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Why California’s Mandatory Vaccine Bill is Anti-Science

Well-meaning public health officials, doctors and parents concerned with low vaccination rates appear to have scored a major win with the passage of California SB277, which mandates vaccination compliance for all children who attend public or private school. The premise of the proponents’ argument is that vaccines are proven safe and effective for the vast majority of individuals, and what amounts to forced vaccination is seen therefore as an overall benefit to public good. Though the most ardent supporter may readily admit that severe adverse reactions are possible, such statistics are brushed off as being inconclusively attributed to vaccines, and/or affecting a trivial number of individuals.

The link between autism and vaccines has become a flash point issue which has drawn away from the fact that vaccines have been repeatedly linked to other deleterious and perhaps much more common long-term side effects which the medical and public health establishment has not yet acknowledged, specifically concerning autoimmune disease.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, and the number is rising(1). Although the cause of autoimmune disease is unknown(2), there is a growing body of research suggesting that the development of autoimmune disease as a result of vaccination is possible or probable, although that fact is difficult to prove definitively(3). Thankfully, even the government has taken notice of this link. The Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has quietly partnered with scientists at Georgetown University’s Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics to pursue a collaborative project which aims to streamline identification and tracking of autoimmune-related adverse outcomes within the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)(4). On April 27, 2015, the project’s lead researcher, Dr. Peter McGarvey, PhD presented initial findings on the genetic analysis of autoimmune disease at the Food and Drug Administration’s 2015 ORSI Science Symposium.

The results of his study suggest that it will likely be possible to use genetic predisposition to autoimmune disease to “aid in the assessment of potential immune-mediated adverse events following vaccination(5).” So, while even the FDA tacitly acknowledges that the link between autoimmune disease and vaccination are worthy of further inquiry, proponents of California SB277 press on with a militant crusade against any doctor or parent who dares to question the recommended vaccine schedule for an apparently healthy child. Ironically, this witch-hunt creates a climate in which the very first steps of the scientific method – that is, observation and hypothesis – are deemed obsolete. Rather than act as the champions of the scientific method, which the bill’s proponents falsely claim has proven vaccines safe in every respect, they are dangerously undermining it by discrediting anyone who would make an observation otherwise.

I should stop here to clarify that prior to 2012, I had a very conventional view of vaccines. As with many of my peers, I thought so-called “anti-vaxxers” were alarmist and dangerous. In 2012, my life changed. After the birth of my second daughter, I became increasingly ill with symptoms of autoimmune disease, and received an autoimmunity diagnosis late that same year. Meanwhile, my children were developing their own chronic issues, like eczema, severe environmental allergies, food sensitivities, digestive distress, vascular inflammation, and an inability to gain weight labeled as ‘failure to thrive.’

A consistent pattern emerged. On no fewer than four separate occasions, my children developed new symptoms or saw existing symptoms worsen within days or weeks of vaccination. Looking back at my own medical records, I realized that the first onset of my own recent symptoms also came in close temporal proximity to a flu shot I received during my second pregnancy. Going back even further into my medical history, it seems plausible that sudden onset of significant autoimmune-related symptoms in mid to late childhood could also be timed with vaccination.

While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) does publicly acknowledge that there are side effects possible from vaccines, its guidance is that most symptoms are minor and go away within a few days. Moderate to severe symptoms listed are very frightening (“seizures,” “coma”, “permanent brain damage”)(6) but are generally much more grave than anything my family and I may have experienced. There is no clear mention of chronic autoimmune disease as a potential side effect, other than its vague reference to the possibility of developing a blood condition (which is often autoimmune related) as a result of the MMR vaccine(7).

In all, there is nothing listed on the CDC information page which would lead me to believe that my or my children’s reactions – that is, generalized symptoms of an increased and apparently permanent autoimmune response – have ever been observed ever before. But, on the contrary, questions surrounding autoimmune responses to immunological adjuvants have been documented for more than 50 years(8). Adjuvants are substances added to a vaccine in order to increase effectiveness. There has been some public awareness of adjuvants in vaccines, specifically surrounding the mercury-based adjuvant Thimerosol. Due to public outcry, Thimerosol has been mostly removed from vaccines administered to children under six, with the exception of the inactivated flu vaccine. There is a limited supply of Thimerosol-free flu vaccine doses available for children under seven, as well as pregnant women, however trace amounts of Thimerosol still persist even in that version of the vaccine(9).

