Dr. Bob Sears deserves blame for declining vaccination rates

Dr. Bob Sears deserves blame for declining vaccination rates

Measles is on its way to an all time high.

In 2000, measles was eliminated (meaning some travelers from areas with low vaccine penetration might arrive in the U.S. with the disease, but no case came from U.S.), but has been slowly creeping back. Since 2008, this has been more than a trickle.

Let’s put the important goal of measles elimination in perspective. Before 1963, meaning before there was a measles vaccination program, 3-4 million Americans a year caught measles, 48,000 were hospitalized, 1,000 developed a chronic disability, and 400 died. Measles is not a benign disease that just causes a “little rash.” Vaccine programs aren’t launched for benign diseases.

In 1998, Dr. Wakefield published his now well-discredited piece that erroneously linked autism to the MMR vaccine. This falsified paper was seized upon by the likes of Jenny McCarthy, Dr. Mercola, and Dr. Bob (pediatrician and author of The Vaccine Book).

While Ms. McCarthy did get a big piece of the Suzanne Somers microphone owing to her looks, brassy press-friendly sound bites, and Oprah falling hook line and sinker for her warrior mom gig, I do wonder how much impact McCarthy herself had on the average parent. She probably made many think and she certainly got way too much press and if all that coverage even gave a sliver of a doubt to vaccine safety it might have made even more wonder.

However, the more I talk and tweet and post about health subjects I find that most people don’t make medical decisions based on celebrity opinions. It might cause them to question and lead them to gather more information, but I think it’s unlikely that McCarthy herself is the true vector for the resurgence of measles. Most people would likely turn to a doctor for confirmation of their fears and they found that in Dr. Bob Sears.

Dr. “No one had died of measles in the US in over 10 years” Sears published his evidence-baseless Vaccine Book in 2007 and in 2008 is when the number of measles cases bumped big time. About measles Dr. Bob writes, “I also warn not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.” Prescient, no?

It’s not Jenny McCarthy that parents quote, it’s Dr. Bob. It’s his book they clutch when they come into the office, not her’s or Wakefield’s. It’s his alternative or selective vaccine schedule they use, not McCarthy’s or Wakefield’s. Just look at the reviews on Amazon, it is adored by those who truly think that Dr. Bob has stumbled upon the truth as opposed to publishing a fear-mongering compilation of medical gibberish (it’s not just autism that parents have to worry about, vaccines could spread mad cow disease too!). The Vaccine Book reveals the author’s inability to understand epidemiologic data, interpret articles correctly, and his complete dismissal of public health as an important goal. It would be dismissed as simply laughable if it weren’t so well read (by 2009 the book had sold over 40,000 copies).

I’m not saying Jenny McCarthy is blameless, but a medical doctor should know better. Or care that his words might impact people. Or hopefully both.

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.

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  • Patient Kit

    It certainly does highlight the point that we shouldn’t assume that all doctors are equally good or even adequate doctors just because they are doctors. It does matter which doctors we, and our children, are seen and treated by. And when we find a good doc — or a bad doc — we should spread the word.

    • Dee Coyle Tocci

      Q: What do you call someone who graduates from Medical School at the bottom of their class?
      A: Doctor

  • Dorit Reiss
  • Dorit Reiss

    I thoroughly enjoyed the way Dr. Offit tore the book apart in Deadly Choices. I think the chapter devoted to Dr. Sears’ book is extremely powerful. If anyone has other easy sources to address that book, that would be great.

  • pmanner

    Oh, I think dimbulb Jenny shares plenty of blame. Let’s not let her off the hook that easily. These people are nasty, not very bright, and should be called out. Jenny, Oprah, and the like resemble Daisy Buchanan from the Great Gatsby – privileged and rich far beyond their talents, and oblivious to the harm they cause.

  • Tiffany Sizemore-Ruiz

    Boom.

  • JU

    How do you explain this article on Medpage referring to the recent outbreak in Columbus, OH?

    “But it remains unclear how that first person — who had been vaccinated against the virus — was infected in the first place, Roberts said.

    Mumps is now uncommon in the U.S., although before 1967, when the vaccine was introduced, there were about 186,000 cases a year, according to the CDC.

