This post is in response to a blog post found here:

http://violentmetaphors.com/2014/03/25/parents-you-are-being-lied-to/

At first glance it seems like she provides a lot of links to back up her claims, but I wanted to go through them and see how well they stack up.

The initial thing that stands out for me with this blog article is that she says that people who are anti-vaccine are lying to you. To lie is to intentionally make a false statement, knowing that it is not the truth. She may disagree with the claims of people who question vaccines, but it is quite a jump to say that these people are lying. What would have given this article more credibility is if she had responded to some of the evidence put forth by ‘anti-vacciners’. Instead, all of her links are to things supporting her own position. Nowhere is there a response to evidence for the counter position. Now maybe she’s just not aware of any evidence, and maybe she believes that all of the ‘anti-vax’ claims are made-up with nothing to support those claims. It is quite easy to find studies and doctors in support of vaccination, and much more difficult to find the evidence to the contrary. But just because the pro-vaccine position is the majority, it doesn’t mean that it’s correct. The vast majority of studies on vaccines are conducted by pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in the success of vaccines. But I won’t get into that right now. Instead I’ll address each of the things she says.

In light of recent outbreaks of measles and other vaccine preventable illnesses, and the refusal of anti-vaccination advocates to acknowledge the problem, I thought it was past time for this post.

Her first link is about measles outbreaks, and that is her reason for finally writing this post. Of all the vaccines out there I honestly think that measles is the easiest to defend from a pro-vaccine standpoint. This is because the measles vaccine is actually fairly effective, at least in the short-term, at protecting against measles. However, I would encourage you to read this link about measles and herd immunity.

In that link it talks about the waning immunity to measles because of the mass vaccination against the disease. When the vaccination was first introduced, it was able to piggyback on the existing natural immunity in most of the adult population. Now the older population is slowly being replaced by those who have only ever received the vaccine. This is an issue because even though the measles is touted as having up to 99% efficacy, that protection doesn’t always last too long. When it comes to the measles vaccine, there are high responders (about 25%), there are low responders (about 5%), and then there’s everybody else in between. The high responders are able to maintain titer levels above 1000 units after 10 years from vaccination. The low responders titer levels drop below 120 units after 10 years, and everybody else’s titer levels fall within the 120-1000 unit range. Obviously the low responders can contract measles, which is why we do see cases of measles in previously vaccinated individuals. But perhaps worse is that the majority of children (70%) with titer levels between 120 and 1000, can get a measles infection and potentially be contagious, but their infection may be modified and thus not labeled as measles. The increase in recent outbreaks may not be due to the unvaccinated population, but rather to the natural consequences of mass vaccination. More evidence that it may not be the unvaccinated causing the outbreaks is the fact that vaccination coverage for measles has been pretty much constant at 90% or above since 1996.

This link only covers through the year 2009, but if you really want to know, the vaccine coverage for children in 2010 was 91.5%, 2011 was 91.6%, and 2012 was 90.8%. That’s all the data I could find from the CDC.

Dear parents,

You are being lied to. The people who claim to be acting in the best interests of your children are putting their health and even lives at risk.

The first link in this statement is to an article about Dr. Bob Sears, the guy who wrote the vaccine book. It’s pretty common to see militant pro-vaccine people criticize Dr. Sears because of his suggested alternative schedule. In fact, we’ll see it as the focus in several more links in this blog post. I think it’s funny that he gets labeled as anti-vaccine, because I’ve read his book, and he is far from it. It amazes me how his position is completely lambasted by people. All he did was offer an alternative schedule for people who may worry about their children getting so many vaccines at once. The reason he does that is because he thinks that it will ease those parents’ fears and thus help them to get the vaccines for their kids. The article cited along with all the articles critical of Dr. Sears seem to have the underlying belief that if you don’t vaccinate on time according to the CDC vaccination schedule, then you are anti-vaccine. Most other countries in the world follow a vastly different schedule than the US, and most have less than half the number of mandatory vaccines. Are they anti-vaccine too?