Dr. K. Miyoshi coined the phrase “human adjuvant disease” in 1964 after noting that his patients showed diverse symptoms after receiving medical treatment involving silicone or paraffin oil adjuvants(10). In more recent years, “post-vaccination phenomena” involving autoimmune illness has been specifically linked to vaccine adjuvant exposure, particularly aluminum-based adjuvants which are still commonly present in vaccines. Diseases documented in this category include Guillain-Barré Syndrome(11), Lupus(12), Antiphospholipid Syndrome(13), Transverse Myelitis(14), Primary Ovarian Failure(15), Multiple Sclerosis(16), and general symptoms of autoimmunity(17). Despite documented scientific articles on the link between vaccines and long-term, chronic autoimmune diseases ranging from mild to severe, none of these aforementioned conditions were referenced in the literature from the CDC regarding possible vaccine side effects, even in the context of presenting other side effects which it qualifies as “so rare that it is hard to tell whether or not they were caused by the vaccine(18).” But despite the CDC’s omission, these autoimmune conditions as potential vaccine side-effects are likely very real.

In 2011, Dr. Yehuda Shoenfeld, Head of the Zabludowicz Center for Autoimmune Diseases at the Sheba Medical Center (affiliated with Tel Aviv University), identified a grouping of clinical symptoms and triggers in both humans and animals to establish new medical phenomenon called Autoimmune/inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA)(19). The adverse reactions that I and my family have experienced are on the spectrum of ASIA. Unfortunately, I am not confident that my family, or anyone presenting symptoms of ASIA, would be able to easily obtain medical exemption to SB277. My experience has been that mainstream doctors are unaware of this relatively new research on ASIA, unwilling to understand it in-depth, and/or categorically dismissive of any challenge to the vaccine schedule other than in the most dire cases of adverse reaction or compromised immunity. Of course, doctors more attune to these emerging issues of autoimmunity do exist. But, because high-quality doctors increasingly are electing to take their practices outside of the network of lower-cost insurance plans, patients are facing even more limited choice in selecting their family doctor or pediatrician.

A 2012 survey of 13,575 American physicians by The Physicians Foundation found that more than 50% surveyed had imminent plans to reduce patient access to their services, and nearly 7% planned to switch to cash-only or high-cost subscription concierge practices. For those patients left behind in Affordable Care plans or HMOs, lack of doctor choice creates an undue burden for patients who, in all likelihood, will not be randomly assigned a doctor who is aware of the relationship between autoimmunity and vaccinations. These compounding factors mean that California bill SB277 will effectively remove the rights of parents to make decisions regarding their own children’s individual health risks, even in cases where legitimate science may support them.

Proponents of SB277 may respond to my argument here to say that, despite my personal experience, very few people who would exercise the ‘personal belief exemption’ would do so over legitimate medical concerns that their doctor has dismissed. Whether or not that is true, such an argument ignores the counter-productive nature of its anti-science undertones. Consider that a persistent and deeply held fear of vaccinations among the most well-educated in this country (20) may actually be the result of the CDC’s unwillingness to acknowledge a large category of potential side effects which have been widely documented in scientific journals. Perhaps clear guidelines for contraindication screening on the basis of genetic predisposition – that is, the kind that Dr. McGarvey and his colleagues at the FDA and Georgetown University are now studying – would finally give comfort to those parents who are pejoratively labeled “anti-vax.”

Published critiques of Dr. Shoenfeld’s work are admittedly mixed, but even its critics conclude that more study is needed, rather expose any clear refutation of his work(21). Due to the scientific consensus on the need for more research in the area of autoimmunity and vaccines, vaccine safety specifically as it relates to autoimmune disorders requires more transparency by relevant governing bodies and medical associations, and more study to identify reliable guidelines for contraindications, before vaccines should be effectively forced on the public. For proponents of SB277 to figuratively “close the book” on this area of vaccine research is an arrogant and reckless corruption of science.


