Idaho vaccine debate

Tonight, I was able to watch a debate between a provaccine pediatrician from Idaho, Dr. Alicia Lachiondo, and a woman with a bachelor’s degree in toxicology, Ashley Everly Cates. I have embedded the 45-minute show for you here, should you wish to watch.  It was an interesting and well-done debate. The two hosts, CBS Boise News staff members Brent Hunsaker and Natalie Hurst, did a fine job asking meaningful questions and soliciting answers from both ladies.

Click on the link below to watch the debate yourself.

First of all, who are the participants?


Dr. Alicia Lachiondo is a pediatrician at St. Lukes Treasure Valley Pediatricians in Boise, Idaho. She is a Boise Native who went to Notre Dame for undergraduate studies and the University of Washington School of Medicine for medical school. She is a member of Get Immunized Idaho.


Ashley Everly Cates graduated from UC Davis with a degree in environmental toxicology. She currently runs Health Freedom Idaho. She does not have any advanced degrees. According to her LinkedIn, she has not had actual employment in the field of toxicology.

Sidebar: not sure why Ashley is called a “blood toxicologist” in the title.

Alicia is the doctor.

Ashley is the “toxicologist”

Here are my notes on the debate:

Host: Where do you stand? Ashley says parents are not given adverse reaction information about vaccines. Dr. Alicia says every parent is given a vaccine information sheet and she warns them all about common side effects and is open to discussing risks and benefits. 

Host: Are vaccine info sheets enough?  Ashley says no, they don’t reflect independent research or latent effects, especially about aluminum and autoimmunity. She says children are sicker than ever, more cancer than ever. She cites the 300% increase in the number of vaccine doses given since the 1980s and how vaccines are not tested for cancer or mutagenicity, nor are ingredients tested.  She is, apparently, not familiar with the EPA IRIS database, which is very strange for a “toxicologist”

Dr. Alicia explains how she looks at research and how the CDC makes recommendations. She explains about good research and Ashley nods and says mm, hm, in the background. Dr. Alicia talks about HIB meningitis and other serious side effects of infectious diseases. Alicia explains risk analysis.

