The information below began as a blog comment at Bad Astronomy, in an effort to address the common myths and misinformation spouted by those who are against vaccines (anti-vaxers), though the information can also be useful for some general vaccine questions that are not necessarily “anti-vax”. At the urging of others and with the help of Eric TF Bat, this information now has a permanent home. It is intended as a resource for arguing the primary points made by anti-vaxers and is not offered as medical advice. I strongly encourage you to follow the links in the text and under the Additional Resources section. Finally, please feel free to send me feedback and let me know your thoughts and questions, as well as letting me know if any of the links are broken. And if you like what you see here, please share on Twitter, Google+ or your social media of choice. Enjoy!
Table of Contents
- Hep B
- Other Vaccines Additives
- Influenza and H1N1
- Vaccine Court and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)
- Vaccines in General
- Population X and Vaccines/Autism
- 9 Questions That “Stump” Every Pro-Vaccine Advocate
- Additional Resources
- Some in the anti-vax movement claim that the MMR has/had mercury in it. However, the MMR vaccine does not and never has had any mercury in it.
- The basis of the “MMR vaccine causes autism” argument is a flawed study (retracted by The Lancet on February 2, 2010) by Andrew Wakefield, who had several ethics breaches, including failure to disclose financial compensation from a lawyer representing families claiming MMR cause their children’s autism, failure to disclose financial interests in patents for MMR alternatives, failure to include data which contradicted his conclusions, use of contaminated samples to support his conclusions. Furthermore, on January 28, 2010, Wakefield and two of his co-authors, John Angus Walker-Smith and Simon Harry Murch, were found by the UK.’s General Medical Council to have acted irresponsibly, dishonestly and not in the clinical interests of the children involved in the study (PDF Link). The basis for this decision included, among other things, colonoscopies, MRIs and lumbar punctures (spinal taps) when such procedures were not clinically indicated. On May 24, 2010, the General Medical Council issued a determination that Wakefield and Walker-Smith (PDF links) were guilty of professional misconduct and should be erased from the Medical Register in the U.K. (meaning that his license to practice medicine in the U.K. has been revoked).
- A 2009 study, titled “Lack of association between measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism in children: a case control study” examined whether there was a relationship between MMR and autism and concluded that there was no association. This study is one of the latest in the stack of evidence against a connection. (See also SBM’s topic-based reference for more studies.)
- Independent studies trying to replicate Wakefield’s results have come up negative. To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between vaccines and autism.
- Many opponents of the MMR will claim that the diseases prevented are mild and not dangerous. This is not the case, as can be seen in numerous outbreaks around the world. Measles can lead to encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in about 1 of every 1,000 individuals, possibly leading to death. Mumps can lead to sterility in adult men, swollen ovaries or breasts in adult women and miscarriage in pregnant women, as well as encephalitis. Rubella (German measles) can cause encephalitis, as well as birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman. There is also some evidence to suggest that infection with rubella while pregnant is the cause of some cases of autism. While the majority of individuals who contract measles, mumps or rubella will survive with little or no lasting ill effects, there is still a significant risk of permanent injury or death. The MMR vaccine can help to greatly reduce the risk of not only contracting the illnesses, and thereby reducing the risk of serious complications, but also to reduce the risk of passing the diseases on to others.
- Many anti-vaxers express concern over the hepatitis B vaccine, often claiming that hepB is a sexually transmitted disease. While that is primarily true, it can be transmitted via other means, such as “Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person”. What this means is that if an infant comes in contact with the body fluids of an infected individual (e.g., family, hospital visitors, undiagnosed hospital staff, children at day care or day care workers), then they can contract the disease. This can be quite serious, because the younger a person is when infected, the more likely they are to develop chronic infection, which can lead to liver cancer and other serious complications.
- Another concern expressed by anti-vaxers regards the amount of aluminum in the vaccine. See below, under Other Vaccine Additives for more information addressing this concern.
- Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in the manufacturing process of some vaccines and other medicines to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, which could otherwise cause illness or injury.
