Vaccines on the left, vaccines on the right

By Phil Plait | April 9, 2009 7:00 am

I am sometimes accused of attacking Republicans on this blog, but that’s not necessarily true. It’s more that the Republican party has held an increasingly anti-science stances these past 15 years or so, and I have been attacking that (plus the occasional other platform or two).

However, I’ve also been attacking the far left for some time now, but I just haven’t come out and called it that. Mostly because it’s not an overtly political stance, but it does tend to fall along that party line: the antivaccination movement. A lot of the most vocal advocates in this pro-disease camp are on the left; look at how they have shifted their name to "Green our Vaccines" for example.

Amanda Marcotte is an e-friend of mine, a blogger whom I like and with whom I tend to agree on many issues. She recently wrote a very good article about vaccinations, in particular Gardasil; a preventative against the human papillomavirus, a known cause of cervical cancer in women. Gardasil is a medical triumph: 4000 women die every year from cervical cancer, out of 12,000 women who get it. 20 million people carry HPV, with more than 6 million becoming newly infected every year. Gardasil will drop those numbers precipitously.

But because HPV — and therefore Gardasil — are associated with sex, this topic becomes a tinderbox, and Amanda writes about how the left has adopted the right’s memes about sexual behavior, letting them get ingested, I suppose, because it’s an idea that fits their predisposition to be antivax.

I disagree with Amanda on one point, though:

When you attack vaccinations, you are really helping Big Pharma out. First of all, you’re being an anti-science crank, and it allows Big Pharma to paint all critics as anti-science cranks, even though with legitimate concerns.

I wish that were true, that we could simply label people thusly and they’d get ignored! Sadly though, with voices belonging to Jenny McCarthy and other celebrities, the antivax movement has traction, and as I have said before, is a public health threat.

This isn’t left or right, and it isn’t about politics. It’s about reality. Whether it’s MMR or Gardasil or the flu shot, the lies of the antivax movement need to be countered with truth. And I’m glad to see whatever voices we find to announce it.

Comments (66)

  1. Todd W.

    Before ranting about the evils of vaccines, please read the comments here: blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/04/07/smackdown-of-mccarthy-on-larry-king/#comment-172361

  2. Wayne

    Phil, you rarely come off as partisan, which is why you have a significant following of critically-thinking conservatives here (I wouldn’t say Republicans per se, more likely “small l” libertarians). Still, I’m glad to see you call out the far left explicitly on this. We can agree to disagree on politics and policy, what brings us together is reality.

  3. I wouldn’t call this a symptom of the “far-left” so much as of the “radical left”. Anti-vaccination rhetoric has nothing to do with how politically left-leaning a person is, but I agree that these people generally tend to exist on the ill-defined “left”….just that this doesn’t exist on the simple left-right spectrum (as you point out), this issue involves the radicalization of liberal politics.

  4. Joe Meils

    You don’t need to attack the GOP on your blog, Phil…. That’s OUR job!

  5. NewEnglandBob

    Jenny McCarthy is not a ‘far-left’ political person, she is just a plain moron with no talent.

    She fits in with the knuckleheads like Sarah Palin.

    It is not a ‘left’ or ‘right’ thing, it is an uneducated-and-proud-of-it syndrome.

    I feel that the anti-vaccine people should have the right to leave the US so that they do not contaminate the thinking people.

  6. Well put, Phil!
    My 2 daughters got their Guardasil shots!
    Survival of the mentally fittest in action.

  7. Phil, you and your fellow skeptics efforts ARE working. At least on one person. I started reading your blog around this time last year and made the (mistake?) of commenting on one of your vaccine blogs and got into a throw down blowout fight with Orac over my position. I was anti-vaccine at the time, clearly.

    Since that day, I have forced myself to re-examine the issue and have come over, begrudgingly, to the pro-vaccine side and am planning to start vaccinating my kids. Right now we’re just trying to find a doctor who will work with us to catch them up slowly, so that we’re not shooting them up with all of them all at once just to get up to date. I still have some lingering fears, much like a de-converting Christian getting over his fears of hell. It’s a slow process, but I’m hoping as they take each shot and it turns out (hopefully) all right, I’ll come around to the NO FEAR side as well as the side of reason.

  8. I will say though that most of the people in the anti-vaccine camp are NOT uneducated or willfully ignoring the evidence. Maybe the talking heads who are putting out books are. But most of us are (were) parents who actually did the reverse of not educating ourselves. Rather than just doing what we’re told, we researched EVERYTHING and found out, whoa, there’s a question of safety with vaccines? The arguments of the anti-vaccinationists SOUND legit when you’re starting from zero. And they scare the hell out of you as a parent. Which is why I think the largely hostile nature with which most of the skeptic community views them is, at best, unfounded and at worst counterproductive, because it puts these parents on the defense… much the same way a Christian trying to convert somebody can only be counterproductive by telling that person they’re going to hell.

