To the “Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice,” vaccine requirements are exactly like the Holocaust (UPDATED)

UPDATE #2 (2/24/15, 9pm): Heather Barajas, the woman in the picture below, has taken down her picture and her Facebook profile, so the links below are dead, but I have the screenshot:

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.32.37 PM

Dear anti-vaccine zealots, if you can’t take the heat, don’t do these idiotic comparisons.

UPDATE (2/23/15, 11pm): It gets worse. The woman comparing her decision to not vaccinate to the Holocaust was a pre-med student at California State University, San Bernadino, according to her Facebook page. That’s right. She wants to be a physician. God help us if she gets into med school.

Have you ever been to a Holocaust museum? I was in grade school when I went to one in my hometown. I was an adult when I went to the one in Washington, DC. In both cases, my mind couldn’t grasp the enormity of what happened in Europe under the Nazi regime. People of different races and ethnicities, of different sexual orientations, and those with any kind of disability were rounded up, put on trains and shipped out to concentration camps. In total, over 12 million men and women were systematically killed because they were deemed to be unworthy of being alive. Half of them were Jewish.

On the 70th anniversary of the battle at Iwo Jima, one of the many battles where members of my family fought to save the world from the horrors of the Axis Powers, a picture was posted on the Facebook page of the “Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice.” (I won’t link to their Facebook page or their website. I won’t give them that kind of publicity. Instead, read about what they’re all about from Todd W. here.) Here is that picture:

vaccine_badge

That is the picture of two Jewish children and a Jewish man on the left wearing the Star of David as a symbol of being Jewish. It was a way for the Nazis to mark Jews as a form of public intimidation in the months leading to the Holocaust. On the right is a woman wearing a badge of a syringe with a “no” symbol, meaning that she and the child are not immunized. You see, in her world, the laws and regulations requiring that children and adults be immunized before they can participate in public programs is just like the Holocaust. This is what she wrote with the picture:

“I’m a biological terrorist. I don’t care about the health of others. I’m a moron, idiot, scum of the earth who can’t understand science. I should be fined, jailed, taxed extra because of the burden I put on society. I should have my child taken away because obviously, I don’t care about her health.

I should be shipped off somewhere to live with my diseases. My child shouldn’t be allowed in school or around others. My address should be made public so that all can know and do who knows what. I should be tackled in the street & forcibly vaccinated. I’m the reason the diseases are being spread, the reason people are suffering and something must be done about me.

What’s next? Should all non-vaxxers be forced to wear some sort of visible insignia to identify us to the general public? Should we be segregated from others? Detained somewhere away from the general populace? Hmm, is this starting to sound familiar?

When people say things like I mentioned above, when they think them, they are saying them about me. They are saying them about my daughter. Some are saying I should be killed because I’m such a huge threat & danger. Does making a medical decision for my family justify a death sentence?

This is no longer about pro-vax vs. non-vax. This is about freedom of choice for medical procedures. Our bodies belong to us, not the government. Measles is not a deadly disease. It is not sweeping the nation, killing thousands, as the media hysteria seems to have some believing. It’s being used as a scare tactic. It’s being used to turn people against each other.

If SB 277 {or, in our case, S9 and H212} passes, it will be very bad. Not even homeschooling will be safe, since in CA it’s considered private school. Everyone will be forced to vaccinate, adults as well. They have many new vaccines in the making that you will be forced to get.

I promise you, if you send the message that the government owns your body, you will regret it. What happens if they decide anyone with any kind of mental illness must be force medicated with whatever they deem as best? What if they start making medication that people with certain disabilities must take, whether they want to or not?

I’m not being dramatic. I’m not over-exaggerating. I’m being very serious & trying to get a message across as bluntly as possible. Keeping our rights to our bodies is a must. I shouldn’t have to live in fear in a supposed free country. But I do. I shouldn’t feel anxiety every time I hear a police car, helicopter, or plane pass by. But I do. I shouldn’t fear taking my daughter to the doctor. But I do. I shouldn’t have to wonder if/how my family will suffer, be hurt, or even tortured because we make a medical decision that’s different. But unfortunately, I do, every day.