The rest of the article linked to reveals the author’s lack of knowledge about the history of measles, or at least it reveals the spin she wants to put on it. Here is her modified version of history:

“In 1982, we were this close to eradicating “domestic” measles in the US. Vaccination uptake had brought the virus–and the complications, hospitalizations, and deaths–to an all-time low, almost to zero, and to domestic eradication in the USA. Elsewhere in the world, work remains. And then the outbreaks started to grow, hitting 220 in 2011 and 189 in 2013 in the USA, up from domestic eradication in 2000”

Interestingly, she leaves out the fact that there was a huge outbreak of measles between 1989 and 1991 due to secondary vaccine failure. There were 55,000 total cases during this 3 year period.

The second link goes to an article at weather.com. The majority of this article talks about the Andrew Wakefield issue, and pretty much blames the modern anti-vaccine movement on that one paper. I don’t know how this article demonstrates that people who don’t vaccinate are putting other peoples’ lives at risk, unless you consider this sentence as proof: “Recent outbreaks of preventable diseases show the damage done by refusing vaccines.” This is a statement that requires evidence to back it up, but none is provided. I can link to articles that say Obama is a muslim, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true. As I mentioned before, how are we to be sure that the small numbers of unvaccinated are causing these outbreaks of measles, and it’s not being spread by the waning immunity in the adult population who haven’t had a booster shot in decades? Remember the secondary vaccine failure in 1989-1991? Unlike naturally acquired immunity, the protection from the measles vaccine is not lifelong. I’d be willing to bet that the population of adults who haven’t had a measles booster in the past 10 years is much greater than the unvaccinated population.

They say that measles isn’t a deadly disease.
But it is.

Absolutely measles can be deadly, especially in the malnourished and those who are deficient in Vitamin A. This link is to the World Health Organization so that fact sheet for measles includes a bunch of poor malnourished kids. I’m not arguing against measles vaccinations for other parts of the world. I do question the usefulness of them when other factors like hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition are never addressed. But my kids live in sanitary conditions and are healthy, so I’m not afraid of them getting measles. I would encourage those who are not prepared for their children contracting measles to go ahead and get the vaccine. Of course what about the other children? Shouldn’t I subject my child to something I don’t agree with for the sake of other people I don’t know? No. I can guarantee that if any of my children are exposed to someone with measles, I will quarantine them even before they exhibit symptoms in order to prevent the transmission. And if they do get measles, then once it resolves, they will have lifelong immunity. I’m confident in my ability to help them through this sickness, which before the introduction of the vaccine was viewed as a common childhood illness.

They say that chickenpox isn’t that big of a deal.
But it can be.

Linking to a varicella page on the CDC website hardly shows how chickenpox can be a big deal. It is a mild self limiting disease. The vast majority of complications come not from chickenpox, but because of secondary bacterial infections. The common cold can lead to complications such as otitis media, sinusitis, bronchitis, and even pneumonia, yet people don’t tend to freak out about a cold. But I’m sure if a vaccine were created for the common cold, these people would use the same line of reasoning to force everybody to be vaccinated. There are some other issues I have with the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox and Shingles are caused by the same virus, and we’ll never be able to get rid of it. As more kids get vaccinated for chickenpox, the older population is going to be exposed to it less often. Without this exposure to bolster the immune system, we’re likely to see shingles begin to occur in younger and younger people.   People with shingles can then pass the virus to those who have never had it, and give them chickenpox. I say that we will never eradicate chickenpox because the vaccine itself can cause a dormant infection and give you shingles later. From the CDC:

“Chickenpox vaccines contain weakened live VZV, which may cause latent (dormant) infection. The vaccine-strain VZV can reactivate later in life and cause shingles.”

