I read a post today in the science section of WordPress that made me shake my head in disappointment, and it was about vaccines. I use the word disappointment for two reasons. First, I always find it tragic when people reject evidence and reason in favor of their own personal bias. And second, that this was posted in the science section at all says a lot, because as you’re about to see there’s nothing scientific about it at all. If anything, this post serves to highlight the fact that many Americans are scientifically illiterate. I feel that the post and more importantly the responses in the comments section represent everything that’s wrong with the anti-vaccination movement, in particular the logical fallacies that they rely upon. I won’t bother wasting my time posting what the current science does say about vaccines because rational people already know it and anti-vaccine advocates won’t listen to it; I think highlighting the lack of logic in the ideas presented by the people of this movement will suffice. First, a link to the post to which I shall be referring:
Let’s go through the holes in the argument as they crop up, shall we?
1. In regard to an article in The Daily Beast, the author has this to say:
Say what? 3 WHOLE CASES? 5 hospitalizations? And 2 cases were transmitted right in a doctors office?
And this is what we call an outbreak? And we blame the unvaccinated? I honestly wonder how an “outbreak” such as this can warrant an article titled: “Thanks, Anti-Vaxxers. You Just Brought Back Measles in NYC”. Is it just me, or have we completely lost grasp of what true journalism is?
First of all, I’m not exactly sure what qualifies this woman to lecture me and everyone else about what constitutes “true journalism.” I guess if she posts a picture of her with her Pulitzer prize I’ll reconsider. Just because you personally don’t like a story doesn’t mean it doesn’t have merit. But the larger gap in logic is the idea of what constitutes an “outbreak.” Curiously, although not surprisingly, the author offers no clarification here; nowhere does she inform us of exactly what she does consider an outbreak. So how many people does it take before disease becomes a problem, hmm? 1,000? 10,000? Who knows. Rather than offer any actual facts or information, the author just blindly blasts the reporting.
Even disregarding all of this, though, there is still one huge fact that the author of this piece apparently doesn’t realize or overlooked: all outbreaks start with a single person. There’s never a situation where 10,000 people simultaneously and independently contract the same disease at exactly the same time (unless we’re talking about food poisoning, but the author is clearly talking about MMR with this post). That’s not how the chain of transmission works.
2. In 2000 (the year measles was “eliminated” from the US) there were 86 cases. So I guess somehow the difference between the 189 cases in 2013 and 86 cases in 2000, all 103 of those new cases are considered “outbreaks” and are caused by the small percentage of unvaccinated children? Totally logical, right?
Sigh. Where to begin. First of all, the fact that there were 189 cases in 2013 and 86 in 2000 doesn’t mean that there were only 103 new cases during that decade, but only when comparing those two years. Seems like basic reading comprehension, but apparently not. Again, we’re dealing with someone who is asserting their own, subjective definition of what an outbreak is. And again, I don’t exactly know what qualifies the author as someone who has any knowledge or authority on the subject other than the ability to use Google.
3. And then there’s this little gem:
I love how the original article states: “Most patients recover after an unpleasant but relatively uneventful period of sickness”. Yep, big bad scary measles. Seriously, how have we let measles become so scary? In a healthy child, the symptoms are nothing more than a common cold.
Here’s what having the measles looks like:
Yep, looks exactly like the common cold. I know that when I get the common cold, I break out in a rash that covers my entire body. Oh, wait, I don’t. Which leads to the author’s next point…
4. As the article suggests, how do we actually know 1 -3 cases per 1,000 in the United States result in death? We don’t.
And here come the conspiracy theories. Yeah how do we know? I mean, it’s not like people are paid to track and record these things…a-a-and even if they were, you can’t trust the government! The CDC is lying to you about measles, man! Because…something. 1-3 deaths per year seems like a pretty stupid thing to lie about. One would think, if one were using logic, that if the CDC were going to lie, they’d either exaggerate the numbers to fear-monger (and thus promote further and more extensive vaccination), or they’d say there were zero deaths to make vaccines look like a success. But logic and reason are two things that escape anti-vaccine advocates.