Note: My readers will know that American children are healthier than ever. 
Host: Is herd immunity real? Ashley says it only applies to natural infections and vaccines cannot provide herd immunity as they do not trigger the immune system the same way real disease does. Antibodies will wane. She claims we can have high vaccination rates and outbreaks, such as the outbreak in NYC in 2011 where patient zero was a 22-year-old vaccinated woman.
She is, of course, speaking of a study we have discussed where a twice vaccinated person got measles and spread it. It was written up as a medical marvel, her being the first time on record this has occurred.  Ashley does not mention this fact. Instead, she acts as if this is normal and all measles outbreaks are in vaccinated persons. 
Alicia explains how herd immunity is like viruses in computers. If you have malware, she explains, the virus cannot enter your computer. I like this analogy except she got it a bit backward. What she means is a vaccine is like an anti-virus software program in that it prevents the invasion from a computer virus.  She explains waning immunity in pertussis, how influenza virus changes, but measles is different and we can run titer studies. Titer studies have been done on many vaccines and we know which vaccines need boosters and which do not. We know that some vaccines don’t last a lifetime but we vaccinate infants for those diseases because they are most vulnerable and need that temporary immunity.
Ashley brings up how those vaccinated for pertussis could be asymptomatic carriers. She claims the vaccines leave infants more vulnerable. She is speaking about something many antivaxers are concerned about but which our favorite reptilian blogger has oft-debunked. 
Alicia counters that infants who are immunized are much less likely to contract pertussis. She says population studies show babies who get pertussis and end up in PICU are unimmunized and have unimmunized parents. She mentions TDaP in pregnancy as efficacious at preventing pertussis in infants. Ashley brings up aluminum toxicity from vaccines and the “research” about it. I put that in quotations because Ashley seems to be very fond of studies funded by anti-vax groups, most of which have been retracted and/or proven shoddy methodology. 
Host: What would happen if we eliminate vaccines? Alicia says her practice would go from mostly preventing fires and educating to mostly putting out fires. (fires as an analogy for disease). Her job would be about triage instead of prevention. Alicia explains how she does not have to worry about nearly as much illness now as her older colleagues did when they were new doctors. She gets to spend more time talking about education and prevention now. She is also asked if aluminum is toxic and explains how exposure in the industry, metal smelting, for example, can cause aluminum toxicity but vaccines do not and there is no evidence aluminum is increasing in blood serum.
Ashley says aluminum is not trapped in the blood so blood serum levels are not accurate. She says it goes to the brain. Alicia asks how those studies are done. Ashley mentions rabbit studies. Alicia brings up dose dependency. Alicia points out how nutritional supplements are not studied but these ingredients are well studied and continue to be studied.  The implication from Alicia is clear: aluminum in vaccines is not a health concern and no valid science says otherwise. It should be noted that Ashley is referring to Exley studies
Host: Asks Ashley if people should never take vaccines. She says she does not feel comfortable taking a stance but that good nutrition is the most important factor in recovery from illness. The host clarifies that this means you won’t avoid illness but you could recover. Ashley says yes. And she says most vaccine-preventable diseases train your immune system to avoid cancer. She says people only die of measles if they are malnourished. She mentions Vitamin A as reducing the risk of complications and death; thus, she claims, these diseases are not harmful to those who are well nourished. Alicia points out that nutrition is important but we know, based on outbreaks in Europe, that measles still can cause harm and death. Ashley claims half of Americans are deficient in Vitamin A.
Sidebar: Here are a few readings on topics related to what Ashley is discussing, from our favorite Texas Pediatrician, Dr. Vince Ianelli.
The host and Alicia agree that nutrition is a component of disease management but the quality of care is another component. Alicia explains how secondary infections are an issue as well as the fact that measles wipes the immune memory, making one susceptible to all the other diseases you may have already had. Alicia clarifies how she is not just trying to prevent death but also prevent suffering in the child and the family members.
Ashley talks about measles and immune amnesia. She, again, brings up Vitamin A, as if that would prevent immune amnesia. She did not provide any research to back her claims. She claims doctors are not looking at Vitamin A and secondary infections. Alicia begs to differ on all of Ashley’s claims.
Alicia brings up cystic fibrosis patients who cannot absorb fat and cannot absorb vitamins like A and K. We would expect them to have higher rates of measles if extra vitamins alone were the answer, and yet they do not have higher rates of measles.
The host asks Alicia about how AAP recommends repeal exemptions other than medical exemptions. She answers that she would vote for that, as a voter. She talks about how non-medical exemptions put people at risk, particularly those who are immune compromised. When you don’t vaccinate, you make decisions for others who cannot vaccinate. Your choice affects them. Ashley, of course, says the opposite. She talks about those who have vaccinated their child and have seen them suffer an adverse event. She claims VAERS reports are underreported and, thus, we should not force anyone to vaccinate when we do not fully understand vaccine risks.
Ashley says her son has a genetic defect that makes him more susceptible to vaccine injury as he cannot detoxify easily. She says that taking away these exemptions is, in effect, mandating harm. She is, of course, thinking of the MTHFR gene, which is much ado in anti-vaccine circles. 
My favorite Seattle Naturopaths have addressed both the MTHFR gene mutation claim as well as the immune system issues with measles.
Ashley is asked if there is even one vaccine she would say is important. She likes that Idaho is for parent’s rights and that people are not aware of how much harm vaccines can cause. So, she will not pick a vaccine to recommend.
They are each asked to summarize.
Ashley says we are not given enough information on how dangerous vaccines can be. She infers we cannot trust the CDC. She infers vaccine manufacturers are not trustworthy. She says people need to consider all the variables and keep an open mind.
Alicia says her bottom line is that over 90% of us choose to vaccinate. She agrees there is a lot of information and some cans of worms. She wants people to think about who they trust and she hopes they trust their doctor. She says every piece of advice she gives is based on science and risks and benefits and that vaccines have the most benefits and the lowest risks and the most research behind them.
My take:
I think Ashley and Alicia both presented themselves as calm, reasonable, and dedicated to the topic.  Ashley, however, presents herself as an expert when she actually has little to no experience in toxicology. Her knowledge comes only from a classroom and not from actual field experience. She has never worked for a public health agency or environmental agency.  My own brother has degrees in environmental studies and horticulture and he has worked for years as a California state environmental scientist. He would never call himself an expert because he has not published anything nor led any actual research.  My children’s father has multiple degrees in scientific fields, including an MS in biology, and works in aquatic toxicology but still does not call himself an expert.  When I think of someone being able to call themselves a toxicologist I think of a person with a Ph.D. in toxicology or a related field, someone who has conducted a great deal of research and published many papers. A woman with a bachelor’s degree is not an expert.
That Ashley espouses so many anti-vax tropes and tries to qualify herself as a toxicologist is deeply troublesome. It is a false balance.
Dr. Alicia, on the other hand, is an actual doctor. She has expertise in the field of medicine. There is literally no comparison between these two ladies.
As always, think for yourself and verify claims!!  And be sure to join us at Vaccinate Washington if you live in or near Washington state and want to help our community be healthier.
[click on pic to go to the vaxwa website]



The fight for public health begins


Measles has taken hold in Washington state and, as there are outbreaks in other states,  bills are being introduced to affect positive change in immunization rates. One bill is House Bill (HB) 1638 in Washington and public comment was heard on it today in the house healthcare committee. Today was only about public comment. The bill will have a few more dates in the committee before they send it forward. You can see the schedule here:



Today, the bill was introduced in the House Health Care & Wellness Committee and Chair Eileen Cody heard public comment.  Representatives Paul Harris and Monica Stonier introduced the bill by talking about how Clark County has been impacted by measles.

