Dr. Sears continues to salute our children with his middle finger

The Pediatric Insider

© 2015 Roy Benaroch, MD

Dr. Sears is California pediatrician who made up an alternative vaccine schedule to sell books to worried parents. Though he has said that skipping vaccines is not good for public health, he takes no responsibility for encouraging his own privileged patients to stay unvaccinated. And now that measles cases are stacking up in his hometown, Dr. Bob Sears is sticking to his guns.

In his latest update on Facebook, Dr. Sears continues to minimize the health risks of measles and downplay his own role in fanning anti-vaccination fears. And he has a special f-you to babies and the immunocompromised, who apparently don’t count. Let’s see what Dr. Bob has to say, in his own words. The quotes are from his Facebook post on the “Dr. Bob Sears” author page, posted 1/16/2015.

BOB’S DAILY:

JUST HOW DEADLY IS MEASLES?

What makes measles so scary? What is it about measles that spreads fear and dread through our population? Three things, in my opinion, set it apart from most infectious diseases that make us afraid: 1. It’s untreatable, and it has a high rate of complications, so we are at it’s (sic) mercy, 2. It’s been virtually eliminated from the U.S., so we aren’t used to it anymore, and 3. It’s potentially fatal.

Dr. Sears’ first paragraph is spot on. Measles is difficult to treat, check. It has a high rate of complications, check. It’s potentially fatal, check. We’re on the same page here.

Ironically, Dr. Sears also said that measles has been virtually eliminated from the US. It was. Now, measles has returned. Dr. Sears can pretend that’s not true, and pretend his encouraging parents not to vaccinate had nothing to do with it, but that doesn’t make it true.

Then Dr. Sears tries to back up and claim that what he just said wasn’t true—he called his statements “two truths and a lie.”

Now, let’s play two truths and a lie. Two of these statements are true, and one is not. Well, the one that is not is technically true, but it’s not true in all practical terms.

Untreatable? Correct. There is no anti-viral medication that will help, so we just have to stand by as the disease runs its course. We are powerless, and that creates fear. We don’t want to take a risk with something which we have no way to mitigate or control. The only thing that may make measles less severe is high dose Vitamin A therapy (which is approved by the WHO). But that’s not an anti-viral med; it just helps us fight it off a little better.

1. Complications? Ear infection is the most likely complication – treatable. Pneumonia is next – also treatable. Ya, you don’t want those things to happen, but they are treatable. Encephalitis? That’s much worse. Fortunately it’s extremely rare in well-nourished people (see below).

So, the lie is that measles has a high rate of serious complications. It doesn’t. It CAN, but it rarely does.

Yes, pneumonia is treatable. Many parents would consider an ICU stay somewhat of an inconvenience, but, as Dr. Sears says, “Ya, you don’t want those things to happen.” Encephalitis, he acknowledges, is worse. But he claims it’s “extremely rare in well-nourished people.”

So how common are these complications? Dr. Sears can’t be bothered with numbers, but you can find them on the CDC website: 1 in 20 get pneumonia; 1 in 1000 encephalitis (which can lead to seizures, deafness, and mental retardation); 1-2 out of 1000 will die. Many parents find these risks unacceptable—especially when there’s a safe way to prevent them. Dr. Sears blows them off as “extremely rare.”

2. Eliminated? Virtually. Over the past 20 years we’ve sometimes only had 50 cases a year. Sometimes 150. Nobody knows measles anymore, and when we are ignorant of something unfamiliar, we fear it until we understand it.

Ask any Grandma or Grandpa (well, older ones anyway), and they’ll say “Measles? So what? We all had it. It’s like Chicken pox.” Ask a twenty-five-year-old mom with two young kids, and she’ll scoop up her kids and run away from you for even mentioning the M word.

If you understand measles, you wouldn’t fear it. Respect it.

I do acknowledge that it’s a public health nightmare in that it takes a lot of effort and money to contain these outbreaks. And it causes a lot of people to get tested, quarantined, or treated with preventive immune globulin shots. It’s no joke. But, those efforts are largely because we are trying to contain it, not because it’s going to kill everybody. So, not fear – respect.

There’s this odd fallacy that since people of many years ago had to live through measles (and, presumably, small pox and the black plague) it was “no big deal.” Old cemeteries are littered with tiny little headstones for little dead children. Families had loads of children, then, because it was accepted that many would die. Times have changed. Families expect children to live. We don’t accept many risks now, not because we’re weak or uneducated, but because we don’t have to.

Dr. Sears says “I do acknowledge that it’s a public health nightmare….” Thanks, we appreciate the acknowledgement. But apparently, to Dr. Sears, that’s not a good enough reason to try to prevent measles in the first place.

