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When Concern is Reasonable: Stagliano Has No Point

October 18, 2010

Stagliano titles her new Huffington Post article “Vaccine Safety: Why Parents Are Concerned.” There’s just one problem (okay, there are several problems with it) with the title: she never explains why parents are concerned, unless it’s this sentence: “Parents are facing vaccination choice issues at every pediatric visit.”

Alright, so Stagliano cites a new survey showing that 89% of parents polled think research into vaccine safety is important, one percent above medication safety/effectiveness. Then she invokes Offit, her favorite person to hate, and the AAP as not getting this. I think the amount of time that Offit spends talking about vaccine safety and the AAP’s attempts to reassure parents exemplifies that Offit and the AAP do take parental concerns seriously.

The news release of the survey provides the following reasons for vaccine concern:

“’In this poll, parents overwhelmingly see the need for research on the safety of vaccines and medications given to children,’ says Matthew Davis, M.D., director of the poll and associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the U-M Medical School. ‘Parental concerns about the safety of vaccines have increased markedly over the last decade, due to alleged but later disproven links between vaccines and autism and related concerns about mercury and other preservatives used in vaccines. 

‘Assurances from health care providers and government officials that vaccines are safe have been insufficient. Rather, it’s clear from this poll that parents want more research about the safety of vaccines for their young children and adolescents.’”

So, all the hoopla of parents certain their children’s autism was caused by vaccination, and all the media attention following Wakefield and the various studies refuting any connection between thimerosal or the MMR have contributed to making parents concerned about vaccines, a reasonable precaution given that there are adverse effects for some individuals. I’ve never understood this false dilemma that many who think autism is caused by vaccines raise. No one in the medical establishment is suggesting that vaccines are 100% safe; they are safer than the diseases. Nothing is completely safe. Not vaccines, not medicines, and not the woo that too many parents are using on their children.

Almost all children will be vaccinated; being concerned that adequate research into making sure vaccines are as safe as possible is a reasonable thing to be. Making informed decisions about what vaccines and when for your children is incredibly important. Choosing not to vaccinate based on unwarranted fears regarding vaccines causing autism is an incredibly misguided decision. And, no, I don’t care what “thousands” of parents say they witnessed; after all, just because thousands of people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens doesn’t mean that’s real, either. We have to go where the majority of the scientific evidence goes (well, if we want to be closer to reality, anyway).

I have no personal objections to parents making their own decisions regarding vaccination. I honestly don’t. I will, however, think you’re more than a bit of a fool to make those decisions based on anything anyone at AoA writes.

Stagliano enjoys using the abortion gambit; it’s one of her favorites; she’s made it in comments at Huff; she’s tweeted it, and now she trots it out for some unknown reason that does nothing to back up the whole “why parents are concerned” thingie: “I imagine that many (perhaps a majority) of Huffington Post readers are pro-choice and respect a woman’s right to choose. Should a woman lose the right to make appropriate, safe medical choices in conjunction with her pediatrician for her child once she becomes a mother? If you are pro-life, does a mother’s right to protect her child end when the baby is born?”

The problem with this is that no one is trying to take away a parent’s right to make medical decisions, first of all. Medical exemptions, religious exemptions and philosophical exemptions exist. Public health needs are important and must be balanced with the right to make individual medical decisions. Where fear and misinformation are leading parents to make poor choices of leaving their children unprotected, the state has a right to say that tax-payer funded activities can be limited to those who have been vaccinated. Private schools, camps, and daycares can also make those decisions. It’s a balance.

The second problem with this nonsense of “hey, you’ll let me kill my unborn baby, so what do you care if I don’t vaccinate him when he’s alive?” is that a woman’s right to choose what to do with an unborn fetus below the age of viability is not at all similar to what we can do with children.  Framing not vaccinating as protecting one’s child is disingenuous. If one’s child cannot be safely immunized, who would argue with that? That’s not what Stagliano is doing, though. Having decided that vaccines, all of them, are to blame for so many ills, Stagliano can no longer (could she ever?) look at the science and be objective. She, like her mentor and icon, Jenny, knows what she knows; her children and her anecdotes are her science. Never mind that she’s admitted her youngest, and according to her, her most severely affected by autism, daughter was never vaccinated; instead the mercury overload Stagliano had while pregnant is to blame.

Not much else of the very short piece bolsters Stagliano’s headline. Indeed, there’s little here at all, no thesis to be proven, as Stagliano never finished the headline, unless it’s that well-visits are linked with vaccinations (no, really?).

Instead it seems little more than an opportunity to bash Offit one more time and go nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, see parents are concerned.

To which I say, they should be concerned, but not fearful. Informed decisions and wanting good, solid research into identifying potential populations who need delayed vaccination or none are examples of rational behavior.

Oddly enough, the string of nonsense Stagliano puts out there has nothing to do with parents biggest concerns being vaccine safety and medicine safety.

In fact, one could argue that the survey doesn’t provide enough information to ascertain whether parents feel research dollars should be focused most on vaccines and medicine because those are commonalities we all face as parents of children: we will have to decide what and when to vaccinate, and whether and how to medicate our children when they are ill.


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