Antivaccination Ad Criticized (1981)


Stephen Barrett, M.D.
March 5, 2020

In March 1981, FDA Consumer magazine published the following account of a chiropractic ad that was severely criticized

Public Disservice Announcement

“Your Child Does Not Have To Be Immunized For School,” read an advertisement in a metropolitan Detroit newspaper. “Would you let your child have live puss from sick animals or the use of dead bacteria put into their veins?

The ad horrified the health officials who saw it, and not just because of the bad grammar and poor spelling, such as pus with two s’s. An investigator in FDA’s Detroit District showed the district’s consumer affairs officer (CAO), and she called the newspaper. None of the editors could fathom how an ad so misleading and grossly inaccurate had gotten onto the “Back-To-School” pages. Not only were the statements about vaccines completely false, but the ad falsely claimed to be a public service announcement. The name Taylor Straight Chiropractic Center was in large type (along with the phone numbers and office hours) and the copy read: “Health comes totally from the body. Take care of your health and your family’s health through a spinal exam today.” The editors agreed with the CAO that the ad was a disservice to the paper’s readers. At her suggestion, they printed an editorial rebuttal based on an interview with the director of the Wayne County Department of Public Health. The editor also had a few words with the newspaper’s advertising staff.

The CAO contacted the Michigan Department of Health, which promptly wrote a “letter to the editor,” which, when published, termed the chiropractic ad “a flagrant distortion of facts.”

No vaccine is produced for, required of, or given to children which uses pus or dead bacteria from sick animals. All vaccines are given intramuscularly or subcutaneously, not into veins as the ad implies.” The letter pointed out that before vaccines were available, thousands of children were crippled—or killed—by diphtheria, whooping cough, rubella, measles, and polio. Before polio vaccine was licensed in 1955, for instance, 30,000 to 60,000 cases of polio were reported each year. Now there are fewer than 25 cases per year.

The letter added: “Ironically, one of the few cases of diphtheria reported in 1979 occurred in the 5-year-old son of a California chiropractor, who had signed a waiver against immunizations. The boy was the only unimmunized child in his class. He subsequently died of the disease.”

What worried both Federal and State agencies was that the Detroit newspaper was part of a large chain of weekly papers. The health department contacted all county and local health departments across the State, advising them to watch for similar advertisements. The department also contacted the State Attorney General’s office and the Department of Licensing and Regulation. Those agencies are investigating the matter and are considering taking action against the chiropractor for unethical conduct.

 

Recently, when I saw this article, I was curious about whether the chiropractor was ever disciplined. Searching with Google, I was able to determine that the ad had been placed in the Detroit Free Press by Joseph L. Belcher, D.C.

I also found that on May 6, 1981, the Lansing State Journal published an article titled “Vaccine Issue Divides Board,” which said that the board was equally divided about whether to pursue a complaint and had tabled the matter without settling a date for reconsideration. No further action was taken.