I recently came across a page on the “Modern Alternative Mama” blog (how many red flags can you get into a domain name?) that really sums up, for me, the antivaxers’ mix of fallacies and denialism.
I’ll pick it up at the end of the prdeictably self-serving intro:
I’m sharing some things that people need to stop saying. (This post is in honor of my live appearance on the TODAY show, which is happening tomorrow in the 9 AM hour, EST. You can watch me talk about why some parents choose to opt out of vaccines and why I believe in choice! We call this movement Vaccine Choice, not anti-vax. Make sure you say it right!)
Well that’s a bad sign, obviously the media are not all up to speed. Luckily the activities of Stop the AVN and the very media-friendly Dr. [Rachael Dunlop] have reduced the examples of false balance in Australia, and Andrew Wakefield has made antivax rhetoric pretty toxic in the UK, but the cranks are still finding a platform, it seems.
By the way, many of these things have been said to parents who do vaccinate, too, and that’s not okay either!
#1: “You don’t love your children if you don’t vaccinate.”
Get this straight, right now: all parents, regardless of the decision that they make about vaccines, love their children. All of them only want what is best.
So who said that to a parent who does vaccinate? Or indeed who doesn’t? Most of the reality-based community are acutely aware that most parents sucked in by the antivaxers believe they are acting in their children’s best interests. Their sincerity is not generally in doubt, they are simply wrong.
We may disagree on what that means. We will make different choices. But it is never ever okay to say that parents don’t love their children because they made a different choice than you did.
To err is human, but to persist in propagating and perpetuating an error when large numbers of well informed people are telling you exactly where you are going wrong, that takes a particular kind of wilful ignorance.
#2: “Shame on you.”
What good is trying to shame someone else, really? Do you think that someone else will listen to you or change their position if you make them feel ashamed enough? Most people will just get angry, and if anything, feel even more set in their ways. They certainly won’t turn to you for information. Plus, it’s downright rude. Just don’t do it.
|Shame on you does not apply to people who have been misled by antivaxers. It does apply, in spades, to antivaxers. The two communities should be (and generally are) treated differently by the reality-based community. Misled parents get understanding, and of course information. Antivaxers get weapons-grade mockery and scorn. This is as it should be.
#3: “You’re putting your child at risk.”
There is no way to eliminate all risk. Choosing to vaccinate is a risk (an immediate one). Choosing not to vaccinate is a risk (a future one). Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk. Anything at all places your child at risk.
Ah, right, so you let your precious ones play in the traffic, right? No, of course you don’t. Withholding vaccines puts your children (and other people) at risk. The main reason for not wanting this to be said appears to be that you don’t want to hear it. Tough shit.
Of course, vaccines are not the only way to protect children from serious illness, either. Parents are the ones who are best equipped to know their child, their situation, and choose if or when their children should be vaccinated, or how else they should be protected. Parents make this call, and no one else.
True up to a point: total isolation would also protect any child against infectious disease. But you probably don’t mean that. Here’s a simple fact: immunisation is the most effective way of protecting a child against preventable communicable diseases. Here’s another: withholding immunisations puts your child at risk. Don’t want to hear it? Then move to some alternative universe where your delusions are true.
#4: “You’re putting MY child at risk. You should vaccinate to protect babies/elderly/immunocompromised.”
This is really two separate arguments. First, if you believe that not vaccinating places your vaccinated child at risk, then why do you trust vaccines? If they work, then you don’t have anything to fear. Second, babies, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are at risk (potentially) from anyone who is sick. Whether they are vaccinated or not, and no matter which illness they have. It’s up to the parents of those people (or the people themselves) to protect them, not ask everyone around them to do it.
Tired antivax trope no. 277. No vaccines are 100% efficient, some people are too young / old / sick to be vaccinated, and unvaccinated people get the disease more virulently. Hence, even a 100% vaccinated child is at risk from an unvaccinated child, and this risk rises to dangerously irresponsible levels when vaccine refuseniks form clusters and communities, because these are perfect reservoirs for incubation of the diseases.