You can watch the committee meeting here.

The pro side began with John Wiesman, Secretary of the Washington Department of Health.  He spoke about how this outbreak is larger and spreading faster than he has ever seen and the outbreak is not about a specific cultural group but about unvaccinated children. He spoke on how outbreaks are very expensive and a drain on resources. He spoke on the safety of the MMR vaccine and how measles is a serious infectious disease.

Next up was Dr. Rupin Thakkar, President of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. He spoke about how the unvaccinated import measles into Washington state and spread it to other unvaccinated persons. He spoke about how measles is extremely contagious, even before one has symptoms, and how the measles vaccine protects not only the person immunized but those who are too young for the vaccine and those who have immune deficiencies. He explained the idea of community immunity, aka herd immunity.

Roy Magnuson, MD, spoke third. He is a Vice President at PeaceHealth. He spoke as the representative of Peace Health Medical System in Clark County, Washington. Peace Health is the largest medical provider in Clark County and the largest employer. He explained how Peace Health has been providing care for those with measles while protecting the public and staff from the disease spreading. Their infection control team has been working night and day and there are 51 cases now. He spoke about how this outbreak could have been prevented had the patients all been vaccinated.

John Blom, County Council for  Clark County spoke about the safety of the MMR vaccine. He highlighted how 86% of those with measles in Clark County are completely unvaccinated. He explained how schools, businesses, and medical centers are all experiencing a diversion of resources to contain the outbreak. The cost has been great in that they have had to move resources from important programs to manage the outbreak. And, people have been quarantined at home, affecting school and wages.

Gary Goldbaum, from the Washington State Medical Association, spoke of his experience as health officer in Snohomish County and the value of vaccines. He spoke of his experience with polio, as a child, and how his brother suffered grave injury from polio infection.

For the antivax side, first was Dr. Toni Bark, Illinois MD. She claims to have treated patients suffering from vaccine injury and spoke about epigenetics and how medicines affect people individually.  She is of the opinion that 1% to 15% of individuals are susceptible to vaccine injury but there is no evidence I could find to support this claim. She also claims vaccines are legally classified as “unavoidably unsafe” and vaccine manufacturers are not liable for the deaths and injuries they cause. She claims there have been only 2 measles deaths since 2003 but more than 400 deaths from MMR. She misquoted Dr. Gregory Poland as saying that measles cannot be eliminated by MMR and that most outbreaks around the country are in vaccinated persons.

She is completely wrong on all counts.  First of all, according to CDC Wonder Database of mortality statistics, there have been 39 deaths from SSPE, a 100% fatal complication of measles, in the last ten years in the USA. And there has been at least one death from measles, which was an immune compromised woman in Washington state exposed to measles, in her doctor’s clinic, by an unvaccinated person. You can learn more about measles mortality here.

Secondly, vaccines are not legally classified as unavoidably unsafe. A Supreme Court case, Bruschewitz V. Wyeth, noted that vaccines, like antibiotics, are in the category of medicines that are not 100% safe but they are so necessary and vital that they are “unavoidably unsafe.” You can read about that here.

Thirdly, vaccine makers are liable for the problems they cause. If they knowingly put out a vaccine that has been prepared incorrectly, for example, they can be held liable for any injuries. They are not liable for rare reactions which are not their fault and there is no reason they should be held liable for health issues which arise as a result of a rare reaction. We have a law which covers all of this, NCVIA.  Finally, Dr. Poland has written on the topic of how we might need a better measles vaccine to eliminate measles from earth but he has fully acknowledged that the current vaccine is very good and should be continued.

Also, as evidenced by MMWR measles outbreak data, the vast majority of measles patients in the USA since 2000 have been unvaccinated.

Is Dr. Bark lying?  She claimed a New York City outbreak occurred a few years ago, started by a 22-year-old vaccinated woman and all the patients got vaccine strain. This is a total lie. A twice vaccinated woman got wild measles and spread wild measles to others. So, not only is Dr. Bark coming from out of town to talk about something which does not affect her at all, as a resident of Illinois, but she has misconstrued the data.

