90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Monday, October 7, 2013

Rising Number Of Vaccine Skeptics Worry Doctors

Public health officials in Massachusetts issued warnings recently, reminding people that measles can still be a concern after two cases of the disease were diagnosed in Boston.

They also cautioned that measles can spread fast among people who are not vaccinated — about 3 percent of the state’s population.

And they flagged western Massachusetts in particular for its growing number of parents who decline or delay recommended immunizations.

As New England Public Radio’s Karen Brown reports, that’s creating a quandary for pediatricians concerned about old diseases making a comeback.




It's HERE AND NOW. 2013 is on track to be the worst for cases of measles in more than 10 years. That's according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Massachusetts there have been a couple of cases already, and officials caution that the disease could spread very quickly among people who haven't been vaccinated, about three percent of the state's population.

They flagged Western Massachusetts in particular for its growing number of parents who decline or delay recommended immunizations. New England Public Radio's Karen Brown reports.

KAREN BROWN: When Anna Popp was pregnant with her daughter five years ago, she had no trouble finding reams of information on childhood vaccines. For one, she's a professional librarian. And the topic is hot these days.

ANNA POPP: There's books, there's magazines, there's popular stuff, but I also have access to a bevy of academic databases. Some stuff I had to put aside because it was too technical, and I couldn't understand it.

BROWN: She felt she understood enough to question what pediatricians were telling her about vaccine safety. Some parents are still worried by a famous 1998 study linking vaccines to autism, even though that study has been widely debunked and retracted. Popp has different concerns; she doesn't trust the vaccine ingredients or the high number of shots kids get.

POPP: Is she going to have a seizure? Is she going to have a convulsion? Is, you know, her fever going to peak at 105 degrees? Those can all start on a downward trend.

BROWN: Popp and her husband have accepted some vaccines for their daughter, like polio, and refused others, like chicken pox. They also delayed some shots until after the ages recommended by pediatricians, including hepatitis B, and the measles mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine.

POPP: I just felt, if i could put some of these off until later, I would rather not overburden my child's system with a bunch of toxic organisms.

BROWN: While studies show there are rare side effects from vaccines, scientists say there's no evidence that the standard vaccine schedule overwhelms a child's immune system nor that the ingredients, at these doses, are toxic. Popp says she knows that, but...

POPP: It's just what sits well with me. It's - you've got to make a decision based on your own intellect and your own conscience.

BROWN: Popp is certainly not as anti-vaccine as some, but she does represent a growing population of skeptics that pediatricians like John Snyder find maddeningly hard to argue with.

JOHN SNYDER: Ironically the more educated you are, the more you are brought up in a culture where you are I guess emboldened to question authority and know how to read up on things and to make choices for yourself, the more likely you are to make the wrong choice in this case.


SNYDER: Snyder, who lectures nationally in favor of vaccines, works at Amherst pediatrics in Hampshire County, which like Franklin and Berkshire counties has rates of vaccine refusal around three times the state average. Snyder used to work in Springfield and New York City, where he says many of his low-income patients missed their regular shots due to spotty health care.

BROWN: But those communities still have higher vaccination rates than the wealthier ones, where more parents claim a medical or religious exemption from school vaccine requirements.

SNYDER: I feel for them, I feel for them because I know they're dealing with a lot of misinformation, and they're struggling to make the right choice. But if we see this trend continue, we're talking about some really - the emergence of some really nasty diseases.

BROWN: That's because herd immunity, where the unvaccinated few rely on the disease-free majority to stay safe, can disappear with a slight shift in numbers.

SNYDER: We're a plane ride away. And if you think you can hide in this country unvaccinated, you're wrong because the larger our little pockets of under-immunization get, the more likely some kid's going to come over from another country where these things are endemic and give it your community.

BROWN: Snyder thinks if vaccine skeptics understood that danger, along with the scientific method behind vaccine trials, they'd be less likely to shun the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control. But many of them believe the medical establishment is, at best, fallible, and at worst, beholden to pharmaceutical companies that make vaccines. And that creates tension in the exam room.

POPP: These pediatricians clearly shut down when i bring up vaccination ideas.

BROWN: Easthampton mom Anna Popp goes to a pediatric practice in Northampton.

