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Just how many vaccine deniers are there in Silicon Valley?

Just how many vaccine deniers are there in Silicon Valley?


A new report from Wired comes with some caveats

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The denizens of Silicon Valley, like humans everywhere, occasionally exhibit some dissonance between what they say and what they do. They say their industry's a meritocracy, then mostly fund their friends. They say they love innovation, then copy each other's lame apps. But are these data-driven futurists just as susceptible to faddish, fraudulent, anti-vaccine science?

I highly doubt it. They want to live forever, not roll back to 1960. But recently, there have been a couple unsettling revelations. A new Wired investigation points to shockingly low vaccination rates at day care facilities affiliated with major technology healthcare companies in the Bay Area. At one Google daycare center in Silicon Valley, only 49 percent of the children are completely vaccinated.

Are data-driven futurists just as susceptible to faddish, fraudulent science?

The number sounds chilling, but Google's explanation is highly plausible. Wired's report used data from the California Department of Public Health, which tracks vaccination rates at preschools and day cares. The magazine looked at 12 day care facilities affiliated with 20 major technology and healthcare corporations. Half of those 12 day cares have "below-average vaccination rates," according to the department's data.

I reached out to the Department of Public Health about how often they update their vaccination data, and will update the post if I hear back. But Google told both The Verge and Wired that 49 percent merely reflects the use of numbers that are not up to date. That would explain why a nearby child care facility for Google employees paints a different picture, with an overall vaccination rate of 77 percent. (Google adds that that 90 percent had the MMR vaccine, compared to 68 percent at the other daycare.)

"In 2013-2014, these 2 child care facilities had immunization rates of 98% and 81% and the reported numbers for the current year are lower simply because many parents have not yet provided updated immunization records. We've asked them all to do this, so we can update the figures."

The other example leaves less room for debate. Valleywag recently noted that NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson supported the since debunked study that started this terrible trend as recently as 2011. (For reference: the study, by British surgeon Andrew Wakefield, came out in 1998 and Jenny McCarthy's book attempting to link autism to vaccination came out in 2007.)

"Many parents have not yet provided updated immunization records."

Nelson and his wife, Elizabeth Horn, stood by Wakefield even after he was stripped of his medical license for misrepresenting or falsifying data for all 12 patients in his study. The couple has a daughter with autism. In 2011, Nelson told the San Francisco Business Times that Wakefield was in the same league as Galileo and Copernicus.

"My experience in Silicon Valley has been when this many establishment players line up against you, you are on to something big."

Neither of these instances point to an existing or growing anti-vaccination sentiment in Silicon Valley. I imagine Google will stick to encouraging additional health care precautions, not the other way around.

Update 2/12: Dr. Gil Chavez, Deputy Director and State Epidemiologist at the California Department of Public Health responded to questions about the vaccination data from The Verge. According to Dr. Chavez, the data referenced in Wired's report is up to date as of fall 2014:

The data posted on the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) webpage "Immunization Levels in Child Care and Schools" is up to date. Data for the 2014-15 school year is based on reports submitted by kindergartens and child care facilities/preschools in the fall of 2014. Records of immunizations given after these reports are submitted are not reflected in CDPH data.

Here is a PDF of the 2014-2015 data, which includes the footnote: "Fall reports were due October 15, 2014 and reporting closed on November 21, 2014." So anything submitted after the deadline is not included. That would have been true for the data from 2013-2014, as well, so that does not explain why the rates at those two Google facilities are lower for 2014-2015.

Dr. Chavez could not verify Google's statement that vaccination rates were lower simply because parents had not provided updated records:

We do not know the circumstances at individual facilities. Children catching up on their immunizations who are conditional entrants are supposed to receive vaccines during the school year (after the reporting deadline).

He also elaborated on how the data is collected:

Facilities collect information on all entrants in the months leading up to annual reporting in the fall. Facilities are required to follow-up on the missing immunizations of conditional entrants throughout the year. The data posted on the CDPH webpage is extracted from reports submitted to CDPH annually in the fall.

As one Wired commenter pointed out, the overall vaccination rate, also called the Up-To-Date (UTD rate), referenced in the report is a complicated number. The Department's Shots for Schools website explains: "The UTD Rate is always lower than the lowest vaccine-specific rate [for example the MMR rate] since it is a measure of overall school/facility vaccination status over multiple vaccines." The site includes a table illustrating how the calculation works.

The Google daycare centers in question are: The Fields and The Woods, both located in Mountain View. Here are the 2013-2014 numbers:

Here is the 2014 to 2015 data for The Woods (top) and The Fields: