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Why did Oregon Health Authority spark a vaccine panic (again)?

Why did Oregon Health Authority spark a vaccine panic (again)?

BY J.B. HANDLEY June 11, 2018

Oregon's vaccination rates are better than ever. But that's not how you justify a mandatory vaccine bill. Why is the Oregon Health Authority promoting hysteria?

SALEM, Oregon—On April 28, 2018, the Oregon Health Authority issued a memo to Oregon's Governor Kate Brown, giving her a status update on childhood vaccination rates in Oregon. If you like high vaccination rates, the OHA's memo would give you plenty to cheer about, as the OHA noted:

"The vast majority of Oregon parents choose to fully immunize their children. Figure 1 shows the percent of students complete for each vaccine required for school attendance in 2018."

They included a chart that left no mistake about the high vaccination rates across the state, showing numbers well in excess of 90% for every vaccine:

Click to expand

The Press Release Heard 'Round the Country

Not 30 days after the sunny, "all is well" report that the OHA issued to  Governor Brown, a press release appeared on the OHA website sounding a very different tune:

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The foreboding headline of a "sharp increase" in vaccine exemptions for kindergartners was quickly picked up by Oregon's media, who reported about Oregon's parents shirking their duty to vaccinate, here's just a few local headlines:

Vaccine exemption rates sharply rise in Oregon kindergartens

Nonmedical vaccine exemptions at all time high for kindergarten age kids

REPORT: FEWER KINDERGARTEN-AGE KIDS GETTING VACCINATED IN OREGON


So What's Actually True?

 State Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Wayward

State Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Wayward

If you live in Oregon, you've seen this movie before. In 2015, State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward jumped on the very same kindergarten vaccine-exemption data to try and push through a speedy mandatory vaccination law here in Oregon (SB442), which would have made Oregon only one of three states at the time to have such a draconian law (Mississippi and West Virginia being the other two.) At the time, actual vaccination rates of Oregon's children were every bit as high as they are today, but that didn't stop Senator Steiner-Hayward from telling CBS News that Oregon had the "highest rate of unvaccinated children in the country," even though we don't. She went on to explain what she thought of parents with personal beliefs against vaccinating their children:

In retrospect, it turned out Senator Steiner-Hayward was part of a national plan to use the much-hyped Disneyland measles outbreak to try and push through mandatory vaccination laws in as many states as possible. More than two-dozen states, in fact, tried to pass mandatory vaccination laws in 2015, but only one succeeded: California. Every other introduced bill failed, because most parents, even if they choose to vaccinate, don't like their government telling them which medical procedures they must get for their children, since it violates the medical principle of informed consent and medical choice. Read this excellent critique by a legal scholar:

"The state‐pharmaceutical relationship, which increasingly influences health policy, is no exception. That is especially so when pharmaceutical products such as vaccines, a burgeoning sector of the industry, are mandated in direct violation of the principle of informed consent. Such policies have provoked suspicion and dissent as critics question the integrity of the state‐pharma alliance and its impact on vaccine safety. However, rather than encouraging open debate, draconian modes of governance have been implemented to repress and silence any form of criticism, thereby protecting the activities of the state and pharmaceutical industry from independent scrutiny."

Watching OHA submit one "all is well" report to Governor Brown in April and then issue a press release meant to incite panic one month later gave me some PTSD about 2015 here in Oregon and also raises several questions that I will do my best to answer, questions that I think every Oregonian parent deserves a straight answer to. Namely:

Question #1: Did Oregon's kindergarten exemption rates "increase sharply" as the OHA represents? And, if so, what exactly does that mean? Does an exemption mean a child is unvaccinated (as Senator Steiner-Hayward told the world in 2015)?

Question #2: Are Oregon's vaccination rates lower than national averages? 

Question #3: Why didn't the OHA explain in their May 2018 press release why exemption rates have increased in Oregon since 2000, since they know the obvious answer and have discussed it internally in detail? Why don't they mention that national exemption rate data is like comparing apples to oranges? 

Question #4: Does OHA believe more vaccines are always better? Why doesn't the OHA provide detailed reports made by Oregonians to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System the way they used to? Is OHA's job to facilitate healthier children in Oregon or just raise vaccination rates?

