With the outbreak of the Measles at Disneyland in December, the vaccine debate has taken the national spotlight once again, and blood is boiling on both sides of the issue. Anti-Vaxxers believe that it’s pure insanity to inject a cocktail of chemicals into a baby under one-year old, and pro-vaccination advocates, including the entire medical community, believe it’s selfish, irresponsible and deadly not to.
I recently had a chance to sit down with an anti-vaxxer named Marci K., who has never vaccinated any of her children, and Pediatrician Tara Berman (a.k.a. my lovely wife), who of course vaccinated both of our children and as a doctor promotes vaccines as part of her professional practice.
The debate was heated at times, with both women staunchly entrenched in their positions.
What follows is an abridged version of our conversation, supported with additional research, links and commentary.
The Pediatrician Vs. The Anti-Vaxxer
Marci K: Twenty-six years ago, when my first child was three, I went to my Pediatrician and asked him about vaccinations and he said my kids don’t need the vaccinations. I said, “What about school?” and he said, “It’s not a law, there’s no law that congress passed.” They tell you it’s a requirement, and a requirement is different than a law. And if you look in the Delaware codebook, which is what that I did, it’s legal in Delaware.
Dr. Berman: Yes, you can get around it, but the school will make you—
Marci K: It’s not a “get around it”. It’s not “get around it’. The fact is —
Dr. Berman: The school makes you sign the exemptions.
Marci K: No, the school says it’s a “requirement”. But they cannot ban your child from school.
Dr. Berman: No, they cannot.
Marci K: So I looked it up in the Delaware codebook, and it actually said in the state of Delaware, that if your child is not vaccinated, and he comes down with, oh, I don’t know, Pertussis, or Measles, or Mumps, or whatever, that the child doesn’t go to school, and the state of Delaware will pay a tutor to come to your home to keep your child up to date until your child can go back to school.
Dr. Berman: That’s great. Assuming your child doesn’t die in the process from Measles.
[At this, a tense silence falls over the table]
Marci K: My child’s not going to die. My children are thank G-d very, very healthy.
Dr. Berman: Just to play devil’s advocate.
Marci K: In Japan, they do not vaccinate until a child is at least 3 years old. And most people don’t know this. Because the Japanese believe your body is not strong enough to start injecting it with Formaldehyde and Ammonia and Mercury and monkey fetuses and mutated DNA and diseases, and everything else that’s in vaccinations.
Me: But they vaccinate after 3?
Marci K: After 3.
Me: So if you agree with Japan, did you vaccinate your children after 3?
Marci K: No. My children are not vaccinated at all.
Me: What are some of the resources that you really like, that you really believe lay out your argument, that people could go read?
Marci K: The first thing I would do is Google “Ingredients in vaccinations” and it will give you a list of every ingredient in every vaccination. And you could take a look at that.
Me: When your kids were 3, did you have just a gut maternal instinct that this was absolutely wrong, injecting kids with these chemicals or –
Marci K: Absolutely.
Me: Or were you kind of not sure about the issue —
Marci K: No, no, not a question in my mind.
Me: So when you talked to your Pediatrician, you said, “I’m not comfortable with this?” Or were you open minded and looking for options?
Marci K: No, I said I don’t want to do this and he said, “Why?” and I said, “Because I read the list of ingredients and it seems really bizarre to me that I would want to put Arsenic, Mercury, Formaldehyde, Aluminum — this doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense. And when people say, “Well, that’s considered to be a ‘safe’ level of arsenic….” Really? Because I don’t know a safe level of anti-freeze that I could inject into anybody at anytime. (What Marci is referring to is a claim that ethylene glycol is used in the synthesis of thimerosal. However, the concentration is not anywhere near high enough to be toxic or dangerous. As far as the Aluminum and Formaldehyde, higher levels of these chemicals are found in apples, drinking water and breast milk and are even produced naturally in the human body).
Me: Well, I guess the argument is that you have to weigh the risk of side-effects against the risk of the diseases. Personally, I did the research, and found that the trace elements of those chemicals was so small, that the risk was nearly non-existent. So we vaccinated.
Marci K: So are you trusting that the body can’t take care of itself?
Dr. Berman: Well, it can’t. Not all the time. Not in a little baby. Babies die from Pertussis every year.
Marci K: In the United States?
Dr. Berman: Yes!
Marci K: How many cases in the United States?
