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Another Anti-Vaccine Book

I was asked to review the book Make an Informed Vaccine Decision for the Health of Your Child by Mayer Eisenstein with Neil Z. Miller. Fortunately my public library had it so I didn’t have to buy a copy. Reading it was a painful déjà vu experience. I can honestly say it met all my expectations: I expected that its concept of “informed decision” would equate to deciding not to vaccinate, and that it would rely on the same tired old fallacious arguments that have been heard before and rejected by knowledgeable scientists. The only thing that surprised me was a warning/disclaimer statement that admitted

this book tends to find fault with vaccines, therefore readers are advised to balance the data presented here with data presented by “official” sources of vaccine information, including vaccine manufacturers, the FDA, CDC and World Health Organization.

The fact that the book omitted all that balancing data undermines its pretense that it is intended to help readers make a truly informed decision.

It regurgitates every argument of the anti-vaccine faction without fairly presenting the arguments for vaccines and without acknowledging that every anti-vaccine argument has been thoroughly rebutted. For instance, it repeats reporter Dan Olmsted’s myth that the Amish do not vaccinate and do not get autism.

It deceptively argues that deaths from vaccine-targeted illnesses were decreasing before the development of vaccines. Deaths were decreasing due to improving medical treatment and other factors, but the diseases were not going away: the incidence of the diseases had not decreased significantly. Graphs of the yearly incidence of diseases like measles, mumps, polio, diphtheria, pertussis, etc. all show a striking reduction after vaccines were introduced. The book does not present those graphs. The real proof of the pudding is that in various countries around the world, when vaccination rates dropped, the diseases returned; and when vaccination rates rose again, the diseases subsided. The book does not acknowledge those inconvenient facts.

It does rely heavily on horror stories, mainly drawn from VAERS (Vaccination Adverse Event Reporting System) data. For every vaccine it provides a list of cases reported to VAERS. It says these are “just a small sample of the potential side effects associated with vaccines.” This is deliberately deceptive. The fact that a case is reported to VAERS only means that an adverse event occurred after vaccination; it does not even establish a correlation with the vaccine (because we don’t know whether the event occurs with equal frequency in a control group), and it certainly doesn’t establish that the vaccine caused the event.

It claims that VAERS data show that Rotateq vaccine causes intussusception in children. It doesn’t mention that the CDC investigated those VAERS reports and found that the rate of intussusception after the vaccine did not exceed the expected background rate of intussusception in the population.

It cites cases of adverse reactions to diphtheria antitoxin; but antitoxin is never needed unless you get the disease, which is prevented by the vaccine. And then it recommends avoiding tetanus vaccine since a tetanus antitoxin is available. It fails to mention the adverse reactions to tetanus antitoxin and the fact that it will not be needed if the vaccine has prevented the disease in the first place. How could anyone think it is preferable to get tetanus and then treat it with antitoxin?

It cites Andrew Wakefield’s studies allegedly linking the MMR vaccine to autism and his unsupported speculations that single vaccines are preferable. It mentions that his Lancet study was retracted, supposedly only because a British medical panel had concluded that he had violated ethical rules. It quotes Wakefield’s disingenuous protestation that the allegations against him were unfounded. It fails to mention that he had falsified data in his study and that he was stripped of his medical license. It also favorably cites the Geiers’ discredited research; the book was published before one Geier was stripped of his license and the other Geier was prosecuted for practicing medicine without a license.

It admits that removing thimerosal from vaccines did not decrease the rate of autism, but it claims that autism was increased by thimerosal added to flu vaccines and by the amount of aluminum in vaccines.

It bewails all those antigens injected into “pure, innocent” babies.

I won’t belabor all the other misconceptions in the book: we’ve heard them all before.

Eisenstein has not only an MD but a JD and an MPH. He has not let his scientific training interfere with his prejudices. He directs Homefirst Health Services, an organization that promotes home births, discourages immunization, provides vaccination waivers to everyone on the general principle that vaccines are harmful, sells natural supplements (profits from recommending them), offers HCG treatment (proven to be useless) for obesity, and claims there are virtually no autistics among its patients. Dr. Eisenstein is also billed as Assistant Medical Director of Alternative Medicine Integration and he has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show; regular readers of this blog will recognize that “integration” and Oprah are both red flags for non-scientific medicine. He doesn’t think much of conventional medicine. He dismisses mammograms as never having saved even one minute of life, and another of his statements is calculated to really make Dr. Gorski’s blood boil:

Scientists also looked at breast cancer treatments: mastectomy, simple mastectomy, radial [sic] mastectomy. There was no benefit on outcome of survival.

