Jun 25 2014

8 Things the Anti-Vax Lobby Doesn’t Understand

The usual problem with the anti-vaccination lobby is that there is an intense lack of understanding about vaccination.

Argument #1: Vaccinate to protect your child!

Pro-Vaxxers have this false sense that vaccines are 100% effective and will absolutely protect your child from getting “vaccine preventable” diseases. So what happens when fully vaccinated children get the very disease they were vaccinated against?

Wait, what?? Vaccinated children are still able to become infected with the diseases they were vaccinated against? Of course they can and they do! When there is a so-called “outbreak” the majority of the infected population have already been fully vaccinated against the disease, but they don’t tell you that in the news.

No person who vaccinates assumes that vaccines are 100% effective. They are not. They are between 80 to 95% effective with waning efficacy.

However the chance or the rate of infection is important. If a vaccine is 95% effective then the transmission rate goes down by 95%. So if we compared an unvaccinated population towards a vaccinated one you would see a major fall in incidence. The best examples are the before and after analysis of incidence. The same population, the same environment with the disease is monitored after vaccination and the reduced incidence is noted.

Vaccination is not 100% effective.

Okay a simple example.

Miroslav Klose is one of the best “finishers” in Europe. In football that is. He has a phenomenal rate of goal scoring. Out of 30 shots 10 found the net in 2013. Seriously? That’s pretty beefy. 1 in 3 is considered an epic rate. 33% is considered excellent. Even Lionel Messi who is the current “Diego Maradonna” has a lower rate (albeit more shots on goal).

A doctor’s ideal would be a 100% success rate. We get success rates of 95% and above and we still don’t consider that as good. Compared to this rockstar footballer? We are perfectionists. But logically speaking the two shouldn’t be compared. It is much more unreliable to kick a ball into a goal than it is to treat a patient.

Vaccination is not 100% effective. But here is the thing? This is just an incorrect statement. See? They fail to mention how effective a vaccine is and how disruptive it is to the transmission chain.

Even if a vaccine is not 100% effective, the effect of the herd immunity will disrupt the transmission chain sufficiently to make the vaccine more effective. Vaccine efficacy is per individual and does not take into account the protective effect of a vaccinated society that disrupts transmission of disease.

And a more apt response? You wear bicycle helmets right? Why? They aren’t 100% effective. There are plenty of people who have been in car accidents with seatbelts who have died or been horribly injured. Does that mean we should not wear the helmet or the seatbelt unless it is 100% effective? Should we fire Miroslav Klose because his conversion rate is not 100% and that it should be 100% or nothing at all!

Most people would consider that silly. Yet we see an argument here being made in all seriousness.

Argument #2: Symptoms are less severe in vaccinated individuals

Once pro-vaxxers realize that fully vaccinated children are still getting the very diseases they were vaccinated against, their response is that sometimes vaccines aren’t 100% effective, however, they will go on to state that the symptoms of those diseases are less severe in the vaccinated population, which in turn will protect them from dying from all those “deadly” diseases.

Pro-vaxxers like to scare people into thinking their children will DIE if they don’t get vaccinated. The truth of the matter is, the majority of people who become infected with “vaccine preventable” diseases DO NOT die. If your child is healthy, their bodies are able to fight off the illness within a few days.

An addendum to the first argument? In the large KIGGS study in Germany, the only difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated children was that vaccinated children were healthier. They suffered the same diseases such as asthma and allergies and autism. The only real difference was the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases. Something that we all knew. The fact we have to keep doing research is like  trying to explain to someone who doesn’t think head injuries are dangerous.

The thing is? You likely won’t die from a lack of vaccination. Medicine has improved to the point we have made Measles and the like harmless. Most of the children who get these diseases will live. A sad handful will die and that is a small number of people. Just a handful of kids. BUT

Here is the things. You don’t get to see Millions of people die without starting with handful of people dying. And each one of these tragedies was easily preventable. It is clear that vaccinated children get less severe forms of the disease and that is due to something called partial immunity. The anti-vax treat immunology  like Deepak Chopra treats quantum physics. They borrow random phrases that don’t mean anything in the context being used and simply misrepresent human immunology.

