Monday, December 17, 2012

Politics, Autism and Vaccines

Politicians are frequently holding hearings and looking for more information on problems that arise in society.  Unfortunately, not all politicians have the best interest of their constituents at the top of their agendas.

Politics and vaccines made headlines earlier this month when the Committee on Oversight and Reform had a hearing about the Federal response to rising rates of autism.  Congressman Dan Burton from Indiana was at the hearing and spoke about his personal views on mercury in vaccines causing autism.  The problem with his statements was that thousands of scientists have proved Burton incorrect over the past decade.

Congressman Burton cannot be discredited for his interest in autism.  In the late 1990s, his grandson was diagnosed with autism, and his interest in finding the cause of autism is genuine.

However, using his position as an elected official to perpetuate untruths and scare people into not vaccinating their children is unacceptable.  Steven Salzberg is a professor at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and wrote:  “Burton is a firm believer in the myth that vaccines cause autism, and he arrogantly holds the position that he knows the truth better than the thousands of scientists who have spent much of the past decade doing real science that proves him wrong.”

The committee did call scientists Alan Guttmacher from the National Institute of Health and Colleen Boyle from the Centers for Disease Control to testify at the hearing.  But the committee didn’t really want to hear what Guttmacher or Boyle had to say.  Instead, they lectured the scientists and offered rapid-fire questions that were often bad science claims in statement form.  When the scientist tried to answer, committee members cut them off.

Is this really how our elected officials serve the best interests of their constituents?

At one point during the hearing, Burton stated:  “I’m convinced that the mercury in vaccinations is a contributing factor to neurological diseases such as autism.”  Burton is wrong.  Dozens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of children have proved there is no link between mercury and autism, or between vaccines and autism.   Studies have actually proven that autism rates are slightly higher in unvaccinated children.

Burton and other committee members continued to make false statements that have been proven wrong by sound science for the duration of the hearing.  Vaccine Watch is stunned that these elected officials have all of the facts, continue to ignore them, and perpetuate lies and fear in the public record. 

As citizens, we have a responsibility to demand the truth.   We want Congress to conduct oversight in medical research and help us find answers.  Congressmen who abuse that power have no place in the system. 

Vaccines save lives.  Recent outbreaks of the whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, mumps, and haemophilus in the United States and Europe could have been prevented if people like Dan Burton weren’t scaring parents with lies and convincing them not to get their children vaccinated.  Vaccine Watch encourages everyone to do their own research using sound scientific resources.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hospitals Flu Shot Mandates Met With Resistance

Hospitals around the country are mandating that employees receive the flu shot.  While many hospitals already have high vaccine rates, the new mandates are being met with resistance from some employees. 

The American Hospital Association recommended all hospitals create universal flu vaccination programs in July 2011.  The policy is intended to protect employees and patients.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified that health care workers are frequently the source of transmission of influenza in health care settings.   

Hospital patients are already in an immune compromised state and their risk of contracting influenza is higher.  Employees with known egg allergies, severe reactions to previous flu shots or religious beliefs are exempt from these mandates and required to wear a mask and take other precautions.

Helen Darling, the president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health supports the mandates.  “The virus can be transmitted to patients by both symptomatic and asymptomatic health care providers.  One in four health care workers shows evidence of having the flu each year.  And 70 percent of them continue to work despite having flu-like symptoms.”

While some resistant employees argue that the flu shot makes them sick, or they don’t trust substances like formaldehyde that are in flu shots, many are arguing that it’s a violation of their civil liberties.  Brandon Hostler is a registered nurse in West Virginia and is always one of the first at his hospital to receive the vaccine.  He says if the vaccine becomes mandatory, he will quit or switch jobs.  “We are health care professionals.  We know the risks and the benefits, and to force us to do something like that and not to have a say in it, I think it would be offensive.”

Amy Garcia, the chief nursing officer for the American Nurses Association counters that on an individual level, having a flu vaccine is an ethical responsibility.  “Part of nursing’s code of ethics is that the patient comes first.  So we believe if there is a chance that a nurse could expose a patient, it is the ethical responsibility of the nurse to be protected by vaccinations.”

The Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut recently adopted a flu shot mandate.  Part-time employee Pam Curley states, “I think it’s about choice.  If you want it, go ahead and get it, but I don’t think there should be these drastic strong arm measures where you are threatened by the loss of a job.”

Dr. Steven Aronin is the Chief of the Infectious Disease Section at Waterbury Hospital and says the mandate is to protect the public, patients and the health care workers.   Patient care is trumping the right of employees to choose.  “There are other things we ask of our employees when they get hired by Waterbury Hospital,” Dr. Aronin notes. 

Waterbury Hospital is not the only hospital seeing resistance.  The University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center implemented the rule this year and nurses are protesting.  At UMASS, nurses that don’t comply will be required to wear a mask, but will not be fired.

Health care providers who have their own hesitations about vaccines should not influence their patients to not get vaccinated.   Vaccine Watch believes hospital supervisors and administrators should be aware of how their staff feel about getting vaccinated themselves, and be aware of what they may be saying to patients about getting vaccinated.