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Despite Carson and Trump’s Sidestepping, No, Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism

By September 17, 2015 4 Comments

There were major face-palms happening during one of the early GOP Debates here at The Scientific Parent’s headquarters when former presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson massively sidestepped a pretty simple question about vaccines and autism.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of the debate or comment on the politics, just the piece that concerns us here on our blog, which is all about science-based parenting.

When CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Dr. Carson if he thought Donald Trump should “stop saying that vaccines cause autism,” Carson avoided challenging Donald Trump’s stance directly, (which has been highly public and scientifically incorrect) and said:

ben_carson“Well let me put it this way…there have been numerous studies, and they have not demonstrated that there is any correlation between vaccinations and autism. This was something that was spread widely 15 or 20 years go and it has not been adequately… revealed to the public what is actually going on.”

-Dr. Ben Carson, GOP Debate 9/16/2015

Carson, an incredibly educated physician, went on to redirect the conversation before being interrupted by Tapper, who once again pushed him to disagree with Trump. Which Carson would not do.

While that’s in essence not a problem (challenging someone’s opinion when you would prefer not to engage in a battle), language and presence is persuasive, particularly when you’re an expert in front of tens of millions of viewers. It’s what these debates are all about. You put potential leaders in a room with cameras and you listen to how they command power, expertise, and thoughts on issues that are relevant to the public. And then viewers at home are left with new information, some correct, some not-so-correct, and to make the best judgment call they can about the candidates and the issues from what they know, and what they heard.

Carson is a former pediatric neurosurgeon who has dealt with some of the most medically fragile patients around during his tenure at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He knows the science surrounding the safety of vaccines as he touched on it in his initial response, referencing studies which you can read about in this quick crash course compiled by the CDC. He’s an expert, so one would assume that what he says is accurate.

Posed with the same question, Donald Trump, whose command of authority is essential to his business image, did not stand down from the question:

trumpface“Autism has become an epidemic. Twenty-five years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, not even close [to what it is now]…I am totally in favor of vaccines but I want smaller doses over a longer period of time.”

–  Donald Trump, GOP Debate 9/16/2015

And, after alluding to a baby being “pumped” with vaccines in the amount “meant for a horse,” he pointed to evidence of an employee of his, whose child “…went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Trump concluded by pointing to vaccine spacing as what will reduce autism in America. Since vaccines aren’t linked to autism, and science backs that, how does spacing non-autism-causing shots reduce autism? It’s a mystery to us. But it does have an undercurrent of the conspiracy theory about pediatricians we’ve addressed before on The Scientific Parent. And I’m not even going to touch the epidemic and anti-autistic language here. That’s for another time, and another post.

Where I nearly flipped a table over is when Carson followed up to Trump’s comments by agreeing with Trump about vaccine spacing, and then reiterating his stance that vaccines don’t cause autism. The doctor said WHAT?

Though children get nearly two dozen vaccination shots by the time they are two years old (for a series of deadly, preventable diseases), there’s no general belief in the medical community that this nationally applied schedule of vaccines is a problem for healthy children. In fact, the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend the current vaccine schedule based on what is considered safe and prudent according to a wide array of factors, most important being what a child’s immune system is able to tolerate at different points in their growth and development, and what’s absolutely essential to protect them against at the earliest possible age.

Vaccines from 0-6

Example vaccine schedule from CDC, ages 0-6:

Not convinced yet? Take a look at this document, which explains what the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is. It’s a panel of experts who are rigorously vetted and have a range of expertise, and they have multiple public meetings a year where they review a range of information, research, and clinical data to determine what’s safest for children. They’re the ones who provides the CDC with schedule recommendations. And I’m pretty sure they know a lot more than either Mr. Trump or Dr. Carson could dream about vaccine science and safety.

So again, challenging someone you don’t want to challenge is in essence, not a problem. What is a problem however, is for a nation that’s worked hard to eradicate so many tragic infectious diseases, to have Dr. Carson publicly representing pediatric medicine and not correcting something that is a matter of life, death, and severe disability through disease injury for millions of Americans and their children. We’ve covered that elsewhere on this blog, which you can read here, here, here, and here. We really, really hope he moves to correct this in upcoming public statements, and we’re not alone.

