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Wielding religion as a weapon against vaccines

I might as well lay it on the line right at the beginning. It’s not as though it will surprise my regular readers given what I’ve been writing here, most recently about when Rob Schneider played the Nazi card to express his opposition to California Bill AB2109. It’s a bill that does something very simple and very necessary; basically it requires that parents seeking a nonmedical exemption from school vaccine mandates actually visit a health care professional to provide informed consent before an exemption is granted. Yet, even suggesting that maybe—just maybe—nonmedical exemptions are too easy for parents to get and that maybe—just maybe—the easy availability of nonmedical exemptions endangers public health by allowing vaccine uptake rates to fall below what is necessary to maintain herd immunity is not a good idea is the equivalent to Nazi medical experimentation to the antivaccine set.

Of course, most of the time, antivaccinationist objections to any effort to tighten up school vaccine mandates by making nonmedical exemptions more difficult to obtain don’t involve religion. After all, all but two states allow religious exemptions; the number of states allowing nonmedical exemptions based on “philosophical objections” (i.e., objections not based on religion) is much smaller. This is the sort of privileging of religious beliefs that irritates me to no end. From my perspective, if any sort of nonmedical exemptions are allowed they should not be only religious objections, because religious beliefs should not be privileged over nonreligious beliefs. Better still, however, would be to allow no nonmedical exemptions at all.

Just don’t suggest that to Suzanne Humphries. You remember Suzanne Humphries, don’t you? She’s the nephrologist/homeopath antivaccinationist who portrays vaccines as “disease matter” and regularly lays down so much antivaccine lunacy that it’s a wonder she’s not a regular blogger on that wretched hive of scum and quackery, Age of Autism. She is, however, a regular contributor to that other antivaccine wretched hive of scum and quackery, the International Medical Council on Vaccination, and she uses that opportunity to express her displeasure with Dr. Paul Offit. The reason? Dr. Offit shot a video for Medscape in which he stated that philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccine mandates don’t make sense and degrade herd immunity. He correctly points out that antivaccine beliefs aren’t really a religious belief (although in a way, I might beg to differ somewhat given how antivaccinationism, like alternative medicine, shares a lot of non-science-based aspects of religion.

I particularly like the part of Dr. Offit’s presentation where he ways:

I think we should call these exemptions what they really are. Let’s not sugarcoat this choice. We should call them the “I do not want to get vaccines because I have read a lot of scary things about vaccines and I am afraid that they might hurt my child, and I am not so sure I believe in pharmaceutical companies or the medical establishment or the government, so I do not want my child to get them” vaccine exemption. That would be, I think, more honest.

More honest, but you’ll never hear this. Antivaccinationists hide their fears behind religion, even though in reality few are the religions that actually have any sort of objection to vaccines, and when they can’t manage to do that they retreat to “philosophical exemptions.” Suzanne Humphries doesn’t like what Dr. Offit said one bit. Not one little bit. In fact, she views Dr. Offit’s reasonable statements as dire threats to religious freedom in her post In Vaccines We Trust? Paul Offit threatens religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions. A response by Suzanne Humphries, MD:

In Offit’s video, he said that religious exemptions do not “make sense” and went on to inform doctors on the chronological age of three religious scriptures, and how they could not possibly have anything to do with vaccination because vaccines are so much newer than those tattered and outmoded scribbles of hundreds or thousands of years ago. Those “outmoded” books, including the Old Testament and the Koran, include specific passages containing principles which obliquely address many health issues. To many people, these scriptures place vaccines amongst may things which are not consistent with scriptural hygiene. Here are specific references from the HOLY BIBLE and the KORAN. Dr Katme’s explanation of the Islamic problems with vaccination can be read HERE. Hindu faith also has restrictions on what is permitted in their bodies, the treatment of cows and monkeys etc. Vaccination is an affront to many Hindus who know the contents of vaccines.

God gave Moses core principles on Mt. Sinai that are held in high esteem by both Christians and Jews the world over. Offit misses out on the timelessness of God’s words. God’s principles don’t wear out. Neither do they need continuous repeating and revising.

Really? Where, exactly, is it in the Bible that proscribes vaccines? Vaccines were nearly two thousand years away when the passages used to justify religious opposition to vaccines were written. The people who wrote the scriptures of the major religions had no clue what vaccines were; they didn’t exist. In fact, the background biological knowledge even to imagine vaccines didn’t exist! That means that any “objection” to vaccines based on any scripture is based not on any direct statement in the scripture but on the interpretation of passages by people who have lived in the 200 years since the concept of immunization was first proven to be effective. These people are imposing their modern interpretation on text written by men whose understanding of human health and disease was based on prescientific concepts and superstitions. (In that, antivaccinationists share a great deal in common with the writers of scripture.) Medicine at the time these various scriptures of various religions were written was so primitive that praying for the sick to get better was at least as effective as anything physicians could do at that time. That’s probably one reason why in ancient times in so many societies priests were commonly physicians and physicians were commonly priests. The roles were often merged. Certainly it was that way in ancient Egypt.

There’s so much wrong in Humphries’ article that it’s hard to know to which errors, misrepresentations, and omissions I should apply my usual not-so-Respectful Insolence. Certainly one claim deserves scrutiny. Humphries is really incensed (or pissed off or outraged or whatever). First, she objects to Offit’s invocation of the 14th Amendment, specifically the equal protection clause, as a reason why religious exemptions are not Constitutional. In fact, in the Supreme Courts of the two states that do not have religious exemptions (West Virginia and Mississippi) ruled that such exemptions do violate the equal protection clause. So what’s Humphries’ response? It’s conspiracy mongering claiming that the 14th Amendment was never ratified and, oh, by the way, it was only designed to protect newly freed slaves.