So unlike smallpox where the disease has been eradicated, and as a result we can stop vaccinating for it, we will never stop vaccinating for chickenpox. And I predict that as shingles becomes more and more prominent in younger individuals, there will be calls for more boosters throughout life. I’m sure the pharmaceutical companies are just fine with mandatory shingles shots every 10 years.

They say that the flu isn’t dangerous.
But it is.

Again she makes a statement, and instead of linking to a source that directly addresses the statement she makes, she instead links to the CDC’s basic information page about the flu. Saying that the flu isn’t dangerous would never be the argument I use against the flu vaccine, but I want to take a brief look at the data. The common number cited is that the flu causes 36,000 deaths per year. Read this for a good breakdown of why this number is ridiculous.

Basically there are really only about 500 deaths per year attributed to influenza, and the vast majority of these are probably not the flu. Only 15-20% of reported cases of influenza are actually caused by the flu virus. The other 80-85% is caused by flu-like viruses which the flu vaccine does nothing against. The 36,000 number comes from a computer simulation using the loose definition of influenza-associated death. So somebody who dies of some other cause after having the flu would be counted towards this number, even if it’s something that’s not really associated, such as a heart ailment. For an even more thorough breakdown of influenza, go here.

There has also been some recent research suggesting that getting the flu vaccine may actually increase your chances of getting other respiratory illnesses.

This study is amazing for a vaccine study, because they actually used a real saline injection placebo. There was no statistically significant difference between the groups in the risk of seasonal flu infection, but the vaccine recipients had a 4.4 relative risk for developing non-influenza respiratory infections. Obviously this study is small, and warrants follow-up research, but it doesn’t look good for the flu vaccine.

They say that whooping cough isn’t so bad for kids to get.
But it is.

This is another link to a CDC information page. There’s one statement on the CDC page that really stood out to me. “Many babies who get whooping cough are infected by parents, older siblings, or other caregivers who might not even know they have the disease.” Earlier they say that you should vaccinate yourself and family in order to protect your newborn baby from pertussis (whooping cough). This assumes that the vaccine prevents the transmission of the disease, which it does not. The pertussis vaccine contains antigens for the toxin that the pertussis vaccine excretes, but not for the bacteria itself. This means that the vaccine may decrease the symptoms from pertussis, but the bacteria can still be passed on. So the caregivers, parents, siblings who can pass on the disease without knowing they have it, likely don’t know they have it because of the vaccine. Here are some actual resources about pertussis and how the vaccine can create subclinical cases and a silent reservoir for disease transmission.

They say that vaccines aren’t that effective at preventing disease.
But 3 million children’s lives are saved every year by vaccination, and 2 million die every year from vaccine-preventable illnesses.

These two links are actually the same. These numbers are estimates from the WHO, and when it comes to estimates like these, I have some serious doubts about their accuracy. I haven’t dug into this particular estimate yet, but let me provide an example of where my doubt comes from. The WHO has also claimed that the polio vaccine campaign has prevented approximately 350,000 cases of paralysis each year! Dr. Jacob Puliyel breaks down the issue with this claim quite well.

“WHO claims five million children have been saved from polio paralysis. It is instructive to see how this figure is arrived at. In 1988, there were 32,419 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis. The WHO arbitrarily raised this number ten-fold to 350,000 claiming incomplete reporting. In 2004 with the changed definition, only culture positive paralysis was considered polio and there were 2000 such cases. Subtracting 2000 from 350,000, the WHO calculated that 348,000 children were saved from paralysis that year.”

They say that “natural infection” is better than vaccination.
But they’re wrong.

This link goes to a page titled “Measles Parties”. I think the issue with this statement is the author’s misunderstanding of what is meant by natural infection being better than vaccination. What is meant by this statement is that natural infection provides stronger longer lasting immunity than does protection from a vaccine. Let me just quote this statement from Dr. Paul Offit, who is one of the sources in some of the next links:

“Furthermore, although Sears is correct in stating that natural immunity is generally better than vaccine-induced immunity, the high price of natural immunity, that is, occasionally severe and fatal disease, is a risk not worth taking.”