Dr. Berman: In 2013 there were at least 20 infants under 3 months old who died from Pertussis.
Marci K: What is their background? Were they born with any congenital diseases?
Dr. Berman: It doesn’t matter if they were born with anything or not. They still died from Pertussis and it’s preventable.
Me: And of course Measles can be fatal. (Around the world, approximately 20 million people contract Measles each year and 122,000 die).
Dr. Berman: Absolutely Measles can be fatal. And Chicken Pox can be fatal. Flu is fatal. People have died from Flu this year.
Marci K: People can die from anything anyway.
Dr. Berman: Easy to say when it’s not your kid.
Marci K: It was 84 cases of Measles that happened this year. (Actually, it was 644 cases in 2014, the largest number of cases since 2000, almost all attributed to the refusal of parents to vaccinate).
Dr. Berman: It could be none.
Marci K: Do you know how many people die on the highways every year?
Dr. Berman: Absolutely, I do. It’s the number one cause of death in kids.
Marci K: How many people died last year from prescription drugs? Do you know how many?
Dr. Berman: Oh, a lot.
Me: So then you don’t take any pharmaceuticals?
Marci K: No.
Me: Would you ever?
Marci K: I have. Yes, I have. I broke my back in a car accident and I was in a wheelchair, and I was paralyzed. And I was told I was never gonna walk again. So, yes I did. Yes, I took pain killers. So, I’m not a freak, okay… I’m not a freak.
Me: Do you feel you’re being made out to be? Because the environment is pretty hot right now.
Marci K: No, I’m not in the least bit concerned.
Me: There’s a lot of anger over what’s happening in California, these affluent, well-off parents refusing to vaccinate. People tend to think the anti-vaxxer movement is relegated to the religious right, but a lot of this is coming from the left, from educated liberals who are saying ‘it’s not natural.’ What do you make of all that?
Marci K: With Disneyland, someone came in from the Philippines with Measles. But the kids that got the Measles, they’d been vaccinated. Therein lies my argument: the people that caught the Measles, had already been vaccinated for the Measles. Which means the vaccination doesn’t work, does it?
Dr. Berman: That’s simply not true. Most of those kids were not vaccinated. (Dr. Berman is correct. As of January 2015, of the 70 cases reported from the Disneyland outbreak, 65 of those who contracted Measles had not been vaccinated). Vaccines are not 100% and Measles is highly transmissible. That’s why there are 2 vaccines for MMR. You get it at 1 and you get it at 4.
Marci K: But if you’re vaccinated, you’re supposed to be in your protective bubble, and you can walk around, because you’ve got your cape on. So then what are you worried about, if you’re already vaccinated? Don’t you have your protective bubble on?
Dr. Berman: Again, they’re more protected, but it’s not 100%. Immunity wanes, which is why Pertussis is not eradicated and now Pertussis is carried by adults.
Marci K: Well, we also have a lot of people coming in from all over the world.
Dr. Berman: Oh, totally. We’re all at more risk.
Marci K: Now listen, if I, as an adult, was going to go to another country where there was Malaria, I would have a shot. Okay? I would get a Malaria shot if I’m going somewhere and I think I might get Malaria…
Me: That’s interesting. You would?
Dr. Berman: Of course she would. Because the incidence is higher. The risk of getting it is high.
Me: Isn’t that hypocritical, to be in favor of the Malaria shot, but against vaccines?
Marci K: Well, I have no protection against Malaria and that’s a really big deal. But am I gonna shoot up an infant with all kinds of stuff, just because in the United States we say, “Oh My G-d… like, my kids might get something…? No, I’m not doing it.
Dr. Berman: The reason Malaria is a “big deal” is because there is no vaccine for Malaria. And it kills a lot of people. Because we don’t have the beauty of vaccines to protect against Malaria. So it’s easy to say we’re not at as much risk for certain diseases here, because you’re reaping the benefit of the population that’s vaccinating. Measles is not that common, but when it happens, it can cause death, and you’re reaping the benefits of all the other kids that have been vaccinated, to decrease the incidence of the disease.
Marci K: But it’s not the anti-vaccinated kids who are making the vaccinated kids sick. It’ s not.
Dr. Berman: Actually, it is. That’s where it breaks out. (According to the CDC, the majority of Measles outbreaks occur in unvaccinated communities).
Marci K: Says who? (Says the CDC)
Dr. Berman: That’s how outbreaks happen.