Then, she goes totally off the deep end, invoking Public Law 97-280 96 STAT.1211 (97th Congress) as a “law that declares the Bible to be The Word of God.” It’s not really a law at all, though. It’s nothing more than a joint resolution of Congress requesting then President Ronald Reagan to declare 1983 to be the “Year of the Bible.” Sure, it says that Congress in 1982 was ignorant enough of the history of the U.S. to believe that “Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States.” Reagan did that and declared 1983 as the “Year of the Bible.” That’s about all it says. It’s also not binding law; all it did was to give President Reagan authorization to make his proclamation that 1983 was the “Year of the Bible.” That’s it. It’s all ceremonial. Not to Humphries, though. To her:

This represents Congress’ stance that the Bible has its rightful place above the Constitution because our forefathers were inspired by the Bible in the writing of the Constitution. Every four years the president of the USA is sworn into office with his hand on a Bible. Offit would probably just consider this a silly tradition. However, most presidents have publicly recognized the role of God and religious faith in the public life and spiritual heritage of America.

No, no, no, no. I challenge Humphries to find any legitimate law or passage in the Constitution that says anywhere that the Bible should be held in a “rightful place above the Constitution.” The U.S. is a secular nation, founded on secular principles. There’s no doubt that the majority of the population is deeply religious, but the Constitution is designed to be neutral with respect to religion. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution is the Bible invoked. It’s not for nothing that the first passage of the Constitution reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

We The People. Not God. Not the Bible. Not Jesus. We The People.

Humphries also grossly misinterprets the First Amendment, not surprisingly, as to view vaccine mandates as a violation of religious freedom and a threat to free speech. They’re not. We don’t allow parents to use religious beliefs to justify withholding treatment from their children, thus endangering their lives. (Well, actually, all too often we do, but we shouldn’t.) Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t deny a blood transfusion a child bleeding to death, and parents can’t refuse chemotherapy for their child with cancer. In such cases, like it or not, the state steps in. The First Amendment is not without limits.

Not surprisingly, Humphries also launches into a tirade against pharmaceutical companies and evidence-based medicine. In particular, she tries to claim that all medicine (except, apparently her favored woo) is corrupt. As evidence of this, she claims that evidence-based medicine manipulates the rules to suit itself in the following fashion:

Instead of placebos, evidence based medicines uses vaccines, and calls them placebos, yet vaccines do not fit their own definition of placebo;


Here are some examples of vaccine trial “placebos”:

The hepatitis A vaccine was the placebo for the influenza vaccine in a well publicized STUDY. The study’s designer is quoted as SAYING that he didn’t want to withhold a potentially beneficial treatment from the control subjects. “Hepatitis was not studied, but to keep the investigators from knowing which colonies received flu vaccine, they had to offer placebo shots, and hepatitis shots do some good while sterile water injections do not.“ So, if the placebo is supposed to have no therapeutic effect as the definition that was taken from an ardently pro-vaccine website that criticizes our criticism of their use of placebos, and the study used hepA placebo because “water does no good” … where on earth is the match up with even their definition of science?

Actually, contrary to what Humphries says, this is in fact a valid placebo. Why? Because the hepA vaccine placebo has no effect on influenza. In fact, arguably it’s a better placebo than a saline injection because it has actual aluminum adjuvant and many of the same ingredients found in the influenza vaccine, but the antigenic protein is different. Humphries views the choice of placebos for vaccine trials that contain aluminum, other adjuvants, and/or other ingredients commonly found in vaccines as some sort of conspiracy to hide vaccine reactions in randomized clinical trials, but in reality it’s nothing more than a rational effort to make sure that the placebo is as much like the vaccine as possible. Not that that stops antivaccinationists like Humphries from trying to take issue with the choice of placebo in various vaccine studies. Mark Blaxill did the same thing in a hilariously inept manner last year.

To Humphries, it all comes down to vaccines being somehow against God’s will. To her, vaccines are evidence of not trusting God enough to protect us:

Many of us who once bowed at the altar of “eminence-based” medicine, have learned the hard way, and had to re-boot our belief system. We have learned through experience and researching the latest core scientific understanding of the immune system, that the human body can and does do the job God intended. By going back to the scriptures and understanding the principles from the “manufacturer’s manual,” we have a new found awe and respect for God’s design. We are learning that we can trust God’s design to maintain its health, providing we follow God’s principles to support and maintain what he manufactured, which is what it means to have a relationship with God, and to believe in God’s word.

Because that worked so well before vaccines, didn’t it? God didn’t vanquish smallpox. Vaccines did. God hasn’t vanquished polio. Vaccines are in the process of doing so, if only religious objections and paranoid conspiracy fears among some Muslims in at-risk areas don’t prevent it. (They’ve already slowed down progress.) God did not bring measles under control. Vaccines did. In fact, for whatever reason, God was more than happy to allow untold deaths from infectious disease among children, such that graveyards from pre-20th century times (and even into the early part of the 20th century) are littered with the gravestones of children cut down by what are now vaccine-preventable diseases. Most religious people realize that, and vaccinate their children as recommended. There’s a saying that used to be popular when I was still going to Catholic high school back in the late 1970s: God helps those who help themselves. You don’t have to be an atheist or agnostic to reject the sort of pure idiocy that Humphries is advocating (although it does make it incredibly easy to do). All you have to do is to believe that God gave humans the intellect to invent things like vaccines.

In the end, I think Dr. Offit totally nailed it. Religious objections to vaccines are precious few and mainly on the fringe. Even the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t object to vaccines anymore and haven’t since 1952. (If only they would change their mind on blood transfusions as well.) In reality, they are more excuses used to justify fear of vaccines that are not grounded in science.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

91 replies on “Wielding religion as a weapon against vaccines”

Hang on a minute, the US has an explicit separation of church and state doesn’t it? So not only is she clueless about vaccines, but the founding principles of her country? Although, I hear it’s currently a problem over there, with a certain pulled book.

She also wrote some idiotic comment about Jesus not having to ask Luke, a physician, about healing the sick. This clearly shows how little she knows about the Bible. Luke was a contemporary of Paul, not Jesus. Luke never met Jesus. He researched and wrote about Jesus and the Apostles, but Jesus didn’t ask Luke about healing because Luke wasn’t around.

