A seminar scheduled for this coming weekend in a Vermont resort town has caused a clash between proponents of traditional medicine and those who prefer alternative approaches.
Critics have blasted the one-day event as being an anti-vaccine campaign in disguise, but its lead organizer insists that accusation is unfair.
“It's about living a healthier lifestyle,” organizer Bradley Rauch said of the May 20 event in Stowe, called Hope & Healing for Autism and Neuro-developmental Disorders.
Rauch, who has a doctor of chiropractic degree and a long-established chiropractic practice in Stowe, said the day’s program includes discussions on meditation and nutrition as ways to move toward a healthier lifestyle.
However, the inclusion of some guest speakers on the schedule, including the producer of a controversial film that questions the safety of immunizations, have led many in the community to label the event a thinly-veiled anti-vaccine campaign.
The conference includes a presentation from Del Bigtree, the co-producer of the movie “VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe,” which alleges a conspiracy at the Centers for Disease Control to cover up the harms from vaccines.
“It's fake science,” warned event critic Dr. Bob Arnot, a former chief medical correspondent for NBC News who now lives in Stowe.
An overwhelming majority of medical professionals encourage parents to seek vaccinations for their children, saying they are safe and effective and contribute to greater public health. The CDC says on its website there is no link between autism and vaccines, adding that with rare exceptions, vaccines are very safe.
A late-1990s study linking autism to vaccine ingredients has been debunked, and researcher Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license after it was discovered he falsified information.
Wakefield was originally scheduled to appear at the event in Stowe, but backed out, citing a challenging production schedule on an upcoming sequel to that controversial movie, “VAXXED.”
Backers of a petition drive decrying the Hope & Healing conference criticized the participation of Bigtree and said the spread of any anti-science views would be “a threat to public safety and public health.”
However, in an interview Monday with necn, Rauch insisted his conference does not have an anti-vaccine or anti-science agenda.
“This information tends be outside the box of conventional thinking in mainstream health care. In other words, it's non-pharmacological,” he told necn. “I'm not anti-vaccine at all. I'm pro-choice — meaning, get the information from both sides and make your own informed decision.”
Jennifer Stella, the co-director of the group Voices for Choice, issued a written statement in support of the Stowe event.
“Now more than ever, parents should take some time to fully understand the incredible importance of free thought, free consent and free choice when it comes to medical procedures,” she wrote.
Arnot, a physician and longtime journalist, said the medical consensus on vaccines is overwhelming and argued that immunizations have saved countless lives around the world.
“Vaccinations are one of the greatest public health successes of the last century,” Arnot insisted. “Where you see lives at risk trying to vaccinate children in Africa, you say, ‘How could they tell our children not be vaccinated right here in the United States?’”
Arnot said he worries the Stowe event could potentially sow the seeds of doubt about vaccines. For evidence of his concern over why that would be dangerous, he pointed to the measles outbreak that’s sickened several dozen children in Minnesota.
“Don't come to parents in this town and decrease our vaccination rates so we have a measles outbreak here in Stowe, and we put our children at risk, and we put expectant mothers at risk as well,” Arnot said of vaccine skeptics. “It's just plain wrong.”
Additionally, some parents have complained that the program is happening at the public Stowe High School. Vermont requires immunizations for students attending school, unless there is a religious exemption.
In response, the school district said it does not endorse this event or any of the content coming from the speakers. It said it will merely be providing its facilities for community members to use.
Outside the auditorium, the Lamoille South Supervisory Union said it expects to hang signs clarifying that the conference is not a reflection of views held by the school district.