What the anti-vax do is provide an illusion of education. If sufficient technical words are used and acronyms made, people will think they do real research.

“Deadly” diseases being what they are, the Anti-vax ignore the fact that most of the diseases we vaccinate for were either deadly for two reasons. They either had low transmission but high mortality such as Diptheria and Tetanus. Or they had high transmission and low mortality like Measles.

Most of our children would survive without vaccines. Hell, look at unvaccinated parts of the world. Children still survive.

And look at India where people don’t wear seatbelts. People survive car crashes there.

Just not as many as could survive and indeed should survive. We have the technology, we have the capacity, the only reason these children die in the Western world is not due to the failings of medicine but due to a culture of ignorance and arrogance when it comes down to healthcare.

Argument #3: “Vaccine preventable” diseases kill millions of people each year3

Sure, “vaccine preventable” diseases might kill millions of people each year in countries where children already have compromised immune systems from drinking dirty water and playing in extremely unsanitary living conditions their entire lives.

It amuses me that people think tetanus cares about dirty water. The joke is that tetanus being an anaerobe would probably die due to the oxygen dissolved in water.

They are sort of right here. See the fatality rate of Measles is due to the immunocompromised status of poor people. Poverty plays a role in being a force multiplier for a disease.

But here is the thing? The Anti-vax are an entirely middle class mommy movement. A little education is a deadly thing. Much as I am a fan of female empowerment, there is a problem when it is empowerment without basis. I often write about Home Birth Midwifery and how deadly a form of quackery it is due to the toll of injured and dead babies left in its wake and how the entire piece of quackery exists due to the fact that most skeptics are male and so wouldn’t have any exposure to this and how the language of the quack co-opts feminism to protect itself, ignoring the fact that obs/gynae are possibly the most hardcore feminists out there. Remember Dr. Tiller? The man who died for abortion rights? There are doctors who live that lifestyle on the edge offering healthcare.

HELL one of my irritations with the Barack Obama Nobel Prize was that I thought it should have gone to a Somalian Obs/Gynae who was so badass that she could bully Al-Shabab into protecting supplies and when they tried to kill her they sent freaking tanks to destroy her hospital. She was THAT scary. Obama? Just won presidency of the USA. She was fighting a war for women using nothing but Medicine and an iron will.

The same applies here. The quacks push the notion that “mum knows best” which appeals to the parents. But here is the thing. If you run the 100 m in around 20 seconds, you probably won’t be an Olympic Gold Medalist. Likewise we all have major failings. I may be smart enough to do law but if you tried to hire me as a lawyer I would think you are being stupid. And one of the limitations I understand is how little I know about other things. The majority of things I write as a lay man. As an opinion piece.

The anti-vax turn that ignorance into a strength by claiming that they don’t “buy into the big pharma lie”. We would consider them idiots if they said the same thing about big gravity.

Argument # 4: Side effects to vaccines are rare

Pro-vaxxers like to downplay the severity of vaccine side effects. There is a reason why side effects are listed in the package inserts to vaccines. They list those side effects because they have been experienced by more than one person, and have been reported more than one time. If side effects to vaccines were not as common as pro-vaxxers lead people to believe, the government wouldn’t have had to create a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System where people can go to report their adverse reactions, and they wouldn’t have had to create a Vaccine Injury Compensation Program so those people could be compensated for their vaccine related injuries.

Actually? They are rare. The VAERS just lists reports. It doesn’t list the number of vaccines given without any side effect.

In-Ci-Dence. The magic word that is important here. If I told you that 15 people were killed by sharks you would panic! You would assume that 15 people were stalked and eaten like in Jaws. Peter Benchley himself is rather saddened by his “Masterpiece” because of the ecological destruction and “sharkphobia” it created. While shark are dangerous the chances of one attacking us is pretty low. Jaws made us worry about sharks and think shark attacks were common. Because we never saw the denominator.

A 1000 people died. Hypothetically speaking, this is a huge number. Let us say by accidents involving hand whisks.

This sounds like a 1000 people died due to hand whisks exploding and that the whisks are inherently unsafe and could go off at the drop of a souffle. But really? What is important is the denominator. How many times did people across the globe use a whisk safely? To the anti-vax the whisk = death. To us? We understand the denominator.