Question #5: OHA collects this exemption data every year. Why didn't they issue a press release last year when the exemption rate had also increased?

The answers follow.


Question #1: Did Oregon's kindergarten exemption rates "increase sharply" as the OHA represents? And, if so, what exactly does that mean?

When a parent files a vaccine exemption for even one vaccine in Oregon, the OHA counts that child as "exempt." A child who receives 22 of 23 required vaccines for school in Oregon is counted as "exempt." The term "exempt" quickly morphs to "unvaccinated" in the press, and before you know it data is incorrectly used to make it seem like Oregon has more unvaccinated kids than any other state, which is simply untrue. Here's an infographic that explains how this works, because it is confusing. 

Click to enlarge

As you can see, a child receiving 21 of 23, 20 of 23, and 0 of 23 vaccines are all classified the same way. And, as I mentioned, in the mainstream press, filing an exemption quickly gets mischaracterized as "unvaccinated." If you're still confused, here's the actual form you have to fill out in Oregon, with the exemption rules explained:

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Back in 2015, I called the OHA to confirm I had all this correct:

Me: “If someone gets 5 out of the 6 required DTaP shots, do they just sign an exemption for the final shot”
OHA: “Yes”
Me: “So is this child, who got 5 out of 6 DTaP shots and whose parents signed the exemption for just one shot, counted as ‘exempt’ on the county-level exemption data?”
OHA: “Yes”
Me: “So does that mean a child who received their MMR would be counted as vaccinated for MMR but then counted as exempt for DTaP even though they got 5 out of 6 shots. And that they would contribute to the ‘exempt’ classification in exactly the same way as a child who received zero shots?”
OHA: “Yes.”

The Oregon Health Authority also confirmed this in the media:

“The Nonmedical Exemption County number includes children with a nonmedical exemption for all required vaccines, and children with a nonmedical exemption for one or more vaccines who are up-to-date or complete for vaccines for which they do not have exemptions,” according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Now that you understand what it means to have an exemption, the next question is did exemption rates rise in Oregon for Kindergarten children in 2018? 

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Answer to Question #1:

Kindergarten exemption rates increased in 2018 from 6.5% of kindergartners to 7.5% of kindergartners. We have no way of knowing how many vaccines the children who filed for exemptions received (could be zero, could be 20+). We do know that 2.6% of children in Grades K-12 have received zero vaccines. Many legislators mis-state that 7.5% of Oregon's children are unvaccinated (the exemption number) rather than 2.6% (the real number, which OHA knows since they provided the data!)


Question #2: Are Oregon's vaccination rates lower than national averages? 

You already saw the data from OHA showing that Oregon had very high vaccination rates for all vaccines in the memo they provided to Governor Brown (above 90% for every required vaccine for students in Grades K-12). But, how does Oregon compare to other states? Luckily, this information is really easy to find, since it's tracked by the Centers for Disease Control right here. It's called the National Immunization Survey. And, Oregon's vaccination rates are above U.S. averages for four out the five vaccines tracked in the survey. The only one that's not above average? Rotavirus, a vaccine NOT required for school admission in Oregon. 

Answer to Question #2:

Oregon's vaccination rates are above the U.S. average for four out of five vaccines tracked by the CDC, including all four that are required for school attendance. 


Question #3: Why didn't the OHA explain in their May 2018 press release why exemption rates have increased in Oregon since 2000, since they know the obvious answer and have discussed it internally in detail? Why don't they mention that national exemption rate data is comparing apples to oranges?  

I think this is the most important point of my article. Understanding this answer will allow you to appreciate the amount of spin, deception, and public manipulation that I think the OHA and certain state elected officials are involved with in terms of trying to make it seem like Oregon's vaccination rates are somehow in a downward spiral. Why have exemption rates been rising since the year 2000 in Oregon? The answer is very simple:

Because so many vaccines have been added to the vaccine schedule. 