Nonsense like that is an insult to both religion and humankind. It grossly distorts religious teaching and renders as worse than nothing the amazing achievements of human intellect (which, it could be argued, is granted by divine will).

Arguments like this remind me of the old joke of the guy trapped by rising flood waters. When he eventually drowns and asks why God didn’t save him, God tells him he sent a couple boats and a helicopter.

God’s principles don’t wear out. Neither do they need continuous repeating and revising.

Right! That’s why we insist on using only the original New King James version of the Bible, unrevised from when it was written 2000 years ago!

Oh, wait….

Humphries combines many of the traits so common in ignorant America.

The babble is the infallible word of god. Not even close. Written years later, in some cases many years later. Translated many times and influenced by the monarchs in power at the time of translation. What about folks who don’t believe in that or any god or in those words?

The constitution of the US is based on and influenced by the babble. Not unless you are David Barton or lie like him.

Big Pharma is bad. Sure. Tell me that when you have a critical care issue. That same big pharma conspiracy that makes vaccines for almost no profit makes the splints, bandages, and antibiotics you will need to survive. And makes them more profitably.

Paul Offit is a (insert preferred bad word here).. Yup. The man worked for most of his professional career developing a vaccine that saved the lives of countless children at a cost of pennies per dose. He forcefully presents the case for using that and other vaccines to save lives. Whatever word you used sounds pretty dumb after saying those last two sentences.

Mandating vaccines is against my religion. Bullshit.

Mandating vaccines infringes on my parental rights. It only infringes on your right to be an ignorant gullible moron of a parent. Your children and mine deserve better.

America is coasting on the greatness of our parents and their parents. They welcomed the advance of science and medicine. They enthusiastically jumped at the chance to take advantage of every medical miracle they could afford. Vaccines are one of the most successful of those and their success has provided Humphries and others with a platform to jump from. Into the abyss with her.

And, actually, a lot of religions have nothing against vaccines, so what she writes make even less sense.
I know that the Catholic Church is not against vaccination. They are commonly demanded to attend catholic school. I was vaccinated against hep in a Catholic School, as a matter of fact.
Also, many devout muslims vaccinate.

I can’t speak for jews or protestants, though. Somebody else maybe…

Pagan skeptic peoples like Orac and his clones don’t understand religion.

Have you been saved by the holy word of MMS yet?

“If you pass our MMS seminar or Home Training and pass our exam – you can become a Health minister of MMS and Reverend of Genesis II Church.”



All of the major sects of Christianity, Judaism and Islam support immunization. Some even go so far as to help with (gasp!) vaccination campaigns in developing countries!


Yes I supposed something like that. And, amazingly, her words make even less sense than I previously though *sigh*.

The US may have been founded on secular principles, but it is definitely not a secular state right now… Anybody who is not christian is viewed with great suspicion, up to and including false claims about the religion of your president that are made to intensify the hatred against him.

I spent some time (for work) in a town where a local atheist was getting death threats. That was a very unpleasant thing to see, and knowing that there was a significant population who wouldn’t shed a tear if those death threats were followed through on made me very uncomfortable.

The catholic church is so supportive of vaccinationationm that it overlooks the “aborted fetus cells” aspect. Yes, I know the relationship is superfluous, but it is a simple excuse the church could use, if they chose to.

When the catholo church doesn’t care about aborted fetus cells in vaccines, you know its a lame objection when others try it.

@Science Mom
Thank you! A very interesting site, I’ll enjoy reading it 😀

@Marry Me, Mindy
Yep, I heard of it. As far as I know, the CC “hopes and prays” that one day there won’t be need for cells cultured from aborted feti, but up that day come, people have to vaccinate the current way… Something that surprise new catholics, sometimes.

(No I am not Catholic, per se, bu I am grew up in a Catholic country 🙂 )

I have an OT question.

Why people that don’t obey to doc orders obey to quack’s one?

This is an example: a family friend got a stroke. He was obese, and his docs told him to lose weight, which he didn’t. Then he went to a quack (can’t remember the kind, I think a nathuropath or an herbalist) who said that he had to lose weight and take some pills. And this time he did lose weight! (It is noteworthy that he didn’t stop to take the pills his true doctors told him to take, nor he missed his appointments.)
I have seen this happening other time, and it boggles my mind.

There are very few religions that prohibit vaccination that I know of. That being said, I’ve heard murmurings on some alternative radio shows that one of the upcoming vaccinations released one day might be “the real mark of the beast,” using that insinuation to suggest another “reason” to avoid being vaccinated to those who are from religions that have a more apocalyptic/end times kind of view.

If they can’t get them with doubt about the government, they can always try to sway them with irrational end times fears (and yes, Mr Woo considers that warning and wonders how he will know which one it is – a popular suggestion is any vaccine released to help combat possible pandemics).

Dr Offit, you are too tempered in your language.

“I think we should call these exemptions what they really are. Let’s not sugarcoat this choice. We should call them the “I do not want to get vaccines because I am a total fruit loop and I believe all the crap spewed out by Age of Autism about them, and what’s more I don’t give a sh1t if other kids suffer or die as a result and I totally bodge up herd immunity in the population” vaccine exemption. That would be, I think, more honest.


I think the only religion that can claim a bona fide anti-vaccine stand are the adherents of Steiner’s anthroposophy. Which is also why we have Waldorf schools as disease breeding grounds throughout the country. None of the major Christian denominations support this nonsense, and Wahhabi Saudi Arabia requires everybody on the Haj to be vaccinated.

I swear, (not to God, though – I’m an atheist) every time Suzanne opens her mouth, I expect to hear a rattle.

She’s ignorant and arrogant and so blinded by her own stupidity that it ceased to be funny when she was pushing Vitamin C as a treatment for both pertussis and tetanus.

