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Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Even as the flu season, with its consequent hospitalizations and deaths, rages on, chiropractors are outdoing themselves in promoting anti-vaccine ideology at this year’s “Freedom for Family Wellness 2018 Summit Washington, D.C.” (but actually in Reston, VA), scheduled for March. While in previous years so-called “chiropractic pediatrics” conferences have invited anti-vaccine hucksters like the disgraced and defrocked former British physician Andrew Wakefield and Barbara Loe Fisher, founder of the National Vaccine [Mis]Information Center, this year will feature not only Fisher, but also “Ranting Robert” F. Kennedy, Jr., fresh from his disappointment in not being named head of a proposed, but never realized, vaccine safety commission by fellow anti-vaxxer, President Trump, and Del Bigtree, producer of the widely discredited “documentary,” VAXXED. Attendees will get 24 hours of chiropractic continuing education credit in 37 states (so far), as well as D.C. and British Columbia.

The Summit is hosted by the International Chiropractic Pediatrics Association (ICPA), which promotes straight subluxation-based chiropractic treatment for pregnant women, infants and children. Well, actually, for anyone with a pulse, but that’s who they concentrate on. Its 2014 conference headliners were Fisher and Wakefield.

“Chiropractic pediatrics”

Before we get to the upcoming conference, let’s review the field of “chiropractic pediatrics,” its affinity for pseudoscience and hostility to vaccination. The ICPA is just one of three chiropractic pediatric groups, all of which support anti-vaccination ideology and promote chiropractic diagnosis and treatment of infants and children for both musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal conditions, including:

otitis media, asthma, allergies, infantile colic, . . . enuresis, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, myasthenia gravis, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome. For the most part, treatment for all of these conditions is based upon detection and correction of vertebral subluxations, . . . [even though] there is no scientific basis for the contention of chiropractors that subluxation correction will restore or maintain health or that such subluxations even exist. [Links added.]

In addition, pediatric chiropractors promote “wellness care” for children, advising that children should visit a chiropractor 6 to 12 times a year to be checked for phantom subluxations.

Another pediatric chiropractic group, the International Chiropractic Association’s (ICA) Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics, featured Wakefield at its 2016 conference, as well as a showing of VAXXED. In 2017, the ICA Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics conference participants were shown portions of the film Vaccines Revealed, essentially a parade of well-known and thoroughly debunked anti-vaccinationists, in some cases being interviewed by other anti-vaccinationists, produced by someone whose past work has promoted anti-vaccination views, who also spoke at the conference.

Chiropractic education in pediatrics consists of one 22-hour pre-clinical course in “pediatric topics” and chiropractors can graduate without ever having seen an actual pediatric patient in clinical training, which chiropractors themselves admit is inadequate. The ICA’s post-graduate courses (they don’t do residencies) which allow one to call oneself a “Diplomate” in chiropractic pediatrics, consist of less than 400 hours of classroom training in a series of weekend courses, sometimes in airport hotel conference rooms, with no hospital training and no contact with diseased or injured children. The ICA’s recommended books on vaccination contain plenty of anti-vaccination propaganda.

The third chiropractic pediatrics group, the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics promotes “the acceptance and advancement of pediatric chiropractic care.” Although it does not have its own training program, four out of five Council Board members are ICA “diplomates” in pediatric chiropractic, one Board member describing the program as a “3-year post-graduate course of study,” conveniently leaving out the part about the weekend courses and lack of clinical training.

The ICPA offers its own certification (200 hours) and diplomate programs (an additional 200 hours), under the auspices of the Academy of Chiropractic Pediatric Practice and is “endorsed and certified” by an organization called the Academy of Chiropractic Family Practice. Like the ICA, the ICPA teaches its courses in hotel conference rooms.

The ICPA also sponsors a certification in the Webster Technique, which is based on the biologically implausible and unproven notion that a chiropractic “adjustment” will “reduce the effects of sacral subluxation/SI joint dysfunction” facilitating “neuro-biomechanical function of the pelvis,” supposedly leading to an easier birth, even to the point of turning a breech baby (all the while denying that this is what they are claiming).