How many times did something have to occur for someone to die.

So let us take a oldie but a goodie. Guillain Barre Syndrome. Big Scary Name.  Causes temporary paralysis. May require ventilator care. TERRIBLE right? Well? It is a side effect of the flu vaccine.

Knowing the anti-vax and their capacity for quote mining? This is where they will stop reading. Roughly  1 in  100,000 people will get GBS. A small proportion of these are due to the flu vaccine. This darling of the anti-vax has a bigger cause. Respiratory infections in the above 50s caused by Campylobacter. But if you listened to the anti-vax it is the miniscule number of cases that may be due to the flu vaccine. 80% make full recoveries, 10% make partial recoveries and 2% may die.

Okay so EVEN if we ignore the campylobacter being the main cause and blame everything on the vaccine then in then out of 6 billion people, 60,000 will get GBS. 1200 will die. Let us blame all of this on the vaccine.

Per year around 500,000 people die from the Flu and this hits the “million” mark if there is a pandemic on. 60,000 GBS cases (IF they were all caused by the flu vaccine rather than greater cause of Campylobacter) is much less than 500,000 dead or the millions affected each year.

The denominator is important.

Argument #5: The benefits outweigh the risks

Pro-vaxxers seem to think that vaccine injury or vaccine related death is acceptable as long as everyone knows that the benefits outweigh the risks. What benefits are they talking about? I’m pretty sure if it were their child who suffered from a severe reaction, they wouldn’t be saying “my child died as a result of being vaccinated, but that’s ok.. at least I did my part in protecting the herd”.

The chance of a vaccine related serious condition is nearly 1 in 1,000,000. Want to know something? Food is deadlier than that. In the USA roughly 300 people a year have serious issues with vaccines. 2,500 people a year die from choking on food. Pizza is deadlier than Polio Vaccines.

The problem with this argument is that it portrays VPDs are harmless and the reason they are harmless is because measles is so mild thanks to the vaccines that we treat each case well. We don’t see people die from the disease in huge quantities any more.

The anti-vax also downplay the lethality of diseases like Diptheria, Tetanus and Pneumonia.

And the anti-vax speak the language of loss aversion. IF you don’t play the game you won’t lose. So what if your child dies to the Measles, at least that is natural and not your fault. If you vaccinated your child and that 1 in 1000,000 SSPE case came up then your choice would be to blame. It is better to risk 1 in 1000 fatality rates for Measles and the 30% hospitalisation rate for measles related pneumonia than take the 1 in a million risk.

And part of this logic comes from never having experienced disease. There is no fear among the anti-vaccine because they don’t know. They think polio is harmless because 99% of polio infections don’t do anything. That 1%? An acceptable loss. They think Diptheria is harmless. One parent suggesting removal of the membrane. Hint? The membrane shouldn’t normally be removed because it can kill you by haemorrhage in minutes. If it is to be removed it is removed under strict surgical conditions. Diptheria is a deadly disease and the thing is the anti-vax portray it as harmless and easily treated at home because it is so rare.

But there are children who do get Diptheria and whose parents may try these things. Those deaths are never the fault of the anti-vaccine quacks.

Argument #6: Vaccinate to protect the herd!

If herd immunity exists, that would mean that vaccines protect every vaccinated person from getting the diseases they were vaccinated against. But hold on a second, didn’t we just hear the pro-vaxxer say that sometimes vaccines aren’t 100% effective? So, if vaccinated children are still becoming ill with the very disease they were vaccinated against, this would mean that those vaccinated children are still able to spread the disease to other vaccinated and non-vaccinated children. This in itself throws the “herd immunity” theory out the window. The medical industry over-sells the “herd immunity” point, however, herd immunity is just a theory and has never been scientifically proven.

For example, “Measles outbreaks occur even when the vaccinated population exceeds 95%”.. Herd immunity = junk science.


Except the USA doesn’t have a 95% vaccination rate. And the outbreaks in the USA are minor considering the pandemic that was Measles. In non-vaccinated society, Measles is Universal. Everyone got it. It is like Chicken Pox. It is like the common cold.