Finally, we don’t ask others to make medical decisions that could be risky to benefits ourselves. We each make the medical decisions we feel are right for us, and take on the risk we feel comfortable taking. We can’t, and shouldn’t expect, to control what others do.
One unvaccinated child in a hundred is a low risk to the 99 vaccinated ones, but 30 or 40 per hundred is a pressing public health problem. So no, your selfish determination to practice your delusions does not override the right of a democratic society to protect others from your delusions. You have no enforceable right to endanger other people.
#5: “Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have vaccines.”
Mothers in third world countries would be grateful to have clean water. Plentiful food. Access to medical care. A safe place to live. And these things are much more necessary to life — especially clean water — than vaccines. A person literally cannot live without safe water. People can and do live without vaccines all the time.
The list of other things for which the underprivileged would be grateful, does not in any way remove the fact that they would also be grateful not to watch their children suffer and die of preventable disease.
There are very few antivaxers in the developing world, because unlike selfish Westerners with overdeveloped senses of entitlement – we’ll call them antivaxers for short – they are acutely aware of the real and tangible connection between preventable disease and death.
Plus, those mothers in the third world don’t have any way of doing research. They don’t have access to information. All they know about vaccines is what they’re told. If doctors come into their villages and say, “You need these. They’re amazing. They’ll save your child’s life.” Of course they are going to want them! They don’t have access to another viewpoint! (Of course, if their children then come down with the measles caused by the vaccine, or polio caused by the vaccine — which has happened — they won’t exactly feel so grateful.)
By “research” I assume you mean the antivaxer kind of research, which involves trawlign the internet looking for ideologically consonant web pages and credulously accepting them based on the fact that they don’t cause cognitive dissonance. No, they don’t have that ability. Most of the information they get is accurate – hence their demand for vaccines.
I personally feel privileged to have access to science and information, as well as the ability to make my own decisions about my family’s medical care. I wouldn’t want to live in a dangerous third world country and have to accept what I was told because I simply didn’t have options.
The problem here is that while you have access to facts, you also have access to a lot of bullshit – and you choose to believe that instead of the facts. That’s a luxury most African mothers don’t have, or indeed want.
#6: “You just don’t really understand science or you would vaccinate.”
This is so unnecessary. It’s an elitist point of view. The only way that a person would opt out or disagree is if they’re too stupid to get it? No.
Yes. Well done. But we don’t say you don’t understand science because you choose not to vaccinate, we say it because of what you present as evidence. By sowing us what you believe to be science, you demonstrate conclusively that you have no idea what science actually is.
There are parents on both sides who might have made a choice because they didn’t look into the facts much — maybe their friend or their doctor told them to, so they just went along with it. But there are lots of people who’ve done incredible amounts of research and have come to a careful conclusion.
And then there are those who have been misled by antivaxers.
Let me tell you about what “incredible amounts of research” means. Paul Offit does an incredible amount of research. This is the real kind of research, involving actual research, not just hoovering up shit off the internet that you happen to find it convenient to believe. In science, repeating an error after it has been shown to be an error, is embarrassing. In antivax activism, it’s called “research”. See the difference?
Saying that their research “doesn’t count” because they don’t have a science background is just insulting — and wrong. People are smart enough to do their own research. They truly are. A piece of paper that says so makes no difference. (Plus, there are lots of doctors and other medical professionals who question vaccines or don’t vaccinate! And they clearly understand the science.)
The reason it doesn’t count is not because of lack of a science background, it’s because it isn’t research. It’s presearch: working back from the conclusions you started out with.
#7: “You should listen to what doctors tell you; they went to medical school and you didn’t.”
