“Selective disservice” (Anti-vaccine claims)


About a dozen West Virginia lawmakers celebrated the re-legalization of raw milk this year by quaffing the cow juice, which they promptly vomited up before spending the next few days bedridden. The delegates blamed their sickness on a stomach virus unrelated to the consumption of raw milk.

While it would seem unlikely that they all happened to get the virus at the same time they drank the raw milk, it’s remotely possible. Correlation and causation must always be considered and maybe one of the delegates had a stomach bug he passed onto others during the celebratory libation.

In any case, adults should be able to consume the beverage of their choice and can deal with the consequences, be they stronger bones or brucellosis. Similarly, the propriety of seat belt laws can be debated, but almost no one would argue against infant car seat use being mandatory.

But when it comes to vaccines, opponents are not arguing for something equivalent to an adult chugging unpasteurized milk while driving with the safety belt unfastened. The cause they promote impacts their children, as well as persons who are too unhealthy or too young to be vaccinated.

Sometimes the anti-vaxxers will just make it up, such as Modern Alternative Mama claiming her Google searches have made her more learned than any physician on the issue. This is an egotistical absurdity that most people would ignore. However, it’s more dangerous when anti-vaxxers present evidence that is correct, but incomplete.

In the mid-1970s, there was an automobile race between two teams, one from the United States and one from the Soviet Union. The Americans won, with TASS reporting that the USSR had taken second place and the USA next-to-last. When anti-vaxxers present numbers that are technically correct but greatly disingenuous, it can make a normal person begin to question the efficiency of one of medicine’s greatest achievements.

A frequent claim is that improved sanitation is responsible for the decrease in disease. Sanitation is a public health benefit, but does nothing for an airborne disease like rubella, which has been eliminated in the United States, or for smallpox, which has been eliminated everywhere. Vaccines were the reasons for these successes and they have also reduced or eliminated diseases that are not airborne. But anti-vaxxers use selective facts to argue that vaccines played little or no role.

One example is a chart showing measles death rates in the United States. It features a sudden drop in 1900, followed by a minor peak 15 years later, and finally a tapering off that goes down to very few deaths in 1963, the year the vaccine was introduced. The insinuation is that measles deaths were already on the way out and would have ended even without vaccination.

But this chart only addresses mortality. The number of cases, however, were consistently 500,000 to 800,000 annually. This lasted until the vaccine was introduced, and within seven years the numbers were down to almost zero. The same thing happened with Whooping Cough, with anti-vax charts again showing only the mortality rate and not the morbidity rate. If hygiene was enough to prevent disease, chicken pox rates would have plummeted before the mid-1990s. Instead, there were a steady four million cases per year until the varicella vaccine was introduced, and since then occurrences have gone down 85 percent. Also relevant is that death rates from diseases were going down largely because of health care advancements. Death rates for polio, for instance, declined due to the iron lung.

Besides use of selective numbers, anti-vaxxers will also play to chemo-phobia. This is a winning strategy in a nation that is becoming less scientifically literate, and even easier to peddle to the already science-compromised anti-vax crowd. A typical approach is to mention that a vaccine has such-a-such a chemical in it. This is done without pointing out that the dose makes the difference. Modern Alternative Mama will gladly munch an organic pear that has 50 times more formaldehyde than the vaccine she is railing against.

Licking two tablets will not take away your pain, taking two tablets should do it, and taking two bottles of tablets will take you away. The same concept works for any ingested chemical. Mercury, aluminum, and sodium are used as preservatives in vaccines and come in minuscule amounts, much smaller than what we find in the foods and beverages we consume daily.

Another instance of demagoguery is displaying a doll with two dozen syringes stuck into it and ominously telling passersby that children will receive this many vaccinations and boosters before middle school. This needle doll is another example of selective reporting. It’s true that the two shots most children received in 1940 had quadrupled by 1980, and that the 1980 number had tripled by 2010. Left out of this tidbit is that the number of antigens in the vaccines has decreased dramatically. The vaccine schedule in 1960 would have included about 3,200 antigens, compared to about 125 today. This is mainly because patients in 1960 received the whole-cell pertussis vaccine instead of its acellular successor. The former has about 3,000 more antigens.

The current schedule calls for 14 immunizations by age 6, and each is for a disease that would cause serious illness or death in unvaccinated populations. So to be accurate, anti-vaxxers should remove the syringes from the doll, have it represent an unvaccinated child, and then place it in an iron lung, wheelchair, or toddler-sized coffin.




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