Barbara Loe Fisher is a pioneer in vaccine education and safety, and the founder of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC).
In an effort to educate and offer a counterbalance to the massive amounts of traditional mass media exposure on vaccines, which rarely ever mentions the potential dangers, we co-sponsored a message that was featured on the New York Time Square’s Jumbotron in March of this year. It was a 15-second spot that ran every hour, 24/7 for five weeks.
To say it caused a stir would be an understatement. Here, Fisher discusses the controversy that ensued.
If you were in New York in the month of March, you may have caught a first-hand look at the message we co-sponsored with the NVIC. The 15-second spot was displayed on the Time Square Jumbotron, where it ran for five weeks, once every hour, around the clock.
This short and simple message created a completely disproportionate amount of controversy.
"I was very surprised," Fisher says, "because this was a really non-controversial 15-second message. [It was] basically 'Get informed; make an informed vaccine decision. It's your health, your family, your choice.'"
Is the Industry Afraid of Informed Healthcare Consumers? You Bet!
It was truly interesting, and at times hilarious, to watch the ensuing response to our simple message reminding people about their right to make educated and well-informed health decisions.
The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a letter to CBS, pressuring them to take the message down. The letter was also leaked to bloggers who started a smear campaign against NVIC based on the fact that they advocate making informed and voluntary vaccination decisions. All in all, it was a rare display of widespread and blatant pro-censorship sentiments.
Interestingly, those who question the impartiality of NVIC, which is a not-for-profit public health advocacy group, would like you to believe that the only information worth listening to is that which comes from the makers of these vaccines, and organizations with invested interest in maintaining vaccine sales…If impartiality is the crux of the problem, then what on earth makes the vaccine industry the most reliable source of information?
"I protested," Fisher says. "I wrote a letter to the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics asking, "Why would NVIC be targeted when we, for 30 years, have been the leading consumer advocates trying to institute safety reforms in the mass vaccination system; trying to encourage everybody to make educated vaccine decisions? If we can't do that in America; if we can't ask people to become educated healthcare consumers, then we're in a pretty sorry state."
What Makes NVIC a Reliable Source of Vaccine Information?
Fisher co-founded the group that is now known as the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) back in 1982.
"We were parents of children who had been injured by DPT vaccine. Our very first goal was to inform parents, inform people that there are risks associated with vaccines, and to institute safety reforms in the mass vaccination system," Fisher says.
"So I thought to myself, if I'm going to be a critic of existing policy [then] I need to understand what that policy is and what people who recommend it believe. I can't just be a critic from the outside. I have to be willing to sit at the table with people who are making these policies and try to explain to them why the public wants to have more information, and wants to have the freedom to make informed vaccine decisions.
I spent… about 25 years sitting on vaccine advisory committees, participating in public engagement projects with government, in the effort to try to get them to see that people want to be empowered with information and they want to be partners with their doctors in making life and death healthcare decisions for their children.
I think this is a responsibility we all have as Americans. If we're going to criticize, we need to get information and we need to be willing to sit at the table and try to convince the people in power they have to change."
Those Who Cannot Persuade with Facts are Left with Just One Option: Attack!
Yet for all of Fisher's dedication and experience, the American Academy of Pediatrics still launched an aggressive attack against her and NVIC over this public service announcement…
But why are pediatricians and the organizations that represent them attacking those who are trying to improve the system to ensure greater safety for all? And why are they attacking parents of vaccine injured children? Don't parents deserve more from their pediatricians than that? Ultimately, this controversy seems to stem from the foundational issue that there is a widely held view that vaccines are an essential element of the traditional health system, and that they are responsible for saving millions of people's lives.
But is this belief based on accurate facts?
I understand how many professionals who ascribe to the idea that vaccines are necessary to save lives would be violently opposed to some of the messages that we promote. Unfortunately, most of them haven't taken the time to carefully examine the data, and haven't thoroughly evaluated the information being disseminated. It's important to remember that most of the information about vaccines comes straight from the vaccine makers themselves, and it's meant to promote the sale of vaccines, not inform people of the potential risks involved.
In many ways, informed consumers are a direct threat to both the vaccine industry and to pediatric medicine, because both have heavily vested interests in maintaining the status quo on vaccine usage.
"There's this idea that the cornerstone of public health and individual health must be that we control or eradicate infectious diseases through the mass mandated use of vaccines," Fisher says. "But what they've never bothered to do is to take a step back and say, 'is that a wise thing to do? Because we did it with smallpox, because we did it with polio, is it a wise thing to do with every single microorganism that causes infections in humans?'
We are at the point now where we have 69 doses of 16 vaccines that the government recommends every single child should get from day of birth through age 18. We now have a universal use influenza vaccine policy that every single American, from six months of age through the year of death, is to receive a flu vaccine every year.
But what we don't have is large studies that show that these policies are safe (particularly for every person) and also effective. Are we really achieving greater health in our society on an individual basis, and a public health basis, by using so many vaccines? I would argue that the jury is definitely out because we have seen an explosion of chronic disease and disability in our society in the last quarter century, particularly since we began using so many vaccines."
