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Dr. Jay Gordon
"Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality." --Amy Wallace
...immunization can be credited with saving approximately 9 million lives a year worldwide. A further 16 million deaths a year could be prevented if effective vaccines were deployed against all potentially vaccine-preventable diseases.*
Jay Gordon, M.D., is considered a leader of the anti-vaccination movement (AVM) by critics at Science-Based Medicine such as Steven Novella and David Gorski. He certainly pals around with leaders of the AVM. He is a pediatrician to Jenny McCarthy's son. (McCarthy claims a vaccination caused his autism, which she has since cured using her "mommy instinct."*) He gives speeches at anti-vaccine rallies, such as the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington, D.C. in June, 2008. (He's the one on the far left in the photo.) Gordon, McCarthy, and her consort Jim Carrey might try to deceive the world by claiming they are just trying to get Big Pharma to make safe vaccines. They're not against vaccination per se. They want perfect vaccinations, where there is no need to weigh the risks of getting a disease versus the risk of having a serious negative reaction to a vaccination. Of course, there never will be such a thing, so their claim to want a (perfectly) safe vaccine is vacuous.
On the other hand, Gordon's website gives the appearance of one who wants to provide the parents of his patients (remember, he's a pediatrician) with good information so they can make the best choices for their children. From his website:
Vaccinations: Assessing the Risks and Benefits
Are you concerned about vaccinations for your baby? Do you want to protect your child from dreaded diseases, but have serious doubts about the necessity, safety and efficacy of vaccines? Do you want to know which vaccinations are best for your child and when and how is the safest way to schedule them?
Dr. Jay (as he refers to himself on his website) also links to articles he's written, some of which indicate he is, in fact, a leader of the AVM. For example, one link is to his article that appeared on the HuffingtonPost entitled "Autism and Toxins." The teaser on his website reads: There is absolutely no proof that these shots are as safe the makers say they are. In his article, Dr. Jay simply dismisses the science in favor of his own intuition:
I have been in practice thirty years and watched thousands of children get shots, not get shots, develop autism or remain developmentally "neurotypical." I have no proof that vaccines cause autism and would be very excited to have my large group of extremely healthy mostly unvaccinated children studied someday. It would be disingenuous to imply that non-vaccination might not lead to an increased incidence in vaccine-preventable illness. It would be equally disingenuous to state that this possibility poses a great threat to America's children. The risks of vaccinating the way we do now exceeds the benefits of this vaccine program. "Scientists" who suggest that experienced doctors ignore their eyes and ears are wrong. Detractors who say that we should ignore parents who are certain that vaccines caused their children's autism are wrong and often quite mean-spirited.
A scientist would know that the self is too biased an observer to be trusted with such important conclusions, and being a parent of a sick child doesn't provide that parent with any special insight into the nature of the cause of that sickness. It's to avoid the driving tendency to post hoc reasoning and other forms of self-deception that scientists do randomized controlled studies. Dr. Jay doesn't seem to get this fundamental point. Furthermore, his division of doctors into the kind-spirited like himself who follow instinct versus the mean-spirited doctors who follow science is a bit more than any reasonable person should have to suffer.
Dr. Jay simply asserts, without any proof except his intuition and reference to his clinical experience with children and parents: "There is absolutely no proof that these shots are as safe the makers say they are and certainly no proof that new combinations of vaccines and hastily created shots are safe enough for our children." If one is going to charge pharmaceutical companies with producing "hastily created shots" and suggest that they are unsafe, one should at least provide some evidence.
Another sign of where Dr. Jay is coming from is his praise of Robert F. Kennedy's rant against vaccines and Big Pharma, which I have addressed elsewhere.