This is an extension of the last point. Having been to medical school doesn’t make you an expert on vaccines (the average pediatrician or family-practice doctor — the doctors most people are getting their advice from — get only a few hours of education on vaccines). Plus, a good doctor should serve as a guide. The doctor should offer his/her opinion, allow the parents to do their own research, ask questions, and ultimately make their own choices.
Former medical students are perfectly capable of being wrong, but on vaccines, it’s not a matter of the White Coat of Authority – vaccines are such a vital public health measure that health departments go to some lengths to ensure that doctors are fully informed on this subject. A family practitioner who is not well informed on the issue of vaccines, is not much of an asset to his patients. Thanks to antivaxers, patients will go armed with questions and a background tainted by disinformation. The doctor has to be able to rebut this with facts.
So just for once, the appeal to authority is pretty much valid.
You are the parent. You make the choice. Not the doctor. Whatever happens to your child — if they’re unlucky enough to be injured by a vaccine, or get sick with a serious illness — who is responsible? You are. Not the doctor.
Odd that one appeal to authority is rejected while another is promoted: “mother knows best”. Who’s more likely to know what’s in the best interests of a child, a doctor, with five years of university education, another five to ten years of residencies and postgraduate training, and a peer network of other qualified practitioners and specialists in numerous fields, or someone armed with encyclopaedic ignorance, a strong dose of the Dunning-Kruger effect and some shit off Natural News?
Life is a crapshoot. The risks of vaccine-preventable disease are massively greater than the risks of the vaccine. That is the only basis on which any government would ever license a vaccine, especially one that will be given to infants.
#8: “Just walk through a graveyard and see all the babies that died 100 years ago because we didn’t have vaccines.”
This is not a factual argument. It’s fear-based, and it’s not even accurate.
Who says that all infant mortality in the past was due to preventable disease? If, however, you replace this strawman with a realistic comparison, you get a different answer.
Ask anybody who grew up in the 1950s whether polio is frightening and whether they remember the iron lungs, the calipers, the little coffins. My parents were profoundly grateful that my siblings and I could be vaccinated against this dread disease. There are plenty of people around who were parents back then, go and ask them. Cleanliness in the 50s was not hugely different from today, antibiotics had been invented, and still polio was terrifying. And it still is, in some countries, because antivaxer propaganda has impeded efforts to eradicate it, as we did smallpox (which killed over a quarter of a billion people in the 20th Century alone, but nobody has died of it since the 70s).
Take a bow. You’re protecting a threatened species: polio virus.
Many of those babies died because we didn’t have access to basic medical care. Water could be contaminated and babies could get dysentary or cholera (neither of which we vaccinate for). Doctors didn’t wash their hands before helping a woman in child birth or before treating patients, which spread infection more easily. There are a whole bunch of reasons why babies died more frequently 100 years ago, most of which are not related to vaccines.
You are conflating different periods of history. A hundred years ago was 1914; by then infection control was at least beginning to be understood and doctors absolutely did wash their hands before delivering a child. The US mortality statistics for 1914 are publicly available. Typhoid Mary was dangerous because she was an asymptomatic carrier – and even then they tracked her down. This was not the modern era of medicine, but it wasn’t the Dark Ages either.
(In fact, death rates for most diseases had fallen by more than 99% before the introduction of vaccines.)
#9: “My family member died of/was disabled by __________. They would have loved to have vaccines!”
Any death or disability is tragic. Absolutely.
None more so than a preventable one (but as we’ve seen you’re in denial about the preventive effect of vaccines).
But. There’s no guarantee that vaccines would have prevented the death or injury. Vaccines themselves don’t come without risks (yes, people can and do die from vaccination, too). I understand it’s really hard if you know someone personally who was disabled or killed by an illness, but this is a purely emotional reaction, not a scientific one.
Double standards, much? The scientific reaction is to vaccinate. Antivaccination rhetoric predates scientific medicine and is rather obviously emotional. The question is one of risks and benefits: antivaxers talk up the risks (and indeed invent new ones out of whole cloth, such as MMR-autism) and play down the benefits. A proper scientific perspective looks at both risk and benefit, objectively.