Misinformation of this nature spreads quickly and keeps its hold for a long time, because oftentimes it’s rooted in fear. Trump’s vaccination stance has been highly visible and what he says, if it were true, is scary to even consider. A few snapshots of his comments on Twitter, for example:

Trump Twitter 3


Trump Twitter 1

When you’re an expert in medicine and you allow misinformation to linger as Dr. Carson did, particularly misinformation that can be fatal if in the wrong hands, it can have massive impacts. It can lead to malpractice if you’re an actively practicing or teaching physician. And in front of a nation of attentive TV viewers, it can lead to a whooooole lot of people listening to the more bold candidate and believing that he or she is speaking the truth. It’s what terrifies the masses that leads to situations such as what happened with Tara Hills, the formerly anti-vaccination advocate mother of 7 children who ended up with whooping cough, who was misinformed and fearful by messages similar to what Trump said on stage last night.

The damage is done, though many, many websites and blogs such as our own took to the interwebs that night, as we do often, to argue in favor of science and safety.

Ask anyone who works or has worked in broadcast and we’ll tell you the same thing. People (myself included) tune out after the first few seconds of a soundbites, and they surely did given how circular political-speak can get during those debates.  Lets just hope that for a nation dependent on vaccinations for so much of its basic health protection, we can keep the facts straight from the opinions. Cast your vote where you may, but protect your kids, please, they’re our most precious candidates for this nation’s future.

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Americans, Public Health Rules are Different in Other Countries. Adjust!

By June 30, 2015 1 Comment

American families traveling outside of the country this summer for a vacation, heads up, you might want to see your doctor before your trip. Whether you’re driving an hour to Canada or Mexico or flying across an ocean, there are two key things you want to consider, even if you’ve done your particular journey many times before:

  1. What vaccinations are recommended for the areas that you’re traveling to?
  2. What extra medications might you need to bring with you in the event that you or your children do get sick, and can’t quickly access familiar healthcare options (pharmacies, drugstores, physicians)?

I’m going to focus on travelers’ vaccines in this post, because it’s not the first thing that parents typically think about when going abroad.  To be clear there’s no law or mandate requiring you to get certain vaccines in order to travel abroad, in fact it’s just the opposite.  The State Department and CDC make recommendations, but it’s up to each individual and each parent to make those decisions for themselves based on the risk they perceive.

We all judge risk differently, and depending on the disease, the risk of contracting it may seem small enough to skip the recommended vaccines. But many of the worst infectious diseases you’d contract both here and abroad are actively avoidable, and the so-called “best case” scenarios of catching and recovering from those diseases with little impact are rare, exceptional, and statistically unlikely. After all, deadly infectious diseases, as they’re named, can kill you. They can permanently harm you. And they can leave you and your kids incredibly ill, suffering, and in quarantine, much like the recent case of the 6-year-old boy in Spain whose parents refused to vaccinate for diphtheria. After being in treatment for weeks with that deadly illness, that boy recently died.

Staying unvaccinated in the face of risk is a gamble with what is most precious – our lives.  I don’t feel comfortable taking that gamble because I’ve seen the statistics and science, and they’re stacked against any other decision. This issue came up recently as my soon-to-be stepsons are heading off to Mexico on vacation in a few weeks, a place that they frequent with their other half of the family since it’s literally an hour south of our collective homes in San Diego, California.

My fiance ran across the CDC traveler’s vaccine recommendations for Mexico via the State Department’s website as he was renewing his Passport two weeks ago, and found a recommendation for travelers to get both the Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A vaccines for trips to Mexico, in addition the standard vaccines that most of us already have. When he spoke to the boys’ pediatrician about it, the physician seconded that recommendation. Though they hadn’t had the shots before, to be fair, travel to Mexico isn’t really a huge deal here. It’s a pretty acceptable and normalized option for many people for their day trips, family visits, and cross-border commutes to work. But during an informal poll of mine, I found that there seems to be a misconception that going to Mexico is really not like visiting a typical “foreign country,” and there are no needed travelers’ vaccines. That’s actually incorrect.