This is a terrible book. It is dishonest, misrepresents the facts, and is likely to persuade the average reader not to vaccinate, thereby putting the rest of us at risk from decreased herd immunity. The average reader has no way of knowing what is wrong with its claims or what has been omitted. Unfortunately, its flaws will only be apparent to those of us who are able to recognize the book as merely another polemical restatement of discredited anti-vaccine propaganda.

Posted in: Book & movie reviews, Vaccines

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30 thoughts on “Another Anti-Vaccine Book

  1. Chris says:

    “Fortunately my public library had it so I didn’t have to buy a copy.”

    Really? Okay, only because they did not sent you a review copy. Which they should avoid with the final assessment of: “This is a terrible book. It is dishonest, misrepresents the facts, and is likely to persuade the average reader not to vaccinate, thereby putting the rest of us at risk from decreased herd immunity.”

    Of course, I shouldn’t judge since I recently paid a whopping fifty cents for the copy of Evidence of Harm that used to reside in my local library.

    But the average reader is a problem, especially one who has already made up his/her mind. Seth Mnookin has a blog on the Plos Blogs network now, and I am seeing one frequent commenter who is frequently parroting the already debunked points made she reads on certain anti-vac websites.

    It distresses me that some consider only certain websites reliable, when they aren’t. Or that scientific studies can be reliably evaluated by lawyers and business majors (um, no). I have actually been called a terrible person because I ask for evidence that I can find in my local medical school library. And for some reason PubMed is evil. Who knew?

  2. superdave says:

    Dr. Hall, I hate to comment jack but I came across a blog post stating that the other vaccine book has been removed from the authors website. I am kinda surprised no one from SMB has commented on that by now.

  3. Harriet Hall says:

    @superdave,

    Which other vaccine book are you talking about?

  4. Harriet Hall says:

    I just found an article about Dr. Eisenstein by Trine Tsouderos from the Chicago Tribune:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-autism-doctor-eisenstein-may22,0,3826791.story?page=1

    Among other revelations, it says he treats autistic children with Lupron, has been caught in lies, has compared vaccinating doctors to Nazis, and his group has been sued repeatedly for infant deaths and damages from home births.

  5. @HH, IMO, that Chicago tribune article is exactly what will make the average reader think twice about following the author’s advice.

    Good post.

  6. Enkidu says:

    Chris: “”And for some reason PubMed is evil. Who knew?”

    I was told pubmed was evil because it’s a government website, you know, pubmed.gov. *sigh*

  7. AllieP says:

    Pediatricians and OBGYNs have my deepest sympathy. Day after day they cater to patients who come into their offices accusing them of harm, selfishness, greed, and all other manner of horrors based on something they read on the internet by some quack TRYING TO SELL THEM SOMETHING.

    It’s appalling. Why do people believe whatever they googled has taught them more than a doctor’s 8+ years of medical training?

  8. Scott says:

    Why do people believe whatever they googled has taught them more than a doctor’s 8+ years of medical training?

    Because we seem to believe, in this country, that the amount a person knows about something is inversely proportional to the amount of study they’ve done.

    Anti-intellectualism at its finest.

  9. Uncle Glenny says:

    @HH -

    How was the disclaimer presented? (Jacket, back cover, inside, warning sticker inserted by third party, &c)

  10. Ed Whitney says:

    None of the anti-intellectualism that Scott deplores occurs in a vacuum. Yesterday, Peter Diamond, a Nobel Laureate in economics, withdrew his name for consideration for a place on the Federal Reserve due to obstruction from a Yahoo Senator from Alabama, namely Richard Shelby. The Nobel Prize work was done in the economics of unemployment, by the way.

    This means nothing to the intentionally ignorant. Ignorance is a badge of honor; placing a high value on knowledge and information is evidence of “elitism.”

    Why are there John Edwards scandals and Anthony Weiner scandals, but no Peter Diamond scandals screaming at us from the headlines? In a society that valued its own future, Peter Diamond would be a household word today, and an outraged public would be incensed that, when its economic future hangs in a precarious balance, the best possible expert opinion is not being brought to bear on the decisions that must be made at the highest levels of government. His withdrawal would be the top story in the network news outlets. But the public does not insist on the highest level of competence in the leadership of its affairs; it settles for trivia and sloganeering.

    The readers of this web site are already well aware of the value that is placed on the science of global warming by the Yahoo Brigade.

