Demographic research into parents who are reluctant to vaccinate their children demonstrates that they’re not only wealthier and more privileged than average, but they also happen to have more kids. You don’t need a degree in economics to understand, therefore, that there are benefits to being a pediatrician willing to shun scientific evidence in favor of pandering to the New Age-y pretensions of a wealthy and fecund anti-vaccination clientele. Speaking of: Kiera Butler of Mother Jones went to Marin County, Calif., an affluent area where, according to Butler, “skipping immunizations is far from unusual among parents,” where kindergartners have “one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates,” and “the county also has the second-highest rate of pertussis (whooping cough) in California.” There, Butler interviewed Dr. Stacia Kenet Lansman of Pediatric Alternatives, a name that seems designed to let parents know that all sorts of anti-vaccination paranoia will be indulged, so come on in.
Kenet Lansman does not disappoint, name-checking Deepak Chopra and saying things like, “I believe that the detoxification pathways in the body can be overwhelmed by too many vaccines given on one day.” Kenet Lansman isn’t wholly opposed to vaccination. Instead, she prefers to roll out a mind-bogglingly complex approach to vaccinations, treating each shot like it’s a separate risk to be weighed and evaluated on an ad hoc basis, a strategy that gives the appearance of thoughtfulness while, in reality, ignoring the fact that these shots have already been thoroughly evaluated in clinical trials before being released to the public. Butler reports that Kenet Lansman “has a policy of giving only one vaccination at a time, and only when a child is completely healthy.”
Butler spoke to Saad Omer, a professor of public health at Emory University, about the dangers of this one-shot-per-visit strategy. He worried that the incredibly elaborate scheduling of all these shots would mean that kids would skip some necessary ones, since “the parents have to take more time off to bring the child to get the vaccines,” creating more opportunities for parents to miss appointments. However, the sacrifice of having to spend way more time and money on this drawn-out vaccination schedule means demonstrating how much more dedicated of a mommy you are than those heartless women who want to handle this more efficiently so they can get back to work, a factor that I don’t believe can be discounted when considering the popularity of tactics like Kenet Lansman’s.
Butler’s reporting is solid, and she takes care to make it clear that Kenet Lansman’s beliefs about health care are all wrong, even if they appeal strongly to her wealthy clientele. But still, it was disturbing to read that Butler ended up liking Kenet Lansman anyway, describing her as “bright and caring and open-minded” and even praising her for thinking “creatively about how to keep her patients healthy.” I have no doubt that Kenet Lansman is a charming person and her sales pitch for delaying and skipping some vaccinations is compelling, but that should make the whole situation more disturbing. Charm has always been a potent weapon of the snake oil salesman, after all. A reporter like Butler can do the background research and see through Kenet Lansman’s charm, but parents who don’t have those resources might be taken in.