3. Potentially fatal? Technically true, but herein lies the lie. It’s been publicized as “the deadliest of all childhood fever/rash illness with a high rate of complications.” Deadly? Not in the U.S., or any other developed country with a well-nourished population. The risk of fatality here isn’t zero, but it’s as close to zero as you can get without actually being zero. It’s 1 in many thousands. Will someone pass away in the U.S. from measles one of these years? Tragically yes. That will likely happen to one person. It hasn’t happened here in at least ten years (or more – I don’t even know how many years we have to go back to find one). When that happens, it will be extremely tragic.

But will it spread through the U.S. and kill people left and right? No. Does measles do that in underdeveloped countries? Sadly, yes. It kills countless people worldwide every year. So, that’s how health officials can accurately say it’s so deadly. They don’t have to tell you the whole truth, just the part of the truth that they want you to believe.

Measles can also be serious for young infants, just as many diseases can. It can also be serious for immunocompromised people, just as all illnesses. It can also cause pregnancy complications, just like many infections can. Measles isn’t unique in these risks. But they are risks nonetheless.

It is true that most healthy people will get through a case of measles OK (though, as he says, it’s still a “public health nightmare.”) But what about those infants and immunocompromised people and pregnant women? Dr. Sears says “it can also be serious” for them. But, apparently, they don’t count. Their deaths and complications aren’t anything Dr. Sears and his followers should worry about.

Dr. Sears ends his update with this smarmy and self-serving conclusion:

So, fear measles? No. Not in the U.S.. Respect measles? Yes. Take appropriate precautions with it. But don’t let anyone tell you you should live in fear of it. Let’s handle it calmly and without fear or blame.

I will keep you up to date in the weeks to come.

Dr. Bob

Yes, Dr. Sears. Let’s handle this calmly and without fear or blame. As in “don’t blame me for what I’ve said and done for the last ten years. It’s not my fault you’ve listened to me, and it’s not my fault I’ve lied and obfuscated and done everything I can to flame vaccine fears to sell my books.”

Dr. Sears says we should “Take appropriate precautions with it.” He’s right. The appropriate precaution is to vaccinate our children. Don’t fear the vaccines. And don’t listen to this self-serving, hypocritical fool. Make sure you, your children, and everyone you know and love are fully immunized.

 

related: Measles at Disneyland: A predictable, avoidable public health nightmare

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21 Comments on “Dr. Sears continues to salute our children with his middle finger”

  1. lilady Says:

    Dr. Bob Sears and the other “Vaccine Friendly Doctors” (Dr. Jay Gordon), who are listed on Dr. Bob’s website are standing firm in their unique positions on vaccines…because they know better than the collective knowledge of thousands of physicians, scientists and epidemiologists who devise the CDC/AAP Recommended Childhood Vaccine Schedule.

    IMO, it’s high time that the California State licensing board and the AAP look into their practices and their public statements which deviate from the AAP Standards of Care for complete and timely immunizations according to the CDC/AAP Recommended Childhood Vaccine Schedule.

    Science Based Medicine blogger Dr. David Gorski devoted an entire post to Dr. Jay Gordon and his bizarre “opinions” about childhood vaccines:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/say-it-aint-so-mickey-a-holiday-measles-outbreak-makes-the-happiest-place-in-the-world-sad/

    Liked by 2 people

  2. reissd Says:

    It’s highly irresponsible for a pediatrician to give such misleading information in the middle of an outbreak, especially since he knows his clientele and knows it will reaffirm their prejudices. It is a failure of his duties to his little patients and those he might infect.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lizditz Says:

    thanks for the vehement post, Dr. Benaroch. I was seething — and I’m not even in health care!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. lizditz Says:

    Are you fed up with Dr. Bob’s cavalier claims about how measles just isn’t that serious? Do you wish there was some way you could make your displeasure known? Professor Dorit Reiss has written an article detailing Dr. Sear’s many failures and has instructions on how to complain.

    http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/dr-robert-sears-misleads-parents-measles-vaccines/

    Like


  5. Thank you Dr. Benaroch for (again) being vocal against those rare (but very dangerous), incompetent, uncaring anti-vaccine pediatricians (Sears, but also Gordon). Sears and Gordon need sanctioning of some sort–ideally loss of their medical licenses and expulsion from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

    Like

  6. lilady Says:

    Science Based Medicine blogger Dr. David Gorski has posted this about Dr. Bob Sears and his recent Facebook posts about the recent measles outbreak associated with visitors to Disneyland:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/appeal-to-brady-bunch-vaccine-fallacy/

    Dr. Roy, Dr. Gorski has a link to your exceptionally fine blog.