The oral Typhoid Fever vaccine - taken as 4 pills over 1 week

The oral Typhoid Fever vaccine – taken as 4 pills over 1 week

Despite its familiarity and its proximity, Mexico resides outside of the bounds of the U.S. public health bubble. That means that nation’s population doesn’t have the same vaccination requirements, statistical herd immunity, or public health rules and regulations for food handling, hospitals, etc. Many locals here might be surprised to learn that despite its proximity to San Diego, Mexico is actually considered a “developing” country, which is a fancy-shmancy term that captures a wide range of development, economic, and human factors. The designation also means that you as a traveler need to be cognizant of where corners may be cut in public funding (specifically for the purposes of this post, healthcare, and cheap/free vaccination availability), and take the appropriate precautions to safeguard your health. For my fiance, that meant he realized the boys needed to get their Typhoid vaccinations ASAP if they hadn’t already.

One of the many things the boys are excited about for this trip is that they’re staying at a resort location; but it’s also a reason given for why they might not need these vaccines, after all, it’s in a well-developed part of the country.  But just because they’re staying at a high-end resort, doesn’t mean they’re any safer from these diseases. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to roll around in garbage and poop (yes, I said poop) in the jungle with no doctors for miles to get sick from something abroad. Sometimes it’s as easy as touching our faces after touching something contaminated that we were completely unaware of. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be taught to wash our hands the way that we do after we go to the restroom – after all, germs are invisible.

Vivotif, the live oral vaccine for Typhoid Fever that lasts up to 5 years.

Vivotif, the live oral vaccine for Typhoid Fever that lasts up to 5 years.

Typhoid Fever is definitely something along those lines, something that spreads largely through poor hygiene practices, since it comes from Salmonella Typhi, a bacteria that only lives in humans’ bloodstreams and intestinal tract, and gets transmitted easily, typically through contaminated food or drink (contaminated by, you guessed it, fecal matter). It’s not common in the U.S. with an estimated 6,000 cases per year, with 75% of those coming from international travelers. In developing countries, it affects a staggering 21. 5 million people a year – and it killed an estimated 161,000 people worldwide in 2013. Per the reports (and the one man I know who has had it, and got it from a 5-star resort abroad!), it takes 1-2 weeks to fully show up in an infected individual, it lasts around a month with treatment, and it’s awful: high fevers of up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a rash, exhaustion, delirium, swollen organs, and in worst case scenarios, internal bleeding and death.

So this was an issue easily remedied. Fortunately, these days, 4 simple pills taken over the course of a week can prevent all of that. A small copay, a series of pills, and the boys are now ready to go, teenage hygiene and poop threats be darned! Even better, they’ll be protected against the majority of cases for the next 5 years.

As Americans (and I’m talking generalities, of course), we tend to have an oblivious attitude toward how different things can be in other cultures and countries. And things are not always what we assume they are (read: the same as we are accustomed to), no matter how similar they may look. When confronted with this reality, we can fight it, avoid it, or we can just get over it, already, and adjust our behaviors in a way that best serves us and our children. So, adjust, protect, and avoid the awful things you can. There’s plenty of time to catch Monteczuma’s revenge in the meantime, if you really want to get sick while you’re abroad. Just remember to get a prescription of traveler’s antibiotics and some Pepto before you go.


Centers For Disease Control Travel Center Accessed: 06/29/15

 US Passports and International Travel Country Information State Department. Accessed:  06/29/15

 Boy Dies Diphtheria Spain, Parents Rejected Vaccine ABC News/AP News. 06/27/15. Accessed: 06/29/15

 Country and Lending Groups .World Bank Data. Accessed: 06/29/15

 Community Immunity. Accessed: 06/29/15

Germs. Communicable Disease Control and Prevention. San Francisco Department of Public Health  Accessed: 06/29/15

Typhoid Fever National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. CDC.Gov. Accessed: 06/29/15

GBD 2013 Mortality and Causes of Death Collaborators. (2015). Global, regional, and national age-sex specific all-cause and cause-specific mortality for 240 causes of death, 1990-2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Lancet, 385(9963), 117–171. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61682-2

The New York Times Health Guide: Typhoid Fever. Accessed: 06/29/15

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

I Had The Measles 48 Years Ago and I Still Suffer Its Effects

By June 15, 2015 4 Comments

I have just finished reading a plea that went viral on Facebook from a Winnipeg, Manitoba father, Neal Cohen, whose five-month-old baby girl was just diagnosed with the measles. My heart and my thoughts go out to Neal, his wife, and their little girl. The rage this father expressed in his open letter is completely understandable. In a society that has more information at their fingertips than they have ever had, it amazes me that the opinion of a celebrity such as Jenny McCarthy or some selective information can sway people away from their common sense.

