What sort of anti-vaccine books do homeopathic pharmacies sell?

What sort of anti-vaccine books do homeopathic pharmacies sell?

Vaccination is a key component of the strategic to deal with anti-microbial resistance, as the recent Review on Antimicrobial resistance set out.(1) The GPhC, the UK regulator of Pharmacies, are concerned enough about the professional role pharmacists have in tackling anti-microbial resistance to carry an interview about this important subject with the Chief Pharmacist Keith Ridge in their house journal.(2) Yet, registered UK pharmacies are able to continue selling anti-vaccine books, as the GPhC, has decided not to take forward complaints about these sales to their investigating committee.

As previously noted on this blog, pharmacists and pharmacies have professional standards (currently out for review) which the GPhC enforce, to ensure that pharmacists are safe and protect the public from harm. This does not just mean individuals, but the broader public health. Pharmacists are not meant to provide misleading impartial or out-of-date information.

The invention of written communication was the most important steps forward in human development. Regardless of whether it is a Mesopotamian clay tablet, a book, or an ebook, the ability to provide written information has changed and continues to change the world. Books have been one of the main forms of information exchanges for centuries.

The selling of a book is therefore the provision of information.

This is a simple, irrefutable, yet important point.

So what sorts of book do these UK registered pharmacies sell? Here’s one.

sussman

This is described as a “Measured contribution to the vaccine debate; weighs up pro’s & con’s of each individual vaccine; the evidence re autism, & the likely impact of the combined MMR. jab.”

Note that the website contains a link to NHS Choices online Is Vaccination Safe? This is a reputable website for vaccine information, and presumably provided as some protection against the accusation that the pharmacy is providing poor information.

Sumerian_account_of_silver_for_the_govenor_(background_removed)

An early form of information.

So what is in Sussman’s Understanding MMR? First off, it is worth noting that the book was published in 2007, so is now 9 years out of date. At the time of publication it was 9 years after the initial concerns about MMR safety raised by Andrew Wakefield in The Lancet and at the infamous press conference at the Royal Free. By 2007, GMC hearings were looming for Wakefield, there was a large amount of data showing no link between MMR vaccine and autism, and the legal aid paid to Wakefield had become public knowledge.

Understanding MMR is written by a homeopath. It is a slim 32 page book, with pretensions to credibility (such as Vancover referencing). After the introduction, it runs through measles, mumps and rubella infections, then in a series of brief assessments, the immunisation options. These are set out as:

  • OPTION 1: The triple vaccine MMR jab
  • OPTION 2: The single vaccines
  • OPTION 3: Giving the MMR jab when older
  • OPTION 4: No vaccinations
Underplaying the benefits of vaccines is a common anti-vaccine trope
Underplaying the benefits of vaccines is a common anti-vaccine trope (figure from Sussman’s Understanding MMR)

As well as downplaying the risk of childhood diseases, the book gives a number of “tips” on improving the immune system to deal with such infections, including sleep, exercise, and happiness. It also says that “homeopathy is a safe and effective way to increase your child’s immunity and ability to fight disease” and that it can “offer constitutional treatment to boost a child’s immunity so that if they get the disease, then they are better able to fight it.” There is no scientific basis for this effect, nor evidence that such an effect has been demonstrated.

In a personal note about vaccination, citing her experience of her child crying after a DTP vaccine, and her work with vaccine damaged children, she finishes by noting that “homeopaths believe that vaccinations lower a child’s immunity. Furthermore, without vaccinations, your child may get a childhood disease such as measles. Thereafter, she would not only have immunity from measles for life, but she would pass this immunity on to her children for the first few months of their lives, when they are at their most vulnerable.”

The conclusion states that “If your child is healthy, eats well, and has plenty of fresh air, then you might not worry about him getting measles, as long as you take care to avoid passing it on to vulnerable people”

An excellent paper by Anna Kata gave an overview of the tactics and tropes used by the online anti-vaccination movement.(3) This book does rely on one of the major tactics used by the anti-vaccination movement: skewing the science. In the two page commentary on autism and MMR vaccine, it provides a highly pro-Wakefield view of the link between inflammatory bowel disease, autism and the MMR vaccine. It also gives a very partial view of the epidemiological data showing no link, and counters this with anecdotal experiences and claims of a link.

Sadly, I appear to have reached the end of the road in trying to get the GPhC to take this seriously. After my initial complaint I responded to the GPhC. The results of that are here. Having looked into potential ways forward, there appear to be no mechanisms of complaint/review available that do not end up back in the GPhC’s court. Further correspondence appears to be pointless.

Pharmacies can continue to sell anti-vaccination books.

  1. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance. Vaccines and Alternative approaches: Reducing Our Dependence on Antimicrobials. February 2016. [PDF)]
  2. General Pharmaceutical Council. Tackling Antimicrobial resistance. Regulate. 2013;12:7 [PDF]
  3. Kata A. Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm–an overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement.Vaccine. 2012 May 28;30(25):3778-89. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2011.11.112.A presentation given by Anna Kata on her findings is here [PDF], which includes the tactics and tropes.

Previous posts about this matter:

Registered Homeopathic Pharmacies Can Sell Anti-vaccine Books (initial concerns)

Pharmacies can sell anti-vaccine books (initial GPhC response).