I disagree with the second half of that statement, but this blog author’s own sources recognize that natural immunity is better than vaccine-induced immunity.

They say that vaccines haven’t been rigorously tested for safety.
But vaccines are subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than any other medicine. For example, this study tested the safety and effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine in more than 37,868 children.

The first link is to a critique of Dr. Bob Sears’ book by Dr. Paul Offit. And the second link didn’t work for me, but I’m assuming she means this study.

Now I personally have a hard time believing that a man who holds a research position sponsored by Merck, has a patent for the vaccine Rotateq from which he has received an unspecified amount in royalties has un unbiased opinion on this topic. Dr. Offit has made same dubious statements in the past, such as babies can tolerate 10,000 vaccines at once. But like I said before with the previous link to an article criticizing Dr. Sears, it seems that if you don’t follow the CDC schedule exactly, then you are anti-vaccine.

Concerning the safety and effectiveness study for the pneumococcal vaccine and pretty much all vaccine safety studies, the problem that I and most others who question vaccine safety is not the number of children in the study. The problem is the lack of use of a proper placebo. In this study, the participants received “either the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine or meningococcus type C CRM197 conjugate.” Rather than comparing the vaccine to a saline solution, it is compared to another vaccine that is also designed to elicit immune responses. All this does is muddy the water when it comes to safety. Yet this is what passes as good science for vaccines. If this doesn’t strike you as insane, then I don’t know what else to tell you.

They will say that doctors won’t admit there are any side effects to vaccines.
But the side effects are well known, and except in very rare cases quite mild.

Actually some doctors won’t admit there are side effects to vaccines. I’ve heard countless stories from people where the doctor completely dismisses any concerns from the parent. Some side effects are known, but as previously stated, the safety studies don’t lend much clarity to the topic, and most studies only last a few weeks at most. There are very few studies looking at long-term side-effects from vaccines, and any that are out there are usually dismissed by claiming any association is just a coincidence. Here’s a further breakdown of vaccine side-effects and underreporting.

They say that the MMR vaccine causes autism.
It doesn’t. (The question of whether vaccines cause autism has been investigated in study after study, and they all show overwhelming evidence that they don’t.)

They say that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.
It doesn’t, and it hasn’t been in most vaccines since 2001 anyway.

This vaccine-autism issue would take me entirely too long to go through in this post, so I’ll probably save it for another one. There are definite issues with each of the studies presented. I think it’s funny how they cite studies that say mmr doesn’t cause autism, and thimerosal doesn’t cause autism, therefore vaccines don’t cause autism. There are also other things in a vaccine which may be of concern neurologically. But I’ll touch on some of those issues later.

They say that the aluminum in vaccines (an adjuvant, or component of the vaccine designed to enhance the body’s immune response) is harmful to children.
But children consume more aluminum in natural breast milk than they do in vaccines, and far higher levels of aluminum are needed to cause harm.

This argument never ceases to amaze me. I can drink a can of Pepsi every day with no immediate health effects, but that doesn’t mean I want to inject it in my arm. The mode of delivery makes a huge difference here. The GI tract is designed to filter out undesirable things, and not absorb them into the body. Comparing an injection into the intramuscular or subcutaneous layer to ingesting food is a false analogy.

Aluminum is a known neurotoxin.

The safety studies for aluminum are sadly lacking. The medical consensus seems to be that we’ve been using them in vaccines for years, so they must be safe. If this sort of reasoning satisfies you, then go ahead and vaccinate. It’s a pretty poor rationale in my mind.