I am a mother of two and a grandmother of three (soon to be four) and I am not going to offer my opinion, only my experience. You see, I had the measles when I was a child. I am nearly 60 now, but the experience was so horrible that I still vividly remember it.

It was deep in the summer and very hot. For no reason I could think of, I just started feeling listless. Considering the time of year I thought it could be from the heat. It didn’t get better so I went to bed early that day.

The next morning was my 12th birthday. I woke up from a bad night’s sleep with a raging fever, my eyes felt like they were on fire, and I couldn’t see properly. My head was pounding out an anvil chorus so badly that I wanted to scream and every bone in my body ached. On the heels of that I realized I had developed a rash. It seemed like every time I checked, the rash was moving at record pace, soon covering my entire body from head to toe. I was very, very sick.

I remember my mother on the phone with the doctor and watching the rash come out on my brother. Yes, misery was going to have company. My mother was terrified that my brother and I were going to be left permanently disabled. She was terrified for my hearing; you see as an early 12th birthday present, she’d just let me get my ears pierced. Later as a mother myself I could understand her visceral fear for my life and my brother’s.

The doctor told my mother that for me it was going to be bad. Apparently 12 was somewhat old to have the measles, so the old style of treatment applied. I was to stay in bed nursing chills that rocked my body. My eyes were not to be strained under ANY circumstances; I was not allowed to read books, no TV, no daylight, nothing that could take my mind off the excruciating pain I was in. I had no energy for any of those activities anyways, I was in so much pain I wished I would die.

I spent a week like this, and my mother spent a week fearing the worst, but I obviously survived. Even so, I have been living with the effects of the measles for nearly 48 years. While I had been the picture of health before, since the measles, I continue to suffer from blinding headaches and middle ear issues that have only gotten worse as I have gotten older. I’ve been told that each of these problems – which did not exist before the measles – is likely the result of the severity of the virus’ attack on my body.

Now as a grandmother knowing what the measles is like personally I don’t understand why anyone would think of putting their child through something like what my brother and I went through. A simple shot can prevent terrible illness and lifelong suffering. It bothers me when I hear antivaxxers say, “nobody dies from the measles.” While I survived, I did not survive unscathed. Even the word “antivaxxer” sounds like a new disease.

I now have two precious grandsons, a granddaughter and one more grandchild on the way. I cannot imagine them being endangered by someone who listened to a celebrity, or cherry-picked information on the internet instead of referring to their doctor. Please give your children a fighting chance and talk to your doctor about vaccines. Don’t let your child, or my grandchildren, suffer like I had to. – Edited by Leslie Waghorn


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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Chronic Illnesses + Conditions, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

The Deadly Toxin You May Not Have Heard About

By June 10, 2015 1 Comment

In Spain a little boy is being kept alive by machines and eight other children have been hospitalized after being infected with a deadly toxin. This toxin can cause the nose of an infected individual to drip blood and pus-filled infection, the roof of their mouth to bleed and turn green and black, can obstruct their airways, and can cause patches of skin to become scaly and leather-like.

The toxin invades the body’s mucus membranes, enters the blood stream, and multiplies rapidly. Most alarming is that the first symptoms this toxin in the body are similar to that of a cold, until the inside of the victim’s mouth turns gray and scaly, by which point the toxin has likely already entered the bloodstream and attacked the other mucus membranes in the body, and the patient has likely already infected other people.

Twenty percent of infected patients under the age of five will die and 5-10% of patients over the age of five will die. That mortality rate has remained unchanged for 50 years, despite medical advances.

This toxin is caused by a naturally occurring bacteria of the same name called Corynebacterium diphtheriae, better known as diphtheria.

Diphtheria is one of those diseases we think about in the same way we think about cholera, typhoid, and consumption (TB). We think of it as a disease that people used to die from on The Oregon Trail, but that it’s not actually a thing anymore. Except that it is.