I will fight for your right to choose, even if you will not fight for mine. Forced vaccination infringes on our constitutional rights, on our religious freedoms, and so much more. It is not the answer, and it never will be.”

The bills she is referring to are bills in the California legislature aimed at reducing the number of “personal belief” exemptions to immunization, making it harder for people to just say they don’t believe in vaccines in order to be exempt from being immunized before participating in public programs.

I hope that I don’t have to explain to you how vaccine requirements are not at all like the Holocaust. If I do, then you march yourself right over to the Holocaust museum and ask a Holocaust survivor or their family how it’s not.

I also hope that this woman gets the care that she seems to need. After all, parts of that screed (like “I shouldn’t feel anxiety every time I hear a police car, helicopter, or plane pass by. But I do.”) point to some sort of a pathology in the way that she views the world, this idiotic comparison with the Holocaust aside.

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If you can’t attack the science, bring up the Nazis?

I have many times though to myself that many in the anti-vaccine community are not as educated as we are led to believe. They certainly don’t have a sense of mathematics, and their sense of history is probably just as bad. Take exhibit A:

screenshot.107

This man wants us to believe that a world-renowned, highly praised, admired physician and vaccine inventor would be found guilty of crimes against humanity in the same fashion that members of the Nazi regime were found guilty of systematic murder of Jews and others in Europe sixty-some years ago. This anti-vaccine advocate wants us to ignore the mountains of evidence that show that the doctor’s invention has saved many lives. This jerk makes a mockery of the Holocaust and tarnishes the unmentionable deaths of millions, all because he doesn’t believe in vaccines. Well, either that or he wants the doctor dead. I can’t tell. Continue reading

Does the moon also fall?

It took 98 posts on this blog before I decided to address the issue of “science vs. religion”. I put it in quotes because there are some people who don’t believe there is an issue between science and religion. There are others who do. I’m kind of in the middle. On the one hand, I have no problem with people believing that the universe was created by an all-knowing, everlasting entity. If that’s what gets you up in the morning and helps things make sense and have meaning to you, then who is anyone to say that this is wrong?

On the other hand, we know a lot of things to be true through the scientific process. No matter how much one church or another says that the planet is the center of the solar system, we know that this is not the case. So I do have a problem when people have such a deep-seeded belief in religion’s teachings that they deny that the world around them is the way it has been shown to be. Anyone today can go and buy a telescope from a department store and look into the sky to see that we are, in fact, not the center of the universe and most definitely not the center of the solar system.

You can believe whatever you want to believe, but don’t deny the truth.

Bill Nye recently got in trouble with some people for this video:

You see, we know through science that the universe has been around for billions of years (about 15 billion, or so). We also know that the Earth has been around for about 4.5 billion years. Even with all this evidence, there are people who believe that this planet is only a few thousand years old and that it was literally created in 6 days. What is their evidence? Texts written thousands of years ago. Texts written when there were no telescopes or radiologic dating of rocks. Text written by someone who was not a scientist but was inspired to try to explain to his people where we come from.

Think about it, if you didn’t know science and a whole bunch of miracles happened around you, how would you explain the world to your people? Be honest. You wouldn’t use science, because you couldn’t. But you can now!

There is a sect that believes that going to the doctor for an ailment shows that you don’t believe in God. I can’t help but to shake my head when I read about that this child or that child (and many more) got hurt because their parents didn’t want to be spiritually weak and take the children to the doctor. It makes no sense. We know from several centuries of medicine that there are antibiotics for bacterial infections, that pathogens and not spirits cause physiological disease, and that physicians and other licensed healthcare providers have been trained on how to deal with these ailments and administer medicine. What is spiritually weak about using the truth to heal yourself? (I’m willing to bet that God also shakes His [probably] enormous head.)