Emerging studies show that, in fact, these policies are not at all effective, and I agree with Fisher that the safety of our current vaccination policy is highly questionable, especially when you consider that no proper studies have been done to evaluate the policy as a whole. The question of whether or not it's safe for any given child to receive multiple vaccines in combination is being completely ignored.
Why aren't Pediatricians Asking More and Better Questions?
A perfect example of a common-sense question that is being ignored by the American Academy of Pediatrics is the strategy to vaccinate all newborns with the hepatitis B vaccine at 12 hours of age. Why is this being done when the incidence of hepatitis B is so low in the United States to begin with?
There is no common sense applied to this recommendation and implementation because the child is only at risk for hepatitis B if the mother has the active infection. So why don't we just test the mother for hepatitis to see if the vaccine is warranted, instead of routinely vaccinating all babies? This would not only protect the child from unnecessary harm, it would also be far more cost effective.
"I think cost effectiveness is something that really needs to be looked at in this economic climate that we're in," Fisher says.
Are the increasing amounts of vaccines given actually translating into better health for our children and adults? That's an important question that still needs to be answered.
The Old Drug Paradigm is Dying—But it's a Slow, Drawn-Out Death…
Ultimately it all comes back to the issue of education. Does the average parent of a newborn understand all the issues related to their decisions? I think it's safe to say that many don't, because you can't expect to get a complete picture if your only source of information is heavily influenced by conflicts of interest…
However, there are signs that the education campaign is working, although it's slow-going.
"We know, from recent polls in the last few years, that the majority of parents now are concerned about both vaccine safety and prescription drug safety," Fisher says.
"We also know that about two-thirds of Americans believe that doctors are too heavily influenced by pharmaceutical companies and pharmaceutical company lobbyists. I would also add that, unfortunately, a lot of legislators at the state and federal level are also influenced by the pharmaceutical lobby, which is the biggest lobby on Capitol Hill. I think that this growing concern. They know that there is something, potentially, that they need to know, but I don't think that the basic educational level for most new parents is there when it comes to infectious diseases and vaccines.
So that's really what our organization has always been about… We don't tell people what to do. We're consumer advocates. We're not doctors. We don't tell people to vaccinate or not to vaccinate.
What we say is, 'as an educated healthcare consumer, you must understand the risk associated with the diseases as well as the vaccines, and make an informed decision—because, as a parent, you live with that decision.' You have to take responsibility for it because your doctor and your legislator and your pharmacist are not going to live with it; you're going to live with it.
I think the idea that we ought to have the right and freedom in this country to have information and make voluntary decisions is a human right. I think it's a civil right. I think it's something worth standing up for in the 21st century."
Although still a minority, many Americans, perhaps as much as 40 percent, are moving toward a new health care paradigm that is less focused on pharmaceutical products; a holistic paradigm that embraces a more natural, less toxic approach to health and well-being. The Vaccine Safety and Informed Consent Movement is a big part of this paradigm shift toward holistic health.
But there are those in control of the old pharmaceutical-based paradigm who are not happy with the shift, and they're actively fighting to prevent it. And in so doing, they're jeopardizing health freedom, and in many ways preventing health.
"I think that… those of us who understand; who want to eat organic, who want to have natural ways to stay healthy; who want to make vaccine choices, we're going to have to stand up and fight really hard in this second decade of the 21st century, or else we're going to lose that freedom. Government will come down on people and they will demonize people and make it impossible to function in society unless you conform," Fisher warns.
"I mean, America was built by dissenters with a healthy respect for minority views. Why should we be thrown off of a Time Square ad when we were only advocating informed healthcare choices? It's very frightening that you can't simply say, 'Get educated.'"
Fortunately, the company that owned the billboard had integrity, and the ad was not taken down. Interestingly enough, the added exposure received from the controversy stirred up by the American Academy of Pediatrics and various bloggers actually benefited the NVIC and brought the issue of consumers' right to education and informed consent to the forefront.
There's no doubt we still face enormous challenges. You can't overlook the powerful influence that the drug industry wields, or the fact that there are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake for the industry, which makes them fiercely protective of the status quo. However, collectively, the drug industry doesn't stand a chance because we as individuals greatly outnumber both the lobbyists and our doctors.
What's required is to educate sufficient amounts of people to permanently tip the scales.
In truth, the US health care system is bound to collapse under its own financial burdens. Eventually, they're going to figure out that it's not sustainable, and begin to carefully reevaluate how every single dollar is spent. At that time interest in natural health will dramatically increase because there's no question that it's effective both in terms of health outcomes and cost.
If the mainstream media chooses to return to the old ways of journalism, they can greatly assist in creating a healthier population and a more fiscally sound United States. A true journalist doesn't just cover the side that government approves of—you actually present both sides without bias. We rarely see this today and that's part of the problem. Most people who do not follow alternative media are simply clueless about the opposing viewpoints of any issue presented. Whether or not this situation will change any time soon remains to be seen.
Until then, however, the onus falls on each and every one of us to seek out and evaluate the different sides of the argument for ourselves. The importance of self-empowerment and self-education to make well-informed decisions about your health simply cannot be stressed enough.
"I think if you make a voluntary considered choice then you own it, and when you own it, you can defend it. If you can defend it you will be able to preserve the right to make it. So it all begins with that conscious informed choice," Fisher says.