Special contributor to Real Mama, Inc.
The Quick Facts: What follows is intended to be an inspiring portrait for women and caregivers about advocacy and how the author of Vaccine Epidemic, Louise Kuo Habakus, became involved in her work as an author, advocate, and speaker.
Louise is not “anti-vaccine.” She states that “vaccines are an option that people have when contemplating how to protect against disease, and people should have access to them but they are by no means foolproof, or safe for all who receive them. Vaccines are not the only tool in the health, wellness, and disease prevention tool box.”
Louise Kuo Habakus is currently the executive director and co-founder of the Center for Personal Rights. She formerly ran corporate marketing operations for two of the world’s largest financial firms: Putnam Investments and Prudential Financial, and was a consultant with Bain & Company. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University, where she also received a graduate degree in international policy studies.
Real Mama: How did you come to be on this path?
Most importantly, like your readers, I’m a Real Mama. I am the mother of two young children who experienced adverse reactions after vaccination. Quite frankly, I am devastated by the chronically ill and neurologically damaged kids that I see, everywhere. Our government can pinpoint the precise source of food poisoning (i.e., ground turkey) that killed one person and made 76 people sick, and identify each one of them in 25 different states across the country. However, our government can’t tell us the cause of asthma, affecting 1 in 9 children, ADHD 1 in 10 children, food allergies 1 in 12 children, and autism, now 1 in 110 children? I’m outraged. It’s time to be taking a very hard look at the prime suspects. There is no legitimate reason that vaccines should not be included among them.
Increasingly, parents of young children are realizing that there are more vaccines, and more doses of them, than ever before. There has been a three-fold increase in just the twenty-five years. New doses are often added, and almost never removed. In 2011, the federal government recommends that children receive 70 doses of 16 vaccines by 18 years of age. Some people believe that parents who allow their children to receive just a few or no vaccines are, well, crazy. However, if you stop and really think about it, the fact that 90 to 95% of children are vaccinated is what’s truly extraordinary. Most parents allow their children to get so many vaccines without really understanding what they are, how they work, what’s in them, what the unintended consequences might be. The extent of vaccination today is unprecedented in human history.
The other big influence that placed me on this path is that I used to be a senior corporate executive. I understand how big companies operate, including the varied ways they can influence policy, and drive to bottom line results. Many businesses spend significantly more money on sales, marketing, and lobbyists than they do on research and development. Drug companies spend about twice as much on sales and marketing than on R&D. Regardless of the product we are buying, we should be educated consumers. This is especially true for a serious medical intervention such as vaccination.
Real Mama: How did you come to be a speaker on this topic?
When I was a brand new parent, I never questioned vaccination for my children. I accepted that it was standard medical practice. I had never met a physician who raised any concerns. In my circle of friends, I had never met parents who were worried either. I did more research on cars and washer/dryers than I did on the dozens of doses of vaccines that doctors injected into my children. I did not know the ingredients in vaccines, nor did I understand most of the diseases against which doctors were so eager to protect my babies.
There is nothing like personal experience to grab someone by the heart and the throat, and doubly so when one’s children are involved. This is what motivated my research. I wanted to know, above all, where’s the science? Specifically, I was looking for the body of peer-reviewed literature, upheld by the highest standards of evidence-based medicine, which justifies today’s childhood vaccination schedule.
If you’re wondering the same thing, let me save you some time. I could not find this literature because it does not exist. I was flabbergasted. There are no randomized, longitudinal studies on vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations. There are no studies of the U.S. vaccine schedule as a whole. There are no studies on health outcomes for individual vaccines. And the U.S. government has never studied the large populations of children whose families allege that they sustained severe vaccine injury following vaccination. These include hundreds of thousands of cases reported in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (www.medalerts.org) and the approximately 5,000 families in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding who collected comprehensive evidence and medical records, and retained counsel, to make the case that vaccination resulted in their children’s autism diagnosis.