    Seriously guys, start being nicer and you’ll be more likely to get yourself in a position where you can change minds. Would you rather be RIGHT, or would you rather be successful?

  9. wfr

    Phil, I admire you and (most of) your followers for making the distinction between policy and reality. One of them requires choices and the other one ought not to, but does.

    The Marcotte post seems to be reality-based and agenda-neutral. However, I’m still having trouble getting past this: http://tinyurl.com/57stal

  10. Todd W.

    @FFFearless

    You hit on an important point, that parents, when they read the schlok put out by the anti-vax crowd, get scared. When those parents come here, they might be dealt with a bit harshly at first (knee-jerk reaction because we’ve been fighting so long), but if they show that they can understand the counter-arguments and display reasoning ability, the tone, at least for myself, veers more toward one of understanding and compassion.

    However, when someone comments and shows absolutely no willingness to listen to the arguments (people like Dawn and marco from one of the other threads) and has shown that they have not done any research outside of the anti-vax sites, then it gets very frustrating, and very tempting to resort to ad hominems.

    At any rate, glad you looked into things further and came around. As for the pacing of the shots, just insist on following the guidelines in the packaging (e.g., if a vaccine says that followup shots are not to be given sooner than two months later, don’t get two jabs in one visit). Doctors are fallible, which is why we have instructions on proper use. :)

  11. Dan I.

    Phil;

    While I agree with you that Gardisil is a medical triumph and that the “it will make children have sex” crowd are loons, I do feel that Gardisil was rushed to market.

    There have been issues with Gardisil, it’s serious side effect rate seems to be much higher than other vaccines. Maybe there is just over-reporting of the Gardisil effects, but from what I’ve seen there are some concerns about it.

    Now maybe Gardisil just has a higher rate of issues than other vaccines, that’s possible, some medicines have higher rates of side effects than others. But I can’t help but wonder if Gardisil wasn’t tested as thoroughly as it could/should have been before being sent out.

    That being said, the side effects rate is still really low and you can bet that if I ever have daughters they will be vaccinated.

  12. Unfortunately, the two-party system of the US tends to really magnify issues of “Left” and “Right”.

    Science and anti-science should not be a left or right issue. Science is something that should be able to stand on it’s own based on the evidence, and policy should follow that evidence to conclusions based on the sorts of cultural values that marks the political spectrum.

    Unfortunately those political values tend to be more important than the evidence. For that reason, religious people dispute evidence against their religions, capitalists dispute the evidence against the harms of unfettered business, while anti-capitalists dispute the benefits that those businesses often provide.

    The big reason the Republican party has come under fire is that much of their current political base in the US has come from a union between Christian fundamentalists and pro-corporate interests, which feel most threatened by “methodological naturalism” and environmental sciences respectively. The Democratic party, on the other hand, is split between the financial support of business and the populist demands of socialists and environmentalists.

    The advantage at the moment s that the Democratic party leads are interested in science as a way of mediating the disparity between those two groups, but it can still be blindsided by ideological members, or worse, business interests that prey upon the fears of otherwise anti-business groups. Thus with the Democratic party we more often get the alignment of the sort of woo that decries the conspiracy of government and business, while making a profit from a fraudulent product with governmental support.

  13. The absolutely most correct term to describe the anti-vaccinatiosts is “Pro-infectious Disease Merchants of Life Long Disability and/or Death”.

    You can shorten that up to read “Parasites”, Free-Loaders” “Child Neglectors” or idiots.

    They know no political allegience, as they infest the entire spectrum of political thought.

  14. Todd W.

    @Dan I.

    The media made a big deal out of the speed with which Gardasil was approved when it first came out, and the first round or so of people that got it and subsequently had issues blamed the vaccine. The media also made a big deal out of this. What is missing, however, is sound evidence of a causal link between the the vaccine and the reported adverse events. We also do not have long-term followup of those cases to see if the issues resolved or not. For example, anti-vaxers claim that people have died because of Gardasil, yet there is no scientific evidence to verify such a claim. When asked, nothing is forthcoming.

    More information on the vaccine and adverse events can be found here: www (dot) cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaers/FDA_and_CDC_Statement.htm

  15. Quiet Desperation

    pro-disease camp

    Heh heh heh. :-)

  16. Andy Cooke

    FFFearless,
    Good for you!