In the 1930s, diphtheria killed between 13,000 and 15,000 individuals annually in the United States. A diphtheria vaccine was developed in the 1920s, and became widely available in the ‘40s and ‘50s. The disease’s prevalence rate dropped off to a statistical zero by the 1980s.   Most people are vaccinated against diphtheria in childhood as a part of the DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). People older than the age of 11 need a Tdap booster shot every seven to nine years. The differences between the DTaP and Tdap vaccines are the antigen concentrations in each shot.

Diphtheria InfocardDiphtheria is in the news again due to a cluster of cases in Spain; in the Girona province of Catalonia, Spain (very close to the border of France), the index case (“patient zero”) is an unvaccinated little boy. Heartbreakingly, as of the writing this post the boy is in critical condition on life support, and his parents have expressed that they “feel terrible guilt” over not vaccinating their son and feel hoodwinked by the antivaccine community. Several months ago Tara Hills, a mother of seven, wrote on our blog about the guilt she felt after not vaccinating her children and their subsequent battle with whooping cough.

While the index patient in Spain was not vaccinated, initial reports of the subsequent eight infections indicate that the other patients were vaccinated. The reports, however, don’t indicate the age of the new patients (diphtheria is particularly virulent in those under age five) or if the eight had completed the World Health Organization’s full vaccination schedule. Additionally, those who have been vaccinated against diphtheria tend to develop a milder form of the disease as their bodies already have some of the antibodies needed to fight the bacteria and the toxin.

Treating diphtheria is complicated, many impacting factors including the age of the individual, their vaccination status, when in the disease’s progress they sought medical treatment, and how the bacteria entered the body can all vary the severity of the illness. Prevention is the first line of defense (get your shots, people!) but once infected, antitoxins, antibiotics and supportive care are the standard treatment. Complicating matters even further is that the diphtheria antitoxin is not a standard drug that hospitals keep on hand. In fact it’s only available through the CDC directly for us here in the US. The antitoxin also won’t neutralize existing pockets in the mucus membranes, it will only prevents the progression of the disease by neutralizing the toxin that’s circulating in the bloodstream. This is why the death rate from diphtheria remains so high.

As Rene Najera pointed out on Monday, many diseases are just a plane ride away. This disease could even easily spread to areas of southern France given its proximity to the border and the nature of cross-European transit, which is largely train and short-flight based. Even if you don’t plan to travel to Spain any time soon, now may be a good idea to check in with your doctor and make sure you and your family are up to date on your Tdap and DTaP shots. Heck, most health departments give them away for free (FREE!).

Editor’s note: Since the publication of this post, the little boy has since passed away. You can read more here.

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

With 7 Kids in Recovery from Whooping Cough, Tara Hills Answers Your Questions

By and April 15, 2015 12 Comments
Tara Hills Luke

Tara cuddling with her recovering 10 month old.

When I wrote our story last week, I had no idea our story would go ‘viral’ (no pun intended).  We are a private family, as most homeschooling families are, so we thought that maybe a few people in our community would see it.  We never imagined that our story would travel around the globe.  As encouraged as we are to hear about the positive impact our decision to share it has had on many others, it has also been hard handling a real medical crisis in the face of intense global media and public scrutiny. Last Tuesday, when the positive test results came in 4 days late, the waves of chaos hit us with a fury that we can’t possibly describe. Everything that day was a blur, from me editing my original post to include our diagnosis, to the reality of dealing with 7 active cases of pertussis.  

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Whooping Cough is so Rotten, That We Couldn’t Post the Video

By and April 9, 2015 9 Comments


We posted this video to our Facebook page, an interview on CBC of Tara Hills, the mother of seven children in quarantine with whooping cough. She spoke to the CBC Ottawa news affiliate shortly after her story on our page went viral.

Later on Wednesday evening, Tara followed up with us by sending us several videos of her children suffering from the classic “whoop” that pertussis is so infamous for, and we have to admit, readers, it was a tough (if not horrifying) watch. We appreciate Tara’s raw and open approach to sharing the perils of not vaccinating children against deadly illnesses and her desire to help parents in her community recognize the symptoms.

However, we decided it was too much to show in the best interest of the children involved. Their health outcomes are unknown at this time, but we’re hoping for the best for them and we know they’re getting the best care possible.