- It metabolizes into ethylmercury, not methylmercury, a mistake commonly made by anti-vaxers who claim that the amount of mercury that used to be in vaccine exceeded EPA exposure guidelines of .1mcg/kg/day. Those guidelines are for methylmercury, a compound that has a half-life in the body of several weeks to months and is often found in fish or other environmental exposures. Ethylmercury, on the other hand, has a half-life of a few days to about a week, meaning that it is not in the body long enough for it to build up to toxic levels from vaccination to vaccination.
- Concern has been raised about ethylmercury in thimerosal causing damage to the brain. However, this compound does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier. Some may counter this by talking about inorganic mercury, but this form of mercury, also, does not readily cross the barrier; only prolonged (regular) exposure to mercury leads to accumulation in the central nervous system. Moreover, total mercury levels that do accumulate in the brain are cleared much more rapidly after ethylmercury exposure than after methylmercury exposure (though limitations of the linked study are that it was done in animals and overall dosing may not accurately reflect dosing in humans, among other criticisms).
- Using the EPA guidelines for methylmercury, a 3.2 kg newborn could be exposed to .32mcg of methylmercury every day without adverse health effects. This amounts to 116.8mcg of methylmercury in the course of a year, assuming an exposure of .1mcg/kg every single day. This also assumes that the child does not gain any weight over the course of that year, which would drive the adverse effect-free exposure limit higher. Keeping in mind that ethylmercury is eliminated significantly faster than methylmercury, the maximum 25mcg/dose of ethylmercury in a thimerosal-containing flu shot is much lower than the EPA one-year exposure. Therefore, unless the child is regularly exposed to other sources of mercury, it is highly unlikely that the minute amounts in a flu vaccine will cause any adverse developmental effects. But, for those who are still concerned about thimerosal, thimerosal-free versions of the flu vaccine are available (see below).
- Some people say that you get much less mercury when you eat it than when you inject it. Looking at the most common form of ingested mercury (methylmercury), which is found in varying amounts in nearly all seafood, we will see that there is actually greater exposure from eating 6 oz. of white tuna, for example, than receiving one flu shot, the only recommended vaccine that has greater than trace amounts, though thimerosal-free versions are available. According to the DHHS Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, roughly 95% of ingested methylmercury is absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines), from whence it can then spread to other body organs. White albacore tuna contains about .407 ppm (mcg/g) methylmercury. A 6 oz. (170 g) can of white tuna would then contain on average about 69.19 mcg of mercury (170 g * .407 mcg/g = 69.19 mcg). Eating the full 6 oz. can, then, would mean that you are absorbing 65.73 mcg of methylmercury. That’s over two and a half times the amount of mecury from a thimerosal-containing flu vaccine (which tops out at 25 mcg/dose). And remember, the methylmercury from the tuna sticks around much longer than the ethylmercury from the vaccine.
- It was removed from the final product of nearly all U.S. vaccines around 2001/2002. This was a political move, due in large part to public pressure, rather than based on sound science. This was a recommendation rather than a regulatory requirement. A handful of studies that suggested problems with thimerosal, but which were inconclusive, prompted a “better safe than sorry” approach from the FDA while the issue was investigated by FDA, CDC and others. No follow-up studies have found any health risks beyond local hypersensitivity.
- Some vaccines still use it during the manufacturing process, but remove it from the final product, leaving, at most, trace amounts. The influenza vaccine still uses thimerosal, though thimerosal-free versions are available.
- Despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, resulting in exposure levels lower than anytime in the past, autism rates have not declined, suggesting that there is no connection between thimerosal and autism.
- To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between thimerosal and autism.
- Vaccines contain formaldehyde. It is used during the manufacturing process, but is diluted to remove it from the finished product, leaving only small or trace amounts. The total amount of formaldehyde in a finished product is far less than what is naturally found in the human body. For example, at any given time, an average newborn would have about 575-862μg of formaldehyde circulating in their blood naturally.
- The chemical structure of the formaldehyde in vaccines is the same as that produced by our own bodies: one carbon atom, two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. Because of this, the body does not treat it any differently than what our bodies produce after eating, say, an apple, banana or carrot.
- Formaldehyde actually plays an important role in our metabolism. Our bodies use formaldehyde to create amino acids, like adenine and guanine, as well as the nucleotide thymidine.
- According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, humans can consume 0.2mg of formaldehyde per kilogram of weight every day without seeing any adverse effects. When setting these levels, the EPA uses a safety buffer of about 10-100 times, meaning that the true safe level for daily exposure is likely around 2-20mg/kg every day.
- The most formaldehyde that a child is likely to receive via vaccines is probably at the 6 month visit, when they may get HepB, DTaP, IPV and possibly inactivated influenza, for a maximum of 307.5μg (.31mg). Compare this to a single apple, which contains 428.4-1,516.4μg (.43-1.51mg) of formaldehyde.
- The bottom line is that formaldehyde in vaccines does not pose a health risk to children. A more complete explanation of formaldehyde and its role in health and vaccines can be found here.
- Some anti-vaxers claim that squalene, a vaccine adjuvant is toxic and caused Gulf War Illness (GWI) in soldiers that received the anthrax vaccine, supposedly contaminated with squalene. However, a comprehensive review of GWI by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses observed that not only did the vaccine not cause GWI, but that the lots implicated did not contain any squalene as an adjuvant (instead, the anthrax vaccine used aluminum hydroxide). Like other claims, the anti-vaxers have no quality studies to support their contention that squalene causes severe adverse reactions.
- According to the same GWI review, squalene is “an oily substance that naturally occurs in plants and animals. It is found in a variety of foods, lotions, and cosmetics. It is also used as a food supplement and has been postulated to provide therapeutic benefits. In humans, squalene is synthesized by the liver as a precursor to cholesterol, and circulates in the blood.”
- Squalene appears to be an effective and safe adjuvant, based on a PubMed search revealing several studies examining its use in vaccines.
- It should also be noted that squalene is offered in pill form by a variety of organic and natural food stores, as well as makers of dietary supplements. Squalene is also promoted as a moisturizer.
- Some anti-vaxers claim there is antifreeze in vaccines. This is false. Antifreeze is ethylene glycol. Vaccines use polyethylene glycol. These are different substances, the latter of which is not toxic. More info can be found at Inside Vaccines.
- Vaccines contain aluminum in a salt form. Anti-vaxers claim this is toxic, and some will cite that 4ppm will cause blood to coagulate. However, individuals are not exposed to such amounts of aluminum in a single vaccination visit. Below are the vaccines containing aluminum, with the corresponding parts per million (ppm) for an infant (~251 mL of blood in the body) and an 80lb. child (~4000 mL of blood); note the two numbers for DTaP represent extreme ranges of aluminum content.:
|ppm (w/v) = (weight in grams of sample/volume of sample in mL) * 106|
|Vaccine||ppm in infant||ppm in child||age received (in months)|
|DTaP (170mcg)||.677||.043||2, 4, 6, w/ final ~4-6 yrs|
|Hep A||.996||.063||12 w/ final ~6 mo. later|
|Hep B||.996||.063||birth, 1 or 2, final at 6+|
|HPV||.896||.056||11 or 12 yrs., then 2, 6 mo.|
|Pediatrix||3.386||.213||2, 4, 6 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and Hep B)|
|Pentacel||1.315||.083||2, 4, 6, 15-18 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and HiB)|
|Pneumococcus||.498||.031||2, 4, 6, 12-15|
- Some anti-vaxers claim that the HepB vaccine, for example, exceeds federal regulations of aluminum exposure. However, they cite the 25mcg/L for large volume parenteral (LVP) nutrition products (21 CFR 201.323),which are given chronically over the course of days or weeks, rather than the regulations governing adjuvants. 21 CFR 610.15 lists the maximum amount of aluminum per dose in vaccines, depending on the method of calculation. This ranges from .85mg (that’s milligrams) to 1.25 mg. HepB vaccine contains 250 mcg (that’s micrograms) per dose, or .25mg. LVPs typically come in packages of 100 mL or more and are administered intravenously (i.e., directly into the bloodstream). Total parenteral nutrition therapy (TPN), which uses LVPs, is typically indicated for nutritional supplementation for >10 days given at about 2 L/day. So, assuming a case requiring TPN for 10 days, the individual would be exposed to 500 mcg, twice the amount in the vaccine.