Brian Hooker, Ph.D. spoke about his research but he failed to mention the studies which have been retracted, such as his very bad take on the “CDC whistleblower” data.  He claims he has a vaccine injured son but, in reality, he has an autistic son and lost his vaccine injury claim in court a few years ago because the child’s own medical records proved there were developmental issues in keeping with autism from a very young age, much earlier than MMR is given.

Dr. Hooker claims the vaccine does not work and that wild measles is benign. This is false.  He claims he death rate from measles in Washington state was zero for years before the vaccine. He criticized state immunization data and quoted the student survey as valid data. (students take a survey but who knows if their answers are accurate). He claims the scientific literature proves the MMR is very unsafe.

Dr. Hooker is wrong.  He lost his vaccine injury claim. MMR is safe. His take on the data is all wrong. You can access the data here.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, spoke on the ethical issues, asking if we want to be a country which forces parents to engage in a medical intervention without informed consent and he asked “will mandating vaccines cause more harm than good?” He said that the measles death rate is really 1 in 100,000, not 1 in 1000. He says that the Washington State Department of Health data indicates there were zero deaths per year from measles in the 12 years before school vaccine mandates. He stated that vitamin A cures measles and only immune compromised are at risk for death, which is not true. You can read about the limited benefits of Vitamin A for measles here.  He says we do not know the risk profile of MMR, which he claims is deliberate. He claims NCVIA of 1986 gave pharmaceutical companies no reason to make vaccines safe. He implied vaccines cause ADD, ADHD, autism, and that now 54% of children are sick. Of course, I have addressed this issue in my blog post that children are actually healthy! He claims there is no safety testing, which is patently false.

Kennedy’s take is very strange to me. He is an attorney and perhaps he looks at issues from the point of view of how they can be litigated. I am not sure how else to interpret his extremely invalid point of view. Vaccines do not violate any international treaties designed to protect people from being used in experiments against their will. If they did, why would every government on earth be pro-vaccine? When you go to the doctor, you have the opportunity to ask questions, which gives you informed consent. The doctor does not have to sit down with you for an hour and go over every possible risk that could happen and detail every ingredient and describe clinical trial data to you. No doctor has time for that! Vaccinating is extremely ethical and to imply otherwise is to illustrate why most people don’t like attorneys – they look at the world as if there is lawsuit possibility everywhere.

Also, Kennedy’s take on the data is confusing. Where does he get the idea that measles kills 1 in 100,000 instead of the 1 in 1000 the CDC mentions?  His idea comes from an antivax group called Physicians for  Informed Choice. They put out a very badly done propaganda sheet on measles, which was debunked here by my pediatrician friend, Dr. Vincent Ianelli.

Kennedy’s take on the Washington State Department of health data comes from a misinterpretation of the facts by antivax group, Informed Choice Washington. As you see by reading the data yourself, here,  which shows us that there were zero deaths a year from measles between 1973 to 1983. But, if you average the deaths per year from 1952 to 1983, you do get 1-2 deaths per 1000 rate.

Therefore, Kennedy’s statements are completely false. 

Lastly, Mary Holland, professor of law from New York State, spoke about community immunity. She has a son with autism and believes vaccines are the reason. Of course, we know vaccines do not cause autism and there is no autism epidemic. She thinks we cannot achieve community immunity with vaccines so we have to focus on control and quarantine.  She also mentioned that those who do not vaccinate are not going to vaccinate if the personal belief exemption is taken away. But, she is wrong. We have seen vaccine rates rise in California since SB277 was passed.

This brings me to a concluding thought. Why did Informed Choice Washington bring in “experts” from out of state to talk about community immunity in Washington state?  The answer is money. Informed Choice Wa is registered as a charity in Washington state as “American Citizens for Health Choice DBA Informed Choice Washington.” This means the antivax group, Health Choice, is doing business as (DBA) Informed Choice Washington. A check at the IRS website gives us access to their 2016 990-EZ form which indicates they were given $83,000 in donations that year. One can presume their donation base has increased in recent years.  Their leadership base is made up primarily of parents who believe their autistic children are vaccine injured and that vaccines cause autism. Many of them were part of the Autism Omnibus group or they lost their case in vaccine court due to lack of evidence. I find this tragic.  Autism is not a vaccine injury and the belief that autism is vaccine damage is ableist and leads to parents subjecting their children to unproven and dangerous “cures” to remove the autism or train their children out of the behavior. That they are using their influence and money to lobby against public health legislation is doubly tragic, in my opinion. They not only do not accept neurodiversity but they are putting public health at risk with their beliefs.


I  mince no words: the belief that vaccines cause autism is the driving force behind the anti-vaccine movement. 


Always verify your claims!



PS Join us here to fight for neurodiversity, sound science, and protecting the public from preventable diseases: