Deconstructing the "Hot Spots" hoax from Pharma shill Dr. Peter Hotez
BY J.B. HANDLEY August 14, 2018
A vaccine-industry insider has created an imaginary world where the next outbreak is imminent if we don't do something and—Gasp!—his idea dovetails perfectly with the aim of vaccine makers: remove all vaccine exemptions from parents and make vaccination mandatory for school attendance. In trying to create this imaginary world, however, Dr. Hotez has exposed himself to the scrutiny he deserves for a sloppy, scientifically unsound hoax of a paper.
HOUSTON, Texas —There's a new scaremonger in town, and his name is Dr. Peter Hotez. With a resume so jam-packed with vaccine industry conflicts —including patents he holds on experimental vaccines —Dr. Hotez should be the last person any journalists would trust or quote on the topic of vaccinations, but quite the opposite is true in our Pharma-funded mainstream media. It's as if Joe Camel himself were standing up and trying to convince the world that second-hand smoke is no big thing, yet here we are.
The Boy Who Cried, "Zika!"
If you're unfamiliar with Dr. Hotez, he was the go-to scaremonger the media relied upon when they were trying to convince everyone that Zika was about to take over the United States, just listen to Dr. Hotez turn up the panic meter:
Parents of vaccine-injured children "hate their kids"
Like any shill for vaccine makers, Dr. Hotez is equally loud on the topic of vaccines and autism, and is often the go-to quote in the media whenever the discussion of vaccines and autism comes up. Speaking before a packed house of vaccine industry insiders at Duke University earlier this year, Dr. Hotez provided his take on vaccine rights groups that have cropped up in every state, made up largely of parents of vaccine-injured children with autism:
Really, he really said that!
Lately, Dr. Hotez has been on the news as much as he can, warning the world that a measles outbreak—and the death and destruction that will inevitably follow—is a near-certainty. If Dr. Hotez has his way, every American parent will think measles and Ebola are the same illness (they aren't) and rush to their pediatrician to get their child vaccinated as quickly as they can. As you will soon learn, this is absurdly false fear-mongering, and Dr. Hotez's position isn't supported by any facts, just watch this 3-minute clip from Forrest Maready disassembling the absurd claims Dr. Hotez was making last year:
The simmering battle for vaccine mandates and the "hot spots" strategy
The purpose of this article is to deconstruct for you an absurdly assembled "study" by Dr. Hotez where he claims to have identified "Hot Spots" of under-vaccinated children in the U.S. who are creating "at-risk" communities from "deadly disease." In a moment, I'll explain to you how silly and scientifically corrupt Dr. Hotez's paper really is, but first I want to give you a little bit backstory:
Only three states in the U.S. don't allow vaccine exemptions for children to attend school. That number was two for a long time, until 2015 when a Pharma-friendly doctor-turned-California Assemblyman named Richard Pan was able to shove a mandatory vaccination law through on the tails of the Disneyland measles hype. Mississippi and West Virginia are the other two. In the forty-seven other states you can legally "exempt" your child from getting some or all of their vaccinations, and they can still attend school.
2015 was a massive legislative disappointment for Big Pharma. With well-funded lobbyists working in every state house, more than two dozen mandatory vaccination bills were introduced —some of the more infamous ones happened in Oklahoma and Texas —but only California passed. The well-organized lobbying effort was unprepared for the massive parental pushback against these onerous bills. In fact, the 2015 land grab sparked the creation of medical freedom and vaccine rights groups in almost every state, with the vast majority of those organizations led by parents of children with autism.
This "hot spots" onslaught, spearheaded by Dr. Hotez, is the new messaging to lay the groundwork for re-introduction of vaccine mandate removal legislation. 2015 was a "gift", at least in California, because a minor outbreak of measles at Disneyland was used to paint a disaster scenario to California legislators, and they fell for it. With no new outbreak to point to, Dr. Hotez's theoretically imminent outbreak is the next best thing.
The absurd logic behind the "hot spots" messaging
Before I dive into the actual study Dr. Hotez published, I want to point out the absurdity of Dr. Hotez's messaging. Basically, what Dr. Hotez is claiming is that certain pockets of kindergarten children in the United States have vaccination rates below a "herd immunity" threshold of 95%, and because of this, the entire United States is at risk for a massive infectious disease outbreak. In fact, he's nearly guaranteeing the outbreak will come. He fails to mention a few things:
1. Back in the 1980s, vaccination rates were nowhere near as high as they are today. The data doesn't lie. In 1985 (and for many years thereafter), the vaccination rate in children for measles was closer to 60%, not the 95% Dr. Hotez claims we cannot risk falling below.