POPP: When you leave now you get a little form that tells you everything that's been done, and down at the bottom is this coyly worded has a history of under-vaccinations. And although it's certainly phrased very objectively, it feels judgmental.


BROWN: Word does get around which doctors are receptive to vaccine skeptics. Greenfield Pediatrics, for example, has been praised on alternative parenting websites. That prompted the doctors there, including Sarah Rourke, to review their vaccine records.

SARAH ROURKE: What we ended up seeing is we had one provider who had a higher number of patients and families who opted out of your traditional immunization schedule.

BROWN: So they created a more standardized vaccine script based on CDC recommendations and now require parents who still refuse vaccines to sign a form saying they're going against medical advice.

ROURKE: Some families are going to have some alternative viewpoints to immunizations. So we wanted to make sure that we maintain that respect but also just stress the education.

BROWN: Amherst doctor John Snyder actively tries to change the minds of resistant parents and sometimes succeeds. But he'd rather see a state law making it more difficult for parents to get vaccine waivers, a hard sell politically. He just hopes it doesn't take a disease outbreak to drive the point home.

HOBSON: That report from New England Public Radio's Karen Brown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Ksenia

    From the interview: “It’s a plane ride away,” says Snyder. “And if you think you can hide in this country unvaccinated, you’re wrong, because the larger our little pockets of undervaccination get, the more likely some kid’s going to come over from another country where these things are endemic and give it your community.”

    I get what the Doc is saying, but he could have made it sound less xenophobic. Clearly these parents are already over-protective. We don’t need them to start stereotyping and segregating immigrant children as well.

  • Gula

    Another ad for Big Pharma compliments of National Pharmaceutical Radio.

    If you are poor, you are considered ill informed, if you are wealthy, you are misinformed.

    Big Pharma isn’t happy either way. They want TOTAL CONTROL of your mind.

    They need customers for all their drugs. Yes, all those drugs with their wonderful side effects.

    Drug companies only talk about the FAB of their drugs.

    The features, attributes and benefits.

    However there is little emphasis of those good old side effects.

    Funny how all 4 of my grown children now in there late 30′s and 40′s were never vaccinated for anything in their lives.
    Maybe its their diets and lifestyles they choose over the crappy Standard American DIet(SAD) of over processed, fragmented, devitalized, chemicalized, GMO ladened, dead and stale garbage with passes off as food.

    Americans are overfed and undernourished.
    In my work around the globe, I have never seen a culture, so advance that is so ill compared to others. After all, there is no money in healthy people.

    I would like to thank the numerous “skeptical” doctors and scientists, some of who I have met, who question all this vaccine overload nonsense so the “skeptics” in the public can read about it and make their own decisions. A decision of just saying no to Big Pharma or going ahead for a jab of the “poisoned needle”.

  • sri bubba

    Ironic that someone concerned about stereotyping would be so quick to do so themselves, Ksenia. What Dr. Snyder fails to acknowledge, understandably, is that many of his “educated” patients have concerns that, though they are not shared by him, are valid and shared by many in the field of health care. Everything from the lack of research into the long term effects of injecting foreign proteins into young children to the possible benefits of basic childhood viruses to a healthy developing immune system to the illogic of immunizing children for agents they are not likely to contact.

    For a more detailed examination of issues some parents are choosing to examine out of a desire to be pro-active in their children’s healthcare, you may wish to look at:


    • Ksenia

      I’m sorry. I’m not sure how this applies to my comment. I have no opinion on the vaccination debate.

      • sri bubba

        My comment was not in regards to your opinion on the vaccination debate but rather your characterization of those who disagree with Dr. Snyder’s position as “clearly… over-protedtive”.

        • Ksenia

          Oh yeah. Definitely over-protective. But that’s not a bad thing. :)

          • sri bubba

            I guess we use the term differently.

      • Ambari

        In other words, you simply follow the advice of the experts in regards to what will be put in your bodies.
        Another slave to the system.

        • NorskeDiv

          You are just following a different group of experts, except the ones you follow just happen to poorly qualified liars. (Wakefield)

  • Ben tarpley

    The bottom here on this commercial for the medical-industrial complex is to believe your doctor. Don’t listen to anyone else but him, they know all. I don’t think so.

