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Dear Anti-Vaxxer: Yes, I do the research

October 1, 2012

One of the most frequently-sighted* comments from the anti-vax crowd to those who understand the safety and benefits of vaccinations is to “do the research”. It is never really clear what they mean by this, because they say it to nurses, MDs, DOs, and others with extensive training in healthcare and public health, such as people with Master’s Degrees in Public Health and PhDs in sciences related to human health. I have addressed the arrogance of this position before in this blog post.

So I’d like to take a moment to explain my story to anti-vaxxers in the hopes that they will understand that neither myself nor my colleagues are “brainwashed”, or “just swallowing what Big Pharma tells us”. First and foremost, I know very few scientists who enjoy just floating down the stream of science without making some waves of their own. We are trained during graduate school gestation to start questioning, criticizing, and picking apart the literature. We usually begin reading an article with the switch flipped to “skeptical” and not “thispaperistotallyconvincing”.  So let me tell you, anti-vaxxer, I have spent some time questioning vaccines. Yes, you read that right.

When we decided to start a family, I felt that I needed to make sure that vaccines were as safe and effective as was generally claimed. I then proceeded to make an error for which I berate others on a daily basis: I Googled. And that Google search led me to understand how tremendously powerful the anti-vaccine message is if you have no recourse to understand the vast swathes of misinformation used to craft that message. It appeals to our emotional centers, not our rational centers. I have used the analogy of plane crashes and fear of flying here before, but will expand on it more below.

When there is a plane crash, it is all over the news, and it’s terrifying. But it is also so rare that it is essentially a negligible risk, and we fly anyway; in fact, over 640 million people safely zipped through the skies at 500 mph and 25,000 feet in the United States during June 2011-June 2012. Yet, when a plane crashes, even highly-trained accident investigators are not immune to serious psychological reactions.  Anti-vax sites are very similar to a media story of a plane crash. They highlight an exceedingly rare, highly emotional event and conclude that because of these rare events, vaccination itself is not safe for the general population. In fact, both flying and vaccination are safe; yet hordes of people are terrified of these things, against all rational thought.

I was able to get past the emotional appeals of the anti-vax movement because I am lucky enough to have the training and access to read and understand peer-reviewed scientific papers. I must note that there are huge numbers of people without formal training who are also able to do the same, and/or who listen to the person in whom they have entrusted their child’s care: their pediatrician. Regardless, after being electrocuted by the anti-vax movement, I started reading the literature on PubMed and found that the “science” often spouted by anti-vaxxers was at its very best sketchy, but more often frankly disingenuous. And this made me pretty angry, actually.

What I want to the anti-vaxxer to know is that I have never stopped researching. I check the literature as it comes out and am reassessing things constantly. This is an argument that nobody wants to be on the wrong side of, including me. I check myself often. I ask myself, “Is it possible that HPV vaccine really is causing whatever disease the anti-vaxxers are claiming this week?”. Then I go into PubMed and read the latest research. Thus far, I have remained convinced that vaccinations are safe and effective. But I continue to “do the research” and “question everything”. So please, do not insult me and tell me that my colleagues and I don’t. We have, and we do, and the science remains on our side, not yours.

Here is a challenge for the anti-vaxxers out there. Try, for one day, to pretend like you understand that vaccines are safe and effective. Relax for a moment and let the truth of the science wash over you. Read the studies. Challenge your own beliefs. Open your mind to the possibility. I did it for your side, and now I ask you to try it for your kids.


*Public service announcement: The use of “sighted” here is meant to be a pun; a play on the fact that the works of anti-vaxxers are never “cited” but often “seen”. Maybe it’s a bad one, but it’s a pun nonetheless. Thank you for your attention.

From → vaccines

  1. noroom4angels permalink

    Thank you for a well written piece – non-scientists like me need folks like you who help us disseminate the info that comes down the pike. :) look forward to catching up on your past posts and reading new ones.

    • Thanks very much for your kind words and for stopping by, and thanks for the dissemination of good info that you yourself do.

