Another Anti-Vaccine Book

I was asked to review the book Make an Informed Vaccine Decision for the Health of Your Child by Mayer Eisenstein with Neil Z. Miller. Fortunately my public library had it so I didn’t have to buy a copy. Reading it was a painful déjà vu experience. I can honestly say it met all my expectations: I expected that its concept of “informed decision” would equate to deciding not to vaccinate, and that it would rely on the same tired old fallacious arguments that have been heard before and rejected by knowledgeable scientists. The only thing that surprised me was a warning/disclaimer statement that admitted

this book tends to find fault with vaccines, therefore readers are advised to balance the data presented here with data presented by “official” sources of vaccine information, including vaccine manufacturers, the FDA, CDC and World Health Organization.

The fact that the book omitted all that balancing data undermines its pretense that it is intended to help readers make a truly informed decision.

It regurgitates every argument of the anti-vaccine faction without fairly presenting the arguments for vaccines and without acknowledging that every anti-vaccine argument has been thoroughly rebutted. For instance, it repeats reporter Dan Olmsted’s myth that the Amish do not vaccinate and do not get autism.

It deceptively argues that deaths from vaccine-targeted illnesses were decreasing before the development of vaccines. Deaths were decreasing due to improving medical treatment and other factors, but the diseases were not going away: the incidence of the diseases had not decreased significantly. Graphs of the yearly incidence of diseases like measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, etc. all show a striking reduction after vaccines were introduced. The book does not present those graphs. The real proof of the pudding is that in various countries around the world, when vaccination rates dropped, the diseases returned; and when vaccination rates rose again, the diseases subsided. The book does not acknowledge those inconvenient facts.

It does rely heavily on horror stories, mainly drawn from VAERS (Vaccination Adverse Event Reporting System) data. For every vaccine it provides a list of cases reported to VAERS. It says these are “just a small sample of the potential side effects associated with vaccines.” This is deliberately deceptive. The fact that a case is reported to VAERS only means that an adverse event occurred after vaccination; it does not even establish a correlation with the vaccine (because we don’t know whether the event occurs with equal frequency in a control group), and it certainly doesn’t establish that the vaccine caused the event.

It claims that VAERS data show that Rotateq vaccine causes intussusception in children. It doesn’t mention that the CDC investigated those VAERS reports and found that the rate of intussusception after the vaccine did not exceed the expected background rate of intussusception in the population.

It cites cases of adverse reactions to diphtheria antitoxin; but antitoxin is never needed unless you get the disease, which is prevented by the vaccine. And then it recommends avoiding tetanus vaccine since a tetanus antitoxin is available. It fails to mention the adverse reactions to tetanus antitoxin and the fact that it will not be needed if the vaccine has prevented the disease in the first place. How could anyone think it is preferable to get tetanus and then treat it with antitoxin?

It cites Andrew Wakefield’s studies allegedly linking the MMR vaccine to autism and his unsupported speculations that single vaccines are preferable. It mentions that his Lancetstudy was retracted, supposedly only because a British medical panel had concluded that he had violated ethical rules. It quotes Wakefield’s disingenuous protestation that the allegations against him were unfounded. It fails to mention that he had falsified data in his study and that he was stripped of his medical license. It also favorably cites the Geiers’ discredited research; the book was published before one Geier was stripped of his license and the other Geier was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license.

It admits that removing thimerosal from vaccines did not decrease the rate of autism, but it claims that autism was increased by thimerosal added to flu vaccines and by the amount of aluminum in vaccines.

It bewails all those antigens injected into “pure, innocent” babies.

I won’t belabor all the other misconceptions in the book: we’ve heard them all before.

Eisenstein has not only an MD but a JD and an MPH. He has not let his scientific training interfere with his prejudices. He directs Homefirst Health Services, an organization that promotes home births, discourages immunization, provides vaccination waivers to everyone on the general principle that vaccines are harmful, sells natural supplements (profits from recommending them), offers HCG treatment (proven to be useless) for obesity, and claims there are virtually no autistics among its patients. Dr. Eisenstein is also billed as Assistant Medical Director of Alternative Medicine Integration and he has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show; regular readers of this blog will recognize that “integration” and Oprah are both red flags for non-scientific medicine. He doesn’t think much of conventional medicine. He dismisses mammograms as never having saved even one minute of life, and another of his statements is calculated to really make Dr. Gorski’s blood boil:

Scientists also looked at breast cancer treatments: mastectomy, simple mastectomy, radial [sic] mastectomy. There was no benefit on outcome of survival.

This is a terrible book. It is dishonest, misrepresents the facts, and is likely to persuade the average reader not to vaccinate, thereby putting the rest of us at risk from decreased herd immunity. The average reader has no way of knowing what is wrong with its claims or what has been omitted. Unfortunately, its flaws will only be apparent to those of us who are able to recognize the book as merely another polemical restatement of discredited anti-vaccine propaganda.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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