2010 Needs a Fearless Conversation About Vaccination

By Barbara Loe Fisher

As the second decade of the 21st century begins, it is clear that the first one saw big changes in the way Americans think about health and vaccination. A good example is the fact that a majority of Americans “just said no” to getting an H1N1 influenza shot last year. 1 2 The truth is, most of us just didn’t buy the hype about swine flu. Perhaps it is because we are tired of constantly living in fear.

Fear was the unifying emotion that defined the first decade of the 21st century in America. 3 The Decade of Fear began on September 11, 2001, a day of indescribable loss that marked the ending of so much. Among the losses was the end of a civil and substantive conversation about vaccine safety that had taken shape during the previous two decades 4 but which - after September 11, 2001 - was hijacked by fear.

Within weeks of 9-11, there were frantic warnings by government officials that terrorists had weaponized smallpox and it was necessary to immediately dilute stockpiles of reactive 40-year old smallpox vaccine to make enough to give a smallpox shot to every man, woman and child. 5 6 7 Then the allegation that terrorists had hidden weapons of mass destruction to unleash deadly infectious diseases on all of us 8 - was used to justify forcing soldiers to get multiple doses of reactive experimental anthrax vaccine. 9 10

And within weeks of 9-11, a Congress driven by fear quickly passed The Patriot Act 11 followed by the Homeland Security Act. 12 Unprecedented authority was given to the Executive branch of our government, including creation of the third largest federal agency - the Department of Homeland Security. And then public health officials pushed for passage of new Model State Emergency Health Powers Acts to expand the police powers of state health officials whenever a public health emergency is declared. 13

For three years after 9-11, special interest lobbyists invoked bioterrorism and fear of infectious microorganisms to persuade Congress to pass Bioshield 14 15 16 and Pandemic Influenza legislation shielding vaccine manufacturers, doctors and public health officials from all liability when Americans are injured or killed by experimental vaccines or drugs used during a government declared public health emergencies - like the questionable pandemic influenza emergency declaration America is still operating under today even though there is no true emergency. 17

The attack on America by a rogue band of terrorists on September 11, 2001 created a Decade of Fear that made criticism of government policy, including vaccine policy, not just politically incorrect but a danger to national security and the public health. Fear and its travel companions - prejudice and intolerance - ruled the decade.

Those who criticized the quality and quantity of government regulated vaccine science or questioned the ethics of mandatory vaccination laws were marginalized by those in positions of authority, 18 who defended the status quo. The fear, prejudice and intolerance defining the first decade of the 21st century 19 was eventually turned on parents of vaccine injured children, 20 21 22 who were asking doctors and public health authorities how many vaccines their children were going to be forced to take 23 24 in the name of protecting national security and the public health. September 11, 2001 was a day of indescribable loss. And the losses America suffered that day have been magnified by the losses we have suffered since that day because some have used fear as a political tool to silence criticism of government policy.

Next month is the 25th anniversary of the publishing of the book DPT: A Shot in the Dark, which I co-authored with medical historian Harris Coulter. It was first published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and was used by the Institute of Medicine as a reference for the 1991 report on Adverse Effects of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines. It was the first major book documenting vaccine risks and flaws in vaccine science, regulation, policymaking, and law.

A Shot in the Dark is a book that is perhaps more relevant today, a quarter century after it was published in 1985 because, in the words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Twenty-five years later, parents of vaccine injured children are still calling for meaningful reform of public health policies and vaccine laws to protect individual and public health. 25 It is time to leave the politics of fear of the last decade behind, and change the way the conversation about vaccine science, policy, ethics and law is conducted so that the real issues about health and vaccination can be addressed responsibly. The people expect and deserve no less from those in positions of authority in government, industry and medicine, who operate the public health system.

We, who are critical of one-size-fits all mandatory vaccination policies because those policies fail to acknowledge biodiversity and do not respect the informed consent ethic, welcome a new, more rational and substantive conversation about vaccination in 2010. As President Franklin Roosevelt said “The truth is found when men are free to pursue it.”

Hopefully, 2010 will be the beginning of a fearless and fierce search for the truth about health and vaccination that will enlighten us all.

1 CNN. November 18, 2009. Poll: Majority of Americans Don’t Want H1N1 Shot.

2 Harvard School of Public Health. December 22, 2009. Poll Finds Three Quarters of Parents Who Tried to Get H1N1 Vaccine for Their Children Have Gotten It.

3 Giraldi, P. The Huffington Post. November 25, 2007. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.

4 National Vaccine Information Center. May 3, 1999. New Genetic Study Points Way For Vaccine Research.

5 Pear, R. New York Times. March 20, 2002. A Nation Challenged: The Bioterrorism Threat; Frozen Smallpox Vaccine Is Still Potent.

6 Fisher, BL. National Vaccine Information Center. Winter 2002. Smallpox and Forced Vaccination: What Every American Needs to Know.

7 Scardaville, M. The Heritage Foundation. December 6, 2002. Public Health and National Security Planning: The Case for Voluntary Smallpox Vaccination.

8 Risen J, Miller J. New York Times. November 11, 2001. A Nation Challenged: Chemical Weapons; Al Qaeda Site Points to Tests of Chemicals.

9 PBS. December 4, 2001. The Anthrax Vaccine.

10 Rempfer, TL. The Journal of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security. May 2009. The Anthrax Vaccine: A Dilemma for Homeland Security.

11 Congressional Research Service. April 15, 2002. The USA Patriot Act: A Legal Analysis.

12 PBS. May 15, 2003. The Homeland Security Act.

13 American Civil Liberties Union. January 1, 2002. Model State Emergency Health Powers Act.

14 McGlinchey D. Government Executive. January 23, 2004. HHS officials anxiously await passage of “Bioshield” bill.

15 Ismal MA. The Center for Public Integrity. April 1, 2007. Spending on Lobbying Thrives. Drug and health policies industries invest $182 million to influence legislation.