  2. Yannis permalink

    Great points were made.
    I am also very happy that Noroom got the first comments. I have noticed the tendency of anti vaxxers to be very fast at commenting in blog posts that are against their point of view. Sadly most of the times is the same argument that you have heard over and over, even though it has been demonstrated to be erroneous.
    But the never ending fight has to be fought. Thanks for doing more than your part.

    • Thanks Yannis. I get anti-vaxxers here from time to time, and I’ve noticed that they generally travel in packs. I too have observed the phenomenon to which you allude: anti-vaxxers descend like vultures on any media report that is favorable to vaccines and pollute the comments sections with their misinformation. They actually encourage each other in this technique, and some groups have stated publicly that it is their goal to dump so much crap into the comments sections that a rational person wouldn’t even attempt to respond.

      Thank you for stopping by, and for fighting the good fight.

  3. Chris permalink

    I have similar discussions with anti-vacc friends as with anti-evolution friends and anti-global-warming friends: I understand your position, but it stands in contrast to scientific consensus. Your position may be a valid, but it is not scientific. If freedom of choice is more important to you than data, I understand, but yours is a philosophical position, not a scientific one.

    I heard somewhere that an interesting result of democratic culture is citizen-empowerment – the mentality that my opinion is as important as your opinion, regardless of the topic or my understanding of it. With enough support in our democracy, I could bring about a ban on the teaching of science (reading, math, etc.) in public schools altogether.

    Science needs better advocacy. Lately, business, politics, and pop culture lead strong anti-science arguments presented as debates against bad science.

  4. Do all the research you want, but so long as you respect big controlled, money hungry medical groups (and the doctors who trust them implicitly) to give you info that would put them out of business, you are never going to know the truth, and you will be in the sheep majority. When you find yourself with the position that hasn’t changed, and all the intelligent questioners are the one’s changing, no matter the position, you are being duped by some authority. DO YOUR RESEARCH. . .from worldwide stats and studies. (Don’t trust our government, trust the one’s who have left it, and now are whistle blowers.)

  5. ChrisKid permalink

    Angela, apparently you didn’t understand the article. Nowhere in it did he say that he was only reading reports put out by our government, or even in the U.S. I’d also have to question your assertion that ALL the intelligent questioners are changing to your point of view. It’s an iteresting covert slander of everyone who disagrees with you, but patently not true. You might want to try for rational thought next time.

    I’m very glad to see vaccine advocates being more outspoken and explaining the science that’s beyond the training of many of us. I’m also glad that when I started looking into this issue, the first ‘evidence’ that was presented to me by antivaxxers was so obviously ridiculous that it didn’t require any understanding to science or research to recognize that it was worthless. That encouraged me to look at other information with a bit more of a skeptical eye. I’m neither a scientist nor a statistician, but I do have a bit of the common sense that antivaxxers keep extolling. It has led me to see how foolish many of their claims are, such as Angela’s above.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Chris. As you say, all you need is a bit of common sense to see that the anti-vaxxers don’t have a leg to stand on.

  6. Your article.. was common sense personified logical an the writting was clear consice an relevant .

  7. Chumpmom permalink

    Actually, being skeptical of heavy metals, animal tissue and viruses, and known neuro-toxins being injected into the bloodstream of a small child in multiple doses appeals very heavily to my LOGICAL brain, not my emotional one…

    • Chumpmom, you will need to either provide links to reputable sources for your claims or you won’t be posting here much longer. You can start by finding a paper that shows that vaccines are injected “into the bloodstream”. Godspeed.

    • ChrisKid permalink

      I’d be skeptical of those things, too, Chumpmom. It’s a very good thing that none of those, except a weakened or dead form of the virus, is in any vaccine. It’s also a very good thing that no vaccine is injected into anyone’s bloodstream. Why anyone would choose virulent virus capable of causing disease over weakened virus only capable of stimulating immune response, doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not logical at all.

  8. Tabitha permalink

    You can keep your “science”
    I have a vaccine injured daughter and I need no further proof that vaccines are dangerous.

    • I have three daughters, fully vaccinated, that are healthy and thriving. YOU can keep YOUR science. I need no further proof that vaccines are safe.

      Then again, I had a cousin who drowned. So I need no further proof that water is dangerous.

      On the other hand, I survived a car accident because of my seat belt. I need no further proof that seat belts are safe.

      Quite to the contrary, a friend died from an electrolyte imbalance. I need no further proof that table salt is dangerous.

  9. Chumpmom permalink

    chriskid…where did you get all your “knowledge”? Do you actually think all that is in that vial is a purified weakened virus?…

    • Chris permalink

      Yes, do tell us what neurotoxin is in the DTaP vaccine that is worse than tetanospasmin, diphtheria toxin and pertussis toxin. One reason why antibiotics are not effective for those infections is because of the very real toxins pumped out by the bacteria.

      Please provide the title, journal and date of the PubMed indexed paper that shows the ingredients in the DTaP are more dangerous than the toxins created by the bacteria that cause diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. I want to know what kind of research you actually do.

  10. thirdwarning permalink

    All? No. But heavy metals, animal tissue (as if tissue could even get through the needle), and neurotoxins are not there. I’m very much afraid you’ve forgotten anything you might ever have learned about dose response. I’m also afraid you’ve let scary-sounding ingredients influence your feelings on the matter. This is why the background to understand what you’re reading is so very important.

  11. Bruce permalink

    Dear Pro-vaxxer,
    The primary issue is whether I get to evaluate the information for myself and make my own choice. When there is a possibility that my child could be hurt, it behooves me to inform myself of the risks and benefits, then do some soul searching, then make my choice. Then it is important that my choice be respected, whether it is for or against. Thank goodness that choice is still available to me.

    • Well Bruce, as it happens I agree with you. You can have a choice, and I support that. What I am working toward is the elimination of philosophical and religious vaccine exemptions, both of which are heartily abused by the anti-vax community. When and if such laws were passed–and they will be–you still wouldn’t have to vaccinate your children, they just wouldn’t be able to attend schools that receive funding from the state. Again, it’s totally your choice.

      Another thing my Mom taught me: I never, ever need to respect a dangerous and ill-informed opinion, and I don’t respect yours. Nor should anyone else.

  12. Tim Farrell permalink

    Maybe childhood illnesses are an evolutionary stimulus to boot up a stronger immune system and more developed neural network.
    There are millions of healthy people on the planet who have not been vaccinated to the extent of the current recommended “69 doses by the age of 18”. They are called our grandparents, great grand parents, and parents. Talk to them. There is a difference between arrogance and confidence in understanding what creates true health in a being.

    • Chris permalink

      Do tell us how well that worked for Roald Dahl’s oldest child when she got measles. Do tell us with your research how that benefited her children.

    • Red the Fister permalink

      Timmy, how on Earth could invasive pathogens be an “Evolutionary Stimulus to boot up a stronger immune system and more developed neural network.” have you ever seen, or read an account of, someone who survived Polio?
      OHOHOHHOHOHOOHHO!!! i got it!
      the reason that those “Millions of healthy people” are still around is because the weren’t killed by the likes of Polio, Measles, Mumps, Whooping cough or the Flu. what about all those millions and millions and millions who DID DIE of these preventable diseases?
      Next thing i know, you’re going to be saying, “oh, it’s been hundreds of years since teh Black-Death decimated Europe so it must be safe to snuggle up to flee-bitten Rats!.”
      Did you know that you won’t be affected by gravity, after walking off of a cliff, if you don’t look down!? it has to be true!

      • Chris permalink

        Malaria is one pathogen that has affected our genome. Because of it we have sickle cell anemia.

        I “love” the eugenics arguments by folks like Tim. It just reeks of their lack of research. It is not like he and his friends would ever bother picking up a biology or even a history book. They are the ones that get confused when told that Congenital Rubella Syndrome is a known cause of autism, and is what flooded institutions like Willobrook in the 1960s. Along with the kids who were permanently deafened, blinded and neurologically disabled with mumps, measles, Hib, etc. Because death is not the only outcome of the diseases.

        And another thing that is missed with the eugenics argument is that they claim certain children are more affected by the vaccines, so they should not get them. Yet they fail to answer if the child is adversely affected by vaccines, why would he/she fare better by actually getting the disease?

