libertardians and reichpubliscums.

  • peykoff

    as always, an awesome article, Wendy!! Shared on our pediatric practice FB page