Of course, the OHA already knows this, since they provided that insight in one of their own presentations (with my comments added inside the red boxes). The OHA could not have been more clear when they wrote:

"When other vaccines have been added as school immunization requirements, non-medical exemption rates have increased for all vaccines." - Oregon Health Authority

click to enlarge

This makes sense. When you keep piling on vaccines to the schedule, as happened aggressively between 2000-2010, parents do two things:

1. They get overwhelmed trying to ensure that their child got every required vaccine and sometimes file an exemption over just a single missed dose--it's basically administrative fatigue and complexity brought on by so many vaccine requirements.

2. They approach NEWER vaccines with more skepticism. This is normal. A parent may value the importance of a Polio vaccine far higher than a Hepatitis A vaccine that was only introduced in 2009.

If that's not enough for you, the OHA's own data corroborates this finding:

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Additionally, in 2006, OHA changed their exemption methodology from counting first graders to only counting kindergartners. Kindergartners, new to the school system, ALWAYS have higher exemption rates, so this change raised the average exemption rate (they never mention this).

Montana requirements, click to enlarge

As just one simple example, take a look at the state of Montana. Unlike the 23 vaccines required for school entry in Oregon, Montana only requires 18, requiring neither the Hepatitis B nor Hepatitis A vaccine for school entry. If Oregon required fewer vaccines, their kindergarten exemption rate would be lower--this is never explained to anyone!! (A quick analysis I did a few years ago showed that Oregon was on the high end of states nationally for the total number of required vaccines for school attendance.)

 

The original source of so much misunderstanding

Something has never made sense. Some politicians in Oregon say that Oregon has the lowest vaccination rates in the country. I've already proven that's not true, nor has it ever been--4 out of 5 vaccines are ahead of national averages (according to both the CDC and OHA). 

I believe the original misunderstanding on this topic came from this single Table the CDC generates that shows exemption rates by state (scroll down the page to see Table 2). Indeed, on this table, it shows Oregon with the highest vaccine exemption rate in the country, at 6.7% versus a national median of 2.0%. There are so many things wrong with this Table, mostly because each state counts their exemption data in a different way (just look at the lengthy and complex footnotes), but the biggest problem is that many states count an "exemption" as "unvaccinated" while Oregon does not. As you know from the data above, the unvaccinated rate in Oregon, according to the OHA, is 2.6%. If the numbers were tabulated in this Table with the same methodology, Oregon wouldn't stand out--how else do you explain a state that is above the national average on vaccination rates for 4 out of 5 measured vaccines? 

Answer to Question #3:

The OHA knows exactly why vaccine exemption rates have risen so much since 2000, it's because they have chosen to add so many new vaccines to the schedule. Why they don't mention this (anymore), I believe, is because simply declaring a "sharp rise" serves the political needs of some elected officials, and OHA appears to have become captive to those needs. It's also highly likely that the only reason Oregon exemption data stands out at all (since our vaccination rates are above average nationally), is because of the unique way OHA counts and discloses exemptions. But why ruin a good story of irresponsible Oregon parents?


Question #4: Does OHA believe more vaccines are always better? Why doesn't the OHA provide detailed reports made by Oregonians to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System the way they used to? Is OHA's job to facilitate healthier children in Oregon or just raise vaccination rates?

One of the things that really bothers me about the messaging from the Oregon Health Authority is that they imply that more vaccines is ALWAYS a better thing for society, and that's simply not true. As a recent example, the Philippines found out the hard way that a vaccine intended to prevent Dengue Fever actually made children more likely to die from Dengue Fever if they had never had Dengue Fever before getting the vaccine. It's a national scandal and tragedy. Hypothetically, if the Hepatitis B vaccine saved one child's life a year but killed 10 (yes, vaccines can cause death), that would also be a trade-off that's not worth it.