But now we know better about how things work. And we need to tell our children that there is this discipline called science that will give us many, if not all, the answers of why the world is the way it is, and how the universe came to be. Science can tell them if the moon also falls, or if it’s just up there, suspended in space. (It’s constantly falling, by the way.)

If you want to teach your children that there is a creator, don’t lie to them and tell them that the world was created in six days. It wasn’t. (Would you be lying if you told them there was or there wasn’t a creator?) Things that religion teaches but have been shown to be wrong by science were always wrong. They weren’t right up until the moment that we discovered the truth. Why would you want to do that to your children?

Like Mr. Nye said, we’re going to need children who learn and apply science to the problems of the world, not children who think the world operates the way people thousands of years ago thought the world operated. That’s not a way to live. And any theologian worth their weight in salt would agree with me.

Denialism pure and simple (UPDATED)

When I was in college, I took a course on military science. This course talked about the scientific discoveries we have made through war. By trying to kill each other off in a simpler manner, we’ve discovered a lot, from a scientific point of view. During that course, we spent about three weeks focuses completely on the Nazi medical experiments. If you haven’t heard the story, I invite you to go to the Holocaust Museum in DC and take a look at their exhibits. In essence, Nazi medical “researchers” conducted unethical experiments on humans (concentration camp prisoners, prisoners of war, etc.). We discussed for three or four classes whether or not we — the then future scientists — should use any of the knowledge gained from those experiments in order to expand science.

I won’t bore you with the philosophical and ethical discussions that erupted then. No, I will entertain you with the story of the one guy in class who decided that he was going debunk the “myth” of the Holocaust. Actually, it’s a short story; he was kicked out of class at the discretion of the professor. The guy actually wanted to argue with our professor, a Holocaust survivor.

I laughed out loud. That fool of a student.

But it does lead to an interesting question: How do you know what is true to be the truth? How do we know that the Holocaust really did happen? What evidence for and against can we believe?

Of course, this is a non-starter for many people who are reasonable and understand the concepts of historical evidence. There were thousands upon thousands of first-hand accounts of what happened in Nazi-occupied Europe. There are movies and records kept by the Nazis themselves. There are movies and documents from Allied Forces that liberated the concentration camps. In short, the Holocaust happened. There is no doubt about it.

Yet there are those who walk on this earth and deny that the Holocaust happened. Whether or not they believe that it happened is between them and their god. They go around telling everyone they can that it didn’t happen, that’s is a Jewish conspiracy, or that the Holocaust is a misrepresentation of what really happened. (I’m sure it was nothing but kittens and puppies in Auschwitz.)

Then there are those Holocaust deniers who also deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS. Even better, some of them deny that HIV even exists. They say that it’s all an attempt from the pharmaceutical industry to bleed the public dry through the sale of laboratory tests and unnecessary drugs. (I guess all of those dead people in Africa and elsewhere died of kitten and puppy overdoses.)

There is a particularly interesting person out there who goes by the moniker of “Putin Reloaded“. PR is interesting because there is no conspiracy theory that he doesn’t like. For example, this is what he has to say about HIV not being the cause for AIDS:

Antibody tests are not valid surrogates of virus detection, for all antibodies are heterophile and promiscuous. 

If you don’t know what those words mean look it up! 

About 30% of people have at least one “hiv” antibody in their blood, that’s how absurd the assumption is: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2230270 Frequency of indeterminate western blot tests in healthy adults at low risk for human immunodeficiency virus infection. ” 32% (low risk controls) had indeterminate Western blot tests, most of which demonstrated a single band of lowintensity. The most common bands were p24 (47%), GAG p17 p55 (34%), and POL p31 p66 (36%); envelope bands were unusual (gp41, 2%; gp120, 2%).” Confirmed by: http://elcid.demon.nl/1995_Western_blot_35pc_of_donors_have_1_band_at_least.png Antibodies to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV-1) in Autoimmune Diseases. ” 126 blood donors as a control group…At least one band was shown on immunoblotting in 26% of patients with autoimmune diseases and 35% of controls. ” 

So HIV tests are basically tools to fool perfectly healthy individuals into believing they’re carriers of a deadly virus and put them on deadly drugs. A self-fulfilled prophecy.