Dr. Jay is also an advocate of the notion that vaccines are full of toxins like aluminum and formaldehyde. Yet, he says, if a parent wants to vaccinate, he'll vaccinate, but he recommends staggering the vaccinations because of his seemingly intuitive belief about how the immune system works. He thinks "the immune system, like every other system of the body, matures slowly, and that it can better tolerate viral infection at older ages and better tolerate one virus at a time." That idea probably makes sense to a parent ignorant of immunology, but it doesn't seem to jibe with the evidence. Quackwatch calls this misconception #7. For example, some think that their child's asthma or respiratory problems may be due to "vaccine overload" on their immature immune systems. Given what Dr. Jay says about how wise he thinks parents are, I assume he would give credence to their beliefs, no matter how irrational.
In fact babies have an ability, right from birth, to cope with lots of different germs. The body is constantly surrounded by germs and has to react to them in different ways. The advantage of being immunized rather than catching the disease is that the vaccine uses only part of the germ, or, if the whole germ, it is either killed or toned down (“attenuated”). In this way, the challenge to the immune system is less than that from the disease, but it is enough to produce protection.
In 2002, the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the American Institute of Medicine made a detailed examination of all the evidence about the effects of multiple immunizations on a baby’s immune system. They concluded that there was no evidence to support the suggestion that multiple immunizations overwhelm the immune system. They strongly supported the continuing use of vaccines against multiple diseases....
If immunizations are delayed, a baby will remain unprotected for longer than necessary. This could be particularly dangerous for whooping cough and Hib. Very young babies, if they catch whooping cough, are likely to be much more seriously ill than older children and are more likely to need hospital care. Babies under a year old are more likely to catch Hib than older children Studies have shown that when the vaccines are given at the younger age, babies have fewer reactions such as fever, sore injection sites etc, while at the same time they are still protected.*
David Gorski notes: "One of the biggest myths that antivaccinationists believe and like to use to stoke the fear of vaccines is the concept that they are full of 'toxins.'"* They then speculate that these "toxins" affect "sensitive" children and cause neurological disorders. This is the AVMers way of bypassing the pharmacological principle that "the dose makes the poison." (Small amounts of certain toxins won't kill you and might even be good for you. Jenny McCarthy uses Botox, which contains the most potent neurotoxin there is, and "loves it."*) For those who want a primer in the "dangerous toxins" in vaccines, read David Gorski's post "Toxic Myths About Vaccines."
In any case, Dr. Jay has told the world that he doesn't give a lot of vaccines. He says: "I still give DPT vaccinations to some children, chicken pox shots to kids who haven’t been able to acquire natural immunity by age ten years or so, and I give polio vaccines very infrequently."* He says that he stopped giving the recommended vaccine schedule in 1980 when some parents noticed that after their children had been vaccinated, they started acting weird.
He says he not anti-vaccine, in an open letter on vaccines he writes:
I am aware of the public health implications of completely abandoning our current vaccine schedule, and I certainly don’t advocate that. What I really want is an honest discussion of the risks and benefits of each vaccine and combinations of vaccines for your child. Just your child. My experience is that many parents don’t have the opportunity to discuss these concepts and these details with their doctors.
The problem is that given his faith in his insight regarding his clinical experience and his distrust of scientific studies that conflict with that insight, it is highly unlikely that any discussion of risk and benefits of vaccines with Dr. Jay will be anything but disingenuous. Dr. Stephen Novella says of Dr. Jay's letter that it's "a work of pure arrogant pseudoscience – a crafted piece of anti-vaccine propaganda."* Mostly, however, Dr. Novella faults Dr. Jay's reasoning. For example, Dr. Jay argues that since there are only about 2000 cases of polio out of six or seven billion people, there isn't much point in giving his patients the vaccine. As Dr. Novella points out, "that is the wrong statistic to use, because it includes those who are vaccinated, which is most people. The real risk that should be considered is the risk of contracting polio among the unvaccinated only. This risk is much higher. Almost all cases of polio occur among the unvaccinated." Also, the statistic seems to be restricted to the U.S., because in 1988 there were 350,000 new cases of polio in 125 countries, most of them in the developing world.* Besides, the vaccine is known to be extremely safe, but it is not perfect. There is still some risk and Dr. Jay is certainly acting reasonably when he asks parents to consider that risk, but he is unwise to suggest that the vaccine is pointless.
