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Monday, May 11, 2015

Vaccines prevent diseases but anti vaccine zealots want to turn back decades of progress

Testifying as a nurse in the vaccine public hearings held in Augusta Maine today, was a sad occasion.

We should have been celebrating the amazing health and wellness provided by vaccines, proven to prevent diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, polio, chicken pox and other communicable diseases. Unfortunately, rather than celebrating, the hearings today were held to hear "An Act to Improve Childhood Vacination Rates in Maine".  

A group of well informed presenters, who represented medical and consumer groups in Maine, were put  in a position of defending our wonderful and proven effective vaccine programs from being undone by anti-vaccine zealots.  

Anti-vaccine advocates are willing to turn back the progress of decades of scientific research about how vaccines support a health community be creating "herd immunity", to protect those who may be unable to benefit from the vaccines.

Therefore, we sat with the legislators who listened to hours of testimony by anti-vaccine emotional consumers. They raised fear about how they were convinced vaccines were a conspiracy to somehow harm the public.  

What was most interesting about the testimonies from the anti-vaccine folks is how nearly all of them began their statements by saying, "I am not anti-vaccine" or "I am fully vaccinated". Nevertheless, each of them proceeded to stoke fear about vaccines, by telling anecdotal, albeit compelling, personal stories, to challenge the credibility of vaccines. Nearly  all of the anti-vacc fear was based on unsubstantiated claims that vaccines are correlated with autism in children.

In their cliff notes versions, they said the public is more at risk for becoming ill with vaccines than they are for coming down with the illnesses they are created to prevent. But, they offered absolutely no proof to back up their fear stoking.  

Moreover, Joseph Kennedy, the son of Robert Kennedy, gave daunting testimony, overstating the issues about chemical additives in vaccines. Although all Maine citizens who spoke were held to a time clock of 4 minutes to give their testimonies, Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts was allowed to speak for at least a half hour, maybe even longer.  In a nutshell, he promoted a book he wrote about his interpretation of conspiracies surrounding how vaccines are promoted as big pharma as cash cows.  (I sincerely doubt there is validity in Kenndy's claims because the cash cows I suspect he refers to are not the vaccines. Instead, they are drugs like Viagra.)

Although Mr. Kennedy talked a lot, he didn't say anything about how vaccines improve public health, and protect all citizens from preventable diseases like polio, chicken pox, pertussis, mumps, rubella and other communicable illnesses.

On the other hand, there was ample scientific and evidence based testimony to counter the anti-vaccine experiences.  Although my short testimony was hardly as eloquent as that given by dozens of others who support vaccines and their benefits, here is my testimony given today to the Maine Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee:

Testimony of Juliana L’Heureux, BS., RN, MHSA. Director of Public Policy ANA-Maine

In support of LD 471: An Act to Improve Childhood Vaccination Rates in Maine

In opposition to LD 1076:

An Act to Enact the Vaccine Consumer Protection Program

Mission of the American Nurses Association is “Nurses advancing our profession to improve health care for all”.

Senator Eric Brakey, Chair

Senator Anne Haskell

Senator Earle McCormick

Representative Andrew Gattine, Chair

Representative Christine Burstein

Representative Scott Hamann

Representative Frances Head

Representative Patricia Hymanson

Representative Richard Malaby

Representative Matthew Peterson

Representative Deborah Sanderson

Representative Peter Stuckey

Representative Karen Vachon

Dear Senator Brakey and Representative Gattine and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services.

My name is Juliana L’Heureux. I am a nurse and a resident of Topsham, ME. I am speaking today to for the American Nurses Association of Maine in support LD 471 An Act to Improve Childhood Vaccination Rates in Maine (and in opposition to LD 1076 An Act to Enact the Vaccine Consumer Protection Program). ANA-Maine is a professional membership association representing 353 members who are nurses who are working in every field of health care and in Maine’s nursing schools & universities As you know, nurses are the front line care givers during infectious disease outbreaks.

In support of LD 471: Thank you Representative Dr. Sanborn for sponsoring this legislation. It is certainly incredulous to me and my nursing colleagues for me to be standing in a public policy hearing to protect the access of vaccines to children and all people, but especially when enrolling a child in a school or a licensed day care facility. As those of us who’ve raised children know, the first time one child in a group is reported to have any infectious disease, especially in an unprotected community, diseases like measles, mumps, rubella or whooping cough, it doesn’t take very long at all before the entire group is showing symptoms of the illness. Vaccines prevent these infectious illnesses and in so doing the health benefits extend beyond the child, and support a healthy workforce and the general public. All children should be vaccinated for preventable diseases. It was in my lifetime that I recall standing in long lines with my mother to receive the benefit of small pox and polio vaccines, when I was very young. My parents were very proud to tell us how we had been vaccinated to protect our health so we could attend school without worrying about becoming ill. We who have benefited from the having vaccine preventable illnesses have a responsibility to ensure the public health of others. These preventable diseases should never return to cause epidemics. Enclosed with this testimony is a one page article about how polio returns as “post polio” syndrome. This is similar to how chicken pox returns as the painful Shingles virus. We can prevent these diseases and stop them from spreading by providing our children with access to disease preventive vaccines. Vaccines are scientifically efficient interventions that have demonstrated their effectiveness in supporting healthy children and adults.

Our ANA opposition to LD 1076 An Act to Enact the Vaccine Consumer Protection Program is because the work of a vaccine consumer protection program is redundant to the scientific public health research of our Centers for Disease Control. Funding another consumer protection program, for the purpose of duplicating the science of the CDC, is unnecessary. It’s a far better use of resources to fully fund the CDC and provide their scientists with the tools needed to educate the public. Epidemic emergencies require our public health personnel to provide a rapid response to any disease outbreaks. Therefore, we need to fully fund CDC to augment the agency’s education of the public before seeking yet another layer of communication, especially when infectious diseases like measles or whooping cough may be quickly spreading.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you in support of LD 471 and against LD 1076 on behalf of ANA-Maine.

Vaccines are proven effective in protecting the public from many infectious diseases.

It's unlikely LD 1076 will pass out of committee. 

Yet, it's too soon to tell about LD 471.  

If the Health and Human Services Committee will focus on the testimony of the Maine people, those who spoke on behalf of Maine's citizens, this bill should receive a majority ought to pass margin.  Unfortunately, even if it passes out of committee, the vote will be held again on both the House and Senate floors, unless it receives a unanimous approval in committee, which is a doubtful outcome. 

In other words, this debate about the proven value, efficiency  and effectiveness of disease preventive vaccines, is not over.

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