The safe level for aluminum in IV parenteral fluid has been set by the FDA at 4-5 mcg per kg of body weight per day. That means that a healthy newborn baby that weighs 8 lbs 12 ounces should be able to handle 20 mcg of aluminum. Why then does the Hepatitis B vaccine, which is typically given within 12 hours of birth, contain 250 mcg? At two months of age, following the recommended schedule, depending on the vaccines given, a baby could get up to 1225 mcg of aluminum injected. Even if the baby was a healthy 15 lbs, the safe level is still less than 40 mcg per day. Now admittedly this safe level was set based on a study on premature babies with impaired kidney function, so it’s possible that most children could clear more than the recommended safe level. But 10 times the safe level on the first day of life? And over 30 times the safe level in the second month? This is another issue with the mass vaccination program. It has no consideration for individual variation amongst children, one size fits all. What sort of damage might we be doing to kids with undetected impairment in their kidney function?

They say that the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (and/or the “vaccine court”) proves that vaccines are harmful.
It doesn’t.

I agree it doesn’t. Of course it goes both ways, if we can’t use the vaccine court to show that vaccines are harmful, then it also can’t be used to exonerate vaccines. As for VAERS, there are several issues with it, and I won’t go into much detail here, but one of the issues is that of underreporting. The FDA has said that with a passive surveillance system such as VAERS, it is possible that less than 1% of adverse reactions may be reported.

I personally think that VAERS is pretty worthless when it comes to determining safety data for vaccines. At best, it may serve as an alert to health officials about possible issues, such as the increased risk of intussusception with one of the rotavirus vaccines, but due to the vast underreporting, this function is pretty limited.

They say that the normal vaccine schedule is too difficult for a child’s immune system to cope with.
It isn’t.

Seriously, more links to articles criticizing Dr. Sears? And the second one is the one already linked to multiple times. I’m sorry, but that’s not exactly what I would call proof for the statement that the vaccine schedule isn’t too difficult for a child’s immune system. How about linking to a study comparing vaccinated to unvaccinated kids to prove your statement? Oh that’s right, you can’t.

They say that if other people’s children are vaccinated, there’s no need for their children to get vaccinated.

I would never say this, and I don’t think that most people who choose not to vaccinate say this either. This seems like a pro-vaccine claim that people who don’t vaccinate are ‘hiding in the herd’. The vaccination status of other children has not affected my decision to vaccinate.

This is one of the most despicable arguments I’ve ever heard. First of all, vaccines aren’t always 100% effective, so it is possible for a vaccinated child to still become infected if exposed to a disease. Worse, there are some people who can’t receive vaccinations, because they are immune deficient, or because they are allergic to some component. Those people depend upon herd immunity to protect them. People who choose not to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases are putting not only their own children at risk, but also other people’s children.

So here’s the old herd immunity argument, which isn’t valid for all vaccines, so at best she could use this for only certain vaccines. I would say measles would probably be the best one for a herd immunity argument. Again, here’s a great look at the herd immunity argument in regards to measles by a PhD in Immunology, which I have previously linked to.

They say that ‘natural’, ‘alternative’ remedies are better than science-based medicine.
They aren’t.

I love how she frames that sentence, basically saying that natural and alternative remedies can’t be science-based.

The truth is that vaccines are one of our greatest public health achievements, and one of the most important things you can do to protect your child.

According to the same CDC page she links to, infant health is also a great public health achievement, and yet were does the US rank for rates of infant mortality amongst other industrialized countries? Dead last.

I can predict exactly the sort of response I will be getting from the anti-vaccine activists. Because they can’t argue effectively against the overwhelming scientific evidence about vaccines, they will say that I work for Big Pharma. (I don’t and never have). They will say that I’m not a scientist (I am), and that I’m an “Agent 666” (I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not one).

Welcome to the internet, where all the crazies like to come out and comment on things.

None of these things are true, but they are the reflexive response by the anti-vaccine activists because they have no facts to back up their position. On some level, deep down, they must understand this, and are afraid of the implications, so they attack the messenger.

Yes I’m quite sure that the only anti-vaccine people who comment on her blog posts are the crazy ones. Either that or she wants to frame it that way, because obviously anybody who disagrees with her is crazy.