    Like

  7. Melody RN Says:

    I was incredibly frustrated and appalled by the Facebook post by Dr. Sears when I first came across it. As a nurse, his post was powerful example of what NOT to do as a healthcare professional.
    Thank you for taking to time to address the horrible post by Dr. Sears. . I am very relived to see fellow pro-science healthcare professionals speaking up against his misinformation and providing the public with facts that don’t cater to an image.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. supermouse Says:

    That is amazingly arrogant. I, personally, don’t fear measles much, because I’ve been vaccinated and so have my children and husband. But, since we are all asthmatics, and “a touch of pneumonia” would be quite serious indeed, I’d be pretty worried if I had no access to the vaccine, or if I lived in an area with a low rate of vaccination. And of course, the poor babies and cancer patients who are at the greatest risk of death–none of those crazy anti-vaxxers seems to give a shit about them. If someone ends up dead or brain damaged thanks to Dr. Sears, he should be the one paying the funeral or medical bills. His attitude is despicable.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. lizditz Says:

    You hit a nerve, Dr. Benaroch. Here’s Dr. Bob’s daily from Facebook today, Jan 20:

    DR. BOB’S DAILY:

    PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: GET YOUR VACCINE

    So, I broke one of the cardinal rules of infectious disease journalism, a rule that I didn’t know existed, but in hindsight is now as obvious as the nose on my face (ya, I was teased a lot about that as a kid). Apparently, the rule is this: When one writes anything about a vaccine-preventable disease, one MUST, without fail, include a statement reminding people to get that vaccine; failure to do so will be interpreted as a declaration against said (or NOT said, I guess) vaccine. People are generally stupid, so one must remind them frequently about vaccines.

    So, when I posted a very brief discussion of the disease measles on Friday, which, in no way, claimed to be a complete discussion of all the issues, but failed to remind people there’s a vaccine (because everyone probably forgot about the vaccine, I know), what I was really saying in secret, if you read between the lines, is “don’t get the vaccine.” At least, that’s how stupid people took it.

    I know I know. My mom taught me never to use the “S” word. But isn’t it ok to use when people really are stupid? I don’t know. You decide. Oh, and since I did mention the “M” word in this post, let me also remind everyone that there is a vaccine against measles. Get it.

    Oh, and just to be complete, since I mentioned the “S” disease as well, let me remind you that there is a vaccine to prevent stupid. If you haven’t gotten it already, you should.
    Dr. Bob

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dr. Roy Says:

    Quite petulant. But he did say “Get your vaccine” in the title, and later on “… there is a vaccine against measles. Get it.”

    I call that progress!

    Like


  11. […] immunizations (although she now claims that she’s not anti-vaccines). We are infuriated by Dr. Bob Sears, who certainly knows better, but capitalizes on your fear for his own profit, while placing your […]

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  12. Alexis Says:

    I’m not sure which is worse, the initial post or the patronizing recall of the initial post that came afterwords. “what I was really saying in secret, if you read between the lines, is “don’t get the vaccine.” At least, that’s how stupid people took it.”

    He manages to be uninformed, antagonistic, and rude all at once.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Dr. Roy Says:

    Orac did a great full-scale response to Dr. Bob’s hissy-fit response, pasted by lizditz above: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2015/01/21/quoth-dr-bob-sears-poor-poor-pitiful-me-you-stupid-people/

    Meanwhile, the Disney-centric outbreak is now up to 67 cases (incl many hospitalizations, which apparently aren’t serious per Dr. Bob): http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-66-confirmed-cases-of-measles-in-california-20150121-story.html

    The outbreak is now well beyond the initial cases picked up at Disney. As expected, people sickened there have spread the disease to many others, mainly unvaccinated people.

    Like


  14. Hi Dr. Roy, just curious how doctors decide at what age to give the vaccine? Do kids respond differently at different ages? Why can a newborn get a Hep-B shot and not the MMR? It’s got to be really frustrating to the parents of the children who were too young to vaccinate that they are dealing with the measles.

    Like

  15. Dr. Roy Says:

    Emily, different vaccines use different strategies to induce or boost immunity. Most of the vaccines given very early in life (hep B, pneumococcal, DTaP) are based on proteins, protein fragments, or sugar-like molecules bound to proteins. These are super-safe, even if the child has a severe immune problem– none of these products has any potential to cause infection, since there are no live or even close to whole organisms or viruses in there. But the immunity after single doses of these isn’t strong, and has to be boosted by giving multiple doses over time.

    Some vaccines, typically given later, are based on live but weakened viruses (MMR and chickenpox vaccines.) In most (but not all) people, as single dose of these induces excellent, life-long immunity. With MMR, about 15% of people don’t respond to the 1st dose, so a second dose is given to catch that group. It’s not really “booster” in that it doesn’t raise immunity, it just catches most of the people who didn’t respond to the first dose. Both MMR and chicken pox vaccines, if given too early in life before the 1st birthday), will be at least partially blocked by antibodies from mom that are still circulating in the blood. By a year, these antibodies are gone, and these two vaccines will work better.