We need to keep this debate about the available science. There’s always, always, always a small chance of something bad happening (see the part about ‘risk’ above), but we must balance risk vs. benefit.
In the past ten years nobody, as far as can be ascertained, has died from the MMR vaccine. Several people have died from the effects of measles in outbreaks triggered by the MMR-autism fraud perpetrated by Wakefield. One child is claimed to have died from the DTaP vaccine, though this is questionable, but in the USA alone in a single recent year, 2012, twenty children died of pertussis out of over 48,000 cases (and some of these resulted in permanent neurological damage). One girl is alleged to have died of an adverse event triggered, though not caused, by HPV vaccine. Every year, over 4,000 women in the USA die of cervical cancer, and HPV vaccine is likely to prevent 50% or more of these.
In order to make the risk-benefit calculation support withholding vaccines, you must adopt a policy not of ignorance, but of deliberate deceit. You must pretend that the harms are vastly greater than they are, and the dangers vastly less. It requires serious intellectual dishonesty.
#10: “Parents who don’t vaccinate are just listening to that debunked 1998 study or Jenny McCarthy.”
I pretty much stop listening when someone says this, honestly. It shows they have no idea what this issue is actually about.
On this one thing we might agree: if nobody ever mentioned or quoted Wakefield or McCarthy ever again, the world would be a better place.
For the record — the 1998 study was on bowel disease in children with autism and had nothing to do with vaccines. They found the MMR-strain of measles in the bowel of some children and noted that some of the parents said that their children “changed” after receiving the MMR. They concluded that the issue should be researched further, to see if there was a possible link. They did not say that the MMR caused autism. Ever. And the original results have been replicated…more than 25 times. (A bunch of us in the vaccine choice movement have actually spoken to Dr. Wakefield…myself included. Trust me, that’s not what the study was about.)
True, Wakefield’s papers (fraudulent thought they were) did not say MMR causes autism, but they were funded by litigation claiming that, and of all the claims vivid in the public mind these are probably the most prominent. If it was not for Wakefield, there would be no McCarthy. If it was not for McCarthy (and the rest of the autism antivax army, all dependent on Wakefield for their original dogma) then the antivax issue would be radically smaller than it is.
As for Jenny McCarthy, I know her son has autism. I know she believes it was caused by vaccines. I know that she has used biomedical treatments to help him recover. I know that she is a proponent of “green the vaccines.” I know basically nothing else. No mother makes such an important medical decision based on “what celebrities are doing.” Maybe she chooses an outfit for her child or how to style their hair because a celebrity did it, but not something this crucial. This is just a dismissive saying, it’s clearly wrong, and it’s said to shut down the discussion.
That is incredibly naive. Parents absolutely do follow celebrity leads, which is why advertisers pay celebrities so much money and why the pulchritudinous McCarthy was welcomed with open arms by the antivax community.
#11: “The CDC/AAP/etc. wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t safe.”
Eh…I’m just going to mention smoking and cocaine. The medical establishment used to recommend those, too, and we now know they are harmful. Sometimes, the medical establishment is wrong. Maybe they mean well, maybe they are making a recommendation based on how they interpret the available evidence, but our understanding of these issues evolves constantly. Just because they currently recommend it doesn’t make it right.
Smoking. Who was it discovered the link between smoking and cancer? Oh yes, doctors. And who pushed the public health measures through against massive opposition by industry? The CDC and the Surgeon General in the US, and their equivalents elsewhere.
Cocaine. Is it a dangerous drug? Or is it a drug whose black market supply and the resulting criminal undercurrent, are largely the result of a decision to criminalise it against the advice of scientists?
The whole point about science though is that it is not cast in stone. Science is a system of inquiry, the CDC and other national bodies reflect current scientific thinking. And antivaxers don’t. They reflect long-debunked ideas, they repeat refuted claims, and they endlessly recirculate tropes that can only be described as bullshit.