So instead, we’d like to bring you an edited audio file of the sounds of some, but not all of her children, so you can get a better understanding of the impact of this type of illness  – and why vaccinations are so very important to prevent suffering.

For more information on whooping cough, visit or talk to your health care provider.

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

Learning the Hard Way: My Journey from #AntiVaxx to Science

By April 8, 2015 158 Comments

I’m writing this from quarantine, the irony of which isn’t lost on me.

Emotionally I’m a bit raw. Mentally a bit taxed. Physically I’m fine.  All seven of my unvaccinated children have whooping cough, and the kicker is that they may have given it to my five month old niece, too young to be fully vaccinated.

We’d had a games night at our house in March, my brother-in-law had a full-blown cold, so when the kids started with a dry cough a few days later I didn’t think much of it.  But a week after the symptoms started the kids weren’t improving, in fact they were getting worse.  And the cough. No one had a runny nose or sneezing but they all had the same unproductive cough.  Between coughing fits they were fine.

Then a few days later at midnight I snapped. My youngest three children were coughing so hard they would gag or vomit. I’d never seen anything like this before.  Watching our youngest struggle with this choking cough, bringing up clear, stringy mucus – I had heard of this before somewhere.  My mom said I had it when I was a kid. I snapped into ‘something is WRONG’ mode.

I jumped on Google to type in “child cough.” My kids had all but one symptom of pertussis, none of them had the characteristic “whoop.” But they had everything else.

We had vaccinated our first three children on an alternative schedule and our youngest four weren’t vaccinated at all.  We stopped because we were scared and didn’t know who to trust.  Was the medical community just paid off puppets of a Big Pharma-Government-Media conspiracy?  Were these vaccines even necessary in this day and age? Were we unwittingly doing greater harm than help to our beloved children? So much smoke must mean a fire so we defaulted to the ‘do nothing and hope nothing bad happens’ position.

Symptoms and timeline of pertussis (whooping cough)

Learn the signs of pertussis (whooping cough). Click to enlarge.

For years relatives tried to persuade us to reconsider through emails and links, but this only irritated us and made us defensive.  Secretly, I hoped I would find the proof I needed to hold the course, but deep down I was resigned to only find endless conflicting arguments that never resolved anything.  No matter if we vaccinated or not, I thought, it would be nothing more than a coin toss with horrible risks either way.

When the Disneyland measles outbreak happened my husband and I agreed to take a new look and weigh the evidence on both sides. A friend suggested I write out my questions so we could tackle them one by one.  Just getting it out on paper helped so much. I only ended up with a handful of questions. But more potent than my questions were my biases.

I just didn’t trust civic government, the medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, and people in general.  By default, I had excluded all research available from any major, reputable organization.  Could all the in-house, independent, peer-reviewed clinical trials, research papers and studies across the globe ALL be flawed, corrupt and untrustworthy?

The final shift came when I connected the dots between a small, but real measles outbreak in my personal circles this time last year.  But for the grace of God, our family was one step from contracting measles in our mostly under-or-unvaccinated 7 kids.  Maybe we could have weathered that storm unscathed in personal quarantine.  But in the 4 highly contagious days before any symptoms show we easily could have passed on our infection to my sister’s toddlers or her 34-week-old son in the NICU.

When I connected the dates for everyone involved it chilled me to the bone.  I looked again at the science and evidence for community immunity and found myself gripped with a very real sense of personal and social responsibility before God and man.  The time had come to make a more fully informed decision than we did 6 years ago.  I sat down with our family doctor and we put together a catch-up vaccination schedule for our children.

That schedule that was supposed to start the week after I found myself in the waiting room of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) with my 10-month-old son, waiting to confirm if he had whooping cough.

I said before that the irony isn’t lost on me that I’m writing this from quarantine.  For six years we were frozen in fear from vaccines, and now we are frozen because of the disease.  My oldest two are getting better, the youngest four are getting worse and fast.  Ottawa Public Health has been so helpful and communicative, trying to get us the help we need while keeping the community safe.  We are under quarantine and starting antibiotics.  Tonight, the baby started ‘whooping’.  I did the right thing going to the hospital when I did.  I can only hope this painfully honest sharing will help others.