Physicians For Informed Consent, a group of doctors in California, recently released an analysis of the MMR vaccine, comparing it to the measles. Their conclusion:

"It has not been proven that the MMR vaccine is safer than measles. The vaccine package insert raises questions about safety testing for cancer, genetic mutations, and impaired fertility. Although VAERS tracks some adverse events, it is too inaccurate to measure against the risk of measles. Clinical trials do not have the ability to detect less common adverse reactions, and epidemiological studies are limited by the effects of chance and possible confounders. Safety studies of the MMR vaccine are particularly lacking in statistical power. A review of more than 60 MMR vaccine studies conducted for the Cochrane Library states, “The design and reporting of safety outcomes in MMR vaccine studies, both pre- and post-marketing, are largely inadequate.” Because permanent sequalae (aftereffects) from measles, especially in individuals with normal levels of vitamin A, are so rare,3 the level of accuracy of the research studies available is insufficient to prove that the vaccine causes less death or permanent injury than measles."

Dr. Peter Aaby, a world-renowned epidemiologist and vaccine proponent, published a bombshell study in 2017 on the DTP vaccine in Africa, showing that the vaccine killed more children then it saved:

"DTP vaccinations were associated with increased infant mortality even though there was no vaccine-induced herd immunity. When unvaccinated controls were normal children who had not yet been eligible for vaccination, mortality was 5 times higher for DTP-vaccinated children."

Is Hepatitis B vaccine really worth it?

OHA doesn't appear to consider the reality that ALL vaccines have benefits and risks. To the OHA, higher vaccination rates are implicitly and explicitly ALWAYS better, no matter which vaccine we're talking about. But are they? A great example is the Hepatitis B vaccine I just mentioned. From China, a 2016 peer-reviewed study found that Hepatitis B vaccine caused brain damage and triggered a brain cytokine linked to autism, a study I wrote about extensively. In the last five years, the science implicating the aluminum adjuvant used in many vaccines in a host of neurological and autoimmune disorders has exploded from scientists all over the world, a topic I also recently covered. Guess what? Hepatitis B vaccine is loaded with aluminum, and often given to newborns. (The polio vaccine, on the other hand, does not contain aluminum and likely poses far fewer risks to children.)

 Dr. Paul Thomas of Portland

Dr. Paul Thomas of Portland

In fact, OHA doesn't have to go very far to get some serious real-world advice and experience about the risk-benefits of the Hepatitis B vaccine. Right here in Portland, the pediatrician with the largest patient population of children in the entire state, Dr. Paul Thomas, publicly states that he doesn't give the Hepatitis B vaccine to ANY of his Oregon patients (unless the mother is Hepatitis B positive). I discussed this topic with him in an extensive interview on Soundcloud--it's worth a listen! Why doesn't Dr. Thomas give the vaccine? He fears it triggers autoimmunity, neurological disorders, and that its contribution to public health is negligible. In fact, in more than 25 years of practice (that started before we had a vaccine for Hepatitis B), he's never even seen a case of Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is so non-communicable, children in Oregon are actually allowed to go to school with a Hepatitis B infection! Remember Montana's required vaccine list? They don't require Hepatitis B, why do we here in Oregon? 

OHA, put our kids first, take Hepatitis B off your required schedule. It will lower your kindergarten exemption rates, and the science shows, in my opinion, that the vaccine is doing more harm than good!

Recent History

In 2015, I spent quite a bit of time in Salem, Oregon, working with state officials to try to educate them on the absurd Senate Bill 442 that Senator Elizabeth-Steiner Hayward was trying to get passed. I can tell you that virtually NONE of our elected officials understood how many vaccines we give to children, or the fact that some of the vaccines were for non-communicable illnesses, like Hepatitis B. When I explained to them that with a mandatory vaccination law, a parent who vaccinated their child for Polio and Measles but skipped the dangerous and useless Hepatitis B vaccine would not be able to send their child to school, they began to understand. I think this simple chart really causes things to hit home. It's the national vaccination rates for children in the United States in 1985, as compiled by the CDC:

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Notice anything unusual? Yes, nine vaccines we give children today didn't even exist in 1985, so the vaccination rate for all of them was 0%. Also, our national vaccination rates for Polio and Measles were 53% and 61%, respectively, 30-40 percentage points lower than they are today. Do you remember 1985? I do. It wasn't the Dark Ages, and the world didn't end with way fewer vaccines and way lower vaccination rates. In fact, the hysterical world we now live in where every outbreak of disease is called an epidemic is more recent than you even think. (By the way, people will characterize this blog post as "anti-vaccine." I heartily endorse a return to the 1985 vaccination schedule. Does that make me "anti-vaccine" or just prudent?)