        • Exactly. I loathe the eugenics argument more than any other (including the Wakefield argument). I love how the anti-vaxxers always assume that they are somehow so superior, health-wise, that no pathogen will ever touch them or their offspring. This despite reams of data showing just the opposite.

      • Awesome post. Thanks.

    • Tim, I suggest that you read this. You have very little understanding of biology or epidemiology if you do not understand that everyone alive today had grandparents who survived without vaccines, and yes, I sure have talked with my own about the subject. Guess what? They think anti-vaccinators are insane. The people who are not posting on blogs are those whose grandparents died in childhood of VPDs.

      But tell us, Tim, what “creates true health in a being”? Sounds very woo-ish.

    • Thomas permalink

      I talked to my parents – they told me about their friends and relatives who were paralyzed or killed by the diseases you scoff at.

    • You’re absolutely right, Tim. My mother did survive measles.
      It was a neighborhood girl about her age that wasn’t as lucky. Oh, she survived – but with permanent brain damage.

      • Same for my mother. She lost one of her playmates to measles.

      • My great aunt permanently lost the use of one arm from polio. Sure as heck didn’t give her a “more developed neural network.”

    • Kelley permalink

      Tim, this family lost 8 of their 9 children to diptheria in a two week period. How was that beneficial?

  13. What is really sad about this entire discussion is the HATRED. Is this all it takes for you to act so hatefully towards another person?

    • Chris permalink

      Can you please be specific on how my comments are hateful? Am I supposed to like arguments for eugenics (survival of the fittest) as proposed by Tim? How was my question on the relative risks of the ingredients in the DTaP vaccine versus the toxins in the infectious hateful?

  14. Where is the hatred, EJ? I don’t see it. Harsh criticism of an irrational mindset, yes. Hatred? Not so much.

    • “I started reading the literature on PubMed and found that the “science” often spouted by anti-vaxxers was at its very best sketchy, but more often frankly disingenuous. ”

      The hate is just palpable in sentences like these. Next time, just step back, have a beer, and relax before you spew such vitriol. I’m sure you know that that the word “sketchy” is banned in a number of countries.

  15. “the word “sketchy” is banned in a number of countries”

    Really? Where?

    Good grief. As if dreaming up fictional vaccine ingredients weren’t enough, now there are etymological monsters galores! “Half-baked” and “exiguous” are probably banned on that planet as well.

    • I think you missed my intended humor, orleyspal. Though more likely, I’m just not very funny. Indeed, my intent was to point out that that Skewed has not, in fact, been acting hatefully.

  16. oops. needed to read back further. what a sketcher am I

  17. achilles permalink

    whatever, i love puns. that one was great.

  18. Ratty permalink

    Guess what. The Department of Health lists the very ingredients that ChrisKid denies are in vaccines .as being additives in our vaccines. Even the US government doesn’t lie about the ingredients. Why would you?

    • Hiya Ratty. Thanks for stopping by. You have a fundamental misunderstanding of the ingredients in vaccines. Read Chumpmom’s post carefully and compare to the vaccine ingredient list. You will find that they don’t match up.

  19. Ratty permalink

    I just looked up aluminum and mercury ( the site I gave you the link to states mercury is contained in thirmerosal. The definition of heavy metal includes those two, which was on Chumpmom’s list. Egg protein is a animal tissue. The info matches up perfectly. She did not even mention formaldehyde and MSG. The government website doesn’t seem to hide the fact that those are in vaccines, as well, so instead of just taking your word for it, I truly hope readers will check out the link I sent (official government stuff) and decide for themselves. Another link they can look at is this: (National Network for Immunization Information) which is by no means an anti-vaccine website. The fact that your statements are so easily contradicted on pro-vaccine websites does not help the agenda you’re pushing. Perhaps you want to explain my “fundamental misunderstanding of the ingredients” to further support your argument.

  20. Ratty permalink

    On a totally different note, I give you kudos for this blog’s discussion of both views in a civil manner. It’s nice when people can disagree without becoming abusive. I’ve experienced being the recipient of verbal abuse on a number of occasions just for posing a counter-argument.

