George Boardman: Just in time for flu season, anti-vaxxers peddle bogus claims |

George Boardman: Just in time for flu season, anti-vaxxers peddle bogus claims

Observations from the center stripe: PSA edition

ONLY POLITICAL ads can make car dealer ads look like public service announcements … ONE THING I miss with all mail voting: I don’t get one of those “I Voted” stickers to add to my collection … I DON’T want to be anywhere near the hillside hovering over the new truck lane on Highway 80 east of Colfax when the heavy winter rains come … IT IS going to rain this season, right?


Just in time for the flu season, a southern California outfit is putting up billboards around the country claiming that vaccinations can “kill” children, and presumably anybody else who’s dumb enough to get them.

The billboards, financed by Learn the Risk of Santa Barbara, highlights the story of two-year-old Nicholas Catone, who died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) three weeks after receiving the DtaP vaccination shot for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough).

“It’s important to me that parents have the right information to make an informed choice about vaccines,” said Brandy Vaughn, executive director of Learn the Risk. “It’s been my mission to tell what the pharmaceutical companies have been hiding.”

The World Health Organization reports that anti-vaccination advocates have long promoted a myth that DTaP causes SIDS. Their evidence? Death from SIDS generally occurs around the time a child gets the DtaP vaccination, therefore there must be a link.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls this flawed reasoning, pointing out that a child is just as likely to die from SIDS before he or she gets the vaccination. The CDC concludes DTaP is a “very safe and effective” vaccine suitable for children, including infants

This appears to be a successor to the bogus claim that the mercury used to preserve vaccinations caused autism, a claim that caused many parents to not vaccinate their children before it was debunked. But at least that one was based on fraudulent research by a British doctor who was stripped of his medical license and fired.

But this nonsense has an impact. The billboards are appearing just as people are being urged to get their flu shots. Over 700,000 got sick enough from the flu last season to land in the hospital, just a fraction of the millions who became ill. There have already been reports of deaths from the flu and we aren’t really in the flu season. But flu shots? They can be dangerous.

Anti-vaccination sentiment has been growing in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, fueling a rise in preventable diseases. Maybe science isn’t convincing anymore, or maybe people just don’t trust authority figures. They certainly don’t look at the history of vaccinations that have almost wiped out diseases that used to kill people by the millions, and that extend the lives of people who use them.

Anti-vaxxers like to point out that vaccinations can sometimes have serious side effects and occasionally kill people. A lot of people who are skeptical of modern medicine because it isn’t perfect and without risk have no problem embracing traditional healing and other unproven remedies that border on witchcraft. Whatever the reason, these people are putting themselves and their children in harm’s way.

More than 41,000 people were infected with measles in Europe in the first six months of this year, compared with about 24,000 in all of 2017, according to WHO. (The U.S. saw about 100 cases in the first half of this year.)

Skepticism about vaccine safety runs high in Europe, according to a 2016 survey of 67 countries by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Seven of the 10 nations with strongest skepticism about vaccination safety were in the region. No. 1 in the survey: France with 41 percent of those surveyed expressing doubts.

Italy is typical of the current trend. Italy’s senate, where antiestablishment parties hold a majority, voted to suspend for a year a requirement that parents provide proof of vaccinations to enroll their children in preschool.

Last summer, Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini criticized a law that raised the number of mandatory vaccines to 10 from four, calling them “absolutely useless and in many cases dangerous.” Salvini is a career politician with no scientific training.

Medical scientists say a country needs to achieve a 95 percent vaccination rate to prevent outbreaks. A health crisis currently developing in Latin America illustrates what can happen when we fall short of this goal

Venezuela’s economy has contracted by half since 2013. Among other things, hospitals can no longer provide basic services or medicines, including the full cycle of vaccinations routinely given to children.

As a result, the country has become an incubator for malaria, yellow fever, diphtheria, and dengue as residents who are able flee go to Brazil, Colombia and other countries. “Individuals who are forced to exit the country without proper medical care can transmit a million different things…,” said Dr. Irene Bosch, a research scientist at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “It is a perfect storm condition for a catastrophic medical situation.”

Most states in the U.S. are below the 95 percent vaccination rate, including California. Nevada County can take a bow here because it has one of the lowest childhood vaccination rates in the state. We’re just setting ourselves up for a major outbreak.

“This is an accident waiting to happen,” said Dr. Albert Wu, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I’m afraid it will take a very big outbreak in the United States before we begin to see a reversal of the anti-vaccination sentiment.”

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at

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