Combating the viral spread of vaccine misinformation

By Karin Leuthy | Apr 11, 2019

In response to CDC reports that Maine’s pertussis rate is the worst in the nation and that several outbreaks have been reported here this year, our Legislature proposed a bill that would eliminate non-medical vaccination exemptions for schoolchildren. It’s timely legislation. Just last week, the Maine CDC announced this double-header: a measles patient visited businesses in the greater Portland area, and Maine’s non-medical vaccination opt-out rate is now more than triple the national average.

This is concerning news at a time when measles outbreaks are spreading across 15 states. Studies show that disease outbreaks are more likely to occur in communities with high numbers of unvaccinated people. That means that children in schools with low vaccination rates - like Cushing Community School at 79 percent and Ashwood Waldorf School at a shocking 50 percent - are especially vulnerable.

Since the introduction of LD 798, a great deal of false and misleading information has been shared by those opposed to the bill, including our own State Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden. While hyperbole and politics often go hand-in-hand, spreading conspiracy theories and junk science about a public health issue can be dangerous and even deadly.

Let’s correct the record on the most common themes raised by opponents of this bill:

“The Constitution protects my right to not vaccinate my child.”

No current federal or constitutional law requires states to offer religious or personal belief exemptions from school vaccine requirements. In fact, U.S. Supreme Court decisions Jacobson v. Massachusetts and Zucht v. King made clear that states have the authority to require vaccination as a condition for school entry. Prince v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts established that religious freedom doesn’t extend to actions that endanger others. The ruling states, “The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”

“I won’t risk my child suffering a severe reaction to a vaccine.”

Let’s take a closer look at benefit versus risk. Vaccines have eradicated or brought under control seven major human diseases — smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio and measles. The World Health Organization estimates that the elimination of smallpox has saved 40 million lives, and more than 16 million people have been saved from paralysis caused by polio. That’s a significant benefit. How about the risk? For vaccines with the most reported adverse reactions, the chance of suffering a severe injury is about 1 in a million.

What risks are posed by the infectious diseases on our doorstep, measles and pertussis? About 1 in 1,000 unvaccinated children who contract measles will suffer a serious outcome, such as encephalopathy or death. Pertussis is even more deadly for babies: of those that are hospitalized with pertussis, 1 out of every 100 will die.

“Vaccines cause autism.”

There is no causal link between vaccines and autism, even among children who have an increased risk for autism. The cause of this pernicious and dangerous rumor was a single 1998 study of just 12 children. The study was later proven to be fraudulent, retracted from the journal that published it, and the author stripped of his medical license. Opposing that discredited theory are several large-scale, long-term, peer-reviewed studies that show no causal link between vaccines and autism. The largest was published this year, studying 657,461 children born in Denmark from 1999 through 2010. How many reputable studies show that there IS a causal link? Zero.

“Vaccines contain dangerous toxins like mercury and formaldehyde.”

No required childhood vaccine contains mercury. Thimerosal, an organic compound preservative containing ethyl mercury, is only used today in multi-dose vials of influenza vaccines. Ethyl mercury does not accumulate in our bodies, unlike the forms of mercury found in thermometers or fish.

Some required childhood vaccines contain formaldehyde to inactivate or detoxify viruses. Formaldehyde is already a naturally occurring substance in our bodies, and the amounts used in vaccines are not harmful.

“Herd immunity is an unproven theory.”

It’s established scientific fact that when a sufficiently large proportion of a population is immune to a contagious disease, the disease cannot easily spread from person to person. The other benefit of a large vaccinated population is that diseases are less likely to mutate and render vaccines ineffective -- as pertussis has in Maine -- if they cannot gain a foothold in a community. The vaccination rate required to achieve herd immunity depends on the disease. For extremely contagious diseases like measles and pertussis, experts say 95 percent of the population must be immune.

“Too many vaccines too soon is too dangerous.”

Studies have shown that the current vaccine schedule poses no increased risk of injury. Maine requires nine vaccinations (covering 13 diseases) for all schoolchildren, including babies and toddlers in daycare. Parents and doctors have latitude to administer vaccines at a pace parents are comfortable with while still meeting school requirements.

“I don’t trust big pharma to study vaccine safety.”

The Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment project was established in 2001 to conduct and review clinical research on vaccine safety. CISA is a national network of vaccine safety experts from the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, seven medical research centers, and other partners. An exhaustive list of vaccine safety studies can be found on the CDC’s website.