Oh, really? When PR is confronted with questions about PCR and viral cultures being used to confirm antibody tests, he gets really defensive and claims that one is personally attacking him.

PR is also into Holocaust denial, as I stated before:

“Recall that the Holocaust is an unfalsifiable theory, ie, it is impossible to refute because it is expressly prohibited by law in many European countries. Therefore, the Jewish Holocaust is not a historical fact but a legend that it takes an act of faith to believe.”

(Thanks to Pedro [not her real name] for the translation.)

So why am I writing about PR?

I’m writing about PR because he is exactly the kind of person that needs to be countered at all possible opportunities. In your private life (e.g. at work, in your family) and in your public life (e.g. out with friends) you must counter the ramblings of people who deny historical facts and scientific evidence. I’d advice you to be gentle and respectful, but you know me better than that by now.

To the AIDS denier, you must explain to anyone within earshot of that AIDS denier that we know that HIV causes AIDS because the grand majority of people who are infected with HIV go on to develop AIDS if they are not treated. They also go on to die. We know that the grand majority of people with AIDS have HIV infection. We know that the virus multiplies inside of immune cells, thus killing the immune system and allowing for opportunistic infections. Plenty of us have held the hand of a dying AIDS patient. Are there infected people who do not develop AIDS? Yes. Are there people who develop AIDS but were not infected with HIV? Yes. AIDS is a collection of diseases and conditions, a syndrome. But we see it in people with HIV infection for the most part (almost 100%).

The AIDS denier will try to use rare occurrences as clear evidence of their point. Don’t let them.

Likewise, the Holocaust denier will say that there were no extermination camps in Germany during the Nazi regime. This is true. The extermination camps were outside the country of Germany and in Nazi-occupied Europe. Here’s a map. They will also tell you that Hitler never signed an order to exterminate 6 million Jews and another 6 million “undesirables”. For that, read this.

In other words, stand up to the bigots, the denialists. Tell them and anyone around them why, how, when, and where they are wrong. Be ready to present the evidence, like radioactive decay to young Earth creationists, the physics of water vapor to those who believe that airplanes are dropping chemicals in contrails, or simple epidemiology to those who believe vaccines cause autism. It is important that we do this because they can do a lot of damage with their ideas.

A lot of damage.

**** UPDATE ****

The troll decided to show up in the comments section. Let me make this clear to you, Mr. PR, this is not your blog. This is not your platform to spread more antisemitism, misogyny  and AIDS denialism. Your comments are not accepted, and they will be deleted. (What’s that about misogyny  Mr. PR has told a group of female scientists that women naturally lack initiative and need father figures to guide them and tell them what to do next.)

Movies You Should Watch: "My Own Country"

“My Own Country” (1998) is a movie based on the book by the same name by Dr. Abraham Verghese. It tells the story of Dr. Verghese’s experiences in the South in the beginning days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The movie, like the book, is not for people who are still, to this day, close-minded about the origins of the epidemic. They should read the book and watch the movie, yes, but it is presented in such brutal honesty that it will only make them revolt against it even more. People who see this movie and are inspired to see human beings as the frail and fallible beings that we are will also come to see people as capable of unconditional love… Something reserved in literature and history only to the deity of the highest order.


Dr. Verghese was an outsider in the town of Johnson City, Tennessee. Ethiopian by birth and Indian by heritage, the movie makes it clear that he was accepted in the town only because of his education. But race is not the issue with this town, not the way the movie is framed. The issue is this new epidemic that has arrived in the form of young, gay men with AIDS. Men who were otherwise healthy and full of life begin to lose weight at a phenomenal rate, become too weak to go on in life, and eventually succumb to the disease.