Marci K: No, no, says who? Where is that documented?
Dr. Berman: You can look at all of these outbreaks and unvaccinated kids are part of the outbreaks—
Marci K: So, okay, so in other words, unvaccinated, like the ‘freak” kids, are running around infecting all the kids that have the vaccine bubble?
Dr. Berman: What I’m saying is, it’s more easily spread among a non-vaccinated population. Just do the research and you’ll see.
Marci K: Well, that may be true if unvaccinated kids were the ones running around rampant with Pertussis and Diphtheria and Mumps –
Dr. Berman: Those diseases aren’t ‘rampant’ anymore because of the vaccines.
Marci K: Maybe, maybe not, maybe we just live better than we used to.
Me: Wait… you’re saying you don’t think the vaccines work?
Marci K: I don’t know if it does or doesn’t work —
Me: I thought what you were saying was, they work, but you’re concerned about the side effects.
Marci K: No, I didn’t say they worked at all.
Dr. Berman: They work. Millions of lives have been saved because of these vaccines. Kids died from these things for thousands of years.
Me: I have to admit I’m a little surprised, because there’s really very little debate that the vaccines are effective. Usually the debate is about the side-effects. But most anti-vaxxers will admit that the vaccines have worked in reducing the diseases. (According to the World Health Organization, over 2 million lives are saved every year due to immunization).
Marci K: First of all, they used to think leaches worked too. How about that? Like, they thought leach treatment worked.
Dr. Berman: Leaches are still used in some medical practices.
Marci K: Ok, well, I don’t think a whole lot of people would sign up for leach treatment right now. I don’t think a whole lot of people would sign up for arsenic treatment.
Me: Well, technically, they are signing up for arsenic treatment. In the vaccines.
Marci K: Yes, that’s true, they are in the vaccines. But the majority of parents that say yes, don’t know what’s in that shot.
Dr. Berman: They know it saves lives.
Marci K: No, they’re told it saves live. They’re told that they will be protected from a disease.
Dr. Berman: Because they will be.
Me: How much is the maternal instinct coming into play here? For example, are you more likely to inject yourself with a flu shot, than your child with a vaccine?
Marci K: I’m not gonna get a flu shot, it’s a joke. And if you think I gave my teenage daughter Gardasil, you’re crazy.
Me: What’s that?
Marci K: Oh, Christ, almighty, that is one of the most horrible things.
Dr. Berman: It’s an anti-cancer vaccine.
Marci K: Supposedly, it will protect you against cervical cancer.
Dr. Berman: It will protect you against cervical cancer. The four most common types of HPVs that cause cervical cancer related to a sexual transmitted infection. And there’s a vaccine to protect against cervical cancer, and we’re already seeing less cervical cancer because of the vaccine.
Marci K: Why don’t you read about how many girls have died from Gardasil?
Dr. Berman: Nobody dies from Gardasil. And the chances of cervical changes from HPV are far higher than having any life-threatening adverse events from Gardasil. You would rather wait until your daughter gets cervical cancer and treat it at that point than use a vaccine to prevent getting it in the first place? That’s insane.
Marci K: There are girls that went into immediate seizures, there are girls that have been maimed for life and there are girls that have died from it.
(Note: the data on Gardasil has been highly debated, but even at the worst estimates, the possibility of having an allergic reaction or other fatal complication is less than .001% on the high end and 0% on the low end. The drug has been administered over 10 million times in the United States. Forbes.com states that the number of deaths from the vaccine is 0, while some anti-vaccine websites claim it’s 139. A more generally accepted claim is 1 in a 1,000,000 and these fatalities are not directly linked to the vaccine itself but to an allergic reaction or other pre-existing condition).
Me: We’re talking preventive drugs here. But obviously if someone was sick, you’d give them medicine, right?
Marci K: Oh, yeah, I’m not “praying” something away if that’s what you mean.
Me: But those medicines have chemicals in them that are not natural… toxins… yet you’ve still taken them?
Marci K: Listen, I have been really sick, I’ve been to the hospital, I got some bizarre blood incident. They actually told me I could have died. So I had to take antibiotics for 2 weeks and then I was fine.
Me: So why take that? Why take that and not the vaccines? What’s the difference?
Marci K: Because I don’t think that you put something in your system unless you need it. I don’t believe in preventive stuff.