    Note that in some circumstances, MMR can be given as young as 6 months safely. But it doesn’t seem to give as good immunity, and the immunity doesn’t last, so MMR given earlier than a year doesn’t “count”— the child still needs 2 more doses. MMR is recommended starting at 6 mos for travel to areas of the world with high levels of circulating measles, which includes most of Europe. California health authorities also now consider airports and theme parks in their own state “high risk” and are recommending babies and unimmunized older children stay away.

    Like


  16. Thanks! I couldn’t find an explanation when I googled the question. Interesting.

    Like

  17. Julia M Says:

    Dr. Sears was a year behind me in my peds residency. He was a hazard to patients as an intern, because he just didn’t seem to care and he wouldn’t do the necessary work. He knew he had a great job waiting for him at his dad’s office once he finished.

    Like


  18. […] then brought me over to Dr. Bob Sears, who recently said to “respect measles.” I believe I called him an asshole for this. I also believe I should have said […]

    mod: I don’t usually approve ping-backs, but that was funny. NSFW language warning applies, and your kids may ask “what’s that, Mommy?” when they see the ad in the corner. You’ve been warned….

    Like

  19. bilingualmom Says:

    I’m truly disgusted by all the insults towards Dr. Sears claiming he doesn’t care about infants who might be exposed to measles. Excuse me, but what about all the infants/toddlers who are permanently damaged by the vaccine? Yes, it is a very small percentage overall of the population, but can I assume that all the people who commented here don’t care about them? Just consider them collateral damage? (and by the way, while they are a small percentage of the population, we are talking about thousands of kids across the US) Or would it be arrogant of me to assume that you don’t care about those kids? Hmmm????

    It amazes me that somehow we have become a society that will not tolerate people DARING to question the safety of what is a medical intervention, people. Yet you are perfectly willing to accept that every other medicine under the sun has potential side effects, some of which are very severe. Not to mention that is now not OK to even bring up the ethics of forcing everyone to get said medical intervention, especially when people will be harmed by it.

    Kids are severely harmed by vaccines every day. Small percentage of the U.S. population? Yes. But unacceptable, and we need to be able to talk about it openly without being slammed as “anti vaccine”. Unfortunately, it is difficult to open people’s eyes and minds when the companies that produce this medical intervention control the media. I challenge you to do an experiment – watch one of the regular TV channels and mark down how many total commercials you see in 2 hours, and note down how many of them are for a pharmaceutical product. Then reflect on the fact that advertisers wield tremendous power over what gets aired and doesn’t.

    It is also difficult when the companies that produce this medical intervention control our legislature (look up how many millions of dollars pharmaceutical companies contribute to our representatives each year). Why don’t you look up Senator Pan, the author of a bill in California that ripped a public or private education away from children whose parents have made a medical decision to decline even one dose of 40 mandated doses of vaccines for their child. He is the number one recipient in California of pharma funds!

    It is also difficult when the companies that produce this medical intervention have former employees on CDC key committees, or who people deciding the immunization schedule personally profit from a patent on a vaccine recommended (that was Dr. Paul Offit a few years ago), or former pharma employees are chosen to head the FDA (that just happened). How can we get unbiased information in these situations?

    Stop slamming the few people who are brave enough to stand up and say, wait, let’s look at this information more carefully, do more research, balance the risks and benefits of a vaccine for ourselves, evaluate these statistics more carefully to determine if they are really accurate or not! No, instead people practically want to burn someone like Dr. Sears at the stake. I thought we had progressed beyond that stage in our history, I thought people were more intelligent and well informed… but apparently I thought wrong.

    Sincerely,
    A mom of a child who started having seizures within 24 hours of vaccine administration and whose child stopped breathing and nearly died.. twice. And a mom who is fed up with the medical industry telling us OUR kids don’t matter, or that the thousands of us who experience the exact same thing with our children after vaccination are experiencing a “coincidence”. And a mom whose child got kicked out of a pediatric practice because after my child nearly died, I wanted to delay the MMR until he was older and because I declined other vaccinations. And finally a mom, one of thousands across the country, who is hopping MAD and not planning to stop talking about this anytime soon!

    Like

  20. Quora Says:

    How do I convince my anti-vaccine ex-wife that vaccinating our children is necessary?

    Dr. Sears is not exactly a herald bearer to the cause of science based medicine either. https://pediatricinsider.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/dr-sears-continues-to-salute-our-children-with-his-middle-finger/

    Like


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