If we vaccinate sufficiently and regularly the chain of disease is disrupted. It is why “outbreaks” in the USA are so small. We are considering a thousand people a large outbreak. Guess what? In it’s hey day Measles in the USA affected a MILLION people a year. We haven’t even reached 1% of it’s old incidence. Thanks to Vaccination. Vaccination Drops Incidences. It may not be perfect and indeed in a USA that was full vaccinated, there were under 100 cases of Measles being reported a year. Look how far we have come. From 1 million to a 100 because of vaccines and 100 to 1000 due to the anti-vax. And that number will keep rising as long as vaccinations are not universal and so low.

Herd Immunity is just a theory. Like Gravity. Aerodynamics. Germ and Nuclear. Yet we fall to our death, fly in planes, get sick and blow up Pacific Islands just fine with “mere theories”. A theory is a scientifically proven statement. The anti-vax seem to think a theory is wild guessing.

Arguement #7: Unvaccinated children are the cause of “vaccine preventable” outbreaks

Let’s think about this for a second… If vaccinated children are still able to become infected with “vaccine preventable” diseases, that would still make them contagious and able to spread the disease to others. So if the majority of the infected population of an outbreak has already been fully vaccinated, it really isn’t logical to believe the cause of the outbreaks are solely due to “anti-vaxxers”.

The incidence of VPD is always higher in unvaccinated children. Ergo. Unvaccinated children are the biggest reservoir of the disease and if the number reaches a sufficient quantity, the unvaccinated children provide the bridges that allow disease to spread freely in society.

Argument #8: Vaccines DO NOT cause autism

Such a heated debate. Of course the medical institution and any pro-vaxxer you meet won’t admit that vaccines are the cause of the #1 rise in childhood disorders all over the world. Vaccines are given at such a young age, there is no way of telling if they were born with this disorder or not. There are some scientific articles that might state there is no correlation between vaccines and autism, however, there are plenty of other scientific articles as well as families who have been publicly compensated by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for vaccines causing other neurological disorders that eventually led to the diagnosis of autism.

No. It does not. There is no indication that autism is caused by vaccination considering the incidence of autism is the same in unvaccinated children (KIGGS) and in fact is lower in vaccinated mothers since Rubella is a big cause of birth defects that includes learning disorders such as autism since Congenital Rubella Syndrome is a known cause for ASD.

Seriously? The only way to claim this is to quote Andrew “I Take Medical History Badly” Wakefield who was so corrupt that he misrepresented epilepsy as autism.

These 8 points are just silly. Vaccination Works. Vaccination Saves Lives. Vaccination has eliminated diseases such as Smallpox and Polio and Rabies and Rinderpest from our societies. Instead we listen to quacks and the ignorant luddites.

I always suggest a simple test. I asked anti-vax to explain human  immunology and that if vaccines don’t work, how does anti-venom and pregnancy tests and blood matching work. Not one has answered that question correctly. The closest someone got was them googling a phrase I used. Idiot’s Guide to Immunology and posting the first link they got. Hint. They tried to pass off my earlier work as their own. Copy Pasta. They didn’t even bother checking the name of the author.

The fact is the gross ignorance of the anti-vax allows them to imply that the body is a closed box of mystery and that doctors know nothing.


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  1. 1

    The Anti-vax are an entirely middle class mommy movement.

    Andrew Wakefield is a middle class mommy? I never knew.

  2. 2

    I should say that I appreciate this post overall. It’s well written and you made the points well. But the anti-vax movement wouldn’t have the power it does if it were only “mommies” driving it.

  3. 3

    No person who vaccinates assumes that vaccines are 100% effective. They are not. They are between 80 to 95% effective with waning efficacy.

    Doesn’t the measles schedule have ~99.7% efficacy? Which is a good thing, given how contagious measles is.

  4. 4

    This anti-vaxxer calls them “arguments”, but they are really factual statements that are then denied as though they were equivalent to personal opinions. Each of these “arguments” evaluate as true statements given the available evidence. It’s telling that they confuse facts and opinion.

    A pro-vaccine argument would be “all parents should have their children vaccinated, because of true statements #1-8.” Whereas the intellectually honest anti-vaccine argument would be “all parents should not vaccinate their children, despite true statements #1-8.” Here they are just denying demonstrably true facts.

