When Jennifer Barker took her infant daughter to the doctor for routine vaccinations, she never dreamed it’d be an event that would change both of their lives.
“She suffered encephalitis, brain swelling … and constantly would cry because her head hurt so badly,” Barker recalls. After extensive research, she discovered that her daughter wasn’t alone. Her nonstop crying was known as the “DTaP scream,” referring to a side effect allegedly caused by the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine.
The concerned mother also discovered that vaccine injury was something no one wanted to talk about. “I felt a lot of rejection, especially from family and friends,” she says. “It was hurtful.”
That was back in 2010. It wasn’t until four years later that she finally found a pediatrician who confirmed her suspicion: “We found a doctor that said yes, this is a vaccine injury and this is how we’re going to heal her. I was so thankful for that.”
When a new documentary probing the dangers of vaccines was released in 2016, Barker was asked to host a local watch party in St. Louis. She created a Facebook page to sell tickets. “Before I knew it,” she says, “this group just blew up. And that’s when I knew, ‘Wow, there are a lot of people here that are interested in this topic’.”
She quickly connected with other parents who suspected their children had also suffered from vaccine injury, and became a resource for them.
According to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, severe side effects are exceedingly rare; those who have received compensation for vaccine-related injuries are literally one in a million. Dr. Narayan Nair, who oversees this federal program, told Parents: “The vast majority of people who get vaccines have no serious problems, but like any other medicine, there are side effects.”
Due to the rarity of severe side effects, along with the importance of eradicating deadly diseases, parents feel pressured to keep their questions to themselves. For some, the stigma around vaccine injury has led to unanswered questions – and heartbreak.
Barker says, “It’s crushing what happens to some of these families, and how they’re torn apart. I’ve met families with children who’ve passed away, and I’ve met families where children will have to be under adult care for the rest of their lives. It’s heart-wrenching.”
That’s why Barker made it her mission to continue educating families on their health-related rights.
And then the pandemic happened.
Medical freedom takes on a new importance
When COVID-19 vaccine mandates crept into workplaces and schools, Barker was flooded with requests for help from individuals concerned about vaccine mandates – particularly those in the healthcare field. These doctors, nurses and medical staff had worked tirelessly on the frontline for months, often risking their own lives – and their families’ – to help others. Many had already contracted COVID themselves, and as medical professionals, are well-versed in the concept of natural immunity.
Barker recalls, “These calls were coming from people who were at the same hospital systems, and I thought, if only I can connect them. They don’t know each other, but they’re there. And there are a lot of them.”
So that’s what she did. These new connections between like-minded healthcare professionals quickly transformed into a network of more than 2,000 healthcare workers across Missouri.
Leta Woolard is a nurse and coordinator of the group, now called Informed Health Choice Missouri. She explains, “Basically, what initially started as helping each other with exemptions and support has blossomed into a continued battle for medical freedom.”
Now that the intense fear-driven COVID policies have begun to subside – at least for the moment – this powerful network is focused on advocating for medical freedom in Missouri’s capitol. They advocate for informed consent, work to rein in government overreach, and educate families on their constitutional rights.
For example, vaccines are required at most schools, but Missouri offers both religious and medical exemptions. In both cases, Barker says, “You’re able to exempt a child from any vaccination by just writing a letter [to the school], stating you want to exempt them.”
These medical freedom fighters are now working on a new type of exemption, called conscientious exemption, that intends to keep doctors who have written these exemptions from losing their jobs. “It’s all of us coming together collectively, and pushing back, in order to take our power back,” Barker explains.
Ultimately, Barker feels the biggest threat to personal liberty – medically and otherwise – is that not enough people understand their freedom is on the line: “I think we need to wake more people up that we have God-given rights, and our Constitution protects those God-given rights.”