Chiropractic anti-vaccination ideology is not limited to chiropractic pediatrics. It is long-standing, firmly entrenched in chiropractic philosophy, and well-documented in the medical literature.

Anti-vaccination attitudes still abound within the chiropractic profession. Despite a growing body of evidence about the safety and efficacy of vaccination, many chiropractors do not believe in vaccination, will not recommend it to their patients, and place emphasis on risk rather than benefit.

One study found a correlation between seeing a chiropractor or a naturopath and lack of flu vaccination in pediatric patients. Another study found that children who saw chiropractors were significantly less likely to receive each of three CDC-recommended vaccinations. Yet another found that student anti-vaccination attitudes actually increased in the later years of chiropractic and naturopathic programs. Anti-vaccination attitudes among chiropractors have been documented by the mainstream media as well (also here and here).

It is thus that Kennedy, Fisher, and Bigtree find their ideal audience: a group preconditioned to uncritically accept their anti-vaccination message, impervious to science and evidence, yet perfectly positioned to spread their misinformation to patients and parents via their unlimited license to diagnose and treat any person of any age with virtually any disease or condition, thanks to state chiropractic licensing laws, aided by a closed loop, chiropractor-controlled system of education and regulation.

The “Summit”

Long-time anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who will be delivering the keynote at one evening session of the “Summit,” is no stranger to regular SBM readers. His crackpot ideas about vaccines, lies and conspiracy mongering have been the subject of numerous SBM posts. Kennedy continues to flog the debunked connection between thimerosal and brain disorders, including autism, long after thimerosal was, as a precaution, removed from pediatric vaccines and remains a trace ingredient only in some flu vaccines. Assisted by another person honored with an SBM post this very week, Mark Hyman, MD, he wrote a book promoting his discredited ideas. Our good friend Orac has extensively covered Kennedy as well. Among Kennedy’s anti-vaxx escapades:

  • His article “Deadly Immunity,” an “anti-vax hit piece,” was riddled with so many errors that it was ultimately pulled from Salon’s archive.
  • Calling CDC officials “criminals” because they area “poisoning kids” in an interview with fellow anti-vaccine crank Boyd Haley.
  • Saying he’d like to see pediatric infectious disease physician and co-inventor of a childhood vaccine that saves thousands of lives, Paul Offit, MD, behind bars.
  • Analogizing the CDC whistleblower manufactroversy to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment on black men, an analogy he dredged up again in describing a California bill (which has since become law) tightening vaccine exemption requirements, all the while cozying up to the racist and anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

Well, you get the idea. But in case you don’t, Laura Helmeth nicely summarized Kennedy in Slate:

The short version of the vaccine conspiracy theory (if you are stuck on the phone with RFK Jr., you will be subjected to the long version) is that a vaccine preservative called thimerosal causes autism when injected into children. Government epidemiologists and other scientists, conspiring with the vaccine industry, have covered up data and lied about vaccine ingredients to hide this fact. Journalists are dupes of this powerful cabal that is intentionally poisoning children.

You’ve met Barbara Loe Fisher here on SBM too. In the heyday of the media’s penchant for reporting “both sides” of the vaccination manufactroversy, Fisher was the go-to gal for reliable fear-mongering about vaccines. She was, after all, a founder of the NVIC (a sponsor of the “Summit”), a source of vaccine “information” that claims to be neither for nor against vaccination, only for “safe” vaccinations and informed consent. Fisher’s talk is titled “Your Right to be Informed, Your Freedom to Choose.” By continuously moving the goalposts, the NVIC ensures that vaccination is never safe and that there is always a fresh supply of misinformation with which to scare parents from choosing vaccination for their child by exercising their (not the child’s) freedom to exempt the child from school vaccination requirements by claiming their (again, not the child’s) religious or philosophical opposition.