Why are they lying to you? Some are doing it for profit, trying to sell their alternative remedies by making you afraid of science-based medicine. I’m sure that many others within the anti-vaccine movement have genuinely good intentions, and do honestly believe that vaccines are harmful. But as a certain astrophysicist recently said “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. In the case of vaccine truthers, this is not a good thing. Good intentions will not prevent microbes from infecting and harming people, and the message that vaccines are dangerous is having dire consequences. There are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses now throughout the United States because of unvaccinated children.

The links in this paragraph don’t even deserve a response. Linking to other blogs and opinion pieces that rehash the same pro-vaccine propaganda doesn’t do anything to bolster your argument. You want to talk about profit motive? Look at how much pharmaceutical companies stand to make from the vaccine business. It’s the perfect business model. You get grants from the government to develop your product, you are immune to litigation for any harm your product might cause, you have a consumer market mandated for you, ensuring that there will always be demand for your product which means you don’t have to spend anything on marketing. From a business perspective, it sounds amazing.

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe it” seems to be the new quote going around to ‘crush’ the opposing view. The thing is, without context, it’s a pretty inane statement. What is science? Are you talking about the process of observation and experimentation? If so, then science is a tool used by flawed individuals who carry with them certain biases that can affect their interpretation of the data. Or does science refer to a specific branch of knowledge? If that’s the case, then this statement is easily rebutted by pointing out that previous ‘scientific fact’ has been proven wrong. There are certain fields of science that are subject to scientific laws (gravity, thermodynamics, etc.) which make it easier to come to a single consensus about the data. However, other fields do not have these underlying laws, and are therefore more apt to have varying interpretations of the same data. Think about the difference between Mathematics and Anthropology.

As for the statement that the outbreaks in the US are because of unvaccinated children, I refer you to the above article I linked to about measles and herd immunity.

In only one respect is my message the same as the anti-vaccine activists: Educate yourself. But while they mean “Read all these websites that support our position”, I suggest you should learn what the scientific community says. Learn how the immune system works. Go read about the history of disease before vaccines, and talk to older people who grew up when polio, measles, and other diseases couldn’t be prevented. Go read about how vaccines are developed, and how they work. Read about Andrew Wakefield, and how his paper that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been withdrawn, and his medical license has been revoked. Read the numerous, huge studies that have explicitly examined whether autism is caused by the vaccine…and found nothing. (While you’re at it, read about the ongoing research to determine what IS the cause—or causes —of autism, which is not helped by people continuing to insist that vaccines cause it).

“While they say ‘Read all these websites that support our position.’” Isn’t this exactly what she just did? Her links are all to websites that support her position. Not once did she respond to any evidence from the other side, instead she tries to paint ‘anti-vaxxers’ as crazy people who resort to name calling because they have no facts to back up what they say.

That may seem like a lot of work, and scientific papers can seem intimidating to read. But reading scientific articles is a skill that can be mastered. Here’s a great resource for evaluating medical information on the internet, and I wrote a guide for non-scientists on how to read and understand the scientific literature. You owe it to your children, and to yourself, to thoroughly investigate the issue. Don’t rely on what some stranger on the internet says (not even me!). Read the scientific studies that I linked to in this post for yourself, and talk to your pediatricians. Despite what the anti-vaccine community is telling you, you don’t need to be afraid of the vaccines. You should instead be afraid of what happens without them.

Most links were not to scientific studies but rather to other peoples’ blogs, or opinion pieces on the subject matter. Most sites had few if any references. That’s a problem I have with websites like the CDC or the WHO. They rarely cite where their information comes from, so at that point it becomes an appeal to authority. This blog post claims that the other side is promoting fear of vaccines, yet she blatantly promotes fear of not vaccinating, and I just don’t like articles that promote hysteria.

I will eventually go through and address the statements about autism and the like, but for now, this post is long enough.

 

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