    The vaccine itself has an estimated median effectiveness after the recommended two doses of just 88%, the agency says on its website. Many outbreaks, in fact, affect people who have had all of their shots.

    Indeed, Roberts said, about 30% of the patients in this outbreak had verifiable vaccinations and another 30% told health officials they had both shots of the MMR vaccine. The vaccination status of the remaining 40% is not known, Roberts said.
    But it remains unclear how that first person — who had been vaccinated against the virus — was infected in the first place, Roberts said.

    Mumps is now uncommon in the U.S., although before 1967, when the vaccine was introduced, there were about 186,000 cases a year, according to the CDC.

    The vaccine itself has an estimated median effectiveness after the recommended two doses of just 88%, the agency says on its website. Many outbreaks, in fact, affect people who have had all of their shots.

    Indeed, Roberts said, about 30% of the patients in this outbreak had verifiable vaccinations and another 30% told health officials they had both shots of the MMR vaccine. The vaccination status of the remaining 40% is not known, Roberts said.

    So, the initial case was vaccinated and a confirmed 60% + were vaccinated. Spin those numbers for me please……

  • JU

    “But it remains unclear how that first person — who had been vaccinated against the virus — was infected in the first place, Roberts said.

    Mumps is now uncommon in the U.S., although before 1967, when the vaccine was introduced, there were about 186,000 cases a year, according to the CDC.

    The vaccine itself has an estimated median effectiveness after the recommended two doses of just 88%, the agency says on its website. Many outbreaks, in fact, affect people who have had all of their shots.

    Indeed, Roberts said, about 30% of the patients in this outbreak had verifiable vaccinations and another 30% told health officials they had both shots of the MMR vaccine. The vaccination status of the remaining 40% is not known, Roberts said.”

    http://www.medpagetoday.com/InfectiousDisease/GeneralInfectiousDisease/46208

    This is from the recent outbreak in OH. A reported 60% of those WERE vaccinated and the other 40% were UNKNOWN. Also, the initial case WAS vaccinated. Please spin those numbers to fit your agenda. I’ll wait for your response :)

    • Christopher Hickie

      Until I see the CDC/MMWR final report (or intermediate reports) verifying what you claim, your numbers you quote by a non-scientifically trained journalist are rather suspect. I see a lot of you anti-vaccine types screaming like girls every time you think you’ve found any proof that vaccines don’t work (like you are doing here). You’ve been doing this shrieking incessantly over measles outbreaks for 2014, yet the most recent CDC analysis (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6322a4.htm?s_cid=mm6322a4_w) notes “Most of the 288 measles cases reported this year have been in persons who were unvaccinated (200 [69%]) or who had an unknown vaccination status (58 [20%]); 30 (10%) were in persons who were vaccinated. Among the 195 U.S. residents who had measles and were unvaccinated, 165 (85%) declined vaccination because of religious, philosophical, or personal objections, 11 (6%) were missed opportunities for vaccination, and10 (5%) were too young to receive vaccination”.

      Hate to pop your bubble, “JU”, but I’m certain your “mumps vaccine don’t work” claim will not be true.

  • siamesekat

    Why demonize the messenger? What about the 57 children who died last year after the MMR? Perhaps some doctors are responding to that reality OR to the implications of other realities, such as the fraud lawsuit now filed against Merck, i.e., the one which proves that the effectiveness of the mumps portion of the MMR is next to zero.
    Does everyone know the details of that lawsuit for fraud brought against Merck by two of its (former) whistle blower virologists? You know, those virologists who worked at Merck and witnessed Merck to inject the sera taken from mumps vaccinees with rabbit antibodies in order to “prove” to FDA that the mumps portion of the MMR “worked.” All you preachers of the religion of vaccinology may persist at preaching to the choirs of your peers, but the parents who live with vaccine-injured children know quite another story.

  • http://www.pediatricinsider.com/ Roy Benaroch MD

    Sears has freely admitted that he made his “alternative schedule” up, with no evidence to support it’s safety or effectiveness: http://pediatricinsider.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/dr-bobs-alternative-vaccine-schedule-he-made-it-up/

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