  17. Dawn

    @FFFearlesss: Good for you, having the courage to look at what you believed was true, finding it was not, and not only changing your mind but admitting it. I have a lot of admiration for you. Good luck on getting your kids caught up. I hope you and they do well with the experience. (I have a friend who had to get her child caught up due to multiple surgeries as a baby. I was happy not to be in her shoes. Keeping track of what my own kids needed on schedule was a piece of cake compared to her schedule!)

    Gardisil is an interesting vaccine, due to the age group it is focused at, the sex and the reasons. Both of my girls have had the series. It was their choice; my husband and I gave them the literature and said, read this and decide if you want to have it done or not. They were older teens at the time, although one was still young enough that I had to sign the consent along with her.

    I hope it protects my daughters from the heartache one of my midwifery patients went through. Married 15 years, clean paps every year. Then, a pap with HPV results. She swore she was monogamous (and I had no reason to doubt her). Her husband finally admitted to an affair just prior to their marriage. He had carried the virus all that time but had only recently developed any noticeable warts (looking back, his MD had notes in his record about some small warts shortly after the affair was reported to have ended). NOT a nice way to learn about an affair…and now she has to worry about possible cervical ca (her HPV happened to be one of the strains Gardisil prevents).

  18. Jeff

    reality is closest to science.

    Politics is way off base. The left will cling to their side of the “green” argument, using segments from earth sciences, physics, etc. to support it . (Of course they ignore the history of ice ages). Which proves that the left only uses the parts of science that support their position, ignore the rest.

    The right uses science for their purposes also, probably more the military technologies. Again, only half truths come out, not the full picture.

    Scrap politics, bring in science and logical thinking and world civilization will immediately get much better

  19. David

    Question, if big pharmas are out to just to make money, would it not be in their better interest not to make vaccines, as sick people require more expensive medication than a single vaccine shot?

  20. Gardasil has spawned many debates among my associates. Here in Ontario it is provided to Grade 8 girls, I believe. This fact has many people up in arms for truly bizarre reasons.

    The best one: Why give it to grade 8 girls… why not make it available to university girls who are having sex? That’s a valid question, I suppose. The answer is “the government only has so much money so it seems to make more sense to deploy the limited resource where it is much more likely to be preventive (young girls who are not yet infected) than curative (university girls who are more likely to already be infected).” Unfortunately, otherwise smart people can’t seem to see why that makes sense. Even my wife feels that if it can’t be made widely available then it shouldn’t be made available at all. When you counter with “are you willing to sacrifice girls who are not now infected, but will be by the time Gardasil is widely available just to satisfy your perverse sense of fairness to people already infected?” people arguing this point tend to get really angry.

    There are concerns about side-effects, but from what I’ve been able to read, the side-effects are no more common than any other medication. The highly charged atmosphere surrounding Gardasil seems to guarantee that anyone who has a reaction to the vaccine gets their name in the media, however. You don’t hear about every kid who got Reyes from aspirin, but you’ll hear about every teen who gets sick from Gardasil. I think this is really irresponsible reporting, but I don’t expect it to change.

    I’ve often wondered what the reaction would have been if Gardasil was intended for boys/men.

  21. Todd W.

    @Evolving Squid

    I’ve often wondered what the reaction would have been if Gardasil was intended for boys/men.

    Good point, since men can carry the virus too, though it does not give them cancer (as far as I know). I imagine that as production increases and other companies are able to get in on the act, that the indication will expand to include boys/men who are not already infected.

  22. @ NewEnglandBob“I feel that the anti-vaccine people should have the right to leave the US so that they do not contaminate the thinking people”.

    I know that was an off-the-cuff funny thing that you said, but I sincerely hope that you don’t think that the U.S. is the only country with thinking people. Actually, the rest of us (the world) is putting her and her followers in American-quarantine, so as not to contaminate the thinking people. ;)

    With that, truce :)

  23. @ToddW & Evolving Squid

    At least here in Ontario, Gardasil is available to both males and females, but health insurance (both national and private) doesn’t cover males getting the shot….it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $240-$400 for men and boys to get it.

  24. David D

    @Dawn–
    Isn’t it possible that your female friend acquired HPV during a sexual encounter prior to meeting her husband?

    I am a proponent of Gardasil and vaccines in general, but sometimes the fears attached to HPV are overblown.

  25. Calli Arcale

    Good point, since men can carry the virus too, though it does not give them cancer (as far as I know). I imagine that as production increases and other companies are able to get in on the act, that the indication will expand to include boys/men who are not already infected.

