Chickenpox or Chicken Little – Washington Post False Reporting

Dear Readers:

On January 9th, the Washington Post published an article on the urgency of getting the chickenpox vaccine in Maryland. Not only was the article full of errors, it seems they could not bear reporting the truth by publishing our response.  So we will.  Our letter to the editor follows.

Original article published in the Post: A Shot of Urgency in Maryland’s Vaccine Debate, Jan. 9, 2007

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Letter to the Editor January 9, 2007

Chickenpox or Chicken-Little?

I am writing in response to Sandra Boodman’s article published in the Post Jan 9, 2007, A Shot of Urgency In Md.’s Vaccine Debate.  She begins by quoting Greg Reed of the Maryland Center for Immunization: “We tell parents every year that about 100 people die from chickenpox in the United States.”

Let’s get the facts straight Mr. Reed.  What the Centers for Disease Control reports in the most recent MMWR figures is that from January 2003 through June 2004, there were 8 deaths related to chickenpox.  Of those, 3 were immune compromised with a pre-existing condition, 3 were otherwise healthy and the remaining 2 may or may not have already been vaccinated. (Ref 1)  That’s 8 deaths in 18 months – not 100 per year!

Ms. Boodman further reports that Donna Mazyck, a school health services specialist for the state recalled that some parents refused the chickenpox vaccine because they were “misinformed that the vaccine contained aborted fetal tissue.”

My dear Ms. Boodman, while a tiny needle obviously cannot contain actual tissue from aborted children, nonetheless the vaccine is cultivated on fetal cell lines taken from the lung tissue of electively aborted children.  Merck, the sole manufacturer of the only licensed chickenpox vaccine in the US, notes in its own product insert that the varicella vaccine contains “components” of the cells as well as “residual proteins and DNA” from the aborted fetuses.(Ref 2)  It is both disingenuous and insulting to claim that this genuine moral concern of a large percentage of both parents and physicians is unfounded. It seems the only one who is misinformed is Ms. Mazyck and the Post.

Boodman goes on to challenge the idea that, “contrary to popular belief that chickenpox is a mild illness”, as though this was some sort of fairytale dreamed up by reluctant parents, when in fact, in its own product literatureMerck describes varicella as “generally a benign, self-limiting disease.”

Mazyck and Reed are also quoted as saying the vaccine is both safe and highly effective, but in reality, the vaccine has an average failure rate of 24% with breakthrough occurrences of the disease reported as high as 38% among vaccinated children.  The National Institutes of Health reported the vaccine is effective at reducing the symptoms, but not at actually preventing infection of the disease. (Ref 3)

Last year, massive increases in outbreaks of chickenpox among vaccinated children prompted the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) to recommend a booster for the vaccine due to waning immunity.  And it is worth noting that while Dr Debra Wexler cites the need of the vaccine in order to help protect immune-compromised children who might contract the disease, Merck’s package insert also cautions that, “Vaccine recipients should attempt to avoid, whenever possible, close association with susceptible high-risk individuals for up to six weeks.”  These “susceptible” people are listed as unvaccinated pregnant women, infants and people with immune weaknesses.

So how many parents are keeping their newly vaccinated children at home for the next 6 weeks so as not to infect others?  After all, isn’t that what Dr Wexler advocates about “protecting your community”?

In the well-known children’s story, Chicken-Little tells the world “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” So is the Post really reporting on Chickenpox facts or Chicken-Little stories?  Using scare tactics and outright falsehoods does nothing to instill any confidence in the public health systems, much less in the chickenpox vaccine.

Debra L. Vinnedge, Executive Director
Children of God for Life
877 488-5433