[accordion title=”Sources” close=”1″]1)
3) McGarvey PB, Suzek BE, Baraniuk JN, Rao S, Conkright B, Labibidi S, Sutherland A, Forshee R, Madhavan S. In silico analysis of autoimmune diseases and genetic relationships to vaccination against infectious diseases. BMC Immunol. 2014 Dec 9;15:61. doi: 10.1186/s12865-014-0061-0.
5) Ibid.
7) Ibid.
8) Alijotas-Reig, J. Human adjuvant-related syndrome or autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants. Where have we come from? Where are we going? A proposal for new diagnostic criteria. Lupus. 2015 Mar 25. pii: 0961203315579092.
10) Alijotas-Reig, J. Human adjuvant-related syndrome or autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants. Where have we come from? Where are we going? A proposal for new diagnostic criteria. Lupus. 2015 Mar 25. pii: 0961203315579092.
11) Khamaisi M, Shoenfeld Y, Orbach H. Guillain-Barré syndrome following hepatitis B vaccination.
Clin Exp Rheumatol.2004 Nov-Dec; 22(6): 767-70.
Israeli E, Agmon-Levin N, Blank M, Chapman J, Shoenfeld Y. Guillain-Barré syndrome – a classical autoimmune disease triggered by infection or vaccination. Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2012 Apri; 42(2): 121-30. Doi.
12) Agmon-Levin N, Arango MT, Kivity S, Katzav A, Gilburd B, Blank M, Tomer N, Volkov A, Barshak I, Chapman J, Shoenfeld Y. Immunization with hepatitis B vaccine accelerates SLE-like disease in a murine model. J Autoimmun. 2014 Nov;54:21-32. doi: 10.1016/ j.jaut. 2014.06.006. Epub 2014 Jul 16.
Agmon-Levin N, Zafrir Y, Paz Z, Shilton T, Zandman-Goddard G, Shoenfeld Y. Ten cases of systemic lupus erythematosus related to hepatitis B vaccine. Lupus. 2009 Nov;18(13): 1192-7. doi: 10.1177/0961203309345732.
Aron-Maor A, Shoenfeld Y. Vaccination and systemic lupus erythematosus: the bidirectional dilemmas. Lupus. 2001;10(3):237-40.
Gatto M, Agmon-Levin N, Soriano A, Manna R, Maoz-Segal R, Kivity S, Doria A, Shoenfeld Y. Human papillomavirus vaccine and systemic lupus erythematosus. Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Sep;32(9):1301-7. doi: 10.1007/s10067-013- 13 2266-7. Epub 2013 Apr 28.
13) Cruz-Tapias P, Blank M, Anaya JM, Shoenfeld Y. Infections and vaccines in the etiology of antiphospholipid 14 syndrome. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2012 Jul;24(4):389-93. doi: 10.1097/BOR.0b013e32835448b8.
14) Agmon-Levin N, Kivity S, Szyper-Kravitz M, Shoenfeld Y. Transverse myelitis and vaccines: a multi-analysis. Lupus. 2009 Nov;18(13):1198-204. doi: 10.1177/0961203309345730.
Fonseca LF, Noce TR, Teixeira ML, Teixeira AL Jr, Lana-Peixoto MA, Early-onset acute transverse myelitis following hepatitis B vaccination and respiratory infection. Iñiguez C, Mauri JA, Larrodé P, López del Val J, Jericó I, Morales F. Acute transverse myelitis secondary to hepatitis B vaccination. Rev Neurol. 2000 Sep 1-15;31(5): 430-2.
Matsui M, Kawano H, Matsukura M, Otani Y, Miike T. Acute transverse myelitis after Japanese B encephalitis vaccination in a 4-year-old girl. Brain Dev. 2002 Apr; 24(3):187-9.
15) Colafrancesco S, Perricone C, Tomljenovic L, Shoenfeld Y. Human papilloma virus vaccine and primary ovarian failure: another facet of the autoimmune/ inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2013 Oct; 70(4):309-16. doi: 10.1111/aji.12151. Epub 2013 Jul 31.