    I have worked with doctors in the past and many are ignorant of the side effects of many drugs and their synergistic reactions with other meds. Most do not have the time to be 24 hour a day doctors. They also have families to care for.

    Most in the medical profession don’t know that the #3 leading cause of death in America after cancers and heart disease are DOCTORS themselves.

    Most people are not aware of the thousands who die annually from nosocomial(hospital acquired) infections and of iatrogenic(doctor induced) diseases.

    I don’t tend to read newspaper much but I do read on line and occasionally hear of the overuse and abuse of pain medications and antibiotics. People urge their doctors for this, so they yield to them.

    Remember medicine is referred to as a “practice”.

    Do you want someone practicing on your body and possible deciding your life or one of your family members?

    Consider this from a doctor who didn’t “follow the party line” within the AMA.

    As a retired physician, I can honestly say that unless you are in a serious accident, YOUR BEST CHANCE OF LIVING TO A RIPE OLD AGE IS TO AVOID DOCTORS AND HOSPITALS AND LEARN NUTRITION, HERBAL MEDICINE AND OTHER FORMS OF NATURAL MEDICINE [i.e. PREVENTION]. Almost all drugs are toxic and are designed only to treat symptoms and not to cure anyone. Most surgery is unnecessary. In short, our mainstream medical system is hopelessly inept and/or corrupt. THE TREATMENT OF CANCER AND DEGENERATIVE DISEASES IS A NATIONAL SCANDAL. The sooner you learn this, the better off you will be. Dr. Allan Greenberg on 12/24/2002″

    • mooseman

      First off, here’s the actual stats from the CDC on leading causes of death in America.

      Secondly, in this context, the word “practice” refers to habitually carrying out a task. This doesn’t carry the implication of carelessness that comes to mind when people think of practice. In fact it implies the opposite. It implies proficiency. That is a lame and over-used jab that isn’t at all witty and it makes no sense.

      I am not absolving doctors entirely. I’ve met my share of bad ones. The overprescription of pain meds, steroids and antibiotics is a very valid concern. I also wouldn’t argue that prevention through proper nutrition and lifestyle choices is the best way to stay healthy. The problem is that isn’t a surefire guarantee when you actually come into contact with someone who’s infected. Immunization isn’t either, but the likelihood of contracting it is much lower. Also, in a building full of diseased and injured people, it is impossible to remain contaminate free. That is an unreasonable expectation. A small percentage of people are going to die or get sick from that sort of thing and as horribly ironic as it is, it’s unavoidable.

  • Darwin

    Natural selection at work.

    • thankgodforpbsandnpr

      Yes, but unfortunately the Darwin Awards will go to the children, not to their paranoid, misinformed, irresponsible parents. I wonder how many of these anti-vaccine parents were vaccinated when they were children?

      • Ambari

        Next time you go to get some jab for some “disease”, get a few extra. You can have mine and many others I know who have refused these chemical concoction of synthetic garbage.

        • thankgodforpbsandnpr

          “Diseases” in quotation marks? I guess you don’t consider these “diseases”?:

          God forbid your child should get one of those “diseases”, but if it happens, when you’re praying for your child’s life I think you’ll drop those quotation marks.

          • Vito Alexander Pavlovic

            Fearmongering, that’s what you call it!

          • mooseman


          • Jennifer S

            Measles and mumps are illnesses, not diseases. And they only kill in compromised immune systems. Most cases are treated with fluids, keeping the patient comfortable, and rest. Then they are truly immune for life. Diseases last a lifetime. If you look at real statistics you’ll see that sewage systems and access to clean water and fresh foods “coincidentally” coincide with falling illness and disease rates in every country of the world. (Not with vaccinations.)

          • thankgodforpbsandnpr

            Jennifer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refers to both measles and mumps as disease:



        • thankgodforpbsandnpr

          Well, it seems I owe you an apology. While talking with a friend who lives in Sweden the subject of vaccinations came up. She told me that there was a “swine flu” vaccination called Pandemrix made by GlaxoKleinSmith that had caused narcolepsy. I was “floored”. I couldn’t believe it. I just read about it.


        • NorskeDiv

          I get any vaccine I can, so do my parents. Never a single case of shingles for anyone in my family and none of us ever get the flu. Works great!