She’s so goddamned dense, light bends around her.


Christian Science, I believe, also opposes vaccination due to the simple fact that they oppose all medicine, holding to the belief that prayer is all that is needed to heal; seeking medical care displays a lack of faith.

Oh lord almighty**!
A topic near and dear to my heart ! And I have to leave !

Whenever someone tosses in supernatural explanations you know they have little else. I translate this as being mis-understandings of psychological and emotional processes. ‘Spirit’ and ‘soul’ are substituted when they mean perhaps ‘strong feelings’ or ‘identity’. Unfortunately , I run into lots of this. MIke Adams has a brand new website in which he muses over spirituality ( Divinity and the others have succumbed as well. It was always there underlying their spiel .

**purely a figure of speech.

I challenge Humphries to find any legitimate law or passage in the Constitution that says anywhere that the Bible should be held in a “rightful place above the Constitution.”

It’s too easy for Humphries to cherry pick something to support that claim, because there is a substantial cottage industry of people who do exactly that. These folks are to history as AoA et al. are to medicine–go ahead and laugh at them for being so wrong in the face of evidence, but ignore them at your peril.

I know of a couple of fringe sects which might reject vaccination along with many other forms of medical intervention: the Christian Scientists (the name invokes an archaic definition of “scientist”) and Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t know their actual views on vaccination, but given what I know of their stand on other forms of medical intervention I would not be surprised if they were opposed. I don’t know of any religious group that opposes vaccination without also opposing other forms of medical intervention.

I’v noticed that people like Humphries who hysterically invoke the Bible and the Constitution, have never actually read either.

Aren’t these claimed religious objections to vaccines about on the same level as the religious
justifications for peyote?

You can’t just claim “my religion says X, so gimme gimme gimme”

The anti-vaccine movement astounds me & not in any good way. Mikema 8:22 AM closing paragraph – well said! I’ve seen “religious objection” bandied about as an excuse by people who are members of a religious organization that supports vaccination. Anything goes. Interesting comment (Mu 9:57) re Steiner & Waldorf schools. Didn’t know about that one.

I find it rather ironic that folks are willing to lie about a religious exemption for vaccines.

I mean, because there’s so many religions out there that approve of lying…

Dr. Offit has it right, it’s the “I’m never going to listen to anything anyone with an education has to say about vaccines because I learned the TRUTH ™ on the internet and these other people agree with me that vaccines are the root of all evil and homosexuality and I’m willing to lie about being religious to get out of vaccinating my special little snowflake!”

I’d prefer they called it the, “I’m a f*cking moron” exemption, personally. Because folks who opt for it are f*cking morons.

“There’s no doubt that the majority of the population is deeply religious, ” — I’m not quite so sure. I expect that the majority of the population believes in God, in some form, or considers themselves “spiritual”, but I suspect the true Bible-thumpers are in the minority except in the South. They’re just really, really loud.

Marry Me, Mindy @10:20 — “Aren’t these claimed religious objections to vaccines about on the same level as the religious justifications for peyote?” — I think the religious justifications for peyote are actually quite a bit stronger than the religious objections to vaccines.

The last time Orac blogged about Humphries, she came to post here…maybe she will *grace* us all with her appearance.

About religions and vaccines:

Now, I’ve read the bible and to those who have bumper stickers that state “WWJD?” (What would Jesus Do?); he’d be *all in* for vaccines that protect innocent babies and children.

Suzanne Humphries’ attempt to appease me is interesting, but I am angered that she left her home without a male escort to do this. And for what value does she anger me so? Surely a religious scholar of her ability knows that I value her words as being worth no more than half those of any man, no matter how much effort was exerted in producing them.

I find it rather ironic that folks are willing to lie about a religious exemption for vaccines.

Sure, it’s ironic, but it’s also something I have come to expect.

These religious nuts who claim to be all in favor of establishing “God’s law”, and who seem to know all of the obscure Biblical rules, often violate the one that says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Which is not exactly an obscure rule–it’s one of the Ten Commandments.

There is a whole bunch of other stuff they lie about, such as the church-state separation stuff mentioned in the post. Why should lying about vaccines be surprising?

@ Todd

Christian Science, I believe, also opposes vaccination due to the simple fact that they oppose all medicine, holding to the belief that prayer is all that is needed to heal; seeking medical care displays a lack of faith.

I can understand the trust of a deeply faithful person, but I always got the feeling these people are a bit confused about who is the master and who are the servants in their god – worshipers relationship.
After all, they are sustaining the belief that if they badger deity of choice long enough, He/She/It will twist reality just for the sake of their special little self.
I believe there is actually something in the Bible about not testing God.

It may come from my education: my mom was very firm in that other people are not my slaves and that, if I can do something myself, asking someone else to do it is just plain rude. Even more so if this someone is your superior.
Or more simply, help yourself, and God will help you.

God didn’t vanquish smallpox… God hasn’t vanquished polio… God did not bring measles under control…

“If God could do the tricks that we can do he’d be a happy man!”
Peter O’Toole as Eli Cross, in The Stuntman

Marry Me, Mindy:

You can’t just claim “my religion says X, so gimme gimme gimme”

Unfortunately, people feel justified in doing that all time, while simultaneously denying people of religion Y what they say they’re entitled to. All that’s required is to start from the premise that “my religion X is the one true religion; your religion Y is wrong and sinful and offensive to my one true God!”

I think the religious justifications for peyote are actually quite a bit stronger than the religious objections to vaccines.

Given the rather tortured legal history of the Native American Church, a cleaner example in the modern day might be the status of ayahuasca for the Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (which only applies at the federal level, though). One thing to keep in mind is that it is unequivocally unnecessary to be part of any recognized religious body in order to meet the standard tests for a religious vaccine exemption–that the belief is (1) genuinely religious in nature and (2) sincerely held. The successful cases before the New York State Commissioner of Education are helpful reading in this regard. A fair amount of precedent also comes out of employment law; I recall that one California body (can’t recall whether it was administrative) held that veganism could be constructed in a sufficiently close fashion to a religious belief that requirements for vaccines produced using eggs could be avoided.