16) Geier DA, Geier MR. A case-control study of serious autoimmune adverse events following hepatitis B immunization. Autoimmunity. 2005 Jun;38(4):295-301.
17) Zafrir Y, Agmon-Levin N, Paz Z, Shilton T, Shoenfeld Y. Autoimmunity following hepatitis B vaccine as part of the spectrum of ‘Autoimmune (Auto-inflammatory) Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants’ (ASIA): analysis of 93 cases. 18 Lupus. 2012 Feb;21(2):146-52. doi:10.1177/0961203311429318.
19) Cruz-Tapias P, Agmon-Levin N, Israeli E, Anya JM, Shoenfeld Y. Autoimmune (auto- inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA) – animal models as proof of concept. Curr Med Chem. 2013;20(32):4030-6.
Shoenfeld Y, Agmon-Levin N. ‘ASIA’ – autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants. J Autoimmun. 2011 Feb;36(1):4-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2010.07.003. Epub 2010 Aug 13.
20) measles.html?_r=0

21) Hawkes D, Benhamu J, Sidwell T, Miles R, Dunlop RA. Revisiting adverse reactions to vaccines: A critical appraisal of Autoimmune Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA). J Autoimmun. 2015 May;59:77-84. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2015.02.005. Epub 2015 Mar 18.


3 Replies to “Why California’s Mandatory Vaccine Bill is Anti-Science

  1. Excellent, informative article! My vaccine-injured daughter has had mysterious connective tissue problems her whole life and though we’ve worked with several different doctors, no one has been able to effectively treat her. Auto-immunity, possibly triggered by the unauthorized Hep B vaccine she was given at birth, may well be the key “piece of the puzzle” that her doctors have missed. Thank you for bringing attention to auto-immune disease related to vaccination!

  2. So I’ve had a chance to read through the citations and to think a bit more about what you’ve written regarding the SB277.

    I mostly agree with your characterization of the fundamental premise of SB277: “vaccines are proven safe and effective for the vast majority of individuals, and what amounts to forced vaccination is seen therefore as an overall benefit to public good.” Of course, vaccination is not actually forced on anyone, but I think your point is that exclusion from public schools for those who refuse vaccination without a basis for exemption is a very high cost.

    Because the bill does have a medical exemption built in, our disagreement seems to hinge on whether there should be a medical exemption for deleterious side effects associated with vaccines that are, as you say, “not yet acknowledged” by the public health establishment.

    But shouldn’t exemptions be based on accepted scientific evidence? Or, put another way, shouldn’t acknowledgement by the public health establishment be required if you seek to change public health policy?

    We agree that adverse reactions to vaccines are possible and some of those adverse reactions can be severe (though severe reactions are extremely rare). This is not controversial. Whether adverse reactions are, as you say, “brushed off as being inconclusively attributed to vaccines, and/or affecting a trivial number of individuals” may cut to the heart of the matter. To “brush off” carries a tone of contemptuous disregard to me. I do not think this is a matter of disregard, let alone contempt—it appears to me to be a matter of determining what conclusions can reasonably be drawn from the evidence. If the evidence is inconclusive, well, it’s inconclusive. I don’t think acknowledging that fact is brushing off. Perhaps we disagree on the quality of the evidence.

    You cite to McGarvey’s work as evidence that “there is a growing body of research suggesting that the development of autoimmune disease as a result of vaccination is possible or probable.” That’s not what that study says. I don’t dispute that autoimmune disease is a possible result but McGarvey’s study certainly does not conclude that it is a probable result. In fact, the probability of autoimmune disease resulting from vaccination is not a question McGarvery’s study even attempts to answer. The study states:

    “Vaccines are profoundly important to global health in preventing infectious diseases. However, like any medication, there are potential adverse events reported after vaccination that warrant evaluation. Adverse events reported after vaccination can be transient and common responses like fever or in rare cases, autoimmune diseases (AID) [1]. Although AIDs have been reported, to date there is no evidence to demonstrate a causal association [2]. Nonetheless, autoimmune diseases occurring after vaccination (either new onset or flares) must be thoroughly evaluated.”