The people around these young men are scared to death of what is going on. If you are too young to remember those days — and I’m not — you will see how people truly reacted to HIV and AIDS. They would not touch a person who was infected. They would not hug, kiss, or want to be around an infected person. Even Dr. Verghese’s wife asks him once when he gets home, “Did you wash your hands?” The stigmas and stereotyping are all there, and they are presented without judgment, more as the natural response of society to something that is scaring them to death — sometimes literally.

But it’s not just homosexuals that are seen to be affected in the movie. A heterosexual couple become infected when the husband has sex with men. He is dragged to the hospital by his wife and children and sheepishly admits to having sex with men and women. “I like sex,” he admits. Later, when the wife is told that both she and her sister are also infected, both from the husband, she is seen contemplating suicide. That is what I meant by being scared to death.

Dr. Verghese continues musing about homosexuality and what he is seeing all around him. It is touching because he seems to be trying to rationalize what is going on around him. We all do this. We see such horrors and unspeakable things through the news or in person and we try to tell ourselves that we, humans, are not really that evil. We can’t be. If we were, we would have never progressed as much as we have in this world.

In a post-HIPAA society, it is shocking to see how news of peoples’ diagnoses spreads through town. People are said to stand up in church and “out” their relatives with AIDS. Employees of the hospital are rumored to be spreading diagnoses to people in the community. When you realize that people who were diagnosed with HIV infection, or AIDS, were fired from their jobs, shunned by their families, or worse, you come to understand why it became necessary to have stronger privacy laws.

Somewhat humorous is a scene where a young man we meet earlier in the film has passed away. His sister comes to make sure that his body looks presentable for the funeral. The mortician is asked to put on socks on the body and returns with a silly-looking pair of rubber gloves that are more fitting for an electrician working with a high-tension wire. The sister remarks that the body is “pickled” and that there “is no bug in the world that’s going to survive that”.

We also see something that is still going on to this day: A family overriding the wishes of their dying relative while the relative’s helpless partner looks on. “We have legal authority,” they claim while the partner is brought to tears at the prospect of extending his beloved’s suffering. Without preaching, just by presenting the facts, we see how this is not the best thing for the patient, only for the family.

Threaded throughout the movie are scenes where the audience gets to see that unconditional love I wrote above about. When a gay man embraces his partner, both crying over the diagnosis, a nurse states that she wishes a man loved her like that. That embrace is powerful because people with AIDS at that time were shunned to the point that people did not want to be in the same room with them at times. Handshakes were questioned, and hugs were forbidden. Ignorance and fear, the most virulent contagions, guided people’s responses. Science and reason, the antidotes to these things, were set aside back then as they continue to be ignored today.

Yet there is hope, there is always hope. We see the hope in this young infectious disease doctor who is doing his best to inform the public on what HIV and AIDS are and what they are not. We see the hope in his staff who work with him and start to understand what is going on and what the best course of action is. And we see hope in the family members of those who are stricken with the disease and come to accept their relatives, love them, take care of them until their dying day, and become advocates in the community for those who are shunned and too weak to defend themselves.

If you are an advocate for public health, for social justice, for equality, then this is a great movie for you to see. The book goes into even more detail, of course, but the movie is powerful enough. When you see that the issues of those days are still here today, you can’t help but to want to rise up and fight it, do something about it. And we must.

We must.

The More Things Change…

One of the issues that “The Poxes” will attempt to analyze (once the story starts on Oct 23) is the fact that the populace will complaint against authority in times of trouble, no matter what. Take a look at the following two pictures…

In both pictures, people are rallying and calling out the President of the United States based on what they perceive is wrong. In the case of George W. Bush, it was the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that really got people all riled up, not to mention his domestic policies. In the case of current President Obama, it’s the perception that he is too Liberal and that the US Government is out of control.