If Dr. Jay had his way, says Dr. Novella:
... as soon as we got close to eradicating any disease we should back off on vaccinations for that disease, which would inevitably lead to its resurgence. We would forever be playing “whack a mole” with the disease, never eliminating it completely.
Dr. Jay says that public health measures are important but, as Dr. Novella notes, "Every parent who takes Dr. Gordon’s advice weakens herd immunity, and risks not only their child but their community."
Dr. Jay says he's not "anti-vaccination," but he also says:
I can tell you that my very strong impression is that children with the fewest vaccines, or no vaccines at all, get sick less frequently and are healthier in general. I truly believe they also develop less autism and other “persistent developmental delays.”
Again, what is his evidence? As you might predict, it is not to scientific studies that he turns, but to his own clinical experience and his "impression." This is not the kind of evidence a rational person should seek.
Dr. Jay is not without his supporters. Media celebrity and anti-vaxxer Bill Maher, for example, says he finds Dr. Jay Gordon "extremely credible." This may be because Gordon confirms Maher's biases regarding vaccines as useless or harmful. For a more accurate and complete picture of the risks and benefits of vaccinations, I recommend the website Science-Based Medicine. As an antidote to the rhetoric posted by Dr. Jay Gordon on vaccines, I recommend the reader listen to a special podcast on vaccines hosted by The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.
See also Antivaxxer Plague, Andrew Wakefield, The Wakefield Propaganda Machine, Wakefield's Warriors, the anti-vaccination movement, Russell Blaylock, detoxification therapies, flu vaccine, Barbara Loe Fisher, Rauni Kilde, Joseph Mercola, supplements, Rights and Vaccines, and Evaluating Personal Experience, Why Do People Believe in the Palpably Untrue?; Belief Armor; and Defending Falsehoods.
Dr. Jay Gordon: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing What evidence does Dr. Gordon provide that later, slower, individualized vaccination schedules do anything but reduce the herd immunity of a community, increase the number of doctor visits, decrease the likelihood that a child will be fully immunized, or increase the time for which a child is unprotected? No such evidence exists, so one must wonder on what he has based this recommendation.
Dr. Jay Gordon – “Anti-Vaccination” by Steven Novella
Wallace, Amy. (2009). An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All, Wired. To hear his enemies talk, you might think Paul Offit is the most hated man in America. A pediatrician in Philadelphia, he is the co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine that could save tens of thousands of lives every year. Yet environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. slams Offit as a “biostitute” who whores for the pharmaceutical industry. Actor Jim Carrey calls him a profiteer and distills the doctor’s attitude toward childhood vaccination down to this chilling mantra: “Grab ‘em and stab ‘em.” Recently, Carrey and his girlfriend, Jenny McCarthy, went on CNN’s Larry King Live and singled out Offit’s vaccine, RotaTeq, as one of many unnecessary vaccines, all administered, they said, for just one reason: “Greed.”
Journalists sink in The Atlantic article on vaccines blog by revere (the article in question is "Does the Vaccine Matter?" by Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer, November 2009)
Experts dispel detox myths: "One group gave up processed food, soft drinks, alcohol, salt, sugar, caffeine, wheat, red meat and dairy, and the others followed their normal diet. After seven days, toxicologists found no difference in their liver and kidney functions or vitamin levels."
The Toxic Myth About Vaccines by David Gorski
An Open Letter to Bill Maher on Vaccinations by Michael Shermer Shermer lectures Maher on germ theory
Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having by Bill Maher Maher responds that he read Microbe Hunters when he was eight
Some Muddled Thinking from Bill Maher by Stephen Novella Novella deconstructs Maher's "rambling defensive diatribe in which he simultaneously protests the criticism pointed his way while repeating and amplifying the pseudoscientific nonsense that garnered criticism in the first place....the criticism will continue – not to shut him up, but to do damage control. Maher is contributing to the public misunderstanding of science in perhaps the most important area – medicine."