    Although it is only approved for prevention of cervical cancer, it can be given to boys off-label and should protect them from other cancers. HPV is a leading cause of penile cancer, anal cancer, and throat cancer, especially but not exclusively in gay males. Plus, of course, you can’t extirpate the disease unless you vaccinate the main virus reservoirs, which would mean vaccinating males as well.

  26. Calli Arcale

    Addendum: given the cost, availability, limit of effectiveness (only some strains), and side-effects associated with Gardasil, I do not think it’s time to try to extirpate HPV through a mass vaccination program. A person should not receive the vaccine unless they’re likely to benefit from it in some way, or have a personal reason (eg. altruism — perhaps a male might wish to protect future female partners).

  27. sisu

    Once you look into the NNT/QALY numbers for it, there are serious questions about the cost effectiveness of HPV vaccinations.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121928503311259059.html

    I say this not as an anti-vaxer, but as someone who sincerely wants to see cost-effective public medicine. The cost to prevent a case of cervical cancer with this vaccine approaches half a million dollars. Saying “It doesn’t matter if it costs a squillion dollars if it prevents a single death” is hogwash when everyone knows we could eradicate malaria ten times over with a squillion dollars.

    Merck is not on the side of morality here. If good comes from their work, it is incidental to profits.

    Also, there should be a law against drug advertising.

  28. QUASAR

    So, why even bother with this stuff when there’s not much you can do?

  29. Todd W.

    @Calli Arcale

    Thanks for the info! I figured that it was probably being used off-label for men, but hopefully the on-label indications will be expanded. It would be nice, also, if they manage to create a vaccine that hits even more strains than the current four.

  30. Gary Ansorge

    Probe:

    “political thought = oxymoron”

    Quasar,,,Say WHAT???

    A three party political system has one big advantage over a two party system,,,no ties. Which is why we have a three part governmental structure,,,Dang, those progenitors of the US constitution sure were smart,,,

    Luddites come in many flavors and from all sides of the political spectrum. I expect they are some of the same people who would rather shivver in a dank cave than be warmed with that new fangled fire thingy.

    We’ve really only been sentient beings for about 10 seconds(geological time) and have no one to guide us in our development. Is it any wonder we have so many arguments about where we’re going?

    All our mistakes and all our triumphs are ours alone.
    That’s the downside but it’s also the upside. However successful we may be, we’ll know we did it all on our own.

    Abstract thinking appears to be limited to just this one upright,naked ape. Perhaps someday, if we don’t meet ET, we’ll have to raise up some of our brethren just so we’ll have someone to talk to. Then maybe we can have some independent verification that we did it right,,,

    In the meantime, we have a long way to go, educating the least among us, teaching them to not be afraid when the universe seems overwhelming in its complexity and dispassion.

    Keep up the good work, kids. You’re on the road to greatness,,,

    GAry 7

  31. Dawn

    @David D: according to my patient, she had never had another sexual partner besides her husband, so no, she could not have gotten it before then. As health care providers, we accept (until proven otherwise) a person’s reported sexual history. But, yes, in other circumstances (a woman with more than one sexual partner), she could have gotten it before marriage and just had no symptoms for many years.

    WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY CAUSE DISTRESS AT THE MENTAL PICTURE

    HPV, besides leading to some forms of cervical cancer, can on its own cause a lot of problems due to cervical/vaginal/labial warts in women and penile warts in men. When you have seen a young woman with so many warts that you can’t find her vagina (looked like a head of cauliflower, to be honest), and they bleed at the slightest touch, then anything that will help prevent them is welcome. Treatment usually involves burning them off with a caustic liquid, and the return rate of warts is rather high.

  32. David D

    @Dawn–
    As a OBGYN, I am well aware of the significant problems that HPV can cause. I have seen many young women with extensive genital warts, like you described; surprisingly, it seems the worst cases are sometimes the easiest to treat successfully.

    I have also spent countless hours trying to reassure many of my patients that they are not going to die just because their Pap smear showed up with HPV. In fact, the recommendations on how to approach HPV Pap smears has evolved considerably over the years. If I am not mistaken, some of the current recs include not treating teenage patients who have HPV detected on their Pap.

    Don’t get me wrong–I recommend Gardasil to all my patients. I just don’t feel that alarming some of them is good medical practice.

  33. Cheyenne

    “WARNING: THE FOLLOWING MAY CAUSE DISTRESS AT THE MENTAL PICTURE”

    I’m sort of like a curiosity killed the cat kind of guy. A sentence like that just makes me want to read it more – and I so wish I didn’t…….

