Thursday, January 31, 2013

Moms Who Vax: A Response to Rep. Mary Franson

By Karen Ernst

Editor's Note: At a committee hearing in the Minnesota State Legislature on January 30th, state representative Mary Franson made comments about autism and vaccines in an otherwise unrelated discussion about whether insurance companies should be compelled to cover services relating to an autism diagnosis. These comments are representative of Franson's ideas about vaccines, as she has sponsored several bills that would weaken current state immunization rules. Below is parent Karen Ernst's response to Franson's comments.

I’m deeply disturbed by Minnesota State Representative Mary Franson’s comments during the House Health and Human Services Policy committee meeting on January 30, 2013.  While discussing funding for autism services, Franson commented: “As a mother of three children, I am very thankful than none of my children have had to experience autism, or my family hasn't had to go through that experience. But also, I'm one of those parents that no longer vaccines [sic] either because of the fear that I have had talking to other parents that have experienced their child becoming--experiencing autism after what they found, what they believed correlated with the vaccinations.”

I know many children on the autism spectrum.  Their parents are grateful that they are who they are and do not wish for them to be different. Their parents also readily protect their children from diseases prevented by vaccinating them.  The fear of autism is spread along with anti-vaccine misinformation, and neither is based on reality.

Stated plainly: vaccines do not cause autism.  Andrew Wakefield, whose poorly designed study was retracted shortly before he lost his license to practice medicine, has gained much financially in promoting the dangerous and erroneous idea that vaccines are linked to autism, but they are not.  Dozens of studies across the globe have shown that vaccines and autism are not related at all.  The science is settled.

One wonders why an elected representative is promoting both thoroughly debunked ideas about vaccines and hurtful sentiments about autism. Let’s hold our representatives to a higher standard and demand that they be grateful for the existence of all children and that they support measures that prevent potentially deadly diseases.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Moms Who Vax: Crazy Vaccine Lady

By Johanna H.

There is a meme that comes around every so often, one that I think is very easy to relate to. It shows a stick figure thoroughly frustrated at the computer who
is resisting going to bed because "someone is wrong on the Internet." I always chuckle when I see it, because there have definitely been those times in discussions on a wide variety of topics where I've just had to step away and let people "be wrong," if they choose to be. But I still post the Facebook links about vaccine safety, what new vaccines may be on the horizon, even though sometimes it feels like maybe I'm either boring the living daylights out of all the poor people who are friends with "that crazy vaccine lady" or even causing fights but continuing to post regarding a controversial parenting decision. 

But this week a friend quietly told me that her children are now fully vaccinated in large part because of the information she was getting from me, but more
importantly because she simply had a counterweight to the anti-vaccine environment that she is surrounded by. Just having someone in her tribe of moms who fully immunizes helped give her the ability to feel confident in a choice to vaccinate her children. My friend is a loving, strong woman who makes educated and mindful decisions. In this case, all she needed was to see someone else making those same choices, too.

This is why I share on Facebook when the latest study on flu vaccine safety comes out, or when there is an update on how close to eradication we are with polio.
Every share, every bit of advocacy helps to create a culture that is more hopeful, more confident, and more at peace. I am The Crazy Vaccine Lady not because I
am so dazzlingly clever or because I’m just that committed to making sure all the "i"s are dotted and "t"s crossed, or even because somewhere somebody on the
Internet (or in the homeschool co-op) is wrong.

I will wear that Crazy Vaccine Lady badge because parents have a right to be afraid of the right things. And speaking parent to parent, mother to mother, is how
lives can be changed, and even how some lives will be saved: one conversation, one parent, one child, one shot at a time.

Johanna H. is a Catholic work-at-home mom who lives in the Northeast with her husband and six children.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It's About Time: Voices for Vaccines

The reason this blog exists—why it continued beyond our initial efforts—is because of fellow parents. Since starting Moms Who Vax, Karen and I have met many remarkable moms and dads who choose to vaccinate their children and are, frankly, fed up with the lack of push-back against the loud and rancorous voices of parents who intentionally leave their children unvaccinated. By sharing their stories, we know many of these parents have changed minds, provided reassurance, perspective, and sanity.

But it’s not enough. It’s one thing to blog. It’s quite another to join forces in an official way, under the auspices of an organization. Organizations get invited to conferences. They get a seat at the table. They can streamline advocacy efforts, print flyers, provide educational materials, reach out to media, provide members to testify at legislative hearings. Time and time again, Karen and I heard parents asking: what else can we do?

Now we have an answer: join Voices for Vaccines.

Over the past eight months, Karen and I have been working with vaccine legends Dr. Deborah Wexler, Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Alan Hinman, and Dr. Stanley Plotkin to re-launch—and perhaps more important, to re-imagine—their pro-vaccine advocacy organization, Voices for Vaccines. Initially designed to be the “go-to source for vaccine information,” the project stalled, despite great interest. When Karen and I came to the project, we both felt very strongly that a parent-driven, parent-focused organization was the missing link in this vaccine conversation. More than ninety percent of parents overall vaccinate their children. If this is the case, why are the anti-vaccine parents the ones we see in the media, on blogs, in the comment sections, and at legislative hearings? Why is the anti-vax National Vaccine Information Center the dominant parent organization in the vaccine world? It was this conundrum that we wanted to address, and the founders of Voices for Vaccines were in complete agreement.