(Oh, and on the Patricia Finn front once again, yet another of her spectacular failures was a recent challenge to West Virginia’s refusal to provide any religious exemption. That ruling is here [PDF]. The Fourth Circuit refused to review en banc, and the Supreme Court also told her to go away.)

“You can’t just claim “my religion says X, so gimme gimme gimme””

Seems to work for Scientologists–who may well reject vax along with mental health treatment (other than their own).

Scientology is another odd use of the word science–should be Sciencefictionology.

Here in Calgary, there’s been a big fight about the HPV vaccine. The province was having it administered in the schools. However, we have 2 school boards – a public board and a Catholic board. The local bishop (Fred Henry, pretty much the epitome of everything that is wrong with Catholicism) decided he was against the HPV vaccine and prohibited the Catholic schools from providing it. While technically he has no authority over the schools, he does things like threaten to withhold his blessings on the staff if he doesn’t get his way (which is a big deal to the Catholics) so the board caved.

As a result, the HPV vaccination rate in Catholic students is pretty dismal, while students in the public schools have a relatively high rate.

Religions need to adapt and accommodate.
Jehovah’s Witnesses blood transfusion confusion

Jehovahs Witnesses take blood products now in 2012.
They take all fractions of blood.This includes hemoglobin, albumin, clotting factors, cryosupernatant and cryo-poor too, and many, many, others.
If one adds up all the blood fractions the JWs takes, it equals a whole unit of blood. Any, many of these fractions are made from thousands upon thousands of units of donated blood.
Jehovah’s Witnesses can take Bovine *cows blood* as long as it is euphemistically called synthetic Hemopure.
Jehovah’s Witnesses now accept every fraction of blood except the membrane of the red blood cell. JWs now accept blood transfusions.
The fact that the JW blood issue is so unclear is downright dangerous in the emergency room.

Danny Haszard
JW blood reform site

Came across this MDC thread from 2006, where a mother is asking which religions oppose vaccinations so that she could get an exemption in Hawaii.

Though one of the commenters states that the Church of Illumination (never heard of that) opposes vaccines, the church’s web site doesn’t mention them at all. So, I shot an email off to them. We’ll see what I get back.

I remember seeing on one of the anti-vax FB sites where a mother ‘got around’ having to file an exemption by giving her child a ‘up to date’ vaccine record courtesy of Photoshop.

“God’s principles don’t wear out. Neither do they need continuous repeating and revising.”

That’s why we don’t wear clothes made of mixed fibers, and we avoid eating shrimp and lobster!

I remember seeing on one of the anti-vax FB sites where a mother ‘got around’ having to file an exemption by giving her child a ‘up to date’ vaccine record courtesy of Photoshop.

Yeah, there was one on MDC who faked her own vaccination record to get into a nursing program. This apparently only worked up to a point; when triangulated from her E-mail address, I couldn’t find her listed by any state licensing boards.

That’s why we don’t wear clothes made of mixed fibers, and we avoid eating shrimp and lobster!

Just imagine the pickup opportunities for someone with a Shatnez Inspector badge.

Mrs Woo – how do you cope with such bizarre conspiracy theories, seriously?

It’s challenging enough to have a partner who believes that The Master will return to battle The Doctor, or that Gallifrey will rise again, but MMS? New World Order-type scenarios about vaccines?

You must have the patience of a toddler’s pet labrador.

“Dr. Offit has it right, it’s the “I’m never going to listen to anything anyone with an education has to say about vaccines because I learned the TRUTH ™ on the internet”

This is only partly true. They are willing to listen to someone with an education, if that person’s degree has nothing to do with vaccines, or that they hold beliefs which fly in the face of what 99.99% of others in their specialty know.

Narad – there’s no gelt in shatnez inspection anymore. Prices are as low as $10 for a three piece suit! The market is saturated.

Better off working as a k’lipot inspector. Buy a $cientology e-meter on eBay, and test people for particles. As a bonus you could also check for the ayin hara!

“Oh look at that reading Mrs Fresser, no wonder your diet won’t work, you’re under the evil eye! I can guarantee removal for $200. It might help your daughter to find a match too. Aren’t you glad you came?”

@Danny Haszard
Interesting info on JW evolution wrt blood. What is their take on vaccines?

Reading the case that Narad provided…I see this phrase:

“On September 21, 2007, the Superintendant of Mingo County Schools, Defendant Dwight Dials, sent a letter to Dr. Cathy Slemp, the acting head of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, stating that a school nurse had challenged Workman’s certificate.”

I love school nurses!


As Orac noted (and I found as well when I wrote about religion and vaccines), Jehovah’s Witnesses support vaccination.

Interesting info on JW evolution wrt blood. What is their take on vaccines?

The Watchtower Society dropped its official opposition to vaccination in 1952. It’s now a matter of “the Bible-trained conscience of the individual Christian.”

“Many of us who once bowed at the altar of “eminence-based” medicine”

Was this a typo on Humpries part, or does she really not know the difference between “evidence” & “eminence”?

Was this a typo on Humpries part, or does she really not know the difference between “evidence” & “eminence”?

I would hazard a good guess that’s Humphries thinking she is really profound.

Missed the JW small step for sanity. Good news there. Aside from ‘bible trained consciences’, it seems like there ought to be damned few places for the anti-vax child and science abusers to lurk.

Is there a go-to religion for them to sign on with as a safe haven for their insanity? Do any school districts or states require proof of faith? Check on regular attendance, tithing, whatever?

As far as I know, my once-school (Catholic, Saint Charles School in Milan) give the HPV vaccines ò.ò

Also, I think that the mother who asked “Which religions is against vaccination” is insulting to people who honestly believe in something, and show an appalling lack of moral value. Personally I think many atheists wouldn’t claim to believe in a religion to get something, and many religious person wouldn’t claim to be atheist for the same reason. And I respect that.
This woman? Great example to her kids, really.