  34. taiki

    let’s be really frank. Sasha and Malia were probably vaccinated. So was Joe Biden’s son. So was Chelsea Clinton. and nearly every major presidential or senatorial candidate for the democratic ticket.

    The difference here is, the antivax movement isn’t tied, politically, to liberal causes. Libertarianism on the other hand…

    (Ron Paul himself state that another person being non vaccinated doesn’t affect him. I laughed. a lot. then cried.)

  35. David D

    @taiki–

    Chelsea’s a little old for the vaccine, which is currently indicated from ages 9 to 26. No one is saying that the anti-vax folks are tied to liberal causes. But there are quite a few liberals who openly embrace anti-science. Bill Maher is one. Sen. Tom Harkin is another. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that Mr. Carrey didn’t vote for McCain. Not so sure about McCarthy.

  36. The Daily Orange (Syracuse University) just ran an interesting piece about Gardasil in men.

    http://media.www.dailyorange.com/media/storage/paper522/news/2009/04/02/Feature/Men-Weigh.The.Decision.Of.Taking.Gardasil.To.Prevent.Hpv-3693849.shtml

    I must admit, it hadn’t even occurred to me that it would apply. I guess I just didn’t make the connection, since the marketing is so strongly anti-cancer, instead of anti-STD. I’d seriously consider getting vaccinated if they got the indication.

  37. Eric

    “I’ve also been attacking the far left for some time now”

    Perhaps you could change that to “some on the far left,” because it sounds like you’re equating the antivax crowd with the far left in general.

  38. isles

    Other antivax liberals: RFK Jr., Oprah, Carolyn Maloney (US representative from New York – not sure how liberal she is but she’s a Democrat).

  39. Jeffersonian

    “look at how they have shifted their name to “Green our Vaccines” for example.”

    I think it’s a stretch to assign a political polemic based on this. It’s a stretch to assign same to the anti-vaccine trendinistas as well.

    Being conservative about the environment doesn’t equate to being left/right conservative/liberal on the 2D political chart. The Republican party drags their heels more than the Democrats (and that’s ignoring history beyond a decade) but that doesn’t automatically make this a black and white 1D issue.

  40. I rather hate how the green movement has been associated with those fringe naturalistic nutjobs. There is nothing I despise more than going into a natural food store to pick up the soap that doesn’t break my skin out (and this fantastic ginger ale sweetened with pineapple juice and honey) and then half to listen to some employee tell a women about the wonders of these dieting herbs or detoxing teas.
    Anyway, I’m getting the HPV shot as soon as my bills allow it. Damn you undergraduate loans!

  41. kimberlyn

    Hello
    New to this blog. I hope someone can fill me in on the facts. I do not have any children yet but my husband and I plan on it soon. I have a few neighbors who had some issues with their son and vaccines. Please help me to respond to them. She is filling me in on all the ingredients and how it is unnatural to inject viruses into the body because viruses are meant to enter through the mucous membranes blah blah blah. She is literally scarring me…she gave me a package insert and told me to become informed that injecting aluminum and animal DNA into tiny infants is unnatural. She then said that vaccines are nothing more than a test for your immune system and not everybody passes it. I just politely try to avoid talking to her. Can someone please give me the answers I need to respond to her. Thank You.

  42. Hey, Phil, I read your post and then saw this article about the dangers of the anti-western medicine home birthing movement. (link is in my name)

  43. @Steve
    While I’m no fan of home birthing, needless risk I reckon but who am I to say, the article you’re linking to is by Andrew Bolt and he is as right-wing and reactionary as an Aussie can get and everything he writes reeks of agenda.

  44. I mentioned this before but here as some facts about Gardasil from the Therapeutic Goods Admin in Oz…
    http://www.tga.gov.au/alerts/medicines/gardasil.htm

  45. James F

    I think it’s fair to say that the 9/11 truthers are far left, too….

    P.S.: Good on ya, FFFearless!

  46. Lawrence

    @kimberlyn

    The first thing you need to do is google Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Whooping Cough, HepB, and Polio – read the descriptions of the symptoms & long term health problems associates with these diseases. Then ask yourself, would you want your child to become ill with any of them?

    Then, check out the CDC website on vaccines – every year millions of Americans receive vaccine shots. Continue to educate yourself by speaking to your pediatrician, him or her will be able to answer all of your questions & as a concerned parent, you should consult with an expert (i.e. a doctor) – and ask yourself, what formal training or experience does your neighbor have, over someone who went to medical school, sees patients on a regular basis & is required to stay current on drug studies, new procedures, and new science.

