With the exception of actual catastrophic mass killings, it’s a really terrible idea to compare anything to the Holocaust. That anyone would lack the common sense or decency to need reminding of this is truly astonishing.
And yet, someone needs to tell Dr. Bob Sears.
Dr. Sears, a California pediatrician, is best known as the author of The Vaccine Book. In it, he advises parents to make the “right decision” for their children, and to space vaccines out rather than give them according to the standard schedule (PDF) recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control.
There is no evidence that there is any benefit to doing this. Giving vaccines in combination does not overwhelm the immune system, and is quite safe. Spacing them out merely prolongs the period of time during which infants may be susceptible to preventable illness. Dr. Sears’ advice further redounds to the impression that there is something dangerous about immunizations, which is simply incorrect.
I was already not among Dr. Sears’ fans before I learned of a recent post he put on his Facebook page. Titled “The Vaccine Whisperers,” it’s all about the patients he refers to as “refugees” who have been dismissed from other practices because their parents refuse to vaccinate them. In rather hyperbolic language, he describes the psychological scars their parents seem to bear and their apparent paranoia before they disclose to him that they don’t want their kids vaccinated. He then hastens to reassure them that they are welcome, and that half of his patients aren’t vaccinated, a state of affairs he seems to think is just dandy.
And then he loses his ever-loving mind.
“So I tell them they don’t have to whisper,” he writes. “They can say it loud and clear, with confidence. Ya, I guess you don’t want to advertise it around the neighborhood—that will come soon enough. Scarlet ‘V’ anyone? No, not scarlet. Let’s make it yellow. And not a V—a star would be better. That way everyone can know at first glance who is safe to be around and who is not. That way, if your old doctor and his children are walking down the street, they can easily identify your kids and quickly cross to the other side before they get too close.”
He’s not content to leave it at Hawthorne. No, I do believe Dr. Sears has just compared me to a Nazi.
You see, I am one of those pediatricians who will not accept patients whose parents refuse to vaccinate them. I have already explained why. I have confidence in the science that shows vaccines are safe, and that they have been one of the greatest triumphs of modern medicine. I quite firmly believe that to reject vaccines is to demonstrate a willingness to reject evidence-based medicine as a whole, which undermines the entire structure of a sound physician-patient relationship.
But I also believe I am entrusted with a profoundly important duty. I have patients who are too young or too vulnerable to be vaccinated. My office regularly resonates with the cries of newborn babies. Many of my patients are receiving treatments that compromise their immune systems, and leave them susceptible to illnesses they otherwise could fight off.
I have an obligation to keep them protected. Which means that parents who choose to make their children potential vectors for preventable illness by refusing vaccines will have to take them elsewhere for care. As far as I am able, I want my waiting room to be safe from avoidable contagion.
According to Dr. Sears, this means I am happy to pin yellow stars to the parents who must find their way to doctors like him. This means I am treating them like the Third Reich treated the Jews. By telling these parents the onus of their decisions is theirs to bear, I have become like Goebbels and Mengele.
As a gay man who is Jewish on one side, you can imagine how tickled I am by this implication. I am delighted to be compared to those who would happily have had me gassed at their first opportunity.
Perhaps sensing he may have gone a bit off the rails, Dr. Sears appends what must be the most confusing “disclaimer” I have ever seen in my life to his post.
“This post is not intended as a reference to a holocaust,” he concludes. “It’s (obviously) a reference to the discrimination and prejudice felt by the Jewish people many years ago. But, it is not intended to compare vaccination or non-vaccination to a holocaust. If the historical parallel bothers you, maybe it should.”
Um. It bothers me. It bothers me because it is disgraceful.
To compare the plight of the Jews under Hitler to that of those who willingly forego a preventive treatment that safeguards not only the health of their children, but the community as a whole is to lose all moral grounding. It is to purloin the most appalling suffering of the 20th century’s greatest victims, and assign it to those whose choices make not only themselves but their neighbors less safe. It is repulsive.
There is nothing prejudicial about making parents responsible for their own bad choices. There is nothing discriminatory (in the pejorative sense) about saying that an ill decision must have consequences. There is nothing even remotely close to Hitler in telling parents that I refuse to let their kids potentially infect a newborn baby with a disease that could kill it.
Dr. Bob Sears should be ashamed of himself. Appalled as I am, I am almost embarrassed for him.
Vaccines save lives. The Nazis destroyed them. If you cannot discern the vast gulf that separated the two phenomena, perhaps it is best that people stop paying attention to what you have to say at all.