Karen and I held a few conference calls with some of our past contributors and trusted partners to share the initial idea, and when we gave them a description of this new direction, the excitement was palpable. One of our “Moms Who Vax” said she’d been dreaming about such an organization for years. The enthusiasm was infectious (no pun intended--okay, pun absolutely intended), and it has kept us going over these last six months. Between preschool, soccer games, dance lessons, our day jobs, and our other vaccine-related efforts, this thing slowly came together, along with the help of some amazing individuals, including Immunization Action Coalition's Julie Murphy and Mike Franey.

Now we are ready to open the workshop doors, and even though we still have work to do, particularly on the website, we didn't want to delay bringing pro-vax parents into the fold any longer.  At Voices for Vaccines, you will find a home for the ninety percent of us who vaccinate our children on time. You will find vaccine information vetted by the best minds in vaccinology, but you will also find opportunities to make your voice heard—in your local community as well as nationally. You can share your story in the VFV blog Parents Who Vax (still a work in progress). You will be able to download toolkits on topics from “How to Write an Op-Ed” and “Keeping the Media Honest” to “How to Talk to a Vaccine-Hesitant Parent” and beyond. You can sign up for the VFV newsletter to stay on top of the latest vaccine news and to receive action alerts, including calls for comments on articles about vaccine topics (typically dominated by anti-vax voices) and invitations to conference calls with heavy-hitters in the medical and scientific communities, and beyond. Learn about opportunities to join forces with other pro-vax parents! We need you--your creativity, your ideas, and your passion. 

We have a new website, although it is far from complete and still in need of fixes and design tweaks. But this is just the beginning. Even more changes are in store, and we want you with us. Please join VFV and join forces with other pro-vax parents to take over the world—or at least protect children and vulnerable members in our community from vaccine-preventable disease and bad science!

For us, and for the founders of VFV, this relaunch is the stuff of dreams. A national organization uniting parents who vaccinate and are passionate about it?

It’s about time.

Editor's Note: If you're in Minnesota this weekend, please come to the Voices for Vaccines' launch party, "Our Voices Rockin' at downtown Minneapolis' PourHouse. Hosted by Don Shelby and featuring the music of rock band Verge, there will also be a silent auction. Saturday, January 19th, 7pm-10pm. Suggested donation of $10 and 21 and up. Hope to see you there! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"This Mama is Exhausted"

The other day, a mom e-mailed us asking for guidance for writing a letter to her state legislators regarding her concern about the rise in vaccine-preventable disease, particularly pertussis, and her state's lax immunization laws. In doing some research on this year's pertussis situation, I came across some remarkable statistics. That 2012 is the worst year for pertussis in nearly sixty years. That Washington State has a full 11% of the nation's pertussis cases (an infant has already died from the disease) while also being the state with highest conscientious objection vaccine-exemption rates. That my home state, Minnesota, is suffering a terrible pertussis year, with more than 4,000 cases recorded at the Minnesota Department of Health. 

But the most remarkable piece of data I came across was not a statistic. It was a story. It appeared on the notably anti-vax forums of One mother did not vaccinate her younger children against pertussis. Then her children contracted pertussis. From her post

Sure they may end up with full immunity to pertussis (at least severely), but my 9yo and 11yo have suffered tremendously with uncontrollable coughing fits that wake them up every hour or two and leave them gasping for breath, gagging and sometimes vomiting.  They are exhausted.  The mama is exhausted...
sometimes running upstairs to comfort them dozens of times in a couple hours.  My 4yo has been up many nights herself and while not to the severity of the older two, it could break your heart to see her cough.  My 2yo is just starting to cough.  When the 9yo and 11yo started whooping and the severe cough we took them in to be seen and we have now been prescribed antibiotics for the entire family.  While I suspect the oldest 3 of us were exposed first, we won't take any chances in spreading it to anyone, and because I am 25 weeks pregnant.  I am hopeful that they will prevent my youngest little one from getting to the severe cough point. 

We have always said that we will choose not to vaccinate but always been willing to re-evaluate our decisions like any other.  When we found out the pertussis was circulating in our region we had decided to go ahead with the shots and even called the health dept...the kids came down sick literally 2 days later and the shots were postponed.  Sick irony if you ask me!

She goes on to say she know she will "catch some flak" for these comments, which is a profoundly sad commentary on the anti-vaccine community, if you ask me. But I was stunned by this mother's strength of character to not only decide that her decision not to vaccinate her little ones for pertussis was a mistake and to schedule those shots, even if she was too late, but also to stand up in a hostile environment as an insider (not as someone coming from outside the group) and say: the vaccine is better than the disease. I don't know if she will choose to catch her children up on all their vaccinations (one can hope) but I find this particular story, and this particular mom's courage, inspiring.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Consequences--in the language of the courts

Sometimes reading stories about the consequences of forgoing vaccines for one's children can leave a reader feeling like she's not getting the whole story, or is getting one with a "point of view." Sometimes anti-vax activists call these true stories "scare tactics." 

Today, just a short post. A mother in Australia chose not to give her newborn a Vitamin K shot or the recommended hepatitis B vaccine. The baby died from the very blood clotting disorder the Vitamin K shot was designed to prevent. The Office of the State Coroner conducted an investigation into the baby's death. Its report is a fact-based narrative that every parent should read. If you wish to read a completely unbiased account of the consequences of rejecting a vaccine for your child, you will find it in this report, which is heartbreaking in its very matter-of-fact tone.

I will mention one more thing that I found deeply troubling. Some of you may know of Dr. Joseph Mercola, one of the most infamous purveyors of anti-vaccine nonsense. Unfortunately, when a new parent or parent-to-be Googles "Vitamin K newborn" the first link is a video from Mercola touting the "dangers" of the Vitamin K shot. I wish the first link that came up under "Vitamin K" and "newborn" was the coroner's investigation I just read.