    McGarvey’s study is essentially a computer-assisted search of medical literature designed to help identify which genes are or might be associated with autoimmune disease and vaccines so that future research into whether there is any causal link between vaccines and AID could focus on the most probable genes and pathways involved. To put it another way, McGarvey is helping to develop a methodology to collect the data to form the basis for a future study that will try to get at the question of whether or not there is any causal association between vaccines and AIDs—his study cannot and does not address the question of causation other than reporting: “to date there is no evidence to demonstrate a causal association.”

    Based on McGarvey’s study, I think it is fair to say that scientists recognize a *possible* causal link between vaccination and AID but scientists don’t know if the link actually exists or if observed cases of AID are merely coincidental to vaccination.

    As to the research you cite to into ASIA, the evidence seems to reiterate a similar conclusion. The most recent study you cited states:

    “In 2011 Shoenfeld and Agmon-Levin proposed a new syndrome as a way of grouping together a range of emerging autoimmune diseases with possible adjuvant-associated causes, Autoimmune/Auto-inflammatory Syndrome Induced by Adjuvants (ASIA). At present, there is no evidence to suggest that ASIA syndrome is a viable explanation for unusual autoimmune diseases. Since the initial paper, over 80 publications have discussed ASIA. This systematic review examines the research that has been done to investigate whether ASIA is a broad umbrella term with little clinical significance, or whether there is some underlying mechanism which could be utilised to reduce the occurrence of adjuvant mediated disease. Twenty-seven animal, epidemiological and case studies were reviewed. Unfortunately, a robust animal model of ASIA using biologically relevant doses of adjuvants has yet to be defined. It is also apparent that the broadness of the current ASIA criteria lack stringency and, as a result, very few cases of autoimmune disease could be excluded from a diagnosis of ASIA. The current studies involving human cases are so diverse, in both external stimuli and in resulting conditions, that ***there is currently a lack of reproducible evidence for any consistent relationship between adjuvant and autoimmune condition. The addition of a mandatory criterion requiring temporal association and clinically relevant adjuvant dose would allow better definition of what constitutes a diagnosis of ASIA.”

    I want to emphasize two sentences from the above but I can’t seem to bold or underline in this comment so: “At present, there is no evidence to suggest that ASIA syndrome is a viable explanation for unusual autoimmune diseases…. The current studies involving human cases are so diverse, in both external stimuli and in resulting conditions, that there is currently a lack of reproducible evidence for any consistent relationship between adjuvant and autoimmune condition.”

    So I think we agree that there are cases of individuals exposed to vaccines (or adjuvants that are used in some vaccines) who also exhibited autoimmune disease ranging from fever to chronic illness. But there does not appear to be evidence that the vaccine or adjuvant caused the autoimmune disease. The responses observed could be due to other factors—maybe certain foods in the diet, maybe some environmental factors, maybe inherent autoimmune disease already present. That’s the point—we have some data and the data we have does not show a causal link.

    I disagree when you say SB227 proponents are on a “militant crusade” against anyone who questions the recommended vaccine schedule. Declining to adjust the vaccine schedule or provide an exemption when “there is no evidence to demonstrate a causal association between vaccination and AID” and “there is no evidence to suggest that ASIA syndrome is a viable explanation for unusual autoimmune diseases” does not strike me as militant—it seems to me to be reasonable and responsible judgement based on the best evidence we have.

    The “very first steps of the scientific method – that is, observation and hypothesis” are not, as you say, “obsolete” in this case, they are just the very first steps, nothing more. You cannot expect to leap directly from anecdotal observation and hypothesis to changing established and extremely well-studied public health policy.

    I don’t think it is surprising that, in your experience, “mainstream” doctors are unaware of research on ASIA, because the existing research seems to conclude that there is no discernible causal link and therefore no basis to depart from the standard of care on vaccine administration.

