Dr. Bob Sears is best known for his 2007 work, The Vaccine Book, ostensibly written “to give parents a balanced look at pros and cons of vaccination so that they can make an educated decision.” In reality, the book has only added to the unnecessary fear, uncertainty and doubt about vaccines that have driven thousands of parents to leave their children vulnerable to preventable diseases. And while America’s medical establishment has caught on to Sears, he still enjoys a following. His book has sold about 50,000 copies, and Sear’s Facebook page lists over 6,000 followers.
Last week Sears told his FB followers that we can only truly know that vaccines are safer than the diseases they protect us from if the CDC studies health outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Sears no doubt includes autism in those “health outcomes”, since he has advised parents to avoid vaccinating their autistic children until they are “recovered” from the disorder. Anti-vaccine activists have been agitating for such a study for years, most recently at the shameful Congressional anti-vaccine hearing last November 29. Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue even attempted such a survey by telephone in 2007. It found that autism was more common among unvaccinated children than vaccinated.
Epidemiologists tell us such a study, done well, would be unethical, since it would mean leaving many thousands of children vulnerable to disease, just to prove what medical science already knows – that vaccines don’t cause autism. Sears says there are enough totally unvaccinated children around to conduct such a study, and on Facebook he cited a paper that supposedly shows that 5-10 percent of American children have never been vaccinated.
The IOM and the CDC continue to hide behind the claim that to do a comparative study of unvaccinated versus vaccinated children would be unethical. But as long as they neglect to do this research, many parents will continue to decline vaccines over the concern about lack of safety research.
The IOM states that one challenge of an unvaccinated study is that there is an inadequate number of study subjects, as less than 1% of children are completely unvaccinated. I don’t agree with this statistic. It’s more like 5%, and could even be 10%. One brand new international study revealed that 10% of households surveyed had children who were completely unvaccinated. 10%!!! And it was the more educated and wealthier families that were more likely to be unvaccinated. The IOM’s claim that there aren’t enough unvaccinated children to study simply isn’t true. With over 4 million babies being born in the U.S. every year, they would have their pick of about 400,000 unvaccinated children to study each year.
Sears links to a meta-analysis of vaccine surveys published last summer in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health. Xavier Bosch-Capblanch from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and his team reviewed 241 nationally representative household vaccination surveys in 96 low and medium income countries. The percentage of unvaccinated children (ages 12-59 months) was 9.9% across all surveys, but ranged from zero percent (Albania,Peru, and Uzbekistan) to 28.5% (Ethiopia). Sears’s claim that ten percent of American children are completely unvaccinated puts the country on par with Namibia (9.2% in 2007), Haiti (10.3% in 2006), and Yemen (10.9% in 2006). It also means that scores of developing countries, including Vietnam (1%) Tajikistan (.9%), and Sierra Leone (1.9%), should think twice before issuing visas for American children.
If Sears was truly serious about helping parents make an educated decision, he could have cited Allison Kennedy, a CDC epidemiologist, who surveyed parents to examine intentions, behaviors and concerns about vaccines. In Confidence about vaccines in the United States: Understanding Patient Perceptions (2011), her team found about two percent of US children aged six or younger were totally unvaccinated. Those numbers are in line with Smith et.al. (2004), which reported a minuscule .3% unvaccinated of children 19-35 months old. The CDC’s 2010 National Immunization Survey found that 1 percent of toddlers were completely unvaccinated.
Despite Sears’s best efforts, the percent of fully vaccinated children has increased over the past decade. That’s discouraging news for Sears and others who have doubled down on a vaxed v. unvaxed study. But overall rates should not mask the real harm of anti-vaccine propaganda – encouraging community clusters of vaccine rejectionism that have led to unnecessary suffering. One such cluster incubated a measles outbreak in San Diego in 2008. The index patient was a boy who had just returned from a trip to Switzerland. By the time the virus was contained, four others came down with a disease that can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. His family’s pediatrician? Dr. Bob Sears.
What kind of doctor, you might ask, would encourage parents to withhold an important vaccine? The kind who aligns himself with the worst elements of the antivaccine movement. The kind who misrepresents published science so as to fuel the anti-vaccine movement’s push for an unethical study. The kind to fabricate his own, untested vaccine schedule, then package it in The Vaccine Book.