Who Are the Non-consenters

We have been labelled “ignorant and fearful”, “misinformed”. We’ve been called “flat earthers”, “anti-science” and “scientific terrorists”. At worse we have been called “child abusers” and “a danger to society”. The press continue to label the Immunisation Awareness Society “anti-immunisation” despite explanations that we support, promote and facilitate informed choice. We are labelled activists – individuals, such as this writer, and Hilary Butler, who for many years put a public face to the IAS and the vaccine controversy. And when they can’t fault our arguments, the vehement pro-vaccine lobby personally attack those of us who are the very public spokespeople for IAS and similar organisations around the world.

People who have been outspoken on the issue of vaccine safety and efficacy, people who have dared to criticise this supposed “public health miracle without which we would all die” are pilloried and vilified by those who are paid to promote vaccination. Some pro-vaccine individuals have even gone as far as libel by publicly calling into question the sanity and mental health of those who are prepared to stand up for what they believe. And when they run out of such accusations they stoop to questioning the sexual preference of their opponents; an irrelevance that is a clear sign that they lack the weapons of logic and science with which to go into battle.

So who are we, the non-consenters?

In August 2002, Helen Petousis-Harris and Nikki Turner (Immunisation Advisory Centre) and Ngaire Kerse (Auckland University) published the paper ‘New Zealand mother’s knowledge of and attitudes towards immunisation’.1 The researchers concluded that mothers who do not vaccinate are ignorant and fearful. However, it is very easy to get stupid answers when you ask stupid questions.

It appears that the researchers started with a hypothesis that fit their purpose and asked questions designed to get a result that enabled them to ridicule and debase the informed choice not to vaccinate.

An informed decision not to vaccinate can not be evaluated by asking parents if they agree or disagree with statements such as:

If you keep your child clean, well fed and otherwise healthy they will not catch these diseases.

Breastfeeding stops children from catching these diseases.

Where were the statements that said:

Nurturing and loving my child, providing the best diet possible (including an extended period of breastfeeding) and keeping my child otherwise healthy will enable my child to recover from these diseases without the need for vaccination, without any complications and resulting in life-long immunity for my child.

Vaccination is an assault on the immune system of my child that may cause short and long term health problems, while breastfeeding is the best immune stimulation for my child.

The dangers of vaccination far outweigh any benefits that this medical intervention offers my child, and far outweigh the risks of the diseases should my child contract any or all of them.

Why were parents not asked to agree or disagree with statements of this sort?

Realistically, parents who make informed decisions not to vaccinate do not believe that their children will never get sick. Far from it. Many are delighted when their healthy, well-nourished and strong children do get diseases such a measles, mumps and rubella, recover quickly and go on to benefit from a stronger immune system, life-long immunity and less likelihood of suffering debilitating degenerative diseases later in life.

It seems that, in New Zealand, pro-vaccine researchers such as Nikki Turner and colleagues, have entirely missed the point. In their efforts to trivialise our concerns and silence our voices they have not even attempted to find out what really makes us tick.

So, what of the international research on the topic of non-consentors?

Over the last few years there have been a number of studies that characterise parents who make informed decisions not to vaccinate their children. One of the most consistent and interesting findings is that active non-consenters are generally better educated and have higher socio-economic status than consenters. There is also a greater percentage of parents with a career or training in medicine in this group than in the consenting group.

An Israeli study2 into why some mothers are opposed to giving their babies the hepatitis B vaccine found that women who refused the vaccine for their babies were more educated and had a higher income. They expressed more knowledge about the vaccine, and held more naturalistic and less conventional medical attitudes than did the women who complied and had their babies vaccinated. The non-consenters also planned to breastfeed for a longer period than the control group. One of the most telling characteristics of the non-consenting mothers was that approximately 20 percent of them had careers in health/medical professions, while only 2% of the consenting group had such a background.

The researchers concluded that “mothers prevent administration of the hepatitis B vaccine to their newly born children based upon their overall approach, and not due to ignorance.”

Despite this acknowledgement – that non-consenting mothers were educated and well-informed – the researchers still said that “in order to overcome this harmful trend, the medical community must supply counter information that encourages vaccinations.”

Huh? What?

If these women were educated and well informed this statement suggests that the medical community would have to lie to mothers to get them to vaccinate.

Only two months later researchers from the Netherlands wrote in the journal Vaccine that parents who had a “negative attitude “ towards the introduction of other vaccines to the Dutch schedule in the future, generally had a high education, were health care workers and/or had no religious affiliation.3

The results of a large US study, involving 150,000 children, characterised the parents of unvaccinated children.4 This study was particularly interesting for the way in which it separated out “undervaccinated” children – those who had some but not all of their shots – and “unvaccinated” children – those whose parents had refused to vaccinate at all.

The study was the first extensive [US] national survey to look at why some children are not vaccinated and the results showed a big difference between parents who are unable to get their children vaccinated, and those who are unwilling to do so.

Unvaccinated children “tended to be white, to have a mother who was married and had a college degree, to live in a household with an annual income exceeding 75,000 dollars, and to have parents who expressed concerns regarding the safety of vaccines,” said the researchers from the US Centres for Disease Control. On the other hand “undervaccinated children tended to be black, to have a younger mother who was not married and did not have a college degree, to live in a household near the poverty level, and to live in a central city.”