    The problem is in educating parents. People do not generally understand what research is. They think that they read the pros and cons, and then they are the ones doing the “research.” Based on pros and cons, they decide what to believe based on emotional reasons (what they want to believe, or already believed). Lies are simply too effective at being persuasive. This problem will not go away.

  5. 5

    Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my understanding that VAERS doesn’t establish causality. It just establishes a timeline.

    I read about one case that was on the VAERS reporting for the HPV vaccine. Seventeen year old girl with diabetes died 50 days after the second dose. Autopsy indicated that she died of complications of diabetes: life threateningly high blood sugar, acid levels in the bloodstream. So it looks to me like a person could get a vaccination, die of an unrelated brain aneurysm, and that will get reported to VAERS… which to an anti-vaxxer will count as a vaccination caused death.

  6. 6

    #6 reminds me of the folks who deny global warming because it still gets cold in winter. This past winter was horribly nasty and cold … just like winters used to be back before the 1980s. We are so used to the new situation, that we deny the science and trust our fee-fees.

    Speaking of the good old days, I had measles and mumps and chickenpox and I dunno what as a kid, back in the rural 1960s, and it was horrible. Anybody who puts any kid through that is a terrible person. And that’s just talking about the bout of illness, leaving out the risk of long-term damages. (I once was in a house with an iron-lung patient. That was terrifying.)

    The folks who talk about boosting immune systems should try thinking of vaccines as informing the immune system … which is boosting it.

  7. 7

    I grew up in the age when measles, mumps, and chickenpox were common. I got them all. And, I remember being miserably sick.

    My parents both had the mumps as adults. Not a pretty sight!

    Another consideration. I didn’t just catch the measles once. I had them three times! The first time I had the measles, I was too young to develop immunity. Not only did I get them a second time, I also got a different version for a third go-round. I was sick three times for something that is now preventable.

    And, the same thing happened with chicken-pox. The first time, I again, was too young too young to develop immunity, so had to go through it all again when I was older.

    My brother got the chicken pox, and even had sores in his mouth.

    I was vaccinated for polio as a child, but I knew adults who had survived the disease, yet were horribly crippled.

  8. 8
    Mary in Austin

    I almost died from pneumonia, a complication of measles. I was a small child in the days before a measles vaccine was available. I still remember the air hunger; it was terrifying. Children should be vaccinated for vaccine-preventable diseases. Not to do so is criminal neglect, no matter what the University of Google says.

  9. 9

    ” I’m pretty sure if it were their child who suffered from a severe reaction, they wouldn’t be saying “my child died as a result of being vaccinated, but that’s ok.. at least I did my part in protecting the herd”.”

    This seems like an argument that is *SO* tailored to the US – it’s the whole ‘demanding that I do something for the HERD will kill MY KID who isn’t just some MEMBER OF THE HERD!” It’s practically an Ayn Rand style attack on ‘collectivism.’ Some human beings are actually able to understand that the best strategy for all of us might occasionally not be great for them personally, and they can accept that.

  10. 10

    And in this case (and most cases of acting in the interest of the group) you’re making a good outcome more likely for all– increasing your own child’s chances AND contributing to herd immunity by getting them vaccinated! Even if your child dies, you still did the responsible thing at the time by making that death much less probable. Putting your child in a proper car seat and buckling them up doesn’t guarantee their survival either, but it increases the odds in their favor.

  11. 11
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Well, you know, for every middle class naturopath mum there is a middle class dad who doesn’t give a fuck. It’s easy to talk about this in terms of gullible women and sceptical men when you ignore the underlying causes. Family health care is usually dumped onto women. You don’t get hoodwinked by something you never hear about.If you ask 100 fathers in the west about the vaccination status of their children, at least 90 would tell you to ask their mother.

  12. 12

    Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but it was my understanding that VAERS doesn’t establish causality.

    Correct. VAERS is also obliged to take any report it gets, regardless of the probability that the incident is related to vaccination. In one notorious example, a man reported that the vaccine turned his son into the Incredible Hulk. The only reason the report was withdrawn was that the person making the report did it to demonstrate that VAERS data can be manipulated this way. If he’d insisted on leaving the report in, the people running VAERS would have no choice but to leave it in.

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