I am not looking forward to any gloating or shame as this ‘defection’ from the antivaxx camp goes public, but, this isn’t a popularity contest.  Right now my family is living the consequences of misinformation and fear.  I understand that families in our community may be mad at us for putting their kids at risk.  I want them to know that we tried our best to protect our kids when we were afraid of vaccination and we are doing our best now, for everyone’s sake, by getting them up to date.  We can’t take it back … but we can learn from this and help others the same way we have been helped.

Vaccination is a serious decision about our personal and public health that can’t be made out of fear, capitulation or following any crowd.  No one was more surprised than us to find solid answers that actually laid our fears to rest.  I am confident that anyone with questions can find answers.  I would only advise them to check your biases, sources and calendar: Time waits for no parent.

Read more about Tara’s story:
Whooping Cough is so Rotten, That We Couldn’t Post the Video – April 9, 2015
With 7 Kids in Recovery from Whooping Cough, Tara Hills Answers Your Questions – April 15, 2015
Two Months After Whooping Cough: An Update from Tara Hills and Her Family – June 16, 2015


Editor’s Note: Comments on this post are being moderated per The Scientific Parent comment policy.

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health

The Measles Drives Immunization Rates Up, but Whooping Cough Doesn’t Have the Same Effect in Washington State

By April 2, 2015 1 Comment

On March 31, a prisoner escaped from a hospital about two miles from our house. He fired off a shot at police while he made his escape, and carjacked two individuals causing one car crash. The words, “armed and dangerous” and “area lock down” are not words that generally make the public feel safe, even after evidence suggested the prisoner had moved out of our immediate area.

It was this threat that made me realize how generally lax I am about safety in my own home. I had to confirm that the doors and windows were locked and as usual, I would have been lucky to find my phone to call 911 if I needed to. Theft and dangerous offenders aren’t something I worry about in our area because the crime rate is so low. It took an emergency for me to realize, “it might be a good idea if I knew how to lock our windows.”

Humans are terrible at judging risk. We’re categorically awful at it, and we don’t tend to act on slow-moving risks until the crisis is upon us. Reactively, rather than proactively. It looks like the same pattern is playing out in Washington State, where immunization

Image c/o The Seattle Times. Original can be found:

Image c/o The Seattle Times. via:

rates have surged 27% higher than this time last year in the wake of the Disney measles outbreak.

This is remarkable news as immunization rates in Washington State have lagged behind the national average and in the past Washingtonians haven’t always responded to the resurgence of a deadly early childhood disease with the same gusto. A 2011/2012 whooping cough epidemic caused no increase in immunization rates, despite sickening 2,520 residents.

So what’s changed this time?

There are a few potential hypotheses, which include:

  1. The perceived severity of the illnesses, with whooping cough being viewed, not necessarily accurately, as “less severe” than the measles;
  2. Media coverage of the outbreak has been extensive and may have had an educational and awareness impact on parents;
  3. Parents that vaccinate have become much more vocal since the Disneyland outbreak, which may have helped change social norms in certain areas;
  4. A bill was introduced to the Washington State House (and was defeated) that would have removed the personal belief exemptions many parents use to not vaccinate, and this may have prompted parents to vaccinate before its potential passage.

So the short answer is: we don’t know what changed this time. My guess is that it’s a combination of the factors above, and I can’t wait to read the studies once they’re published!

If you’d like to learn more about immunization rates in Washington State, you can read the article from the Seattle Times: Measles vaccinations jump after scare, public dialogue.




JoNel Aleccia. Measles vaccinations jump after scare, public dialogue. The Seattle Times. March 31, 2014. Retrieved 4.2.15.

Rachel La Corte. Lawmaker aims to limit reasons for vaccine exemptions. The Seattle Times. February 4, 2015. Retrieved 4.2.15

Washington State Department of Health. News Release: State vaccination rates for children lag behind national average. September 12, 2013. Retrieved 4.2.15.

Wolf, E., Opel, D., DeHart, M. et al. Impact of a Pertussis Epidemic on Infant Vaccination in Washington State. Pediatrics. pp 456-464, September 2014. Retrieved 4.2.15

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Categories: Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Policy, Politics, + Pop Health