A rough guide to vaccine activism

State_House_VermontComing soon to t0 your home state (if you haven’t already been hit): an attempt to “tighten” vaccination exemptions, justified on the basis of “increased” exemptions and “soaring” childhood illnesses. Washington State was the first target and their exemption law was changed, forcing parents to visit a doctor, listen to a lecture and then, maybe, get a signature on their exemption form. Next came Vermont and then California. In Vermont the vaccine critics won a small victory, in California there was a definite loss, slightly redeemed by a signing statement from the governor defending religious freedom. Currently Oregon is the main target but Maine is also facing legislation. (2013).

What can you do to protect your freedom of choice when it comes to vaccination?

  1. Get organized before the legislative attack on your rights begins. Various organizations have been planning these attacks for about 10 years, perhaps longer. There may already be a vaccine choice organization in your state, join it! If there isn’t, create one and contact everyone you know who might be concerned and ask them to join too. These law changes are aimed mainly at parents who have concerns about vaccines but are on the fence. With new vaccines in the pipeline and some of the currently approved vaccines making parents itchy (HPV for example), tightening up the exemption process is the best way to avoid a mass exodus from compliance.
  2. Watch out for the signs of an attack on freedom of choice: articles turning up in the media talking about rising exemption rates and blaming outbreaks of illness on school exemptions; attacks on irresponsible parents who use exemptions; misuse of statistics—treating partially vaccinated children as totally unvaccinated—mixing together required vaccines with recommended vaccines—using dropping vaccine rates due to vaccines being added to the schedule as equivalent to parents turning down well-established core vaccines and, my absolute favorite, using the CDC national phone survey stats instead of the local statistics.
  3. Even before you have an organization, contact your state legislators, get to know them, talk to them about your concerns (not just related to vaccines) and build a relationship. If they seem friendly and open to what you are saying, ask if they can let you know if any vaccine related legislation is proposed.
  4. Be prepared for your opponents to play rough. Even though legislation on vaccination is mostly a state matter, the organizations you’ll be fighting are national. They have mountains of money and are totally willing to play dirty. Your web-site will be sabotaged, your phone may be tapped, and who knows what else? If you happen to know a private investigator or security expert who is also concerned about vaccines, get them on board.
  5. Build a network of allies. Chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, midwives, alternative doctors and practitioners are all possible allies. So are organic farmers, GMO activists (many are unaware that recombinant technology is used in vaccines), environmentalists, homeschoolers, some religious groups, private schools with significant number of exemptors, and health freedom activists. Some of these groups have many years of experience in lobbying on the state level. Even if they aren’t willing to “come out” on your side, they may be able to help you negotiate the process, help you figure out which legislators will listen and so on. Try to reach out to a broad swathe of parents, pointing out that sooner or later there may be a vaccine that they would like to decline and the importance of informed consent and freedom of choice when it comes to medical care.

What if legislation is already moving through your legislature? You’ve got a big fight on your hands and need to be very focused.

  1. Don’t expect to win simply by having parents of vaccine injured children testify. If you can get a large public hearing where lots of people can share their stories, then great! However, the various groups that promote vaccination (see link to a partial list at the bottom) have done a brilliant job of convincing most people that vaccine injury doesn’t really exist and all of these parents are deluded. So legislators may be sympathetic, but they’ll still vote to limit exemptions. If your opportunity for testimony will be limited, then review note 3 below, choose your absolute best spokespeople, and focus, focus, focus.
  2. Find people on your team who have the following skills: legal (how to do freedom of info requests, for example, or how to decipher proposed legislation), statistical (analyzing department of health numbers to see what sort of lies they are telling), organizational (setting up a legal organization, recruiting people, networking, putting together demonstrations), scientific (finding and analyzing scientific articles), presentational (setting up web-sites, putting together charts and diagrams), and…not sure what to call this one…you need a couple of people who can present your position in front of a legislative committee. They need to sound reasonable, look respectable, have a professional background and a lot of patience. You may not be able to find a complete team, but there are folks from other states who will help out with some of these pieces.
  3. Focus your testimony on the weak points coming from the other side. You will find your state department of health consistently misusing statistics to create a false picture. If you can lay out the real facts, using their own statistics, without saying anything nasty at all (that is important, legislators usually trust their health department so bad-mouthing them isn’t constructive), just show the legislators that they are being misled, you have a toehold. Another weak area is the claim that low vaccination rates are causing or fueling the pertussis outbreak. The exact ways in which statistics are being misused may change, but they will always distort at least some of the statistics.
  4. In addition to testifying (and even getting an opportunity to testify is going to require a lot of persistence and smarts), you need a grass-roots drive for people to write to their legislators. In addition to telling stories of vaccine injury, people need to emphasize the problems with limiting exemptions. Some examples: the fact that federal legislation protects drug companies from lawsuits over vaccine injuries (most state legislators don’t know this); the massive increase in the number of recommended and required vaccines (another thing that legislators may not know); the use of recombinant technology in production of vaccines; the fact that states that have the most stringent vaccine laws (WV and MS) rank quite low in health ratings; and finally, make it clear that the letter writer will vote against the legislator and do their best to get all of their friends and neighbors to vote against the legislator if he/she supports the bill.
  5. If there are people with the time to visit your state capital and get actual appointments with legislators to go over some of the points outlined above, this can be a big help. It is important to remain calm and focus on the facts. A notebook with good graphics can help people take their legislators through the issues.
  6. Use social media to rally the troops and keep them informed.
  7. Understand that the news media will consistently support the other side and you’ll be lucky to get even snippets of favorable press.

A few helpful links:

Chart showing real vaccine rates over many years. Despite these low rates, well below 95% coverage, the US didn’t have constant outbreaks of infectious illnesses. And yet nowadays we are told that any time we drop below 95% coverage devastating outbreaks are inevitable. Furthermore, all adults need to get vaccinated, too, according to the latest CDC recommendations.

http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/G/coverage.pdf 

Vermont web-site with much useful information about our legislative battles over vaccine exemptions.

http://www.vaxchoicevt.com/

Fabulous set of annotated documents showing how state health departments mess with statistics, among many other outrages. Use these as templates for your own research and presentations.

http://www.scribd.com/VaccineInformation

Interview with CDC leaders which includes this quote: “We know there are places around the country where there are large numbers of people who aren’t vaccinated.  However, we don’t think those exemptors are driving this current wave.  We think it is a bad thing that people aren’t getting vaccinated or exempting, but we cannot blame this wave on that phenomenon.” http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2012/t0719_pertussis_epidemic.html

This page provides a small slice of the organizations which are pushing vaccines in the US and worldwide. Most of them are playing an active role in the attempt to modify or remove exemptions, state by state.

http://www.vaccines.org/organizationsadvocacy.htm

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