I also learned that most pediatricians and family practice doctors do not understand the state of vaccine-safety science. In medical school, students spend about one day learning about vaccines: what they are, how to administer them, and how to “catch children up.” In their medical practices, most doctors learn about new vaccines and vaccine research by pharmaceutical company sales reps. Drug companies perform the limited clinical studies required to justify licensure by the FDA. Our government does not do its own research to justify its recommended schedules.
The icing on the cake, however, is when I discovered that vaccine manufacturers and physicians are not liable for most death and injury caused by vaccines. In 1986, the drug industry asked for and received liability protection from Congress. Pharma argued that they were paying multimillion settlements to families of children who died or sustained massive brain damage after vaccination. Here’s the gist of the message that vaccine makers delivered to our government: “If you want your vaccine program, you better protect us. If you don’t, we won’t make your vaccines. And even if we do, they’ll cost you an arm and a leg.” Wow, right? Instead of telling these companies to go make safer vaccines, our government acknowledged that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe” and passed legislation granting almost blanket liability protection. By protecting industry, our government set the stage for an astonishing run up in the numbers of vaccines on the schedule. The 1986 law set the stage, in the United States, for a marked departure with our first world peers. After 1986, our government added some of our most controversial childhood vaccines to the schedule, including chickenpox, diarrhea, flu, cervical cancer, and the birth dose of hepatitis B to newborns.
Imagine this scenario. Let’s say that you could run a business where you could get all fifty state governments to mandate your product as a condition of daycare and school admission. Let’s add that, if someone died or became very ill from your product, you could never be sued. What would you think about this kind business? It’s a very simple equation, and corporations are exceptionally logical. There are many hundreds of new vaccines in the development pipeline, and drug companies only make pediatric vaccines that they can get on the childhood schedule.
As I continued my research, I connected with other advocates who care about this subject. Together, we stand on the shoulders of courageous researchers and activists who have done this work for decades and centuries, even. A review of the history of science reveals that people have been concerned about vaccine safety since the inception of vaccination and its predecessor “variolation” (the use of pus from cowpox scabs) in the 1700s. While much of the vaccination debate may appear to center on the science, it is not really about science. It is about our fundamental rights. Make the vaccines, make them available, and even subsidize them. But don’t hold a gun to parents’ heads and say “no shots, no school.” That’s coercion.
Real Mama: What is your position on vaccines?
I truly am not anti-vaccine. Vaccines are an option that people have when contemplating how to protect against disease, and people should have access to them. But they are by no means the only tool in the tool box.
People must have the right to make decisions that deeply affect their lives and their health, and includes whether to receive all, some, or no vaccines. Parents must have the right and responsibility to make these decisions for their children. I know these are not easy choices. People are understandably and legitimately concerned about mortality from infectious diseases. But they must understand that vaccination is not a risk-free panacea. Vaccines don’t always work; and regardless, they are serious medicine, with potentially grave consequences. Every vaccine carries with it the potential to cause death and massive injury. People deserve to know this, and factor it into their decision making.
Many feel they must delegate this important decision to the physicians. I urge individuals to do some basic research first. A great starting place is to read the first ten pages of our book Vaccine Epidemic (the preface and introduction) and the chapter entitled “What Should Parents Do?” In chapter 24, I summarize eight advice books on vaccination authored by credentialed medical professionals that span the gamut from all to none, with several advocating “some,” including alternate schedules and other specific recommendations. As with other important decisions that affect our lives, including religion and politics, reasonable people will differ when it comes to critical questions about health, wellness, and medicine.
It comes down to one important question. Who gets to decide?
Dr. Bernadine Healy was the former director of the National Institutes of Health and served as president of the American Red Cross and a member of the Insitute of Medicine. Dr. Healy passed away on August 6, 2011. To remember her, I’d like to close this article with the quote that she wrote for the cover of Vaccine Epidemic:
“There are unanswered questions about vaccine safety. We need studies on vaccinated populations based on various schedules and doses as well as individual patient susceptibilities that we are continuing to learn about. Vaccine policy should be the subject of frank and open debate, with no tolerance for bullying. There are no sides—only people concerned for the well-being of our children.”