To be honest, the government was “out of control” in the Bush era. Heck, we had a whole new Department (of Homeland Security) created, not to mention the Patriot Act and the Director of National Intelligence. Just look at the budget and ensuing deficit. The Republicans have expanded the Government as much as the Democrats. But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that there seems to be a threshold based on the economy or popular sentiment or the general state of things at which the people get all riled up about the government. If most of us are employed, have good credit, are buying houses, and are healthy, the sky’s the limit. The Government can do no wrong. On the other hand, if unemployment takes hold, the economy is bad, or there is some crisis that makes a lot of us sick or a lot of us not well-off, then the Government is our worst enemy.

And it’s not just in the United States, either.

On October 23, I will introduce to you a story out of my own mind but based very much on things that could happen. The first chapter is all about a crisis and how our protagonists and antagonists initially react to it. No, it’s not something as spectacular as September 11, 2011. However, the event in the first chapter is quite deadly and quite scary to the characters.

I really hope you like it, but I hold greater hopes that you can see that we really are one big crisis away from devolving into a pack of wild apes… Ready to take each other out for nothing.

Books You Should Read: "When Germs Travel" by Howard Markel

Anyone who knows me knows that one of the big things I detest about Public Health as it is set up today is the interference of people who don’t know better into the things that we – the peons working the daily outbreaks and looking for cases of stuff – need to do without restrictions. Of course, I’m talking about politicians. The one issue that has painfully brought this to the forefront in my professional life is immigration. Time after time, I’ve seen politicians at all three levels of government call for the denial of basic health services to immigrants and their children. They reason that it is a waste of resources that could go to Americans.

It’s as if they think that viruses and bacteria know the difference between Pablo, the young apple picker from Oaxaca, and Paul, the corporate up-and-comer from Omaha with the dashing good looks. Pathogens don’t give a crap about who they’re infecting. To them, we’re all just sacs of growth media. The sooner we come to understand this, the sooner we can let go of the stigma that we cause to people based on their ethnicity and/or nationality and move on with what needs to be done.
The book “When Germs Travel” does a great job at telling us all about what happens when germs cross international boundaries and come to a new population – or society – and the kind of craziness that they cause. It covers six epidemics that were triggered by immigrants (or returning travelers) and the stupidity that ensued. For example, an outbreak of bubonic plague in Chinatown causes the authorities to cordon-off the area and not permit people who look Asian from interacting with the other ethnicities. Any epidemiologists worth his weight in salt will tell you that such an intervention by itself is useless.
You can’t quarantine or impose social distancing on just one group of people. You need to do it with all who are susceptible, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc.
The book also covers the mistreatment of Jewish immigrants as they arrived in New York Harbor from Eastern Europe. They were screened for Chlamydia trachomatis, the causative agent of trachoma, which is an infection of the eyes. In that time, the infection was not treatable with antibiotics, for there were none. People were screened and told to go back to their country if they were found to be infected. On the other hand, if they had the right amount of money or the right connections in New York City, they were allowed to go on through.
A lot of help that screening did.
Not only that, but the screeners – medical doctors –  did not practice good hygiene. A high-ranking government official inspecting the intake points noticed this. That official? The President of the United States. Bo-yah!
I won’t spoil the rest of the book for you, but you know where this is going. You know of the treatment of Hatian immigrants because of HIV/AIDS. You know of the treatment of other immigrants because of Tuberculosis. Oh, you don’t know?
Everyone should.
One thing that resonates throughout the book is the hypocrisy of the decisions taken by politicians and the public health officials influenced by them. That’s right, not all public health workers are infallible and incorruptible. Many of them can be bought or intimidated into taking the wrong course of action when they need to protect the public’s health. And that’s one main reason why I will never, ever become a politician or play the politicians’ games.
I never want someone to write a book about how wrong I was in letting the next big epidemic or a small outbreak of diarrhea associated with a diner get out of control. That’s just plain embarrassing.