#12: “Vaccines are the only way to protect your children; without them they WILL die, become deaf, become sterile, etc.”
Vaccines are not the only way to protect your children.
Straw men are so much easier to demolish than real arguments, aren’t they?
You need to know that whether or not you vaccinate your children, they could get sick. If they’re vaccinated, they could be injured by vaccines. There are no guarantees. These dire outcomes are rare, but they are possible.
Yes, vaccine adverse events are rare, and not usually dire at all. Vaccine preventable diseases are only rare because vaccination is common. Where vaccine rates decline, they resurface with alarming rapidity.
But – they are rare.
Young boys can’t become sterile from mumps. Only post-pubescent males can become sterile, and that’s really rare (mumps doesn’t usually go to the testicles at all; if it does, it usually affects just one side; and if it affects both sides, usually there is some fertility remaining, even if it’s reduced. True sterility is exceedingly rare).
You want orchitis? I don’t. I think your sons (if you have them) probably don’t either. But then…
Most people won’t go deaf from mumps or measles. 1 in 10,000 or fewer (of cases). And fewer than 1 in 10,000 typically die. To say it “will” happen is absolutely false.
Bait and switch. Mumps is the least serious of the triumvirate covered by MMR. Measles can (and does) cause serious long term effects, including pancephalitis in around 1 in 100,000 cases, which is usually fatal. Rubella in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (when a woman may not even be aware she is pregnant) can cause congenital rubella syndrome, and this is not in the least bit rare.
If infection occurs 0–28 days before conception, the infant has a 43% chance of being affected. If the infection occurs 0–12 weeks after conception, the chance increases to 51%. If the infection occurs 13–26 weeks after conception, the chance is 23% of the infant being affected by the disease. Infants are not generally affected if rubella is contracted during the third trimester, or 26–40 weeks after conception.
What do we mean by affected? First up: congential rubella syndrome is incurable. The classic triad is deafness, eye abnormalities and congenital heart disease.
Trivial really, compared with the appalling harm that comes from a small chance of a mild fever for a day or so, which is the main adverse event from MMR.
#13: “You have to vaccinate to go to school.”
You do not have to vaccinate to go to school.
Not everywhere, but this may change (and has in some cases changed due to the antivaxers reducing herd immunity).
48 states (all except MS and WV) offer religious exemptions. About 20 states also offer philosophical exemptions. All 50 offer medical exemptions, but they’re harder to get in some states than others. Most of the time, all you need to do is sign a waiver and your child can attempt public school without some or all vaccines.
And antivaxers have been known to make up religions and religious exemptions. But this is begging the question because in order to do these things you have to have already taken a counterfactual view of vaccines, and decided not to vaccinate.
It’s your choice, not the state’s.
Sometimes. But the state can and does make the point that it’s a stupid and antisocial choice.
#14: “Vaccines do not cause autism. End of story.”
Ah, not quite. Or, well, not at all.
It’s recently come out that a key study that the CDC used to “disprove” a link between vaccines and autism was falsified. Statistically significant data was omitted from the results. That data showed a 340% increase in autism among African-American boys when they received the MMR prior to 36 months of age, instead of after. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Thompson, admitted this in a public statement.
Welcome tot he “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy, stoked by a post-hoc subgroup analysis by a committed antivaxer. the original paper is currently withdrawn and may be retracted, which would be the final nail in the coffin, but the actual effect of this paper is to show that the MMR-autism conjecture is completely wrong (see any black faces in Wakefield’s cohort or on stage with Jenny McCarthy?) ; the most likely conclusion is a coincidence based on well known differences in the pattern of doctors’ visits by (typically less economically advantaged) African-American families.
It’s also true that a number of other studies show links between ingredients in vaccines and autism, or similar neurological disorders.
Not really, no. Most of the research – to the tune of tens of millions of cases – refutes this link.