Fisher remains unrepentant after being excoriated by investigative journalist Seth Mnookin in his excellent book The Panic Virus (2011). Here’s how Mnookin described Fisher’s talk at a 2009 Autism One conference:

Barbara Loe Fisher, the grande dame of the American anti-vaccine movement, explained how vaccines are a “de facto selection of the genetically vulnerable for sacrifice” and said that doctors who administer vaccines are the moral equivalent of “the doctors at Nuremberg.” (That parallel, she said, had been pointed out to her by Andrew Wakefield . . .)

Finally, Del Bigtree will speak on “Finding our Freedom,” freedom apparently being a code word at the “Freedom for Family Wellness 2018 Summit” for “refusing vaccination based on bad science and debunked conspiracies.” Bigtree was recruited by Andrew Wakefield to make the “documentary” VAXXED, a film version of the anti-vaccination movement’s talking points, delivered by an all-star team of dedicated anti-vaccinationists. He then shamelessly fed on the African-American community’s understandable mistrust of medicine to promote it. Fortunately, the movie seems to have impressed no one outside of the anti-vaxx echo chamber. It was widely panned as propaganda, “fraudulent,” presenting facts out of context, “closer to a horror film than a documentary,” “paranoid,” and a “desperate attempt to hoodwink the public for no greater purpose than making money.”

As if that weren’t enough propaganda, Andrea Marconi, a chiropractor and the NVIC’s Director of Professional Resources, and Theresa Wrangham, the NVIC’s Executive Director, are giving a talk on “Efffective Vaccine Informed Consent Advocacy.” Marconi’s NVIC bio makes it clear that pediatric chiropractors are expected to be advocates for vaccine refusal:

she has the honor of working with the Chiropractic profession as well as other groups to educate and support doctors who are speaking with their patients and communities about protecting the legal right to exercise religious and conscientious belief vaccine exemptions to go to school, be employed and otherwise participate in society.

And chiropractors are stepping up to the plate, as a recent CBC investigation revealed, discouraging vaccination as well as other evidence-based care.

Apparently, one of the “other groups” chiropractors are working with are midwives, with whom they are promoting “collaboration” as the ideal pregnancy-perinatal team. While the science-based training of Certified Nurse Midwives might make them resistant to chiropractic pediatrics and its attendant anti-vaccination ideology, direct-entry midwives and naturopath-midwives, who lack medical training and come equipped with their own anti-vaccination proclivities, will be a softer target.

So, besides “wellness” through chiropractic “adjustments,” what do pediatric chiropractors recommend to ward off vaccine-preventable diseases? Another speaker provides a clue: Cilla Whatcott, a homeopath who holds a Ph.D. from the Kingdom College of Natural Health, will be giving a talk on “Real Immunity and Homeoprophylaxis.” According to Whatcott’s website:

The goal of [homeoprophylaxis] is to introduce into the human system safe, homeopathic versions of particular diseases in order to naturally stimulate the immune system. As a result, susceptibility to targeted diseases can be reduced. . . protecting your children from infectious contagious disease.

This is dangerous nonsense, as explained by SBM’s own infectious disease expert, Mark Crislip, MD. Whatcott is disciple of Issac Golden, an Australian homeopath whose ideas are rejected not only by responsible medical authorities but other homeopaths as well.

It is sadly ironic that, even as state health departments and the federal Centers for Disease Control fight the worst flu season in a decade, it is the state and federal governments who create the conditions for this perfect storm of dangerous pseudoscience and conspiracy-theory crankery that will discourage people from getting vaccinated. State licensing laws and chiropractic self-regulation (remember, 24 hours of CE credit!) along with federal Department of Education approval of chiropractic school self-accreditation, allow poorly educated and trained health care practitioners to provide substandard care to a vulnerable population.

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Posted by Jann Bellamy

Jann J. Bellamy is a Florida attorney and lives in Tallahassee. She is one of the founders and Board members of the Society for Science-Based Medicine (SfSBM) dedicated to providing accurate information about CAM and advocating for state and federal laws that incorporate a science-based standard for all health care practitioners. She tracks state and federal bills that would allow pseudoscience in health care for the SfSBM website.  Her posts are archived here.