Remember the Whooping Cough epidemic of 2012?

No? Well, it was a doozy. In the United States, just six years ago, we experienced 41,880 cases of Whooping Cough across the United States. Interestingly, unlike the media mantra we are getting bombarded with today, irresponsible parents weren't being blamed for the 2012 epidemic, because back then public health officials were well-aware of the actual reason we are guaranteed to have ongoing outbreaks of Whooping Cough: the vaccine doesn't work very well. An article from the Associated Press discussing the 2012 epidemic--the worst on record since 1955--explained why:

"Experts looking for an explanation have increasingly looked at a new vaccine introduced in the 1990s, and concluded its protection is not as long-lasting as was previously thought."

In 2017, scientists from Boston University published a study providing further proof of why, exactly, Whooping Cough epidemics would persist. Lead scientist Dr. Christopher Gill explained:

“This disease is back because we didn’t really understand how our immune defenses against whooping cough worked, and did not understand how the vaccines needed to work to prevent it. Instead we layered assumptions upon assumptions, and now find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of admitting that we may made some crucial errors. This is definitely not where we thought we’d be in 2017.” 

An article discussing the study explained:

"The startling global resurgence of pertussis, or whooping cough, in recent years can largely be attributed to the immunological failures of acellular vaccines."
 

If you're from Oregon, you know why I'm bringing up Whooping Cough right now. There was a recent "outbreak" of Whooping Cough in Eugene, Oregon, and it was all over the local news (108 confirmed cases) and really still is. In virtually every one of these outbreaks, we ultimately learn that most or all of the children with Whooping Cough had been vaccinated. So far, Lane County hasn't told us that yet. But, it's been in the news everywhere, and there's a new enemy that's caused the outbreak. It's no longer the vaccine's low efficacy like 2012 with more than 40,000 cases nationally. Today's bad guy is, you guessed it, irresponsible parents. In fact, reporters have artfully blended the exemption press release from OHA with the "outbreak" news to create just the right narrative, look how The Register-Guard newspaper covered the story:

The problem isn’t Lane County’s alone. Douglas County officials last week announced two confirmed cases of pertussis at North Douglas Elementary School in Drain. Fourteen students there who either are not immunized, underimmunized or have not submitted immunization records have been issued exclusion notices, officials said.
 
Statewide numbers were not immediately available on Tuesday, but state officials did say last week that a new analysis shows that Oregon has seen an increase since 2016 in the rate of parents choosing nonmedical exemptions to vaccines for children entering kindergarten.

Among the Lane County schools where outbreaks have occurred this year, all but Adams and the Academy of Arts and Academics have pertussis immunization rates of between 97 and 99 percent, according to records kept by the state for the 2016 school year. More recent statistics were not available. The vaccination rate at Adams was 91 percent in 2016; while the Academy of Arts and Academics’ rate was 86 percent

Did you see what they did there? Firstly, they reported on students who had been excluded from school. Not because they have whooping cough, but rather because their vaccines aren't up to date. These students have nothing to do with the outbreak, but they're mentioned anyway, because it implies parents have been irresponsible. Next, they mention OHA's new data, even though it has nothing to do with the outbreak. Finally, a discerning reader would realize that the outbreaks are happening at schools with really high vaccination rates. As I mentioned, I'm still waiting to see how many of the children who have pertussis have been vaccinated, rest assured it will be most or all of them.

If they ever report it.

Community Immunity? 

OHA also appears to have jumped on the bandwagon of public health's newest buzzword: community immunity. While the state's overall vaccination rate may be just fine, some elected officials will say, look at some of our schools with really low vaccination rates--they're time bombs waiting to go off! (No one ever mentions these are the schools where the most educated parents send their kids, but I'll save that for another day...) 

Of course, this community immunity notions fails every logic and common sense test you could ever apply for two obvious reasons:

1. Adult vaccination rates are very low (well below 50%)

2. Vaccines wane over time, typically less than 10 years, which means most adults have no vaccine-derived immunity from all the diseases we are freaking out about. 