    I don’t think the CDC’s has demonstrated an “unwillingness to acknowledge a large category of potential side effects which have been widely documented in scientific journals.” I think the CDC probably sees potential side effects as potential and currently being studied. Until there is reason to believe they are more than potential, what else is there for the CDC to acknowledge?

    I don’t see how “clear guidelines for contraindication screening on the basis of genetic predisposition” are possible without any evidence on which to base such guidelines as they would relate to vaccines. And I think it is more important that doctors give sound medical advice based on actual evidence to patients than it is to offer “comfort to those parents who are pejoratively labeled ‘anti-vax.’”

    The way I see it, proponents of SB277 have not “closed the book” on this area of vaccine research. The book hasn’t been written. This isn’t an “arrogant and reckless corruption of science.” I think this is exactly how science is supposed to work.

    SB277 does not force anyone to vaccinate their child. If, despite the best medical evidence to the contrary, parents believe vaccination represents an unacceptable risk to their child’s health, they are free to decline vaccination. What parents should not be free to do is put other children and the rest of public at risk based on beliefs unsupported by the best available evidence.

    We parents will always live in the terrifying vacuum of imperfect information when it comes to making decisions that may affect the wellbeing of our children. But we risk creating greater uncertainty and far greater harm when we lose trust in the institutions that took us decades to create—institutions whose sole mission is the pursuit of scientific truth and protecting our health.

    We built the National Academy of Sciences, the NIH, the FDA, the CDC, research hospitals, universities, medical journals, etcetera. There are serious debates in these places about what we know, what we don’t and what we should do with the information we have. But there are some of areas where we have a very high degree of certainty based on an enormous body of scientific evidence and analysis. To best of our collective knowledge, climate change is real, evolution occurred, and vaccines are safe.

  3. Wow – JA – thank you so much for going through my points in such depth. I don’t have the energy right now to respond to you technically point by point (but I will, later).

    There is an element of this debate which to me, has a bit of a “gaslighting” component to it. That is, telling a sane, educated, person that they’re crazy for making rational and reasonable observations and conclusions. What I know is that on four separate occasions, my kids came home from the doctor and (within a short period) became sick in a permanent, chronic way. Further, these flare-ups have not occurred at any other time (i.e. in periods where we didn’t visit the doctor for a routine checkup with vaccination). The first three times, I ignored it or didn’t consciously make the connection. The fourth time, I had a Kaiser Soze moment. I don’t think their symptoms were caused by the stickers that the nurse gave them at each visit for being good. I’m making a pretty reasonable guess that whatever was put into them by way of the vaccine stimulated their immune system in an undesirable way with lasting autoimmune effects, because there is no other explanation that would – to me (an aforementioned sane, educated person) – reasonably link their doctor appointments with onset of symptoms FOUR separate times.

    Governing scientific bodies and even perhaps individual doctors may tell me or parents like me that in absense of proof (which is essentially impossible to provide on an individual level) that I can’t have my kid exempted from the schedule because the research has not caught up with whatever has caused this in my kids. They will say this even though there are many, many documented case reports of autoimmune reactions from vaccines (which exist on an individual basis, regardless of the meta-study quotes you cite).

    On an ethical level, and presuming that during this debate, we are not in an extreme situation of emergency pandemic, if a parent has a reasonably justifiable belief that vaccines have caused their child real harm then why should that not be a valid reason for a personal belief exemption if not a medical one? If, under a PBE framework, too many parents are taking advantage of the PBE and the rates fall alarmingly low, then perhaps that should be a signal to public health officials that there IS a causation that people are responding to, either directly (i.e. because their child had a real reaction) or indirectly (i.e. because someone they know had a real reaction). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with PBE parents who choose not to vaccinate their child for no particular reason, or because a friend of a friend developed autism. I would rather have my kids vaccinated (and for the most part they have been). But having kids who had real symptoms, I believe on a very personal level in the need to preserve one’s right to choose what medical interventions are used on oneself or one’s child, for the single reason that science (and science research) is not perfect.

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