    Don’t let her scare you – that’s not Science or the facts. I have a son (17 months old) and I wouldn’t even consider not getting him vaccinated. The upside (not getting some of the most horrible diseases possible for a child) completely outweighs the small chance of a bad reaction (minor) or the miniscule chance of serious side effect.

  47. Todd W.

    @kimberlyn

    To add to what Lawrence said, take a look at the link in my first post in this thread (just copy and paste it into your browser address bar). I address a lot of the myths that are spouted about vaccines.

    Regarding aluminum. In its pure form, it is dangerous, much like chlorine is toxic, and sodium in its pure form burns rather hotly when it interacts with water. However, the aluminum that is in vaccines is in a salt form, much like sodium and chlorine combine to form table salt, a substance which is safe for normal consumption. Furthermore, the amount of aluminum in vaccines is well below a toxic level. Barring imparied kidney or liver function, a normal, healthy child won’t be harmed. I also addressed this issue in another thread (I think it was the “Jenny McCarthy Counts for Something” thread), showing the amount of aluminum would be in the body in parts/million.

    Regarding animal protein. Some vaccines are made by growing the virus in animals (e.g., in chicken eggs). Those vaccines contain an allergy warning in their packaging. If a child does have an allergy to eggs, for example, they probably should not receive the particular vaccines containing trace amounts of egg proteins. If an allergic reaction does occur, though, there are medicines to treat and stop the reaction. If any vaccine causes an allergic reaction, make a note of what vaccine it was, how serious the reaction was, and bring that info to future vaccination visits.

    Regarding method of entry. Whether the virus enters the body through mucous membranes or is injected, the body still makes the antibodies the same way. The difference between natural infection and a vaccine is that the virus in the vaccine is weakened or inactivated, so the individual does not get the full-blown, serious disease that a natural infection would lead to.

    Here are some sites that may be good to visit:
    * Respectful Insolence (Orac’s blog) – scienceblogs.com/insolence/ – He addresses a lot of the myths and information put out by the anti-vaccination crowd.
    * Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – cdc.gov/vaccines/ (add www to the beginning when pasting into address bar)
    * U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – fda.gov/cber/vaccines.htm (add www to the beginning)

    For a non-U.S. perspective:
    * U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – mhra.gov.uk/Safetyinformation/Generalsafetyinformationandadvice/Product-specificinformationandadvice/Vaccinesafety/index.htm (add www)

  48. MartinM

    kimberlyn, to add to the previous two comments:

    Yes, vaccination is unnatural. Dying of infectious diseases is, however, entirely natural. We don’t like doing that, and so we take steps to prevent it. We frequently do unnatural things, like driving cars, using computers, and living past our mid-thirties. We do this because nature frequently sucks.

    And the idea that vaccines are nothing more than a ‘test’ of one’s immune system is sheer nonsense. The great strength of our immune system is its ability to adapt; on first exposure to a new antigen, your immune system learns how to deal with it, and thus is better prepared the next time you run into that same antigen. It’s not a test, it’s training. Expecting your child’s immune system to deal with a virus without vaccination is like teaching him to box by throwing him into a ring with Mike Tyson.

  49. kimberlyn

    thanks everybody…after reading some of the links, I feel much better. I guess I will print out the facts and hand them to her and let her read my side. If she did it to me why not reciprocate…right? My ending conversation with her was that studies proved that there is no link between autism and vaccines (her son is autistic) after allegedly receiving the MMR. She then went on to tell me that those studies were conducted by the drug manufacturers themselves and then said if the studies proved there was a link, do you actually think they will report their findings? She said if it were proved thay would cover it up anyway as to not cause mass hysteria. Her whole issue is that the measles virus was found in her son’s gut..or something to that nature. I just cannot believe this heated ongoing debate between her and I and I do not even have children yet…it’s enough to drive a person nuts. I will giver her my info and just avoid her I guess….aaargghh..it is frustrating. Thanks Guys…I now have some good insight!

  50. Todd W.

    @kimberlyn

    Here are some studies that are from researchers not associated with the manufacturers:

    * Honda, H., Shimizu, Y. and Rutter, M. “No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study”. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol. 46, Issue 6. Pages 572-579. (interscience.wiley.com/journal/118735419/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0) – Add www3 to the beginning of the address. Full text available there.

    * Hornig M, Briese T, Buie T, Bauman ML, Lauwers G, et al. 2008 “Lack of Association between Measles Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy: A Case-Control Study”. PLoS ONE 3(9): e3140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003140 (plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0003140#s5) – Add www to the beginning. Full text available. An attempt to replicate Andrew Wakefield’s study. Authors are from universities and hospitals, with one person from CDC.