“The vaccine court has awarded billions to injured people.”

Out of the trillions of vaccines administered since the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program began in 1988, $4 billion has been awarded to about 6,400 claimants, with the small number of severely impacted people receiving the bulk of the funds, confirming the rarity of severe adverse reactions.

“I don’t trust anything I read about vaccines.”

That’s understandable, given the barrage of misinformation in the public sphere. Parents who are still worried about vaccine safety should talk to their doctors, who are professionally obligated to provide accurate and up-to-date information about the risks of any medication or procedure, as well as the risks of not following medical advice and public health laws.

Karin Leuthy is a founder of Suit Up Maine and a Camden resident. Links to sources for the statements made here as well as Miramant’s complete testimony can be found here:

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Comments (7)
Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Apr 16, 2019 17:24

Wakefield's "study" was initially published in a reputable, peer-reviewed British medical journal until his flawed "research" was discovered, debunked and he lost his license to practice. Yet, anti-vaxxers continue to  use his junk science and social media opinions to refute the science of vaccines. At one time, people believed the earth was flat. Anti-vaxxers belong to a similar belief system.

Posted by: Kevin Riley | Apr 16, 2019 11:34

Andrew Wakefield wasn't even trained in immunology he trained in gastric medicine.

His study was of only 12 children with similar gastric symptoms. Not a valid sample size for any kind of study.

The parents, without evidence, other than the mistake belief that correlation means causation.

The very opposite of that is in fact reality. Correlation does NOT mean causation.

No seems to be asking who funded his research and for that I can’t find a source anywhere.

Posted by: Kevin Riley | Apr 16, 2019 10:50

First off who's Kathy.

Second Wakefield has not been vindicated not by a long shot.

I find no credible source that says as such.

Third you've posted there is research and studies that back up you claims yet you don't post links to said research.

So all you have posted is anecdotal or third party.

Where’s the evidence?

Post those research links from credible sources that have links and bibliography.
When I say credible I mean verifiable research published in peer reviewed journals, as was the research in the article from NPR.

You can contact the principle investigator and author of the paper here

Link to the peer reviewed paper

The NVIC is by no means a credible source of information.


Had you actually looked at the research in the article I posted you would know who funded the research.

From the research paper’s disclosure page.

Financial Support: By the Novo Nordisk Foundation and the Danish Ministry of Health

In other words, a nonprofit foundation and the Danish Government.


Posted by: Louisa Enright | Apr 16, 2019 09:04

Kathy, respectfully, the study you cite is an epidemiological study.  It is NOT bench science at the cellular level.  What needs to be done now is to look at who funded it and who is supporting those who are defending it.  Also, the doctor you refer to is Andrew Wakefield, and I would encourage you to look at the history of his experience.  Wakefield is used as a bogeyman club against those who question vaccines.  But, the only thing he ever said was that there MAY be a connection with vaccines and gut problems and that the issue needed to be studied.  The people who demonized him had financial interests in the vaccine industry.  Wakefield has since been vindicated, as was his research partner, in British courts.  Kathy, again respectfully, people are questioning vaccines because their children are being hurt.  They are not getting their information from internet woo hoo, but from deep research from actual scientists working in this field, like immunologists.  There are many solid studies backing up what I am saying, done by people with the credentials to do this work.  The question to ask is why this work is not appearing in mainstream media.  I would answer that there is a very powerful system of cultural power in place that is blocking that information and that is inciting people to ignore what is there via fear mongering.  I pointed you toward a reputable place to go for research—the National Vaccine Information Center—which again is NOT anti-vax.  The thing about unexamined belief systems, Kathy, is that facts just slide off of them.  But our children ARE at stake here, and we must have a reasonable discussion that includes facts, research, and the real history that has happened.  The vaccine industry, which now includes the MDs, has no legal responsibility for its products, there is no real safety testing, there are hundreds of vaccines coming on to the market, and the mandates will increase the market base.  It is unethical and immoral to sacrifice some children for the promised “benefit” of others via mandates when there is no real need to do so in the first place.

Posted by: Kevin Riley | Apr 15, 2019 12:31


No links, sources or bibliography to support what you have posted.

Then there is this.

“Measles, for instance, has not been a killer in this country since before the vaccine was introduced back in the early 1980s.”

The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963 not the 1980s.

I got the measles vaccine in the 60s.

Everything else is a lot of internet woo woo with no basis in fact.