16 Fisher BL. National Vaccine Information Center. November 15, 2009. Letter to Col. Robert P. Kadlec, MD, Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness.

17 Department of Health and Human Services. April 26, 2009, July 24, 2009, October 1, 2009, December 30, 2009. Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists.

18 Hodge JG, Gostin LO. Center for Law and the Public’s Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. February 15, 2002. School Vaccination Requirements: Historical, Social & Legal Perspectives.

19 Social Research. December 22, 2004. The politics of fear after 9/11.

20 Fisher, BL. National Vaccine Information Center. March 25, 2008. Promoting Vaccination, Fear, Hate & Discrimination.

21 Cicolli A. Yale Journal of Biology & Medicine. September 2008. Mandatory Vaccination: The Role of Tort Law.

22 Thompson C. Washington Post. December 20, 2009. Worst Ideas of the Decade: Vaccine scares.

23 Deardorff, J. Chicago Tribune. November 7, 2007. New study: Americans may be overvaccinated.

24 Wallis C. Time Magazine. March 10, 2008. Case Study: Autism & Vaccines.

25 Fisher BL. April 11, 2008. Vaccine Safety Research Priorities: Engaging the Public.


Momwoman said...

Why do you insist on spreading this misinformation? In a world where most Americans have limited understanding of science, you twist wording and try to turn coincidence into proof. What is in it for you? How are you benefiting from scaring our parents away from caring for their children’s health? Are you getting payoffs from the real source of autism? Are you determined to create an underclass of sick, undereducated slaves? Please, let us know. We’d love to learn what your motives really are.

ER Doc said...

The "biodiversity" you mention has nothing to do with the unreasoning fear you actively promote. I object to the Patriot Act as much as anyone, but reasonable public health measures require some restrictions on freedom. Preventing someone with known drug-resistant TB from free travel is one. Refusing to allow over-entitled yuppies with no understanding of immunology from actively endangering the community by refusing routine vaccinations is another.

arbuckle said...

“The truth is found when men are free to pursue it.”

Isn't that the purpose of tenure in universities? And don't the vast majority of tenured science professors studying vaccines from all angles support their use?

Icepick said...

As a parent of two (I state that, since that appears to be the extent of credentials that you respect) I cannot believe that you continue endanger both children and adults with baseless fear-mongering.

In my personal circle of friends I know of a death and three hospitalizations from H1N1. It was neither hype nor alarmist propaganda on the part of healthcare professionals.

People who have studied and commit their careers to caring for the health of Americans. The same people you never miss an opportunity to malign.

I just can't understand what would cause someone to spend so much time and energy creating fear where non is warranted to the detriment of so many people.

It is just sad and frustrating.

Anonymous said...


What misinformation is she spreading? She quoted all of her sources, and she is speaking for the many, many parents and people that have been injured by vaccines. On the other hand, you are making statements about "an underclass of sick, undereducated slaves." Huh? How is that NOT imflammatory and an outright lie. I guarantee you that many people who choose not to vaccinate are highly educated (especially about vaccines) and are some of the healthiest people around. These people are clamoring for the FREEDOM to choose wheter to vaccinate or not (quite the contrary to the SLAVERY of lining up the masses to receive shots mandated by the goverment and other agencies).

Anonymous said...

Barbara - thank you for every moment that you have spent increasing vaccine safety awareness among parents and the general public.

Your article is excellent and we can only hope that the American people will no longer be so easily manipulated by fear (Iraq anyone?).

Anonymous said...

I found the post interesting, and I enjoyed the fact that there were footnotes. My question is actually for "Momwoman" and anyone else who disagrees. This individual seems genuinely concerned with the content of the post, and yet her short comment provides no evidence to the contrary. I'd love a good comment in opposition, but please don't ask us to ignore the content of this post just because you don't like it. And enough with your derogatory comments when you present no alternatives.

deborah said...

Barbara, thank you for your continued effort, be it very informative and well-thought out. Given the amount of facts; hopefully, parents can decide for themselves how or when to vaccinate.

Anonymous said...

Barbara and all who work tirelessly and effectively on these issues:

You are sooo appreciated for your courage and strength.

Keep up the good work. Pay no mind to the mass effort to bring harm to your mission.

Thank you.

baileegrace said...

Momwoman, You obviously know very little about the evidence of vaccine dangers. you should really educate yourself about inflamation after vaccination. My son is lucky he had one vaccine when he was born. My other son has had none. They are so healthy! They don't look sickly like most american kids. Their skin looks healthy and they don't have autism , diabetes, chronic inflamation, diseases, need I go on about the things that vaccines cause in children and adults. So when you know ALL the information for both side of the story let us know until then don't accuse us of being the uneducated ones!!! I just want to be free to choose and I just want others to know both sides and be educated before they start injecting their kids with unknown substaces!

Alexis said...

Barbara, I want to express my support for your work in this area. Those who go against mainstream thinking are always feared and maligned - until the new truth is finally accepted, and then they are called visionaries. Thank you for working on the cutting edge to bring awareness to this important issue.

And I don't know why those who disagree with you have to be so mean and nasty about it. Fear does interesting things to people.

Cheers and thanks!

Anonymous said...

There is a fearless conversation, no-one is surpressing the anti-science anti vaccine people.
I do not doubt there are side effects with vaccines, amazing if there were not when millions of doses given out. Just like millions of car journeys and so people get injured.

You have to consider the other alternative. No vaccines and the numbers that would die from that - we have seen in the past, pre vaccine era, how many die from "routine" illnesses