Do any school districts or states require proof of faith?

That might actually get one into trouble on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. (Which is not to say that someone couldn’t include such information to back up a religious exemption.) As far as I know, New York State’s sincerity testing is the strictest standard currently in play.

Odin gets angry when they say “God said don’t vaccinate.”

Odin wants us to live long and happy lives: surviving childhood diseases so we can die in battle as intended (in this case, battling stupidity) and drink ale in Valhalla.

That’s why he sent Thor down with his hammer – but these young religions forget the message.

Or something?

I’d like to see what religion some of these people are claiming that they belong to. If I’m not mistaken, Amis, Mennonites, Hassidic Jews, Devout Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, Jehova’s Wittensses, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintos, Protestants, Ba’hai, and Sikhs all have no religious objections to vaccination. Did I leave one of them out?

I think what would probably work here would be simply asking the person who requests an exemption to produce the text of their faith that specifically dictates where vaccination is forbidden.

I think what would probably work here would be simply asking the person who requests an exemption to produce the text of their faith that specifically dictates where vaccination is forbidden.

No written or other religious tradition is required. This is established law.

^ To wit, Sherr v. Northport–East Northport Union Free School District, 672 F. Supp. 81 (E.D.N.Y. 1987).

Narad, I found a Shaatnez Inspector locally!
They really don’t make much, either.

Shaatnez removal:
Rates: as of 1 Jan 1997
(Wow, no inflation!)

Damn, because I was going to try to get a certificate, now that it’s so hard to get work in tech writing…

I wonder how they remove the shaatnez?

They really don’t make much, either.

You know, I was talking about picking up chicks.

There is an option to avoid all vaccines:

Home school.

That should be the only option, with one exception:

Parents of children who have some rare condition which prevents them from being vaccinated may petition _all the other parents in the school their kid attends. If all approve, they get an exemption.

That’s it. No other exemptions, period. Home schooling is just fine for people who are, err, extra special snowflakes.

Orac, I hope I can comment without drawing your ‘insolent’ ire. :0)

Let me start by saying that I’m a proponent of vaccines and of science-based medicine. That said, at one time I invoked my state’s (Idaho’s) religious exemption from a vaccination for one of my children, despite the fact that my ‘religion’ would best be described as atheist.

Let me explain. Many, many years ago, we had a whooping cough outbreak in our school district and my youngest daughter was one of the first who contracted it. This outbreak was shown to be primarily in vaccinated children (and my daughter was current on her vaccinations). The ‘treatment’ regimen on what turned out to be a massive outbreak involved some high-powered antibiotics (this was so long ago I don’t remember which one) which were causing problems in those taking them (including me… I spent a week not able to stand up straight due to abdominal pain until I quit taking the antibiotic). The protocol was that anyone exposed had to be on a regimen of antibiotics… regardless of how many times they were exposed. At our third round of antibiotics, I called the state Health Dept. and they said (paraphrased) oh my gosh, we didn’t realize families were being made to take these antibiotics so many times, that’s not good. It was quite disheartening that this had to be brought to their attention by a parent, and not by a medical professional.

Anyway… after this episode, my daughter was due for another whooping cough booster and I talked with our pediatrician about what to do given that she already had had whooping cough… and the pediatrician didn’t know what to recommend. At which time I invoked our ‘religious exemption’ in order to not have my daughter take another vaccine, simply because I didn’t know what impact that might have on her given she had had whooping cough already.

This was a weird situation, and I don’t know today whether that was the correct choice to make. But when we’re looking at exemptions to vaccinations… we need to have a policy that takes into account the varying states’ access to medicine.

If you can go to your public health department and speak with a qualified professional AT NO COST, then by all means you should be required to do so before choosing not to vaccinate your child. But if affordable access to a medical professional is not available… we need to have a policy that can take into account a parent’s realistic concerns about their child’s health, while keeping the rest of our children relatively safe as well.

I apologize because this is a rant due to my inability to get information I could trust regarding decisions about my children’s health a LONG time ago and it still rankles. But I would like to see you acknowledge that access to medical care is currently not readily available to an awful lot of people, and our policies need to reflect that, as well. Yes, let’s require medical information prior to any vaccination exemptions, but that medical information HAS to be freely available, and not up to the whims of individual states and what they are willing to provide.



Medical exemptions should always be allowed, based on a physician’s decision, not popular vote from other parents.

The anti-vaxers love to pull the religion card in all kinds of creative ways. I was arguing with some of the usual suspects a few days ago at AoA regarding the recent study on paternal age, DNA mutations and risk of autism. One commenter scoffed at the notion that DNA mutatjons could possibly be caused by anything other than environmental toxins (we all know what that’s code for). When I chimed in to point out that DNA polymerase has an inherent error rate, and that these mutations will increase as cell division continues, I was accused of introducing the “Hand of God” into the discussion, and was further told how all too frequently we scientists “resort to religion when speculating about the causes of autism”. My coffee nearly came out my nose when I read that! I tried to post a reply, but did not make it past moderation.

I was also likened to a Nazi “brainaic” [sic] that only uses facts to argue. Shame on me.

@elburto – he spoils me rotten, and though he will sometimes worry himself into insomnia over what he hears on the radio, he usually doesn’t do too much else about it (except for his habit of stockpiling a year’s worth of canned goods at any given time, but hey, if I don’t feel like leaving the house it means I usually have something to make for dinner without too much fuss).

I take that back – I vent here because it does frustrate me; the most frustrating is watching the insomnia and worry and my inability to reason with him about these things yet. What baffles me most is the conspiracy theory thing. If there are people that power-hungry and they know everyone else they are allied with is that power-hungry how in the world could they trust each other?

And reading Trish’s post reminds me that I meant to go get a tetanus booster after scratching my hand open on a sharp edge I accidentally found in our one chicken house. It is a scratch, but conditions it came from made me consider better safe than sorry on that one. Better get that done tomorrow.