    * There are other studies out there, but those are two that I was able to find fairly readily. Skeptical Inquirer magazine had an article by Dr. Steve Novella in the December 07/January 08 issue about the vaccine-autism claims. He provides citations to a couple studies, as well.

    If you discuss the issue of research with your neighbor, ask her for the studies that support a vaccine-autism link. My guess is that she will either not be able to provide any, or that the ones she does give will be flawed. For example, Wakefield’s own study on MMR leading to autism, the samples were contaminated, contradictory evidence was excluded from the study, and Wakefield did not disclose a number of financial interests. A full profile on Wakefield can be found at Brian Deer’s web site – briandeer.com.

  51. Todd W.

    @kimberlyn

    Actually, here’s the link to the full text of that SI article: csicop.org/si/2007-06/novella.html – add www to the beginning.

  52. Peter B

    Folks

    Would anyone like to write a response to this letter to the Editor of the “Canberra Times”? I don’t know the subject or references well enough to do justice to a response, but I think there are so many errors in the letter that it can’t be left unanswered.

    = = = =

    Tim Schildberger (“Refusing to vaccinate children an arrogant choice” Sunday Canberra Times April 5, p24) seems unaware of recent news about vaccine safety, and the contradictions in his statements.

    In February this year there was enough reliable evidence of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine for the United States Government to pay compensation for the second time to parents of a child who became autistic after vaccination. There is enough doubt about this vaccine’s safety for the Japanese Government to have banned its use. No one has ever tested it and found it will protect a child during a measles, mumps or rubella outbreak. No one has proved it is safe to give to every child. So no one can claim vaccinations work in this case.

    It has been shown again by the 2008 measles epidemic in the US that no level of coverage is enough to create the fabled “herd immunity”, once thought of as community protection.

    There are multiple examples of outbreaks where vaccinated children are equally affected. I hope Tim’s children do not suffer from reactions to the MMR vaccine. As for the other vaccines, I would like to warn him that the effects are incremental – the immune system reacts more strongly with each injection. Signs like excessive dribbling, face dropped to one side, sudden jerky movements and fever show the immune system has not coped and the brain has been affected. If it is your child, it is more than “a terrible shame”, and no amount of community feeling can remove that pain.

    Jennifer Heywood
    Spence

  53. Todd W.

    I believe the case Ms. Heywood refers to is that of Bailey Banks. That court decision was actually from July 2007, not February of this year as she claims. News of this only came out among the anti-vaccination movement after the Omnibus Autism hearings ruled against three test cases claiming vaccine-induced autism. Further the court awarded compensation because Bailey suffered acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). The risk of ADEM from the measles vaccine is approximately 1 or 2 per million, while the risk of ADEM from infection itself is 1 in 1,000.

    Ms. Heywood also cites a measles outbreak in the U.S. as evidence against herd immunity. What she fails to note. Once again, since she does not provide information regarding the location of the outbreak, I’m assuming she means the recent outbreak in California, in which an unvaccinated child was infected with measles and spread it among other children who were unvaccinated or who had not completed the vaccination series. Similar outbreaks have been seen in the U.K. and Germany, where in the town of Duisburg two unvaccinated children died from measles-induced encephalitis in 2006. In order for herd immunity to work, approximately 90%-95% of the population needs to be vaccinated. When it falls below this level, as demonstrated in the U.K., outbreaks occur and the disease makes a resurgence.

    What is truly a shame is that when people listen to such misinformation and lies as those propagated by Ms. Heywood, people get sick. They are at greater risk for long-term injury (e.g., hearing loss, sterility, encephalitis, etc.) and even death. Vaccines, as shown by ample scientific evidence, greatly reduce those risks. While it is unfortunate that some people suffer very rare side effects, many more would be injured if people listen to the likes of Ms. Heywood.

  54. Todd W.

    @Peter B

    Oh, and if you would like more information on the issues, I recommend reading the vaccine information from the FDA and CDC, as well as Orac’s blog Respectful Insolence. I also provided a bit of info in the last vaccine thread (link is up in my first post of this thread). There is also an article at Skeptical Inquirer magazine by Dr. Steven Novella about the vaccine-autism issue that is a good primer, with plenty of good references at the end of the article.

  55. Peter B

    Thanks Todd W, though I’m not sure I have the time to read it all and then put together a cogent response to Ms Heywood.

  56. Todd W.

    @Peter B

    Feel free to paraphrase my post.

  57. As a parent of a child with autism I am always exceedingly pleased to find good science being promoted and discussed. My son had autism before he was vaccinated – and continues to have it after each vaccination and we had him vaccinated because we love him and wish him not to suffer from diseases that vaccinations prevent.

