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