One irony – it seems to me (I might be wrong) that the one booster that is least argued about is the tetanus booster. Almost no one says, “Oh no, I’ll go ahead and take my chances with tetanus.”

Am I wrong? It could be because I haven’t run into a lot of serious antivaccinationists aside from Mr Woo, and he’s actually flexible about them for the most part. Was a little worried about them after our one grandson was autistic, but other grandchildren surviving them with no ill effects has made him more accepting of them again, thank goodness.

@ Trish Gannon: You had quite an experience with what I presume to be a prolonged outbreak of pertussis in your area of Idaho. Erythromycin for 14 days or another macrolide antibiotic for 5 days is the recommended regimen for treatment of pertussis in its early stages or for post-exposure prophylaxis.

I suspect that the outbreak in your area was so very prolonged (you and your family underwent three separate regimens!), because many of the cases did not have access to antibiotics. Consequently, the early cases were infectious for prolonged periods of time.

Every child should have a medical “home” with access to vaccines. In my large suburban County, where I worked as a public health nurse, we had seven public health clinics for kids who were on Medicaid or kids who were not insured or underinsured and who had access to free vaccines.

IMO, the outbreak in your area was mishandled somehow, because provisions were not made by the local or State health departments to provide antibiotics for those early cases of pertussis and for prophylaxis of contacts…thus prolonging an outbreak.

I assume your daughter was due for fifth and final booster of DTP or DTaP vaccine, due ages 4-6 years of age. You most likely did not put her at risk, because she probably had immunity for a number of years from pertussis infection.

I hope she eventually got the booster or has received the Tdap vaccine recently…as her immunity from the infection has probably waned considerably:

Am I wrong?

Nah, if you hang around at MDC, all but the true beliveroonies seem to think there might be something to this tetanus stuff. I tend to believe this is because it’s close enough to an inhuman force to fire some sort of competing spooky brain circuit. The ones that dismiss this minor rite of passage, or whatever, tend to go with brilliant remarks about hydrogen peroxide and anaerobes. (It took a while to figure out reliable ways of destroying the spores, such as cooking in acetone.)

Hugs for Mrs Won. Mr sounds like he has a pretty profound anxiety disorder, that’s no fun at all. When mine was at it’s worst I “caused” deaths, disasters, illness, all sorts of things. If it’s playing up I can’t sleep, it’s like my brain is screaming at me about all the bad things waiting to get people I love.

Get your tetanus, and don’t be afraid to gently challenge Mr with questions that would cause him to think critically about his fears. Hopefully he can find a way to a peaceful mind one day!

Trish – it’s a disgrace that you have to pay for vaccinations/vax advice at all. Coverage is never going to reach optimum strength if someone has to choose between DTAP and dinner, or Hib and heat.

MissyMiss – see my comment upthread re: shatnez. I’m gonna detect bad k’lipot and Evil Eye curses, by using a $cientology e-meter off eBay 😀


Yes, I caught WonderBoy’s new journalistic masterpiece. He must spend days desperately trying to assemble these contrived disasters. If he spent more time learning about public health, he’d be better off. Remarkably, he seems to have no problem at all with the fact that much of what gets posted on AoA is written by people who truly have a conflict of interests — they’re directly selling a supplement, ‘treatment’ or book.

It’s amazing what he and others at AoA consider as conflicts of interests. Have you seen their “14 studies” website? Nearly all studies are summarily dismissed because they receive funding by the NIH or other governmental agencies. My favorite part is that they attempt (quite pathetically) to ‘grade’ scientific autism studies based on several criteria. According to their own ‘objective’ metrics, the lowest (worst) possible score is zero points, yet several studies were graded a negative score. Very scientific, indeed.

August 28, 3:08 pm

“Many of us who once bowed at the altar of “eminence-based” medicine”

Was this a typo on Humpries part, or does she really not know the difference between “evidence” & “eminence”?

I don’t think it was a typo.I think it’s just her way of being cute,and saying she believes faith and prayer will prevent your child from getting any serious disease,or dying,or becoming disabled from it.

@ qwerty:

I think the rationalization tends to go “they sell the supplement/treatment/book/whatever BECAUSE they’ve realized that it works, so there is no conflict.”

@ qwerty:

I don’t diagnose people but I think that Jake has a few serious problems and that his mode of stringing together characters and issues to ‘prove’ his point is not necesssarily a symptom of Asperger’s- which is supposedly his ‘diagnosis’ ( earlier, it was ADD or ADHD).

LIke many of the woo-entranced, he seems to hold an over-arching belief that over-rules various conflicts within other ideas – there is an emotionally-driven search to find ‘information’ that fits that belief and dismiss whatever doesn’t.

I think that their basic mode of functioning includes an insistence that authories aren’t to be trusted and that the natural world trumps human interventions like SBM.

Often, I find that alt med spokes people despise any societal recognition of expertise and set themselves up prosecutor, judge and jury to de-bunk and dismiss any and all experts. Perhaps at heart, they comprehend that they themselves will never be considered expert at anything, so they set up a shadow cult of followers who also shriek and howl, fuelled by envy and contempt.

Trish, when you say the outbreak was “primarily in vaccinated children”, what exactly do you mean–that a greater percentage of all vaccinated children were infected than all unvaccinated children, or simply more vacinated children than unvaccinated children?

Anti-vax proponents often point to numbers of vaccinated chidlren who become infected during outbreaks as proof that immunization doesn’t work, but statistically we’d expect the number of vaccinated children who contract the disease to be greater than the number of unvaccinated children, as immunizations, while highly effective, is not 100 per cent effective and vaccinated children greatly outnumber unvaccinated children, such that the small percent of a greatly larger number exceeds the larger percent of a smaller number.

