by Dr. Janet Levatin, Holistic Pediatrician at Tenpenny Integrative Medical Center, Cleveland Ohio
On March 5, 2019, I attended the US Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee hearing entitled “Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?”
The hearing was a travesty, a one-sided presentation on the purported “amazing benefits of vaccines” and an inquiry into why uninformed, misinformed, “vaccine hesitant” parents are saying no. Based on the name of the hearing and who the scheduled “expert” witnesses were, I was not at all surprised at the content of the hearing.
Here is a summary of my experience and the content of the hearings.
I drove from Ohio to Washington DC the day before the hearing. I spent the afternoon visiting the offices of my state senators and my district’s representative (I live in Lakewood, OH) as well as the minority and majority party HELP committee offices. I gave staffers in those offices my views on the necessity of maintaining freedom of choice in medical decision-making, especially vaccines, emphasizing the fact that vaccines have acknowledged side effects, including death. I was received politely but with mostly blank stares and no meaningful reaction.
I paid a visit to Room 430 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building where the hearing would be held the next day. The room was fairly small, with seats for the Committee members, a table with chairs for the witnesses, and about 65 seats for observers. I figured about 65 citizens would be admitted to observe. I was told there would also be an overflow room that was about the same size, but I never saw that area.
I heard it was important to arrive early and line up outside the room if I wanted to get in. The hearing was slated to start at 10:00 am, and the building opened at 7:30 am, so I got up at 5:15 am, rode the Metro from my hotel, arriving outside the building at 6:45 am. When the building opened, I went straight to Room 430 to line up. There were already a few in line, two or three women who had entered the building when I did, and a couple of men who looked somewhat out of place. I had been told that homeless individuals and students are sometimes paid to hold places in the line for people such as pharma reps who want seats at Hearings, but don’t want to wait in line for hours. It appeared that four or five of these “place holders” were present.
The line formed quickly and soon nearly 500 people who wanted to witness the hearing had arrived. Most were women, but there were also men and children. We were all members of the Vaccine Risk Awareness Movement and advocates for freedom of choice in medical decision making. It was clear that only a small number of people would be allowed into the hearing room.
It wasn’t long until access to the 4th floor was blocked; the crowd was getting large and some people were starting to protest what was taking place. Initially, a few Capitol Police were standing around but soon numerous cops showed up sporting guns (holstered), billy clubs, and plastic handcuffs on their belts. People were threatened and told there was to be no chanting, no displaying of signs, and no sitting in the halls (where we had been standing for hours), or they could be arrested.
Before people were allowed to enter, several people who had not been in line were allowed in. Others were admitted through side and back doors we could not see. As it turned out, about 45 of the seats were given out in advance, allowing only about 20-25 of those who had been waiting for hours to attend.
People began to get upset, and rightfully so.
I was one of the few who was allowed into the room. I was shocked to see that all of the seats were taken except for one row of chairs and two benches at the very back of the room, totaling about 20 seats. Several photographers and videographers were there, and there were two tables full of press at the sides of the room. The atmosphere was serious and somewhat tense. One observer at the very back of the room who wanted to stand was told several times to sit down or she would have to leave. It was obvious that they did not want us to be seen by the cameras filming the witnesses, which were pointed in our direction. While a police presence was maintained, I did not feel frightened. But I knew we all had to “behave” or be escorted out.
Eventually, the Committee arrived. There are 23 committee members listed on the HELP web site, but only 12 of them were present:
- Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee,
- Patty Murray (D) of Washington,
- Johnny Isakson (R) of Georgia,
- Tammy Baldwin (R) of Wisconsin,
- Rand Paul, MD (R) of Kentucky,
- Elizabeth Warren (D) of Massachusetts,
- Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas,
- Tim Kaine (D) of Virginia,
- Bill Cassidy, MD (R) of Louisiana,
- Maggie Hassan (D) of New Hampshire,
- Tina Smith (D) of Minnesota, and
- Robert Casey (D) of Pennsylvania.
Two of the more prominent missing members were Bernie Sanders and Mitt Romney.
The witnesses were introduced:
- John Wiesman, DrPH, MPH, Secretary of Health, Washington State;
- Saad Omer, MBBS, MPH, PhD, professor of epidemiology and pediatrics, Emory University;
- Jonathan McCullers, MD, professor and chair of Pediatrics, University of Tennessee;
- John Boyle, President, Immune Deficiency Foundation;
- and, laughably, Ethan Lindenberger, a Norwalk, Ohio high school student.
Each witness gave a 5-minute opening statement and then each Committee member was allowed 5 minutes of questions and answer with the witnesses.
It was obvious the content of the hearing was predetermined. The themes that were mentioned and emphasized were:
- Vaccines are safe and very effective.
- Vaccines save lives.
- Vaccines do not cause autism or other serious side effects.
- Vaccine-hesitant parents are misguided.
- Vaccine-hesitant parents are driving the recent outbreaks of measles in the US.
- Social media sites, which are misleading and confusing, are the main source misinformation about vaccines.
- Those who choose to not vaccinate should perhaps not be allowed to attend school (as in West Virginia, Mississippi, and California).
Here is a summary of the witnesses’ talking points:
- Wiesman stressed the burden public health departments are experiencing because they have had to respond to outbreaks, including the recent measles “epidemics.” He called for stronger electronic immunization information tracking, better partnering between states and the CDC, and a 22% increase in the CDC budget.
- Omer called for more vaccine safety research, then talked about the need for more research on how to persuade parents to vaccinate, including reimbursing doctors for “counseling” time. He promoted mandates as a way to increase compliance.
- McCullers stated that vaccine refusal is getting worse, with too many pathways to exemptions. He believed waivers should be curtailed. He reported that Mississippi, a state bordering his, allows no parental exemptions and has close to a 100% childhood vaccination rate, which he thinks is great. (He did not mention the state’s miserable child health record or that Mississippi has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the country.)
- Boyle pulled out the popular argument that we need “community immunity” to protect people who have immune deficiencies, such as the condition he has. He was apparently diagnosed with Primary Immunodeficiency in 1980. In other words, everyone needs to comply with the vaccine schedule to protect the lives of other individuals who may have become ill because they were vaccinated. (This last point is mine, not his!)
In my opinion, Lindenberger’s presence was a joke. Since when is a high school student an expert, allowed to testify in front of a Senate committee on a very serious topic? It made the committee look ridiculous. He reported that his non-vaccinating mother was “misguided” after having gotten her information from Facebook and other online sources, while he got his information from reputable sources such as the CDC and FDA.
Right, Ethan… reputable.
Other topics mentioned during this vaccine love-fest were the need to be sure elders and pregnant women are vaccinated according to the ever-growing US vaccine schedules.
If our government seriously wanted to investigate what is behind continued outbreaks of viral infections, the seriousness (or lack thereof) of these outbreaks, and why “vaccine hesitancy” is mushrooming across our country, they would hold balanced, unbiased hearings where multiple points of view could be expressed by credible professionals who hold different points of view from the pharma-based, pro-vaccine “professionals” called to provide singular testimony at this hearing. They would hold the Hearing in an adequately sized room, where all could attend and participate. They would hear from doctors, scientists and parents and concerned individuals, including their constituents.
I am glad that I was present to be a witness to the history being made. I only wish the Hearing had been a positive chapter in our history, and not the sham and the travesty that it was.