- Further, about 71% of the aluminum is excreted from the body after about 5 days or so.
With H1N1 being all over the media this year, there is a lot of misinformation about the virus and the vaccine. Here are some of the more common claims heard:
- Many people claim that the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine was fast-tracked through production and did not undergo proper testing. In reality, the vaccine went through the same process as the seasonal flu vaccine. Unlike the seasonal flu, which requires several months of study each year to determine which strains to include, the H1N1 strain was known, negating months of research. The initial occurrence of H1N1 also came at a time when production of a vaccine would not interfere with seasonal vaccine production, which had just finished, and when resources (e.g., chicken eggs for growing the virus) were still available.
- Some claim that the H1N1 vaccine contains adjuvants, such as aluminum salts, AS03 or MF59 (aka squalene). After initial efficacy testing, however, the CDC determined that an adjuvant would not be required. Therefore, all forms of the H1N1 vaccine in the United States are adjuvant-free.
- Inevitably, someone brings up the 1976 swine flu vaccine in an attempt to show the purported dangers of the new vaccine. They will cite that the vaccine killed more people than the flu. They will also state that the vaccine induced Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in recipients. Although technically true, they are misleading. The 1976 strain infected around 13 individuals and killed one. The vaccine was given to 48.2 million people, with 25 deaths linked to the vaccine, a rate of about 1 per 2.5 million. In addition, around 532 vaccine recipients developed GBS, a rate of about 1 per 100,000, only slightly above GBS rates in unvaccinated populations. The vaccine was distributed before the 1976 strain was fully understood. While it shared a lot of similarities with the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, thus raising fears of significant deaths, the 1976 strain did not spread beyond Fort Dix. In contrast, the current 2009 H1N1 strain has already spread around the world. So, in 1976, the government, media and the public jumped the gun, reacting before enough information was understood. Click the links in this paragraph for more information.
- The severity of H1N1, and seasonal flu in general, is often brushed off. People will claim that if infected, you will only be sick for a week, and then you’ll be fine. For the majority of cases, that is true. However, the seasonal flu kills, on average, around 30,000 people in the U.S., and 500,000 worldwide, each year. The 2009 H1N1 strain appears to have a similar severity as seasonal flu, though the burden is shifted toward younger individuals. Even individuals who survive may still require hospitalization. An October online early release study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that critical illness occurred very rapidly after hospitalization, primarily in young adults, necessitating the use of mechanical ventilation and other rescue therapies. With the combination of seasonal flu and H1N1 occurring at the same time, there are some fears that there may be a shortage of ventilators and support staff.
- Another common myth is that you can get the flu from the vaccine. With the flu shot, that cannot happen, as the vaccine uses an inactivated (killed) virus. The inhaled formulation uses a live, weakened virus, so it may cause mild flu-like symptoms, and there is a small chance of spreading the vaccine virus to close contacts. Generally, only minor local reactions occur. More serious reactions with either (e.g., headache, nausea, etc.) generally go away in 1 to 2 days, instead of the week or longer of more severe symptoms that true influenza infection would cause.
- Generally speaking, both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines are safe and effective. However, it must be noted that some people should take care when receiving the vaccine (e.g., those with severe allergies to eggs, though those with minor allergies may still be able to receive it without risk). If you have any questions or concerns, consult your physician.
- Anti-vaxers claim that polio rates increased after the introduction of the polio vaccine, that OPV spread the disease, and that polio was on a decline before introduction of the vaccine. This is wrong.
- Before the approval of the vaccine, paralytic polio struck 13,000-20,000 individuals every year in the U.S. The number of cases peaked at 21,000 in 1952, only three years before approval of the vaccine. By 1960, there were only 2,525 cases, and only 61 cases in 1965.