      • Vito Alexander Pavlovic

        You can have all my vaccines as well, remember they will make you healthier, especially all those mercury laced ones, enjoy!

        • NorskeDiv

          Send me the money you were going to spend on vaccines, I will donate it towards research for a malaria vaccine.

  • ClaraThomas

    Just more toxins for the body to fight off. What ever happened to natural immunity?

    I would say its been replaced with corporate greed.

    Do not alcohol, aluminum, aspartame, caffeine, canola, chlorine, cyclamates, fluoride, cow’s milk, malathion,mercury, nitrites, Nutrasweet, Neotame, Acesulfame potassium, xylitol, sorbitol, tobacco, sucralose, sugar and vaccinations constitute biological and chemical warfare against us.

    By age six, in most states children get 49 doses of 14 different vaccines as of 2012.

    No wonder their immune systems, especially the liver is strained.

    • mooseman

      I agree! We need some good old fashioned epidemics! Trim the herd a bit! The world’s resources are getting stretched thin, we need a little more room. Let measles run rampant, I say! It helped wipe out Native American populations, it could help do the trick here. Why vaccinate our children and push these diseases to eradication when there’s so much work to be done with them? Ah, how wonderful it will be! Plentiful gas, food, living space and best of all, fewer pesky children crying while I’m trying to enjoy my organically sourced, all natural meal.

    • NorskeDiv

      Their immune systems are strained by the pollution from coal power plants which the last generation of environmental activists helped create by stopping new nuclear power plants. Still, however misguided that generation of environmentalists were, they are still a lot better than the anti-vaccine crowd, who might very well end up outright killing whole groups of children.

      I do look forward to the anti vaccine adults suffering from horrible, painful cases of shingles as they get older, Hopefully it leaves scares on their face as a brand of their stupidity.

  • Nicholas70

    I wonder what happened to my post from about an hour ago. Too much for Here and Now to handle.
    Or is there now soon delay in posting it so the lawyers for Big Pharma can mull over it.

    • Rachel Rohr, Here & Now

      Hi Nicholas, Web producer Rachel Rohr here. We did not remove your comment. It got caught in the spam filter. I check the filter a couple times a day and let the comment through this morning. Best, Rachel

  • Vito Alexander Pavlovic

    I find it interesting how the doctor (Dr. John Snyder) said that if the parents knew how rigorously the vaccines are tested that we would be less concerned about vaccine safety. I say really doctor, so we did the research and somehow missed something that would change our minds? so do you think that the vaccine court aka NVICP paying out almost 3 billion for vaccine injuries should give us some comfort? or that the Supreme Court stated in their 2010 ruling that vaccines were “unavoidably unsafe”, or that the MMr is linked to autism, Hannah Poling was awarded compensation for her vaccine induced autism and at least 83 other children, or should we trust the research exonerating vaccines done by the CDC’s star researcher Dr.Poul Thorsen, who is wanted by authorities worldwide for using autism research money on himself instead of what it was intended for and effectively guiding your misinformation toward vaccines and refusers as we speak? What do you think doctor, who do we trust ‘You’ and your lack of knowledge or honesty, or perhaps both or the actual research that we educate ourselves with? I think we have made our decision and its not in favor of your misguided advice!

  • Leslie Gore

    Wonderful news! Perhaps informed parents will begin to stop the insane amounts of toxins being injected into tiny babies-or at least question. Kudos to questioners!

  • NorskeDiv

    People should be allowed to refuse vaccination, however they should receive no government funded healthcare to treat the illness they refused vaccination for. Hospitals should also be waived of the requirement to provide them emergency care or life support for free. If they cannot afford to pay for their own care they should be allowed to die.

    This would both allow personal freedom, respect tax payers, and act as a form of natural selection and population control.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 16 7 Comments

Kathy Gunst Explores Community Supported Agriculture

Kathy Gunst joins Cook's Illustrated executive food editor Keith Dresser at his CSA pickup and offers recipes for the seasonal CSA fare.

September 16 11 Comments

Remembering Jesse Winchester

Jimmy Buffett remembers his friend the late songwriter Jesse Winchester, whose posthumous album is being released today.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 26 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.