    It is instructive to look at Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address in 1860 and to ask what would happen if such a speech were delivered by a major political figure today. http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/cooper.htm has the text. This is the speech that made Lincoln president. But if a similar address were delivered today, laden with historical facts and detailed references, there would be unanimity from all the political pundits that the speech was pedantic and boring. “We need a leader, not a history professor!” would be the theme of the chorus. A certain former half-term governor would be applauded by adoring crowds as she sprinkled her anti-elitist speech with words like “gonna” and “uh.”

    Vaccine science, and its low level of authority in public debates of policy, is embedded in a much larger phenomenon. Not only science, but history and economics are lightly esteemed by a declining culture.

  11. S.C. former shruggie says:

    The book is bunk, but that article by Trine Tsuoderos is really something. You didn’t mention he drew inspirtion from a dentist who self-describes as a prophet and claims vaccines are responsible for AIDS as a deliberate campaign of genocide.

    I wish anti-vaxxers got press this embarassing more often.

    Thank you, Dr. Hall.

  12. Harriet Hall says:

    “How was the disclaimer presented?”

    At the beginning of the book. It is the third of eight items in a list entitled “Warning/Disclaimer/Disclosure” on the back of the dedication page right in front of the Contents page.

  13. Chris says:

    superdave, are you referring to the books by “Dr. Bob” being dropped from the Sears family website?

  14. icewings27 says:

    Anyone who would rather take a chance of getting tetanus and hoping that the antitoxin was readily available, rather than getting the vaccine or booster, should be required to read a short story called “Avalanche” by Richard Selzer. It’s contained in a collection called “The Doctor Stories” and describes in detail the horrific death tetanus used to cause anyone who contracted it.

    Yes, it is fiction, but it’s also quite medically accurate. I got a booster shortly after reading it.

  15. superdave says:

    Chris, I was indeed.

  16. rtcontracting says:

    I few months ago I did search at my local public library and found that the majority of vaccine books targeted to parents were anti-vaccine.

    I don’t know how libraries choose what books they carry, but it seems counterproductive to me to have public health giving out one message, and public libraries giving out the opposite.

    I’m not suggesting banning books; but it would be nice if some pro-science books targeted to parents were available in the vaccine section.

  17. lilady says:

    Thank you Dr. Hall for reading and reviewing this book…you truly are dedicated to research. I, on the other hand would much prefer undergoing several root canals, rather than read this schlock.

    Trine Tsouderos as usual, is already on this guy’s “case”. So his practice went bankrupt…due to inadequate malpractice insurance and the multitude of lawsuits….yet he still has his license. Unbelievable.

    Did Dr. Eisenstein REALLY mention the side effects of tetanus antitoxin? Tetanus Immune Globulin (TIG) IM is the preferred prophylaxis for a large unclean wound and for treatment of the actual disease…and it is available in every emergency room. IVIG that contains tetanus anti-toxin can be given in instances where TIG is not available. Of course, neither have to be given if the child has a record of a least 3 combined Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis immunizations.

    It’s also hard to believe that this charlatan “expert” on vaccines also deters parents from immunizing their children against diphtheria due to reported reactions to diphtheria anti-toxin. Of course if the child were fully immunized with the combine DTaP vaccine they are protected from ever getting the disease. By the way, unlike TIG or IVIG containing tetanus anti-toxin, Diphtheria Anti-Toxin is only available from the CDC and a child could die while awaiting the shipment from Georgia.

  18. Chris says:

    rtcontracting:

    I few months ago I did search at my local public library and found that the majority of vaccine books targeted to parents were anti-vaccine.

    When I saw that my library system had ordered multiple copies of Age of Autism but no copies of Deadly Choices (by Dr. Offit), I used their system for request the purchase of books to select the latter, and included a comment that they could not order the anti-vax one without its counter part.

    I just checked my library system, they have five copies of Age of Autism with only two that are checked out. But of the five copies they have of Deadly Choices, four are checked out and one is “in transit.” Its one “eBook” is also checked out. Also, all nine copies of The Panic Virus are are either checked out or on hold.

    Go to your library webpage and see if you can request pro-vaccine books. If so, do it!

  19. lilady says:

    Here’s the result of checking my rather large (58 branches) library system:

    Age of Autism: 18 copies including one copy “out”

    The Panic Virus: 26 copies including four copies “out”

    Deadly Choices: 38 copies including one “in transit” and two copies “out”

    (See Chris, once in a while I can work the laptop!)

  20. rtcontracting says:

    I rechecked this morning at my local library, and things are looking up – the library recently got in 2 copies of “The Panic Virus” and one copy of “Deadly Choices” is marked as on order.

