Say no to flu shot? No, think carefully

Rick MacLean
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The online headline in my hometown New Brunswick newspaper stopped me cold - ‘Think twice before getting your annual flu shot'.

The article began with a moving story about the writer's experience as a member of a family coping with cancer and choosing to explore the world of alternative medicine.

Then it veered into vaccines.

Uh oh.

The value of vaccines is about as controversial in science as man's role in climate change. There is no controversy.

"I am now extremely skeptical about our nation's health-care system and the conventional way doctors diagnose and treat their patients," the writer said in the vaccine opinion piece.

Fair enough.

Science is about skepticism. Scientists test each other's work. If they don't get the same results, they assume the person who did the original work is an idiot, or a liar. It's a tough game. Careers can collapse if a claim is wrong.

The writer issued a challenge to readers.

"Doctors who have been refused publishing rights to medical journals when their findings conflict with big pharmaceutical companies (who fund much of the research) can now self-publish online. Seek these individuals out," the writer said.

"They are educated and knowledgeable, many with their own websites and vlogs (video blogs) where they can speak freely, despite the controversy that has been created by pharmaceutical companies in an attempt to discount the truth by using fear-mongering tactics.

"Some names to Google: Dr. Rebecca Carley, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Robert Young, Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski and Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and (Vaccination Risk Awareness Network)."

I Googled them.

Carley's name popped up on, a site that calls itself "your guide to quackery, health fraud and intelligent decision."

Mercola was there too. And Young. And Gonzalez.

Burzynski wasn't, but had a link to a fax from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration scolding Burzynski for breaking its rules by claiming - in June, 2012 - that things called antineoplastons are "safe and effective."

In fact, the FDA said, the jury was still out. Stop making those claims and confirm you've done so in writing by Nov. 1, 2012, it ordered.

I checked - the Vaccination Risk Awareness Network, too. It was disturbing.

"It is well known and generally agreed that there are at least dozens of different causes of syndromes of the autistic spectrum. Specifically, such a child could have a degenerative metabolic or a subacute inflammatory condition of the nervous system..." (Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines - The Truth Behind a Tragedy by Andrew J Wakefield; 2011; pg 156).

No. No. And no.

Andrew Wakefield faked his research. He claimed children getting the triple shot - a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella - risked developing autism.

He lied. He broke the rules. His scientific articles were retracted. He was sent packing in England. The triple shot doesn't cause autism. No. No. And no.

And, yes, I Googled

It - and the guy running it, Dr. Stephen Barrett - are all over the Internet. He's a hero to supporters who back his attacks on what he considers unscientific claims, and a scoundrel to his opponents.

"We live in a free country and whether or not to accept any kind of treatment or vaccination is completely up to the individual. We should have all the information necessary to make a choice," wrote the writer of the vaccine article.


I'd suggest a good place to start is by Googling this - The Vaccine War - on the PBS Frontline website.

And yes. I just got my flu shot. I get one every year. I missed one year, and got swine flu.

Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.


Organizations: Holland College, Google, U.S. Food and Drug Administration FDA

Geographic location: New Brunswick, England, Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • Christopher Freeman
    December 04, 2012 - 15:52

    Stephen Barrett: The most quoted source against alternative healing in the mainstream media, Barrett let his medical license expire and instead pursued making a living through his Quackwatch and other websites which attack alternative medicines. Barrett also has received income from out of court settlements after numerous threats against his detractors as well as income from testifying as a psychiatric "expert" in court cases. In a recent year court case Barrett lost, he was forced to make several revealing admissions: 1. He had ties to the AMA, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA). 2. Despite providing supposed expert testimony as a psychiatrist and testifying in numerous court cases, he was not a Medical Board Certified psychiatrist because he had failed the certification exam. 3. He has filed 40 defamation lawsuits against his detractors and not won a single case.