- The oral polio vaccine (OPV) was nearly 100% effective in preventing polio, though it did have a very small risk of causing paralytic polio in the recipient. OPV-caused paralytic polio resulted in about 6-8 cases per year. However, when vaccination rates were low, OPV had the added benefit of contact immunity. In other words, the virus from the vaccine was present in the stool, resulting in about 25% of people who came in contact with the immunized person would also become immune.
- With the eradication of wild type polio in the U.S., the OPV vaccine is no longer used, and the less effective inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is used. This version does not cause paralytic polio. OPV has not been used in the U.S. since 2000.
- The most prominent argument against the HPV vaccine Gardasil is that it has been linked to 53 deaths (as of June 2009). These reports were made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Of these, 30 reported deaths were confirmed to have occurred, but no causal link to the vaccine was found after investigation. Based on the evidence available, therefore, it does not appear that the vaccine causes death.
- A post-market surveillance study by the CDC found that the rate of reported deaths (including anaphylaxis) was 0.1 per 100,000 doses distributed. Their conclusion was that reported adverse events did not differ significantly from vaccines in general.
- Further arguments against Gardasil mention fainting after immunization. This is a known possible side effect of some vaccines and is included in the package insert. The insert also includes recommendations to observe the patient for at least 15 minutes after injection to ensure the patient does not fall or suffer injury.
- Anti-vaxers claim that Hannah Poling and Bailey Banks are examples of successful Vaccine Court cases where vaccines caused autism. This is wrong.
- Hannah Poling was found to have a mitochondrial disorder (MD), and that the vaccine worsened her condition. The court did not rule that a vaccine caused autism. Note, mitochondrial disorder is not autism, though some in the anti-vax camp claim it is.
- Bailey Banks was found to have suffered acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), not autism. This disease occurs in approximately 1 or 2 per million vaccine recipients, compared with 1 per 1,000 individuals infected with measles and 1 per 500 rubella infections. The court ruled that this is a type of pervasive developmental disorder, but made clear that it is not autism. Like the Poling case, anti-vaxers try to distort the truth to make their case. In the case of ADEM, vaccination helps reduce the risk of contracting the disease by reducing the likelihood of natural infection.
- Despite the low standards of proof in the vaccine court (more likely than not, or 50% + a hair), no one has been able to establish a causal relationship between vaccines and autism.
- In three of the best cases put forth by the anti-vax movement, the court ruled in all three that vaccines did not cause the individuals’ autism.
- Before VICP, the media fueled fears about vaccines, leading to increases in law suits and many manufacturers halting production of vaccines altogether. The VICP was proposed by a coalition of government, health organization, and industry representatives, as well as physicians and ordinary citizens as a means to ensure a suitable supply of vaccines while allowing legal recourse to those injured by vaccines.
- Individuals may still seek damages through the tort system, if they choose, though they must then prove not only that the vaccine caused the injury, but also that the manufacturer was at fault.
- Very often, anti-vaxers will point to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database to collect reports of adverse events associated with vaccines, as evidence of the harm that vaccines do. It is a publicly searchable database sponsored by FDA and CDC, to which anyone can submit a report. Healthcare professionals and vaccine manufacturers are required by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) to report adverse events occurring after administration of a vaccine. In this regard, VAERS serves as a useful tool for identifying possible trends in safety data that might call for further investigation or more immediate action.
- As useful a tool as VAERS is, it has several important limitations. One of these that is, perhaps, most important when dealing with anti-vax claims is that it does not establish causality. In other words, the reports found in VAERS cannot be taken at face value as meaning that a vaccine caused a specific effect. Many of the reports may be merely coincidental. Some may be spurious. Others may actually have a real, rather than merely apparent, connection between the vaccine and the outcome.
- An oft-quoted example of just how unreliable VAERS can be can be found from James R. Laidler, MD. Dr. Laidler submitted a report to VAERS that the influenza vaccine had turned him into The Hulk. The report was accepted and posted to the database. As Dr. Laidler reports, he was contacted by a representative because the AE was so unusual. They asked his permission to delete the report from the database, after discussing it with him, and he agreed. Had he not given his permission, the report would still be in the VAERS database.