    So, soon the anti-vaccine vs pro-science ratio at my public library will be:

    2 x “Are Vaccines Safe?”
    1 x “Callous Disregard”
    1 x “The consumer’s guide to childhood vaccines”
    1 x “The Vaccine Book”
    2 x “What your doctor may not tell you about children’s vaccinations”
    1 x “Age of Autism”
    2 x “Immunization theory vs. reality: expose on vaccinations”
    ——
    10

    1 x “Deadly Choices” by Paul Offit
    2 x “Vaccines: What Every Parent Should Know” by Paul Offit
    2 x “The Panic Virus” by Seth Mnookin
    ——-
    5

    Still not great, but it is improvement. It feels like the ant-vaccine movement is loosing some ground. Maybe it’s the re-emergence of preventable diseases.

  21. Scott says:

    I’m not suggesting banning books; but it would be nice if some pro-science books targeted to parents were available in the vaccine section.

    Suggesting that public libraries shouldn’t carry books that consist of outright lies which are likely to kill children is a far different thing from banning them. And personally, I do so suggest.

    Most public libraries don’t have the Anarchist Cookbook, last I heard. Pretty much the same principle applies here.

  22. Anthro says:

    The underlying problem with libraries is that they put All the books about any medical topic in the “medicine” section–at least those using Dewey decimal–rather than instituting a different category for books that are not science based. Call it “alternative medicine” if you must, but somehow libraries should make some distinction. Lives could be at stake. Bookstores are even worse, of course. The science section at B&N is so small you could miss it if you blinked, but “health and wellness” is huge. The latest “diet” scams are prominently featured on display tables. After all, it’s what sells that matters, not public health.

    Ed is right–the problem is deeper and anti-intellectualism is going to be our undoing if it keeps up.

  23. Chris says:

    Though I still encourage you to suggest good medical resources to your libraries.

    I started to do this many years ago when I could not find any decent book on children with speech and language disorders in the library system (while using their clunky terminals before we had a phone modem). But I had found a book at the bookstore by a speech therapist on childhood speech, language and listening disorders. I mentioned this to the librarian who told me her husband did not speak until he was four, five, fifty (I forgot), and she gave me a form to fill out to request the book. Which they did, in triplicate (and updated since then, including one in Spanish!).

    Now that form is on their actual website, and I have filled it out more than once.

    So, folks, if you are dissatisfied with what is available at your local library, let them know!

  24. Venna says:

    How nice that they put in a disclaimer to protected their assets so if someone actually follows what they say, they can’t sue or file for damages at all because of the disclaimer. To me, that right there is a HUGE red flag to NOT follow the advice of the book author. If they can’t stand behind it 100% then obviously there are problems with it, medically, ethically and legally. How many people though will not see the common sense behind putting a disclaimer in a book?

  25. Venna says:

    Hmm, in my library (at least the one I looked at anyway, not the current county I live in) there are some of those books not even available through the entire county library system. They have the panic virus, one copy but two audio CDs and they have three of Deadly Choices. They even have four copies of Autism’s false profits. There weren’t any copies of Age of Autism, or Callous Disregard, but The Vaccine Book had 7 copies and all checked out and several holds placed also. That to me is scary because all I could think is, parents are expecting a child and want to find out everything they can about vaccines. This book claims to be about ‘making the right decision for your child”. And it looks totally innocent. That scares me right there.

  26. BigEoinO says:

    I was about to suggest that you go to the library and check out the anti-vaccine books to prevent them falling into the “wrong” hands when I suddenly thought maybe the anti-vaxxers are doing that to the pro-science books…

  27. Paddy says:

    @BigE,

    I think that might be a self-defeating strategy – if you get out copies of a book, you show there’s a demand for that book and others like it. Hence they’re then likely to get more books of that ilk.

    Slipping a copy of a review demonstrating all the stuff the book gets wrong inside its front cover might be tempting, however…

  28. Chris says:

    BigEoinO, you’d also get billed for the missing books.

  29. BigEoinO says:

    @Paddy (& @Chris)
    I really like the idea of using the library as an education tool and adding some extra reviews or even a well written rebuttal inside, but another more childish and cheaper solution, is to find the aforementioned books and “refile” them in the Fiction section….

  30. Calli Arcale says:

    BigEoinO:

    Resist the temptation to refile them under fiction. The only people you’ll actually bother are the library staff, who will have to put them back. They already spend more time than they’d like refiling the books which lazy people have stuck in any old shelf rather than putting them back where they found them (or even putting them on one of the carts laid out for the purpose of collecting books that are ready to be put away).

    My preferred strategy is to buy copies of books I like and donating them to the library.

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