Similar results were obtained in a smaller study of hepatitis A vaccine uptake in Butte County, California following “aggressive vaccination efforts in this community”.5 The researchers found that children with mothers who had 12 or fewer years of education and children in households with under $50 000 annual incomes were more likely to have received hepatitis A vaccine than children of mothers with higher education level or in families with greater income.

In commenting on the US national immunisation survey, Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center said:

“The more educated a health care consumer is about a subject such as vaccination, the greater the demand for autonomy in making informed health care choices for themselves and their children. When parents do their homework and investigate the benefits and risks of vaccination, they often come up with a different benefit risk analysis than their doctor does. If the under-served and under-educated were given the ability to do the same research, they also would be demanding more autonomy in making vaccination and other health care choices for their children.”

Of particular interest in the current environment in New Zealand, in which hysteria over meningococcal disease is actively promoted by the health authorities in an effort to obtain widespread acceptance of the MeNZB vaccine, is a study investigating the attitudes of parents to a meningococcal C vaccine in the Netherlands.

The researchers from the Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine in Amsterdam found that, among the different ethnic groups studied, generally, people “overestimated the risk of contracting the disease and the risk of dying after contracting the disease.”6 They went on to say that parents of Dutch ethnicity were “best informed, least worried, had the most critical attitude toward the campaign, and the lowest vaccination level compared to other parents.” These parents knew more about the disease and its risks and as a result were less likely to take up the vaccine.

Many other, earlier studies that characterise non-consenters have produced similar results to the studies mentioned here.

It is simplistic to slap a one or two word label on us and expect that it will adequately describe us. It is erroneous to conclude that our decisions are driven by ignorance. We are a complex and varied bunch, and certainly far short of ignorant. As well as complementary health care practitioners, our members include doctors, lawyers, nurses, midwives, sportspeople, entertainers, writers, teachers… The list of intelligent, well educated and informed parents and caregivers goes on and on.

To believe that we are ignorant, uneducated and misinformed suits the purposes of those who promote vaccination, because it gives them a simple answer – just increase the amount of education and promotion of vaccines and use scare-tactics to further erode our confidence in our ability to not only survive without vaccines, but thrive without them.

After all, it is easier to up the pressure with expensive and scary PR campaigns (viz. the meningococcal vaccine campaign in this country in 2004-05) than to actually address the root of their ‘problem’. Their problem is, that in general, non-consenters are intelligent people who are quite capable of reviewing the scientific evidence and making a decision for themselves. And then those non-consenters have the gall to take responsibility for their decisions and raise healthy children!

In addition, by adhering to their erroneous beliefs about why people turn their backs on vaccines, governments and health authorities can also avoid the fact that the foundation of lasting good health is not, and cannot ever be, based on medical intervention but must be founded on a good diet, a good environment with good housing and adequate clothing and heating, and good sanitation. Thus they can avoid the reality that vital to good health and persistent wellness, is a reduction in the exposure of our children to toxins such as tobacco smoke, chemicals and additives in our grossly over-processed food, and a reduction in the unnecessary use of drugs, both prescribed and over-the-counter. These beliefs also allow them to ignore the overwhelming health disadvantages of poverty and overcrowding.

Of course, it is so much easier for them to place their faith in a pharmaceutical industry riddled with conflicts of interest and plagued by the suppression of negative drug trial results, to add a few more vaccines to the schedule and ridicule and patronise those of us who dare to seek the truth before we say firmly, “No thanks!”

References

1. Petousis-Harris, H., Turner, N. and Kerse, N., 2002: New Zealand mother’s knowledge of and attitudes towards immunisation, NZFP, Vol. 29, No. 4, August 2002, pp 240-246.

2. Maayan-Metzgera, A., Kedem-Friedrichc,  P. and Kuinta, J., 2005: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate-that is the question: why are some mothers opposed to giving their infants hepatitis B vaccine? Vaccine, Vol. 23, Is. 16, 14 March 2005, pp 1941-1948.

3. Hak, E., Schonbeck, Y., De Melker, H., Van Essen, G.A. and Sanders, E.A., 2005: Negative attitude of highly educated parents and health care workers towards future vaccinations in the Dutch childhood vaccination program, Vaccine. 2005 May 2;23(24):3103-7.

4.  Smith, P.J., Chu, S.Y. and Barker, L.E., 2004: Children Who Have Received No Vaccines: Who Are They and Where Do They Live? Pediatrics, Vol. 114 No. 1 July 2004, pp. 187-195.

5. Bardenheier, B., González, I.M., Washington, M.L., Bell, B.P., Averhoff, F., Massoudi, M.S., Hyams, I., Simard, E.P. and Yusuf, H., 2003: Parental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices Associated With Not Receiving Hepatitis A Vaccine in a Demonstration Project in Butte County, California, Pediatrics, Vol. 112 No. 4 October 2003, pp. e269-e269.

6. Timmermans, D.R., Henneman, L., Hirasing, R.A. and van der Wal, G., 2005: Attitudes and risk perception of parents of different ethnic backgrounds regarding meningococcal C vaccination, Vaccine, 2005 May 9;23(25):3329-35.

Copyright © Sue Claridge 2005