An upcoming health symposium in Stowe is attracting controversy for its roster of anti-vaccine advocates scheduled to speak.
Vaccine advocates, including Ericka Reil of Barre, are planning an opposition event offsite.
Ericka Reil’s son, Will, is the joy of her life.
“We love him to pieces. He’s everything to us,” she said.
Will is 18 years old and non-verbal autistic. His parents are fierce advocates of vaccines.
“We know that, because of what research has shown us, not just U.S. research but research around the world, vaccinations do not cause autism,” she said.
Reil remembers a time when actress Jenny McCarthy put a spotlight on the anti-vaccine movement.
“When I heard that this conversation was coming up in Stowe I was in a little disbelief that they were inviting some of the same people that she used to talk about,” said Reil.
On Saturday, a health symposium “Hope & Healing for Autism and Neuro-Developmental Disorders,” will be held at the Stowe High School auditorium.
Dr. Jack Wolfson, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, Del Bigtree, Dr. Sukhi Muker and Jeff Hays are scheduled to speak.
Several of them are known for their anti-vaccination beliefs.
Nearly three hundred people have signed an online petition asking the organizers to move their event or remove the speakers from the panel.
Despite the list of speakers he compiled, the organizer of the event tells us he’s not anti-vaccination and anti-vaccination will not be a focus of Saturday’s event
“I know that we are not an anti-vax event although we do have some speakers who have spoken out against vaccines,” said Dr. Bradley Rauch.
Dr. Rauch owns Stowe Chiropractic.
“I put together the event because I’ve been concerned, as a chiropractor for 37 years, that I’ve been around long enough to see a tremendous change in the health of our children,” he said.
He says he’s seen an increase in chronic illness and allergies among children.
While critics think the event is a thinly-veiled anti-vaccination summit, he says it’s about overall health.
“Will we talk about vaccines? Yes,” he said. “But it’s only a small portion of what we’re doing. We’re going to be talking about meditation. We’re going to talk about GMO foods. We’re going to talk about detoxification. We’re going to talk about exercise. We’re going to talk about lifestyle choices.”
Dr. Rauch says he did not explicitly invite any pro-vaccine advocates to speak. However, he says he invited pro-vaccine advocates for a panel discussion but they either did not reply or refused to participate.
Andrew Wakefield, known as the “Father of the Anti-Vaccination Movement,” was scheduled to speak but has since cancelled.
Dr. Rauch says Wakefield had schedule conflicts in the production for the sequel to his documentary, Vaxxed.
Dr. Rauch is still hoping Wakefield will Skype into the symposium.
“So you say it’s not an anti-vax symposium…but he is the most prominent person who linked vaccinations and autism. So why even invite him?” asked Local22/Local44 News reporter Staci DaSilva.
“Because he is a very intelligent British gastroenterologist who has over 100 studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals,” replied Dr. Rauch.
Wakefield’s most famous paper, linking vaccines and autism, was retracted by the journal that published it.
Dr. Rauch says he’s received nasty texts and emails and will have unarmed security officers on hand Saturday. He says he’s also spoken with Stowe police three times.
Meanwhile, Ericka Reil will be participating in a bake sale protest offsite to raise money for organizations that support people with autism.
The Vermont Department of Health disputes any connection between vaccines and autism.
It recently released immunization rates for 2015.
In 2015, 76% of Vermont children between the ages of 19 and 35 months received the full series of recommended immunizations.
That’s the highest rate in 7 years and above the national average.