    Thanks for providing some additional cogent arguments.

  58. Todd W.

    @Grendel

    Thanks for sharing! It’s good to hear from families like yours when combating woo.

  59. Marya

    Another autism mom (slight gag there–I don’t think of this as a career path) who would rather have an autistic kid than a dead-from-measles kid.

    It’s fashionable among the Autism Speaks crowd, of course, to say that cancer would be preferable, but that’s a preference that so far can’t be realized, and doesn’t impose costs on other children.

  60. We’ve always known that we are not the only rational parents of an autistic child – and to be honest, here in Australia the anti-vax crowd is smaller and less vocal. Sadly they do spin the same untruths.

    I often wonder why it is that the ‘rational parents’ are quieter than the anti-vax parents. I hope it is because we have a lower personal NQ (Nuts Quotient).

  61. Todd W.

    @Marya

    Thanks, also, for posting your thoughts!

    @Grendel

    Perhaps the rational parents are not as vocal because they are putting their energies into what works and into actually helping their children, rather than whining about it?

  62. Todd – most likely true but I was really hoping for the ‘less nuts than them’ thing. . .

    Our experience has been (an all parent are going to have had different experiences here) to look at our child for what he is – not what the autism is, and to use some of the advantages that autism gives him. It can’t be viewed in a wholely negative way, although the negatives are considerable.

    He is who he is and building on strengths is as importantat as addressing deficiencies. I grieve for those that say that ‘Cancer would be preferable’.

  63. Todd W.

    @Grendel

    most likely true but I was really hoping for the ‘less nuts than them’ thing. . .

    Well, I thought that went without saying. :)

    I grieve for those that say that ‘Cancer would be preferable’.

    Likewise.

  64. ian griffith

    The following two letters were submitted by me to the Editor of the Canberra Times on the afternoon of Wed 15th April; as of today Sunday 19th April neither had been published.
    Letter one –
    Jennifer Heywood (Vaccine Danger Evidence, Canberra Times, April 12th, p20) claims reliable evidence links autism with the MMR vaccine. Not true. A case cited in support involved a child with defective mitochondria (a condition causing autism and immune-system malfunction) not diagnosed when several childhood vaccines were administered: the chickenpox vaccine not the MMR vaccine caused this child’s mild varicella. Long-term adverse vaccine reactions are extremely rare even in infants with defective immune systems; then appropriate compensation is fair and proper. Exposing people to fully virulent “wild-type” measles virus not infrequently results in severe permant brain damage or even death from which the MMR vaccine does protect; claiming otherwise is irresponsible and patently wrong. Vaccination campaigns eliminated the dangerous wild-type measles virus from Australia but at intervals infected travellers reintroduce it. Ensuing outbreaks (contained by expensive public health measures) are almost always spread by unvaccinated individuals: so claiming herd immunity is a “fable” is also irresponsible and wrong. Moreover listing some very rare adverse vaccine reactions as though they are the norm is scaremongering of the worst kind. Why not list consequences of the full-blown diseases as well? We don’t see young polio victims in callipers or iron lungs these days. Why? Because polio will soon, like smallpox, be eliminated from this planet. How? Not through improved nutrition or better health services. Not from dirty water or lactose tablets peddled by homoeopaths and fraudulently claimed to be effective “vaccines”. But by better-informed and socially responsible individuals becoming vaccinated with real vaccines.

    Letter two –
    Jennifer Heywood (Vaccine Danger Evidence, Canberra Times, April 12th, p20) claims the Japanese Government has “banned” the use of MMR vaccine. This is grossly misleading. MMR as a combined vaccine was used in Japan between 1989 and 1993; since then individual components of the vaccine have been available for use on a voluntary basis. Indeed, following a major outbreak of measles among many thousands of older children in 2007-2008 a vaccination programme has been reintroduced to eliminate measles in Japan by 2012. Since 2006 measles plus rubella (MR) vaccine is administered at aged 12 months, and (from 2008) again before entering primary school (aged ~ 6y), again at age ~12y and again at age ~18y.

    Repeated use of a safe, benign, form of the measles virus (in the vaccine) boosts immunity. Reliance on the endemic dangerous wild-type virus currently circulating in Japan to do this is much more likely to result in the symptoms Ms Heywood describes than repeated use of the vaccine virus!

    One consequence of the change of vaccination strategy in Japan in 1993 has resulted in a natural experiment on the supposed link of MMR vaccine use with autism. An investigation of over 30,000 children in 2005 showed autism was higher in those born after 1992 (who had not received the MMR vaccine) than in those born before 1992 who had been vaccinated.

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