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19 January 2017

The Shadow Network of Anti-Vax Doctors

The Shadow Network of Anti-Vax Doctors
by Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, 
18 January 2017

Both mainstream and alternative doctors help patients avoid or delay vaccines. Trump’s rhetoric might empower them further.

When Andrew Brandeis encounters patients who are skeptical about vaccines at his family-practice clinic in San Francisco, he doesn’t toe the typical pediatrician party line—that the standard vaccine schedule is a must-do. Instead, he might help the patient delay or space out their child’s shots beyond the recommendations of public-health agencies, if they so desire.

“The earlier you introduce a vaccine to a kid, there is evidence suggesting various adverse reactions,” he said. He believes early administration of the Hepatitis B vaccine is linked to allergies, asthma, and multiple sclerosis—something doctors and health agencies vehemently deny. “The parents might say, ‘I’m just going to wait on that one,’ I’d say that’s okay.”

He doesn’t actively promote this delay strategy, and he said he administers more vaccines than he avoids. Still, his own 2-year-old daughter is unvaccinated, since as Brandeis sees it, “the risks outweigh the benefits.”

The prospect of his child wheezing away with a Victorian-era infection is not his biggest fear. “Measles isn’t going to kill your kid anymore. This isn’t the late 1800s when sanitary conditions were horrible,” he said. Besides, he added, “kids are supposed to get sick; they’re supposed to get childhood illnesses, it’s what builds the immune system.” (Mainstream medical groups counter that obtaining immunity from inoculations is not deadly; meanwhile, spreading a communicable disease can cause many deaths.)

Brandeis is one of a sizable number of doctors who allow their patients to avoid or delay vaccines if they are concerned about their health effects. It’s unknown how many of these physicians there are, but dozens of names—some even organized by state—come up on earthy mommy blogs and other web communities. “We are hoping to find a pediatrician/pediatric group in the … area who is an MD, but open-minded to alternative medicine, as well as less aggressive vaccination schedules,” wrote one California parent on the Berkeley Parents Network in December.

These doctors—and patients who seek them out—could be emboldened if President-elect Donald Trump goes through with the appointment of Robert F. Kennedy, an environmental activist and vocal vaccine skeptic, to lead a commission “on vaccine safety and scientific integrity,” as was reported last week. Trump met with Kennedy in Trump Tower on January 10, and Kennedy later told his environmental-group colleagues that he would be taking a leave to chair the vaccine commission. (Trump’s team said later that no decision had been made yet.)

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