    • Ratty, I am glad that you think it remains civil, and I think that there is an unusually patient, knowledgeable, and science-minded group of commenters here. But I’ll be honest. Sometimes the discussion here is not at all civil. There are limits to what I will allow to be posted, and if someone does something as idiotic as, say, denying that HIV causes AIDS, then I will happily throw civility completely out the window.

  21. ChrisKid permalink

    Ratty, it isn’t enough to be able to read the list. You also need to understand what you’re reading. Yes, thimerosal is a mercury compound. That doesn’t mean that it acts like elemental mercury. Same goes for the aluminum salts used in some vaccines. It’s the same kind of difference between elemental sodium and table salt. One explodes in water, and the other is safe to eat. Of course, thimerosal has not even been an ingredient in childhood vaccines in developed countries for over a decade so it’s a moot point in this discussion.
    Formaldehyde doesn’t rate a mention because there is less of it in the entire vaccine schedule than there is, right this minute, in any child’s body. It’s a necessary part of human metabolism. Please explain how the body would distinguish between the two.
    All of this gets explained over and over and over. The only thing that really matters about any of it is that the minute amounts of any of those substances in vaccines (the ones that are actually in them, that is) are not in any way large enough to be toxic. They simply cannot affect the body the way you’re trying to imply they do. There are no neurotoxins in vaccines because none of those substances comes anywhere close to the dose required for toxicity. There are no animal tissues in vaccines because there are no ’tissues’ of any kind. How big do you think that needle is, anyway? You’re allowing yourself to be frightened by things that sound horrible, without a clear understanding of what they really are.

  22. Ratty permalink

    One could fairly argue over the dosages being too small to affect the body, but that is not the same as saying these are not in the vaccine as you stated in your response to Chumpmom. Once again, I think looking at a link of vaccine ingredients broken down by the specific vaccine can help a skeptic decide for themselves. The are a number of people in the scientific community who are bold enough to assert that the ingredients in vaccines are risky…and this takes courage in that many of them risk their positions and reputations for daring to address the issue. There is no question about the vaccine industry’s multi-billion dollar profit, so a lot would be at stake for them financial if the industry collapsed. Still, that is obviously not the issue in itself, but we’re discussing the safety. I am curious about your source of info in the claims you made that the formaldehyde and aluminum in vaccines is in a negligable amount. I’m talking about a source that will not profit from these claims. I think it would benefit me and other readers to see what levels are in the body (of formaldehyde) and what is given in vaccines a child will typically receive throughout their years of getting vaccinated. Thanks for the response.

  23. Ratty permalink I did some further research and it negates your claims of the levels of aluminium being safe in vaccines. Seeing that Dr. Sears is a fairy reputable and trusted authority on children’s health, I think this is an important article to read. His research is thorough Just makes me wonder what your source of information is..

  24. lilady permalink

    “Seeing that Dr. Sears is a fairy reputable and trusted authority on children’s health, I think this is an important article to read.”

    Sears, around this blog, and every other science blog, is a joke. He is not an expert in immunology, virology, bacteriology, organomercury compounds, aluminum adjuvants and the epidemiology of vaccine-preventable diseases.

    My expert has far better credentials than the uninformed Dr. Bob. See Dr. Paul Offit’s analysis of Sears’ unsupported-by-science recommendations about vaccines.

  25. Actually, this is the list that Chumpmom included in her comment: heavy metals, animal tissue and viruses, and known neuro-toxins
    My response was that none of those things, except for possibly a weakened form of virus, is in any vaccine. Again, I have to repeat my statement that it isn’t enough to read the list of ingredients, but that you have to be able to understand what you’re looking at.
    Heavy metals? No. Aluminum salts are not the same as aluminum, and thimerosal isn’t in childhood vaccines anymore.
    Animal tissue? Not a chance. Tissue couldn’t possibly make it through the needle.
    Known neuro-toxins? Here’s especially where a lack of understanding is a problem. Toxicity has to do with dosage. No ingedient in any vaccine is a large enough dose to be toxic. There are no neurotoxins in any vaccine.
    You’re confusing actual ‘ingredients’ with culture media and substances used in manufacturing.

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