As the second decade of the 21st century begins, it is clear that the first one saw big changes in the way Americans think about health and vaccination. A good example is the fact that a majority of Americans “just said no” to getting an H1N1 influenza shot last year. 1 2 The truth is, most of us just didn’t buy the hype about swine flu. Perhaps it is because we are tired of constantly living in fear.
Fear was the unifying emotion that defined the first decade of the 21st century in America. 3 The Decade of Fear began on September 11, 2001, a day of indescribable loss that marked the ending of so much. Among the losses was the end of a civil and substantive conversation about vaccine safety that had taken shape during the previous two decades 4 but which - after September 11, 2001 - was hijacked by fear.
Within weeks of 9-11, there were frantic warnings by government officials that terrorists had weaponized smallpox and it was necessary to immediately dilute stockpiles of reactive 40-year old smallpox vaccine to make enough to give a smallpox shot to every man, woman and child. 5 6 7 Then the allegation that terrorists had hidden weapons of mass destruction to unleash deadly infectious diseases on all of us 8 - was used to justify forcing soldiers to get multiple doses of reactive experimental anthrax vaccine. 9 10
And within weeks of 9-11, a Congress driven by fear quickly passed The Patriot Act 11 followed by the Homeland Security Act. 12 Unprecedented authority was given to the Executive branch of our government, including creation of the third largest federal agency - the Department of Homeland Security. And then public health officials pushed for passage of new Model State Emergency Health Powers Acts to expand the police powers of state health officials whenever a public health emergency is declared. 13
For three years after 9-11, special interest lobbyists invoked bioterrorism and fear of infectious microorganisms to persuade Congress to pass Bioshield 14 15 16 and Pandemic Influenza legislation shielding vaccine manufacturers, doctors and public health officials from all liability when Americans are injured or killed by experimental vaccines or drugs used during a government declared public health emergencies - like the questionable pandemic influenza emergency declaration America is still operating under today even though there is no true emergency. 17
The attack on America by a rogue band of terrorists on September 11, 2001 created a Decade of Fear that made criticism of government policy, including vaccine policy, not just politically incorrect but a danger to national security and the public health. Fear and its travel companions - prejudice and intolerance - ruled the decade.
Those who criticized the quality and quantity of government regulated vaccine science or questioned the ethics of mandatory vaccination laws were marginalized by those in positions of authority, 18 who defended the status quo. The fear, prejudice and intolerance defining the first decade of the 21st century 19 was eventually turned on parents of vaccine injured children, 20 21 22 who were asking doctors and public health authorities how many vaccines their children were going to be forced to take 23 24 in the name of protecting national security and the public health.
September 11, 2001 was a day of indescribable loss. And the losses America suffered that day have been magnified by the losses we have suffered since that day because some have used fear as a political tool to silence criticism of government policy.
Next month is the 25th anniversary of the publishing of the book DPT: A Shot in the Dark, which I co-authored with medical historian Harris Coulter. It was first published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and was used by the Institute of Medicine as a reference for the 1991 report on Adverse Effects of Pertussis and Rubella Vaccines. It was the first major book documenting vaccine risks and flaws in vaccine science, regulation, policymaking, and law.
A Shot in the Dark is a book that is perhaps more relevant today, a quarter century after it was published in 1985 because, in the words of the Spanish philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Twenty-five years later, parents of vaccine injured children are still calling for meaningful reform of public health policies and vaccine laws to protect individual and public health. 25 It is time to leave the politics of fear of the last decade behind, and change the way the conversation about vaccine science, policy, ethics and law is conducted so that the real issues about health and vaccination can be addressed responsibly. The people expect and deserve no less from those in positions of authority in government, industry and medicine, who operate the public health system.
We, who are critical of one-size-fits all mandatory vaccination policies because those policies fail to acknowledge biodiversity and do not respect the informed consent ethic, welcome a new, more rational and substantive conversation about vaccination in 2010. As President Franklin Roosevelt said “The truth is found when men are free to pursue it.”
Hopefully, 2010 will be the beginning of a fearless and fierce search for the truth about health and vaccination that will enlighten us all.
1 CNN. November 18, 2009. Poll: Majority of Americans Don’t Want H1N1 Shot.
2 Harvard School of Public Health. December 22, 2009. Poll Finds Three Quarters of Parents Who Tried to Get H1N1 Vaccine for Their Children Have Gotten It.
3 Giraldi, P. The Huffington Post. November 25, 2007. The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.
4 National Vaccine Information Center. May 3, 1999. New Genetic Study Points Way For Vaccine Research.
5 Pear, R. New York Times. March 20, 2002. A Nation Challenged: The Bioterrorism Threat; Frozen Smallpox Vaccine Is Still Potent.
6 Fisher, BL. National Vaccine Information Center. Winter 2002. Smallpox and Forced Vaccination: What Every American Needs to Know.
7 Scardaville, M. The Heritage Foundation. December 6, 2002. Public Health and National Security Planning: The Case for Voluntary Smallpox Vaccination.
8 Risen J, Miller J. New York Times. November 11, 2001. A Nation Challenged: Chemical Weapons; Al Qaeda Site Points to Tests of Chemicals.
9 PBS. December 4, 2001. The Anthrax Vaccine.
10 Rempfer, TL. The Journal of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security. May 2009. The Anthrax Vaccine: A Dilemma for Homeland Security.
11 Congressional Research Service. April 15, 2002. The USA Patriot Act: A Legal Analysis.
12 PBS. May 15, 2003. The Homeland Security Act.
13 American Civil Liberties Union. January 1, 2002. Model State Emergency Health Powers Act.
14 McGlinchey D. Government Executive. January 23, 2004. HHS officials anxiously await passage of “Bioshield” bill.
15 Ismal MA. The Center for Public Integrity. April 1, 2007. Spending on Lobbying Thrives. Drug and health policies industries invest $182 million to influence legislation.
16 Fisher BL. National Vaccine Information Center. November 15, 2009. Letter to Col. Robert P. Kadlec, MD, Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness.
17 Department of Health and Human Services. April 26, 2009, July 24, 2009, October 1, 2009, December 30, 2009. Determination that a Public Health Emergency Exists.
18 Hodge JG, Gostin LO. Center for Law and the Public’s Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. February 15, 2002. School Vaccination Requirements: Historical, Social & Legal Perspectives.
19 Social Research. December 22, 2004. The politics of fear after 9/11.
20 Fisher, BL. National Vaccine Information Center. March 25, 2008. Promoting Vaccination, Fear, Hate & Discrimination.
21 Cicolli A. Yale Journal of Biology & Medicine. September 2008. Mandatory Vaccination: The Role of Tort Law.
22 Thompson C. Washington Post. December 20, 2009. Worst Ideas of the Decade: Vaccine scares.
23 Deardorff, J. Chicago Tribune. November 7, 2007. New study: Americans may be overvaccinated.
24 Wallis C. Time Magazine. March 10, 2008. Case Study: Autism & Vaccines.
25 Fisher BL. April 11, 2008. Vaccine Safety Research Priorities: Engaging the Public.
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