It’s also true that we’ve done very few studies on the link, the studies have been (generally) poorly designed, and that we have never done a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study. This question is far from settled, but from the evidence we do have (scientifically and anecdotally)…we can say, yes, vaccines do cause autism.
Actually we do have studies of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, and MMR vs. single jab, and various other comparisons. Guess what? None of them show that vaccines cause autism.
What we do not have is a large scale randomised controlled trial of vaccines versus placebo. That would be unethical.
Not everyone, obviously. Certain people are more at risk than others. But just like we say that cigarettes cause lung cancer (even though many people who smoke do not develop lung cancer), vaccines cause autism.
No, there is no evidence to support that statement. At best there is weak evidence of an association in one small sub-population, but this is not a causal link. For all other subgroups there is definitively no association, causal or otherwise.
#15: “We were vaccinated, and we’re all fine.”
The 1980s schedule and the 2014 schedule aren’t even remotely the same.
True. These days smaller doses are used, thiomersal has practically vanished (making zero objectively measurable difference) and there are better, safer vaccines for things like rotavirus.
Most of the vaccines in the 1980s contained quite a few more antigens and no adjuvants (aluminum). Most of them have been removed from the market (OPV polio and DTP definitely have). The schedule consisted of MMR (1 dose), DTP (5 doses), and OPV (4 doses). All in all, children received around 10 shots in their first 6 years, covering just 7 diseases. Up to 4 different diseases are addressed at just one visit (DTP + OPV).
OPV is out because the incidence is now low enough for a less effective vaccine to be a better choice. Smallpox was also included in the 80s.
Today, vaccines contain aluminum. Children receive up to 6 shots in one visit. They receive 36 shots in their first 6 years, covering 14 different diseases. Up to 8 different diseases are addressed at one visit.
And there is bugger all evidence that this makes any difference. We can tell because the MMR scare caused Japan to split the vaccines. It made no difference.
These are just not the same! Saying “we were fine” does not mean our kids will be fine, with this vastly increased schedule.
Increased? You pointed out: there are fewer antigens. Instead we use adjuvants to boost response. It’s typical of an antivaxer to claim that all changes make things worse, but in the rest of medicine things get better, so why would that not be the case for vaccines?
Plus, honestly? We’re not fine. Many people have autoimmune disorders. Many people are overweight. A lot of people have allergies. A lot of people have learning disabilities. A lot of people (1/3) have cancer! I don’t know about your definition of “fine,” but it’s not mine. We don’t fully know if these things are related to vaccines or not, but I’d investigate that a lot more closely before we declare they’re not related and keep vaccinating so heavily. No other country does it, and no other country has rates of these chronic illnesses quite as high as we do.
Many people have diagnosis of immune disorders that were not diagnosed before. I am told the average age of diagnosis of coeliac in men is now 43. That’s a congenital condition, as far as I can tell.
But of course it could be that autoimmune disorders are increasing in prevalence, not just due to better diagnosis and longer lifespans. And it would be natural for an antivaxer to blame vaccines, because it’s always the vaccines. Unless it’s always the electromagnetic radiation, the toxins, or whatever…
I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t vaccinate. Any choice comes with its own set of risks. I am here to make sure that I share accurate information, including the information that isn’t easy to find. I want parents to know what’s out there before they make this very important decision.
Odd, then, that you spent more time telling people not to vaccinate using inaccurate information, than you spent giving them accurate and non-judgmental information.
But actually I think you’re here to try to support your own decisions despite knowing, deep down, that they are scientifically indefensible. Cognitive dissoannce, in other words.
Improve Your Family’s Health…Naturally
Sales pitch for quack books elided…
What things do you think we should stop saying in the vaccine debate?
We should stop saying there’s a vaccine debate. There isn’t. There’s a settled scientific view, and there’s strident disinformation from cranks who will never accept the pollution of their precious bodily fluids.