2. None of Dr. Hotez's data includes the vaccination rates for adults. His entire argument implodes on this fact alone. Teachers, administrators, and parent volunteers make up anywhere from 25-40% of a school's population, and their vaccination status is thoroughly unknown, but we do know that the CDC continually releases data bemoaning the low vaccination rates of adults in the United States. The best article ever written on this seemingly obvious fact was published in The Hill Newspaper, where it's estimated adult vaccination rates hover around 50%:
3. Prior to the introduction of the measles vaccine in the late 1960s, the measles mortality rate in the United States was 0.23 per 100,000. Epidemiologist Dr. Roger Barkin made this data crystal-clear in a study published in 1975 titled, "Measles Mortality: A Retrospective Look at the Vaccine Era." To quote:
Note: all of this this massive decline in measles mortality (from 10 to 0.23 per 100,000) happened before the vaccine was introduced. Just to compare, 384 per 100,000 people die in a car accident every year, so your odds of dying from the measles before the vaccine was introduced is roughly 1600-times less likely than dying in a car accident today. And, that tiny mortality rate of 0.23 per 100,000 was more than 50 years ago. Today, we have far better methods to treat a person who contracts measles, which is part of why the last death from measles in the United States was nearly two decades ago. It makes this quote from Dr. Hotez laughable:
The "Hot Spots" Study
Dr. Hotez's latest attempt to incite panic and facilitate the passage of mandatory vaccination laws is through a "study" so contrived and full of logic flaws that the journal who published it, PLOS Medicine, should be profoundly embarrassed. In fact, if you are a scientist with training in epidemiology, I sincerely hope you will use this article as a guide to understand how scientifically dishonest Dr. Hotez was in this study, and craft a letter of protest directly to the journal.
Titled, "The state of the antivaccine movement in the United States: A focused examination of nonmedical exemptions in states and counties," Dr. Hotez's study purports to show the following (and note that the entire study is bathed in the recommendation of eliminating medical exemptions):
"Our findings indicate that new foci of antivaccine activities are being established in major metropolitan areas, rendering select cities vulnerable for vaccination-preventable diseases. As noted by the recent experience in Anaheim, California, low vaccination rates resulted in a measles outbreak. In contrast, state closure of NMEs has resulted in an increase of MMR coverage."
Basically, Dr. Hotez took vaccine exemption data from all over the country—a notoriously unreliable way to calculate vaccination coverage—and used that data to declare certain communities in the United States "hot spots" which means, according to the study authors, those communities are "vulnerable" to having a horrible outbreak at any moment.
6 Ways the "Hot Spots" Study is Useless Propaganda Written by a Vaccine Industry Shill
Let's get into the details, it's easiest to just number them, so here's 6 different ways this "study" is garbage that should be retracted:
1. Despite representations to the contrary, this study solely considers a single vaccine—MMR. American children, if they are vaccinated today according to the CDC's recommended schedule, actually receive ELEVEN separate vaccines. Dr. Hotez's study only considers ONE of those vaccines—MMR—yet, in T.V. interviews, he constantly makes it sound like he's discussing all vaccines. It's not a flaw of the actual study (like numbers 2-6), it's a flaw of how Dr. Hotez has misrepresented his study in public.
2. "NMEs" is a flawed and inaccurate way to look at vaccination rates. Dr. Hotez uses reported "non-medical exemptions" in different states, counties, and cities, to be a proxy for a child who is "unvaccinated," but that's hardly true. Take my home state, Oregon. Here, children are required to have 23 vaccines to go to school. But, if you request an exemption for just a single dose—so your child received 22 of 23 vaccines—your child is counted as "exempt" and, in the eyes of Dr. Hotez, a member of the "anti-vaccine movement." Check out the actual vaccination form here in Oregon:
3. Public health officials know exactly why vaccine exemptions are on the rise, and it has nothing to do with the "anti-vaccine movement." The entire premise of Dr. Hotez's paper is that the "anti-vaccine movement" has caused vaccine exemptions to rise, even stating, "A social movement of public health vaccine opposition has been growing in the United States in recent years."
Take a look at this chart, once again from Oregon. Note that this is a chart produced by our Oregon Health Authority and the words at the top of the chart are written by them:
"When other vaccines have been added as school immunization requirements, non-medical exemption rates have increased for all vaccines."
The reasons for this are obvious. More vaccines means more complexity. Some parents just can't get all the doses done on time for the start of school, so they file an exemption. More doses and new vaccines also make parents wary. There are likely to be more exemptions for the brand new Hepatitis A vaccine rather than the decades-old polio vaccine. As Oregon added vaccination requirements time and again to the school schedule between 2000 and 2015, they watched exemptions rise in kind, just as they expected. Dr. Hotez's study NEVER acknowledges this well-known fact and simply blames the rise in exemptions on a social movement, without any facts to support his contention. It's profoundly dishonest.