Just want to add, regarding the comments about Christian Scientists and vaccines–I grew up as a CStist, and my sister and I were exempted from the normal course of childhood vaccines. I’ve been away from the church for nearly 15 years, but I am pretty sure that not vaccinating is still the standard procedure for CS parents. Of course, the church’s demographics (heavily skewed in an elderly direction) mean that there aren’t that many children being affected.


I wasn’t aware of that. So basically you say “religious” exemption and that it? Amazing. I’m all for the separation of church and state but I don’t like the idea of someone putting my children in danger. Someone really needs to change the law.

So basically you say “religious” exemption and that it?

Well, not theoretically, but the problem that school districts face is that they’re not generally equipped to evaluate such claims, and every time you say “no,” you risk litigation. The New York approach of having a juridical legal process seems like the way to go.

Mrs. Woo: Get yourself over to the doctor or to a hospital emergency room NOW:

“Wound Management

Antibiotic prophylaxis against tetanus is neither practical
nor useful in managing wounds; proper immunization plays
the more important role. The need for active immunization,
with or without passive immunization, depends on the
condition of the wound and the patient’s immunization
history (see MMWR 2006;55[RR-17] for details). Rarely have
cases of tetanus occurred in persons with a documented
primary series of tetanus toxoid.

Persons with wounds that are neither clean nor minor, and
who have had 0–2 prior doses of tetanus toxoid or have an
uncertain history of prior doses should receive TIG as well
as Td or Tdap. This is because early doses of toxoid may
not induce immunity, but only prime the immune system.
The TIG provides temporary immunity by directly providing
antitoxin. This ensures that protective levels of antitoxin are
achieved even if an immune response has not yet occurred.”


Luke knew both men. He was an apostle chosen by Jesus, and remained a churich leader when Paul came on the scene.

Now the actual author of Luke and Acts may have been somebody else, or the Luke of the books, but we don’t know.

(Thought I’d get it out there.)

@Missy Miss,
Are you an experienced tech writer, then? Have you considered moving to Prague, or at least the Czech Republic? We’re IT-a-go-go here but have a serious shortage of native English speaking tech writers. Drop me a line at jeff dot rubinoff you-know-what-goes-here gmail dot com. Seriously.

Regarding the way that outbreaks seem to occur more in vaccinated children, this is a hypothetical scenario I’ve used to illustrate it elsewhere, and Trish may find it helpful:

How do outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases strike mostly vaccinated people? Well, it depends on the disease, but it’s common for diseases where children are required to get the vaccine, and especially diseases where the vaccine is less than 95% effective at generating immunity and/or the protection wanes rapidly. Pertussis is easily the best example; our acellular pertussis vaccine (which is a lot safer than the cellular version used previously) is not 95% effective, and all pertussis immunity wears off fairly quickly, sometimes in little more than a decade; it’s not unusual for a fully-vaccinated child to be vulnerable to pertussis by adulthood. (Which is why the CDC now recommends pertussis boosters for adults.)

Now let’s talk hypotheticals. Let’s take an imaginary disease. We’ll call it boogeritis. It’s airborne and infectious — if 10 people are exposed, 6 of them get sick. Fortunately, a vaccine has been developed for boogeritis. It isn’t an absolute nor as effective as, say, tetanus vaccine, but it does work. Before the outbreak, 90% of the population has been fully vaccinated against boogeritis. That leaves 10% completely unprotected. The vaccine does have some issues; it only provides complete protection in 80% of the people vaccinated.

Now imagine we have a group of 100 people. They are representative of the general population — 90 have been vaccinated against boogeritis, and 10 have not. Since the vaccine is only effective 80% of the time, a quarter of them actually still have no protection. That works out to 18 people who are vaccinated but unprotected. We now have 72 people immune to boogeritis, 18 vaccinated but vulnerable, and 10 unvaccinated and vulnerable.

Now, our group of 100 is exposed to boogeritis. 72 are vaccinated and protected. 7 are vaccinated but not protected, yet are lucky and escape infection. 11 are vaccinated but catch the disease anyway (about 60% of the 18 vaccine-failure group). 4 of the unvaccinated are lucky and escape infection. 6 of the unvaccinated catch the disease.

This gives us 72+4=76 people who are disease free, and 11+6=17 people with boogeritis. Although the disease naturally has a 60% infection rate in those exposed, the vaccination campaign resulted in a 17% rate. 20% of the vaccinated caught the disease versus 60% of the unvaccinated.

Yet if you look only at the people who caught the disease, ignoring the ones who are going about their lives unaffected, you see 11 vaccinated and 6 unvaccinated. This would seem to suggest vaccine makes you almost twice as likely to catch boogeritis! But it’s just because there are so many more vaccinated people than unvaccinated. Twice as many vaccinated people in the boogeritis ward, but 18 times as many vaccinated people in the healthy group.

Heh — just spotted an error in my boogeritis scenario. I say that if the vaccine is 80% effective, a quarter will have no protection. Math FAIL! Obviously that should say “a fifth”.

@ Calli:

Meh, it’s fine. 40% of blog readers don’t know math well, only 10% are adept, and the other 65% simply don’t care.

We’re IT-a-go-go here but have a serious shortage of native English speaking tech writers.

Need any experienced editors who specialize in word salad?

As with creationism, avoiding vaccines based on phrases in the Bible/whatever is a truly ridiculous stuffing of one’s religion into a very very small box. The majority of religious people would likely consider this a situation where their holy book says nothing of modern advances of which the writers knew nothing about.

“manufacturer’s manual”… I would love the reference to fixing asthma please. Also the one about turning myself into a leggy blonde. And why is there info about turning water into wine, but nothing on turning coal into gold?

Ah and the ever-present victim blaming: only god-fearing people are allowed good health.


perhap you’ll enlighten me re: my questions above.

” It’s not really a law at all, though. It’s nothing more than a joint resolution of Congress….”

You are mistaken here. A joint resolution, passed by both houses and signed by the President, is a law. A PL is a public law. You seem to have confused a joint resolution with a concurrent resolution, which is not a law.

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