5. Next, we’re treated to this fascinating piece of logic and the following graphic:
You can’t vaccinate believing that your children are protected and then feel that your children are not protected because somehow, some non-vaccinated child is carrying some secret organism that no-one else is carrying. You can’t have it both ways. It just doesn’t make any sense”. -–Dr. Palevsky, board certified pediatrician in New York
At this point, me reading the article looks something like this:
Not surprisingly, the author (and somehow a board certified physician…) totally missed the mark. We aren’t concerned about the vaccinated children, we’re concerned about the ones who AREN’T vaccinated. And the immunocompromised kids, let’s not forget that they have a right not to contract measles, mumps, or rubella. The purpose of herd immunity isn’t to protect the vaccinated, it’s to protect the individuals who aren’t immune. Like your children, who you refuse to vaccinate. The more people who aren’t immune, the more people that are at risk for infection. See how that works? That’s why Public health is–shocker!–interested in vaccination. Vaccinating people not only protects the people who do get immunized, it also protects the people who can’t or won’t.
6. The article ends with the piece de resistance of fallacy in a letter to “Big Pharma”:
You got greedy and added 49 vaccines to the childhood schedule before a child starts Kindergarten. You created an entire generation of sick children. We know them as vaccine injured child.
Well, as a nurse who works in a clinic where we do vaccinate children, I can tell you that there are only 14 diseases on the CDC vaccination schedule. I’m looking at it right now. And of those 14, not all of them are required by law. And in the state where I live, only 6 are required to go to school. So I don’t know where this “49” number comes from other than perhaps thin air or someone’s ass. Even if you counted individual shots, the total number of injections you’d need to legally enter Kindergarten in this state is 14, not 49. So…yeah, there’s that.
But let’s tackle that last idea, “vaccine injury.” Sounds scary, right? As I’ve mentioned in past posts about this very subject, every single drug comes with a risk of adverse reaction. So unless these parents are not giving their kids medication of ANY kind, there’s a gap in logic here. And again, not shockingly, we don’t get any information about exactly how many children are “vaccine injured” each year. Nor do we get any information about what exactly constitutes a vaccine injury and whether or not any of said injuries are reversible or temporary. No, all we get is a bunch of conspiracy theory hogwash and fear-mongering about “big pharma.”
7. And last, but certainly not least, is the comments section. Here are a few selected comments:
Ask a parent who does not vaccinate and get ready for hours and hours of PROVEN stats and facts followed by the fact that they LOVE their child MORE than they TRUST their doctor.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never seen love prevent or cure polio. But it doesn’t matter because it’s PROVEN. When you spell in all caps, you can’t argue. Caps lock trumps science.
As a child I got the measles after my vaccine at age 4. Light case of course & then again when I needed my 2nd mmr at age 18 in college. So yes I had a reaction to the vaccine twice. Needless to say both of my boys are unvaccinated (perhaps your case of measles was only a light one precisely because you’d already been vaccinated, genius).
My sister got whooping cough after her DPT shot.
Since, I’ve become aware it is truly alarming the number of people I know who got the disease the vaccine was supposed to protect them from, were vaccine injured or died immediately following vaccination to be told something else killed them.
And these comments bring me to my final point. So much of the anti-vaccine movement and sentiment is based upon anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence, as any credible scientist will tell you, is the weakest form of evidence. It’s incredibly difficult to test and verify, and it doesn’t at all take into account lurking or confounding variables. How many people have you heard make claims like, “My sister has a friend who couldn’t lose weight no matter what diet she tried.” Or how about the also oft heard, “No matter how much he exercises, my cousin’s fiance can’t seem to lose weight.” Well, if you used the exact same logic that these anti-vaccine people used, then you’d eventually conclude that diet and exercise do not affect weight loss at all, ever. Now how many of us actually believe that? What does science say about that? The fact that so much of the anti-vaccination movement relies upon second and third hand stories as “proof” speaks volumes about the house of cards they’ve built.