- In the end, while VAERS can be a good tool for finding possible trends of vaccine-related adverse events, it is also open to being skewed by bad data. Compound this with lobbying, grass-roots efforts to get people to report certain events, and the data become horribly polluted with potentially misleading information. Why is this important? Well, it means that when searching VAERS, the results need to be taken with a substantial grain of salt, and that further, more in-depth inquiry is needed. Secondly, it means that mass-reporting of spurious connections can divert scarce resources away from investigating real health risks to chase after ghosts.
- Anti-vaxers want vaccines that are 100% safe. This is never going to happen, as all medicines carry some risk. However, the relative risk of injury from vaccines is significantly lower than the risk of injury from getting the disease naturally. Prometheus, at Photon In the Darkness, explains how to calculate the risk of injury from the disease and the risk of injury from the vaccine. He also describes common errors that anti-vaxers make when determining the risk of injury from diseases and vaccines. For more information, see the CDC website.
- Reduced vaccination rates lead to higher incidents of infection. This has been illustrated in the U.K. following Wakefield’s bogus study, in Germany in 2006 (including two deaths in unvaccinated children), in California, in MN (where an unvaccinated child died from hemophilus influenza type b).
- Anti-vaxers claim that “Big Pharma” and physicians alike make lots of money from vaccines. If vaccination rates dropped, however, there would be an increase in preventable illnesses, many of which have high rates of complications resulting in hospitalization and expensive treatment. See the link about Germany above for information on costs associated with the measles outbreak there. The money to be made from the diseases far outweighs any money to be made from vaccines. Add to that fact an article from Sept. 11, 2009 showing that some doctors cannot afford to give vaccines due to lack of reimbursement from insurance companies.
- Anti-vaxers claim that better hygiene has led to a decrease in disease, rather than vaccines. However, many of the diseases prevented by vaccines are airborne, and are not greatly impacted by improved sanitation or hygiene.
- Some anti-vaxers claim that diseases such as smallpox or polio have not been affected by vaccines, but rather that these diseases were merely renamed. For example, some claim that smallpox was not eradicated, instead being renamed chicken pox. Similarly, they may say that paralytic polio was simply renamed meningitis. The problem with this claim is that these diseases are caused by very different entitities. Smallpox was caused by the Variola virus. Chicken pox is caused by the virus Varicella zoster. These viruses have different proteins, which result in different diseases. Likewise, polio is caused by poliovirus, while meningitis can be caused by a number of other viruses, like enteroviruses, coxsackieviruses, and echoviruses, not to mention the viruses that cause mumps, herpes or influenza. The viruses that cause of these diseases can be clearly identified and differentiated from other viruses. With that in mind, the claim that diseases have simply been renamed falls flat.
- Anti-vaxers claim that too many antigens (the parts that make the vaccines work) are given at once, ignoring that infants and children are exposed to thousands of antigens every day by touching things and putting their hands or the object in their mouth, through absorption or by inhaling.
- They claim that combination shots should be avoided, and that parents should break up the vaccinations into individual vaccines and spread them out. However, this increases the total number of shots received, as well as exposure to those various “toxins” they hate so much.
- Some in the anti-vax movement say that an alternate, spaced-out schedule is better, yet they have no scientific studies to support such a protocol. In fact, a study published online in the journal Pediatrics on May 24, 2010 shows that children vaccinated on schedule do not show adverse outcomes as compared to those who received fewer vaccines or vaccines on a delayed schedule. They also claim that the schedule recommended by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics is not backed up by science. This is not true. Each year, the schedule is reviewed in the light of the latest scientific studies on vaccines and revised as necessary, with the newest recommendations being published each January.
- Another claim made by anti-vaxers is that so-called “natural” immunity (i.e., immunity gained by infection with the disease) is better or lasts longer than immunity gained by a vaccine. This is not necessarily true. For example, natural immunity to pertussis, wears off after about 4-20 years and the vaccine-induced immunity wears off after 4-12 years. Therefore, even if an individual had pertussis as a child, they may still become infected as an adult, suffering the full effects and passing it on to others.