4. Counties with tiny populations were exploited to create headline grabbing numbers. Dr. Hotez's paper wasn't really written as a serious scientific paper, it was written to give news reporters scary-sounding statistics. Let's use an example from an article published by NBC News where the reporter, Maggie Fox, focused on a single county in Idaho. She told her readers:
"More than a quarter of kindergartners in Camas County, Idaho, lack at least some vaccinations because their parents have opted for nonmedical exemptions, researchers said Tuesday."
What Ms. Fox failed to mention, because reporters never look at the details, is the county she based here article on has 1,102 residents and only 7 kindergartners in the entire county! How many children are counted in that 25% number?
In fact, Idaho really got picked on, largely because they have so many counties with populations that are tiny, making their statistics stand out, despite their insignificance. Idaho had eight of the Top 10 counties in Dr. Hotez's study for exemption rates. But populations in these counties are so low, we're talking about 320 combined children!
5. Counties with larger populations were not exploited using percentages, but rather any county with more than 400 NMEs (non-medical exemptions)—a completely arbitrary figure—was simply declared a "hot spot."
To put some of Dr, Hotez's numbers in perspective, let's take a look at the "heat map" he provided of "vulnerable counties" in the United States. All you needed to do to make this list was have 400 or more non-medical exemptions amongst kindergarteners in your county, population size had no bearing on Dr. Hotez declaring your county a "Hot Spot":
Now, every one of these counties ended up having a news story run about the "hot spots" data and some scary declaration of how that county was "at risk." In all of these larger counties, Dr. Hotez never mentioned the total population, which is where his analysis really breaks down, just look at this analysis:
This table shows every county Dr. Hotez fingered in his "heat map" where he arbitrarily designated any county as "at risk" if had more than 400 NMEs (non-medical exemptions) amongst kindergartners. This table takes the populations of each county and puts these numbers in context. For example, in Oakland County, Michigan, having 686 kindergartners with a non-medical exemption out of a total population of 1.2 million people means roughly 1/10th of 1% of the county has a non-medical exemption. And this is a county Dr. Hotez is trying to say should be in some sort of state of emergency!
6. A central theme of Dr. Hotez's paper is that higher NME rates and infectious disease are correlated, but there's no data that supports this, and the term "hot spots" has no scientific basis whatsoever!
In the press, Dr. Hotez repeatedly refers to areas with high exemption rates as "hot spots." In the actual paper, Dr. Hotez uses the term "vulnerable communities." But, neither of these terms has a scientific basis. There is no data anywhere that shows exemption rates and disease outbreak are correlated, and Dr. Hotez never provides it. In a sense, the entire point of his paper—that these communities are more "at risk"—is simply never supported in any way, because the data to make the correlation he's trying to make doesn't exist! Said differently, his paper and its conclusions are unsupported by science.
Take a deep breath...
OK, we just looked at six ways that Dr. Hotez's paper is completely deceptive. Taking a huge step back, Dr. Hotez has created an imaginary world where we should all be scared to death that a disease outbreak is around the next corner. He's a classic fear-monger, likely getting daily thanks from the vaccine makers who support his entire existence. The best thing that could happen to this paper would be for PLOS Medicine to be forced to retract the entire paper. The only way that will happen is if people with scientific backgrounds challenge the paper in thoughtful letters written directly to the journal (and Dr. Hotez will be asked to respond), which is why I'm going to ramp things up and share with you every page of the actual study, and the notes to go along with it. I hope that this level of detail, and the realization that this entire paper is a hoax, will encourage some of you to take action. Note that one of the counties named by Dr. Hotez already did take action, and he had to "retract" his conclusions for that county.
Ok, so let's look at the actual study, page by page, with a number of additional observations about the hoax for the discerning reader:
A vaccine-industry insider has created an imaginary world where the next outbreak is imminent if we don't do something and—Gasp!—his idea dovetails perfectly with the aim of vaccine makers: remove all vaccine exemptions from parents and make vaccination mandatory for school attendance.
In trying to create this imaginary world, however, Dr. Hotez has exposed himself to the scrutiny he deserves for a sloppy, scientifically unsound hoax of a paper, and I hope people in positions of influence will start making noise to get the paper retracted.
Check out this video of parent Jaclyn Gallion tearing the Hotez study apart in a public meeting in Washington state:
About the author
J.B. Handley is the proud father of a child with Autism. He and his wife co-founded Generation Rescue, a national autism charity, in 2005. He spent his career in the private equity industry and received his undergraduate degree with honors from Stanford University in 1991. His first book, How to End the Autism Epidemic, will be published in September 2018 by Chelsea Green Publishing and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
He is also the author of "A lone FDA scientist could end the autism epidemic." and International scientists have found autism's cause. What will Americans do? Learn more here.