What's the vaccination rates of the teachers in each school? No one knows. What's the vaccination rate of the administrators? No one knows. What's the vaccination rate of the parent volunteers, the janitors, the delivery people, and the parents who walk inside the school every day to pick up their children? How about the vaccination rate of the mall a kid goes to after school? That's right: no one knows. And yet, we're encouraged by the media to panic. This community immunity topic bothered me so much I wrote a whole post about it last week, read it here:

 click to read

click to read

OHA's VAERS report from 2009 

I was shocked when I first saw this report, created by OHA, of Vaccine Adverse Event reports filed by Oregonians. In 2009 alone, OHA disclosed that 540 VAERS reports had been filed by Oregonians, reporting a vaccine injury. This included 2 deaths, 7 permanent disabilities, and 7 that resulted in "life threatening illness." They included much of this data in Table form. What's amazing, because I have studied the VAERS system extensively, is that we know VAERS captures less than 1% of vaccine injury, look what that means for Oregon:

That's right, in 2009, likely more than 50,000 Oregonians were injured by vaccines, some killed and permanently disabled, and not only does OHA no longer provide this report (I couldn't find it anywhere on their website), but you never read about any vaccine injuries, even though just over 100 cases of Whooping Cough is everywhere in the news!

Does OHA take the VAERS reports from Oregon, multiply the number by 100, and then compare the injury rate to the benefit of each vaccine?

Of course they don't. That would imply vaccines have risks, too. 

Answer to Question #4: Yes, the OHA believes more vaccines is always better. The OHA doesn't show the VAERS data anymore because it doesn't support that narrative. OHA appears to have no interest in critically analyzing the risk-benefits of each vaccine required for children.


Question #5: OHA collects this data every year. Why didn't they issue a press release last year when the exemption rate had also increased?

I've looked everywhere. OHA collected this same vaccine exemption data in 2017, but I can't find a press release from May of last year anywhere. What gives? 

The Mandatory Vaccination Formula is Emerging in Oregon

I think the answer is simple. The Oregon legislature only meets every other year. The legislative session that begins in 2019 will be an active session where laws are passed. Now is the time to start laying the groundwork for Round 2 of trying to pass a mandatory vaccination law. It's "déjà vu all over again" circa 2015! The fact that this news is co-mingled with a Whooping Cough "outbreak" is no coincidence, because the mandatory vaccination law formula that emerged in California went something like this:

recent disease outbreak + data purporting to show parents behaving irrationally = need for mandatory vaccination law

That's the formula. It doesn't need to be true. Luckily, Oregon isn't California. Our elected officials, unlike in California, don't make their living from serving in the legislature. Our elected officials are more independent, more open to the truth, more willing to talk to parents, especially if you are one of their constituents. I recommend you sit down with your elected official and share the facts with them. 

And, now is the time to be very, very cynical. How can it be that Senator Elizabeth Steiner-Hayward just happened to decide in 2015, out of the blue, that now would be a great time to introduce a mandatory vaccination law? Meanwhile, legislators in a couple dozen other states magically came up with the same idea? Take a look at this:

“...respondents’ concern was that an organization whose primary interest was not promotion of the public good might influence policymakers to adopt a law that people found intrusive. Vaccination mandates involve a bodily invasion...What seemed to weigh heavily on respondents’ minds is that legislators should impose such burdens only after very careful consideration of what was in the public interest—not Merck’s interest.”

Finally, I know at least one group who benefitted from the hysteria surrounding the Disneyland measles outbreak (which had absolutely nothing to do with California's schoolchildren):

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Answer to Question #5: I believe OHA is playing a role in generating hype before the 2018 legislative session in Oregon to once again try and pass a mandatory vaccination law. I can only imagine the same is being coordinated in other states, too.

Author's note: I have sent this article to the Oregon Health Authority. I will post any response I receive.


About the author

Senator Tim Knopp, Dr. Brian Hooker, and J.B. Handley at the Oregon Capitol, March 2015

J.B. Handley lives in Portland, Oregon and 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.

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