Me: Okay, so that’s it. That’s the crux of what we’re talking about. The idea of injecting yourself when you’re not sick is what drives you insane.
Marci K: Yeah— you don’t put anything in your system for no reason. Do you know my son has never had his skin pierced? He’s 18 years old. He literally has never had his skin pierced. He’s never had a needle. He’s never had anything.
Me: But if he got sick, you would of course give him drugs.
Marci K: G-d forbid, something happened to him, and he had to go to the hospital, yes. One of my daughters, oh my G-d it was the most horrible thing in the world, she collapsed in pain last year. She fell over, I took her to the hospital, her intestine was all punctured, it was the craziest thing. She had to have emergency surgery, she went on antibiotics, she’s fine thank G-d, she’s fine, so… so… I will not prevent my children or myself from getting medical care that they need. But I’m not going to weaken their systems or just inject something because somebody says I have to.
Me: Because to you, you can never prove if it worked or not.
Marci K: Right. But they can prove when it doesn’t work and a child becomes ill or dead.
Me: How could they prove to you that it does work? Is there anything?
Marci K: I don’t care if it works or it doesn’t work. It’s not for me.
Marci K: It’s absolutely not for me. And I don’t need to argue with the schools anymore either. My second daughter just started at Berkeley, California, this is her Freshman year. So she went there and they’re like, “You don’t have any shots, where’s your immunization records, where’s your medical records, blah, blah, blah…” I signed off on it. And I said if you want the doctor to sign off on it, he’ll sign off on it too. My daughter is healthy. And they took her in school. They are not allowed to kick her out of school.
Me: They probably want to.
Marci K: No, no, they can’t. And I’ll tell you why. I told them it goes against my religious beliefs. You’re gonna take me to court over religious beliefs? The principal of our town asked me what my religious belief was, that I don’t vaccinate my children, and I said, “You know, the definition of religion is belief in something. So I believe that this is bad for my children. That’s my belief. And he said, ‘“Fine.” He can’t touch it.
Me: Just to go back for a second, I found it interesting, you said, even if they proved to you that vaccination worked, you still wouldn’t do it.
Marci K: There’s nothing in the world that’s gonna make me inject 59 shots into my child. Absolutely not.
It became pretty clear from that last statement that there was nothing that would ever change Marci K’s mind on the subject. And in fact a 2014 study has shown that it’s all but impossible to change any anti-vaxxers mind. So at that point, I thanked Marci K. for her time and opinions and we parted ways.
Afterwards, my wife highlighted what she perceived to be the biggest flaw in Marci’s line of thinking: she was criticizing vaccination, while at the same time, she and her children were reaping the benefits of it. In other words, she was saying, “Look at me and my kids, we’ve never been vaccinated, and we haven’t gotten sick,” while my wife was saying, “You haven’t gotten sick, because everyone else is vaccinating for you!”
In the same vein, it seemed like a contradiction that Marci would take preventative shots in places where the disease burden is high, where the benefit outweighs the risk. For example, she said she would take Malaria shots. But because the risk is not so high here for certain diseases, she feels it’s okay to skip the vaccine… which goes back to reaping the benefits of the work other people are doing.
When I followed up with Marci, I asked her about this: Why do you trust the doctors on some things, such as medicine for your blood disease, or your daughter’s serious illness, or your surgery, but you distrust them on vaccines? It seems you’re cherry picking. She wrote back:
“I do not have a distrust of all medical doctors, nor do I think that they don’t get it. I look to natural healing and as little intervention as possible–more of a last resort rather than a first choice. These parents that shield their kids from others or refuse to take them out of their homes and insist that everything be as sterile as possible, are not allowing the infant’s body to develop a tolerance for the natural environment. Yet, these same people most often will allow a doctor to inject their infant with highly toxic vaccinations. It’s so simple to me and yet so frustrating that so many people and doctors do not educate themselves on the research that has been done on this topic.”
So what do you think? Does hearing Marci K. talk make your blood boil and prove the hypocrisy and insanity of the anti-vaxxer movement? Or do you relate to what she’s saying and share her beliefs that vaccines are dangerous? One thing’s for sure, I don’t see anyone changing their mind anytime soon.
“True,” says Dr. Berman. “I’m not going to change her mind. But I’m still going to recommend and promote immunization to my patients. I give them the benefits and the risks and provide reputable, appropriate resources for information gathering. In the end, though, the choice is theirs.”