- Some anti-vaxers will ask “why worry” whether they immunize their child or not, if you and your child(ren) have been immunized? There are a number of reasons. First, not everyone is able to be immunized, due to a variety of medical reasons (e.g., egg allergies, age, etc.). Second, vaccines are not 100% effective, though most are very close. This means that in order to prevent an outbreak, a high number of individuals needs to be immunized so that a virus or bacteria does not have enough potential hosts to sustain itself. There is a small possibility that even with vaccination, you will not gain immunity. Finally, there are some individuals (the elderly, AIDS patients, transplant recipients, some cancer patients, etc.) for whom vaccines just will not work or not work as well, because their immune system does not, or cannot, mount a full response to it. These individuals are also unlikely to gain immunity from infection, either. For all of these reasons, it is very important to keep vaccination rates up, so that those who do not or cannot benefit from vaccines are protected by herd immunity.
- There have been no properly controlled studies establishing a causal link between vaccines and autism.
- There have been numerous properly controlled studies sponsored and run by various people and organizations around the world that have shown no link between vaccines and autism.
- Anti-vaxers claim the Amish do not vaccinate and do not have autism. This stems from a lie by Dan Olmsted from Age of Autism. The Amish do, in fact, vaccinate, and it appears that their rates of autism may be lower than in the general population.
- Some claim that the Chinese do not have a word for autism (they do, it’s 自闭症 [zì bì zhèng]). And simply not having a word for the disease does not mean that it does not exist, merely that it is not recognized as a specific disorder. Did autism only afflict people after someone created the diagnosis? No, but it may have been called something else.
- The same claim about the Chinese has been made about Somalis due to a March 16, 2009 article about Somalis in Minnesota. Again, lack of recognition does not mean that the disease never occurred in the population. Further, the cases in Minnesota do not have a consistent connection to vaccines. Some of those with autism have been vaccinated, some have not. Despite a lack of evidence, Generation Rescue (which runs Age of Autism) has told the Somali parents that vaccines were the cause.
- Naturopath David Mihalovic came up with nine questions that he feels will stump pro-vaccine advocates. Dr. Mark Crislip has addressed these questions very well over at Science-Based Medicine. I will also add some of my own answers here. Please note, this is a work in progress; I have written answers to only a few of the supposed stumpers.
- 3. Could you please provide scientific evidence which can prove that disease reduction in any part of the world, at any point in history was attributable to inoculation of populations?
- Here are two studies (out of many) showing the efficacy of just the 7-valent pneumococcal vaccine:
- Immunization with the 7-valent conjugate pneumococcal vaccine: Impact evaluation, continuing surveillance and future perspectives. Angela Bechini, Sara Boccalini, Paolo Bonanni. Vaccine, Volume 27, Issues 25-26, Vaccines, Immunisation and Immunotherapy, Sixth World Congress of Vaccines, Immunisation and Immunotherapy, 26 May 2009, Pages 3285-3290
- Indirect Effect of 7-Valent Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine on Pneumococcal Colonization among Unvaccinated Household Members. Eugene V. Millar, James P. Watt, Melinda A. Bronsdon, Jean Dallas, Raymond Reid, Mathuram Santosham, and Katherine L. O’Brien Clinical Infectious Diseases 2008 47:8, 989-996
- Here are two studies (out of many) showing the efficacy of just the 7-valent pneumococcal vaccine:
- 5. Could you please provide scientific justification as to how injecting a human being with a confirmed neurotoxin is beneficial to human health and prevents disease?
- As Dr. Crislip mentioned, one assumes that Mr. Mihalovic means thimerosal (i.e., mercury) in this question. However, he could also mean aluminum, since that is also an oft-cited neurotoxin. The short answer is that the purpose of thimerosal and aluminum salts is not to prevent disease, but rather to prevent microbial contamination of a vaccine and to boost the immune response, respectively. So, this question is rather irrelevant.