Now, before you say the inevitable “do the research” I have, lots of it, and there’s nothing in the literature to support any of the anti-vax claims.

Here is just one major study on the supposed autism link.

Note that the story has links to research and references you can read and study.

What I find perplexing is people are willing to reject over 200 years of research, billions of vaccinations and 1000s of studies that refute everything the anti-vaccination movement pronounces.

They take the word of a failed Dr. the fudged his data as well as celebrities. Because of course celebrities know so much more and have done so much more research then the Drs and scientists that ACTUALLY do the research.

Posted by: Louisa Enright | Apr 15, 2019 09:41

The vaccine issue is big and messy.  And mainstream media is only printing one side of it.  There needs to be a fact-based discussion of this issue so that people can make informed decisions about vaccines—while they still can.  This piece, unfortunately, repeats many of the myths that are circulating.  First, Maine continues to have a very high vaccine rate.  Second, history does not show that vaccines eradicated disease.   Real herd immunity, cleanliness, better nutrition, and quarantine did.  Measles, for instance, has not been a killer in this country since before the vaccine was introduced back in the early 1980s.  At that time, measles deaths had dropped off about 98%.  The fear mongering about measles is unfounded in this country.  But the unintended consequences of our vaccine policy are a real problem.  Now, infants are getting measles because their mothers are not passing on a natural immunity, and that’s serious.  Plus, the vaccine sheds, which passes the vaccine version of the disease to others, witness the outbreaks in vaccinated children.  Giving more and more boosters is a problem.  Blaming the unvaccinated is wrong.  All children and adults carry diseases.  Third, any statistics about vaccine damage are useless because they are simply not being collected.  The Maine CDC does not collect this data.  Doctors don’t get trained in vaccines.  And they are not reporting vaccine damage.  They are practitioners, not scientists.  Their vaccine information is coming from an industry that has no legal responsibility for its products.  Many doctors now work in practices they don’t own, and if they start questioning vaccines, they are penalized heavily.  That’s a playbook out of the battles over lead, cigarettes, and many other profitable, but bad products.  There are plenty of immunologists out there who are warning about the unintended consequences of vaccines which are not being discussed openly.  Autism is only one such outcome.  Fourth, the “safety studies coming out of industry are not cell-based studies.  They are epidemiological on nature—such as the measles study cited.  Epidemiological studies can only show possible correlation, not causation.  There are plenty of cell-based studies showing the damage to cells by various vaccine ingredients, like aluminum.  As for autism, William Thompson, a senior CDC scientist, revealed that the CDC did not like a study it did on the MMR vaccine, and after changing the protocols for the study many times, literally destroyed the data showing the vaccine was causing autism damage to children of a certain age.  Thompson got that data out, it has been reviewed, but to date, no congressional hearings have been held about CDC corruption.  I do not think that our regulatory organizations should be in the market place they are overseeing.  The CDC itself owns over 50 vaccine patents, and its leadership comes and goes out of industry.  Fifth, vaccines are not working.  A recent .gov study revealed that the chickenpox/shingles vaccine, which sheds, is creating a cycle of disease.  Seniors are not having their immune systems re-triggered by exposure to children with chickenpox.  So, that natural outcome has been disturbed.  The mumps part of the MMR vaccines does not work.  Merck is in court over that issue.  So, yes, there have been mumps outbreaks—and in older children and adults, where the disease is much more serious.  The whooping cough vaccines does not work and sheds, causing disease, so yes, there have been outbreaks.  Worse, there are no safety studies on the impact of multiple vaccines being given at one time to children, pregnant women, the elderly, or the ill.  The CDC revealed that the flu shot was only 24% effective for seniors this year and less than 50% effective for all.  Recent studies point to a loss of cognitive ability with repeated flu shots, especially in the elderly.  Finally, I would ask if our bodies need to be “protected” with all of these vaccines?  I would urge people to go to The National Center for Vaccine Information for solid information about vaccines.  This organization is not anti-vaccine and strives to give the best, scientific information and history about vaccines.  The vaccine industry needs to be held accountable for its products, the CDC should get out of the marketplace, objective safety studies need to be done, the media needs to do a much better reporting job, and we need to disentangle myth from fact in this big, messy, dangerous issue.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Apr 12, 2019 22:19

Excellent op-ed piece with research-based data on vaccines by Karin Leuthy. A voice of sanity in the anti-vaxxer wilderness. Dave Mirmant should read this op-ed.

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