By Nikolas Zelinski
The controversy over the safety of vaccinations has ramped up since the signing of SB277, which requires parents to vaccinate their children if they are to attend public or private schools in California.
The law, which goes into effect next July, bars opting out of required immunizations because of religious or personal beliefs, but maintains medical exemption from a doctor.
Opponents of the law are determined and reaching out for public support. On the other side are medical and health experts who say the anti-vaccination arguments are fallacious and have been discredited.
Oakland Board of Education Member Jumoke Hinton Hodge, who supported the passage of SB277, held a public meeting last week at the school district’s boardroom in response to anti-vaccination groups, hosted by Our Kids Our Choice, a group that is opposed to the law.
The hearing room was packed. Many of the speakers said their children were completely healthy until they were vaccinated.
Much of the opposition was based on the work of Dr. William Thompson, described as a whistleblower from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who alleges the CDC covered up evidence about vaccine injury.
Dr. Thompson said he was told by his superiors to suppress information about the link between autism and vaccines.
Panel member and biochemical engineer Dr. Brian Hooker – father of a vaccine injured child and who has had extended dialogue with Dr. Thompson – said that rates of vaccine injury are highest amongst African Americans.
Black boys were 3.36 times more likely to develop autism if they have received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine before 36 months of age, compared to those who received it after 36 months, Hooker explained.
“There is strong evidence in scientific literature that suggests African Americans may be more susceptible to vaccine injury, and neurological injuries such as autism,” Hooker said.
“In terms of vaccine injury, let me be clear, I’m not anti-vaccine. I want safer vaccines that can protect children. I want populations that are vulnerable to vaccine injury to be identified and protected as well,” Hooker added.
However, the work of Dr. Thompson and Dr. Hooker’s findings have been debunked, according to Joan Edelstein, an instructor at University of San Francisco’s Nursing MEPN program and former Health Services Coordinator at Oakland Unified School District (OUSD).
According to Edelstein, Dr. Hooker’s 2014 study of autism in young African Americans published in the peer-reviewed journal “Translational Neurodegeneration” was quickly retracted by the editors.
“…(The) editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings,” according to the journal’s website.
Other studies linking autism to vaccination have been debunked and retracted as well, including work by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was the predecessor to Hooker, added Edelstein.
African American organizations have also been adamantly opposed to the arguments raised by Dr. Hooker and others, said Edelstein, pointing to an open letter endorsed by the California Black Health Network, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Charles R. Drew Medical Society, Network of Ethnic Physician Organizations, and the California chapter of the NAACP.
“Our organizations denounce assertions that vaccination of Black children would be another Tuskegee experiment,” the letter says. “We take issue with fear mongering and spreading of misinformation about the efficacy of vaccination. There is no doubt that vaccines save lives. There is no reputable science that suggests Black children or boys are more at risk for any diseases because of vaccination.”
Edelstein explained that the reason parents may believe that vaccinations caused autism is due to the temporal quality of assessment, as most autism diagnoses are made during the same time period as the first sets of vaccinations.
Allergies are the biggest viable health concern when it comes to vaccines, said Edelstein.
In response, an OUSD spokesperson said, “On behalf of the school district, we believe that this is an appropriate health measure, and we are going to comply with the law.”
“The science is very clear on this issue,” according to the district spokesperson. “We intend to follow what global experts have established and at the same time recognize there are sceptics, and people question the research. We will continue to work with the community- continue to hear their stories, grievances, and criticisms. And try to disseminate as much information as possible so that people can understand the science.”
Director Hinton Hodge said she hopes the school board can take up this issue in an official meeting.