- Though not used to prevent disease, but rather to treat the symptoms of a disease and benefit human health, one neurotoxin that is injected into human beings is botulinum toxin. Botulinum toxin is a neurotoxic protein that, in even small doses, is one of the most deadly neurotoxins known to humans. However, in small enough amounts, it actually has clinical benefit. For example, it is used to treat cervical dystonia, to decrease abnormal head position and reduce neck pain. However, its more famous application is as a cosmetic to reduce the appearance of fine wrinkles. The product’s name is Botox, which is proudly supported by Jenny McCarthy.
- 8. Could you please provide scientific justification on how a vaccine would prevent viruses from mutating?
- This is really a bit of a strawman argument. The purpose of vaccines is not to prevent a virus from mutating. The purpose of a vaccine is to prevent infection by a virus or bacterium. However, with certain viruses, like smallpox, effective vaccination programs can eliminate the virus before it has a chance to mutate. This works best with viruses or bacteria which are slow to mutate (e.g., DNA viruses), only infect humans and cannot survive for long outside of the host. The faster a virus or bacterium mutates, the more likely a person is to be reinfected (e.g., a person can catch the flu every year or potentially even multiple times within the same season) and the more often a vaccine is reformulated and administered (e.g., flu vaccine requires reformulation and readministration every year).
- Implied in this question is that other things (perhaps natural infection or naturopathy) can prevent a virus from mutating. That is simply wrong. If someone is infected, the immune system will try to stop the infection by killing the viruses. There is potential for some of the viruses to survive long enough to spread to another host. Those viruses can have some slight mutations that allowed them to survive long enough to reproduce. So, the only real way to stop a virus (or bacterium) from mutating is to kill every last one before it can reproduce and spread to a new host. Thus far, only vaccines have allowed us to accomplish this feat (e.g., smallpox).
Sites for info on vaccine safety, efficacy and general information:
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Get the Picture: Child Immunizations – YouTube video by the CDC
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Office for Human Research Protections – Office within the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services overseeing ethics in human research
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
- AAP FAQ
- The Childhood Immunization Schedule: Why Is It Like That?
- Health Canada
- Public Health Agency of Canada – Vaccine Safety
- Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness & Promotion (CCIAP)
- “Immunization: Get the Facts” – Pamphlet from CCIAP
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)
- U.K. Medicines and Health products Regulatory Agency
- Immunization Advisory Centre (IMAC) at the University of Aukland, New Zealand
- Australian Immunization Handbook – large pdf file
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Health Organization – “Global Immunization Data October 2008″
- Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO)
- Every Child By Two
- Vaccinate Your Baby
- Vaccine Information for the Public and Health Professionals – has links to photos and videos of the impact of vaccine-preventable diseases (warning: images can be graphic and disturbing)
- Vaccine Preventable Disease: The Forgotten Story – Book containing accounts of the costs of vaccine-preventable diseases
Sites for info on clinical trials and other research:
- Autism Science Foundation
- Respectful Insolence
- Science-Based Medicine
- BlogHer – “My Child Has Autism and I Vaccinate”
- Skeparent – “Why we changed our minds and started to vaccinate”
- Skeptic.com – “Vaccines and Autism: A Deadly Manufactroversy” – History of the anti-vax movement by Dr. Harriet Hall
- WiseGeek – “What is Herd Immunity?”
- Do Vaccines Cause Autism? Correlation vs. Causation (part 1 and part 2) – videos by a virologist
- The Skeptic’s Dictionary
- Silenced by Age of Autism – Comments censored from appearing on Age of Autism blog
- Social Influence and the Autism Epidemic – March 2010 American Journal of Sociology article examining the autism epidemic and social dynamics behind the rise in cases
- FRONTLINE: The Vaccine War – April 27, 2010 episode of PBS’ FRONTLINE focusing on the vaccine-autism issue; you can watch the full episode online here
- The History of Vaccines in America – Web resource for info on general info on vaccines, vaccine history, and links to sites both for and against vaccines
This content was posted by Todd W (todd [at] flurf (dot) net) on the Bad Astronomer‘s article Jim Carrey loves the pro-disease movement on Thursday 23 April 2009, and is reposted here as a courtesy to the author by Eric TF Bat (firstname.lastname@example.org). Special thanks to kill3rTcell for spotting typos and pointing me to more references.