By Tara Haelle
June 18, 2015
In the midst of the measles outbreak last winter, I wrote about two doctors whose misleading advice about vaccines had aroused the ire of colleagues, some of whom wanted to see professional censures in response to these doctors’ actions.
One of them, Dr. Bob Sears, has been particularly vocal among the opposition to California Senate Bill 277, proposed legislation that would remove non-medical exemptions to school immunization requirements.
Sears took that opposition one extreme step forward this week when he went “full Godwin,” as Science Blogger Orac described it. In other words, Sears invoked Godwin’s Law by comparing persecution of non-vaccinating parents to the persecution Jews suffered at the start of the Holocaust.
That is just one element – albeit the most offensive – of a Facebook post riddled with offensive comparisons that trivialize the suffering of various groups.
In his Facebook post, Sears references the “scars” and the “fear” he sees on the faces of “refugees” who come to his office – families who have been asked to leave other practices because they do not vaccinate their children. I suspect these Southern California parents don’t look like the refugees we’re used to seeing on the news, those displaced by war, risking their lives on overcrowded boats, trekking hundreds of miles across a desert in heat exceeding 100 degrees, a crisis of more than 50 million people across the world without homes or access to fresh water or secure food.
I could be wrong, but I suspect the California parents who refuse to protect their children against the same infectious disease that threaten actual refugee camps across the world are in slightly better shape than the real refugee parents struggling to keep their children fed and alive.
But Sears explains that he offers a safe haven: a practice where half his parents don’t vaccinate. His practice is such a “safe” place of low immunization rates, of course, that one his patients was responsible for the 2008 San Diego measles outbreak. Yet Sears has the chutzpah to suggest that other doctors who are protecting their youngest and most vulnerable patients by insisting that parents follow the recommended CDC immunization schedule are “outside the Hippocratic Oath.”
That would be the oath that requires physicians to uphold ethical standards and “First, do no harm,” precisely the opposite of what Sears does by putting his patients in harm’s way in discouraging vaccination and cultivating a practice with a low immunization coverage rate.
And I use the word chutzpah intentionally because it’s what Sears says next that is most offensive:
"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."
There is no question what Sears alludes to here – the same thing Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. alluded to earlier this year. As Orac noted, “Let’s not forget. During World War II, the yellow Star of David was intended to allow the easy identification of Jews in order to facilitate the state-sanctioned persecution, not just by the state but by regular German citizens, who would shun and/or abuse them.”
Sears attempted to wave off the comparison with a later-added disclaimer that only reaffirms that what he said is really what he meant:
“This post is not intended as a reference to a holocaust. 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.”
What should bother anyone is that a medical doctor with great pop culture influence, a misguided and error-riddled book on vaccines, a growing practice of un-vaccinated families and a newly opened “supplement store,” is comparing parents who do not protect their children – and, by extension, their communities – against infectious, potentially deadly diseases to Jews persecuted and eventually mass murdered during the Holocaust.
Compounding this offense is the fact that several parents who testified at SB277 hearings lost close relatives in the Holocaust.
Never one to miss an angle, Sears is already preparing for the possible passage of the bill into law: in another Facebook post yesterday, he advertised a public event where he will help parents learn how to “circumnavigate” the bill's language, which sounds suspiciously like finding a way to break the spirit of the law if not the letter of it.
He adds a note that “no recently vaccinated kids” are allowed, to prevent the risk of “viral shedding,” a scientifically ridiculous statement since shedding either does not exist or poses little to no risk to others.
I reached out for comment three times to Sears before writing this post. I sent two emails, one cc’d to his media rep, and left him a voicemail on his cell phone. He has not responded, so I’ll leave here the questions I included in my email that I wanted answers to:
- In your post, you reference yellow stars but later added an edit to say that the post is not intended to refer to the Holocaust. Since yellow stars were exclusively used in the early stages of the Holocaust and at no other time, can you explain how you intended to reference Jewish yellow stars without referencing the Holocaust? Can you clarify what you wanted your comparison to be or to allude to?
- You state that doctors “firing” patients from their practices for not being vaccinated violates the Hippocratic oath. Some would argue that not encouraging parents to vaccinate according to the CDC schedule also violates the Hippocratic oath. How would you respond to this?
- You mentioned on a post today that you will provide information on circumnavigating the bill. Can you explain what you mean? Will you be providing information on ways parents can have their children attend school without required vaccinations if they do not have a medical contraindication?
- You also included the following in today’s post “Note: no recently-vaccinated kids allowed. We wish to take precautions against viral shedding.” There is not scientific evidence that recently vaccinated children pose any significant risk to other children through “viral shedding.” Can you explain what you mean or respond to this?
I will update this post if Sears responds.