Are We Alone interview: antivax tirade

By Phil Plait | May 28, 2009 2:25 pm

Are We Alone

I do a semi-regular feature with Seth Shostak on the SETI Institute’s Are We Alone radio show, and the new episode is now online! You can also download the MP3 directly. In this episode, Seth and I talk about antivaxxers and the damage they’re doing. But there’s lots more as well, so grab yourself a copy and listen to it on your way to get your booster shots.

You can also join the Are We Alone Facebook page, too.

Comments (42)

  1. Chris

    I listened to it Tuesday evening. You did an earlier tirade on the subject last December. Both were excellent.

    I have been downloading their podcasts from the archive, and trying to catch up. They are all great for learning lots of cool stuff.

  2. Nevy

    I always look forward to your segment (or rather, hearing your dulcet tones) on the show; wish you’d do it more often!

  3. Jeff

    No tirade here. Phil’s point is that only a small percentage of people get side effects from vacs. My trouble is, I don’t want to be one of those statistics. I’ll take my chances and hope I don’t get the disease.

  4. ndt

    So, you’d rather be one of the statistics of the larger percentage of people who get the disease?

  5. Jeff

    ndt “you’d rather be one of the statistics…who get disease?”

    Naw. I won’t get it.

  6. I won’t get it. People worry too much.

    *facepaws*

  7. pcj

    Hey Jeff,
    I think you should reconsider, the risk of a bad outcome resulting from not getting vaccines is much, much higher than the risk of the vaccine.

    I am old enough to have had relative that had polio, to know of other relatives that lost children to some of the large number of diseases that have since been nearly eradicated by vaccines,…

    1 in an 1,000,000 shot at a reaction to a vaccine or 1 in a 1000 chance of life long disability or death from a preventable disease,…

    seems like a no-brainer to me,…

  8. Davidlpf

    Plus jeff you could become a carrier and spread the deasise to someone else.

  9. Jeff:
    I can could care less about whether or not you get the disease, based on your attitude, but, please, do you mind wearing a huge sign around your neck, so that if you do end up with it, we can all avoid you.

  10. Jeff

    @pcj: “I am old enough to have had relative that had polio, to know of other relatives that lost children to some of the large number of diseases that have since been nearly eradicated by vaccines,…”

    Sorry to hear that.

    For the children, definitely get them vaccinated.

  11. Jeff: A percentage of people who drive cars get injured or die. A percentage of people who cross roads get injured or die. A percentage of people who use swimming pools get injured or die. The list of people who get injured or die from ordinary daily activities is huge. I strongly suggest you re-assess your understanding of personal risk before you assert that you won’t be vaccinated because of the small risk of side-effects.

    The big problem is that you – like all of us – are dreadful at understanding risk. You appear to have taken the position that because there is a risk of dying from vaccination, your safest approach is to avoid vaccination. It is, of course, undeniably true that if you don’t vaccinate, you won’t die from a vaccination. However if you don’t vaccinate, you have a risk of dying from the disease that you could have been vaccinated against. You don’t factor this in to your decision, however, because you have no control over whether or not you will catch an infectious disease, but believe that by limiting your exposure to vaccines you are somehow limiting your risk.

    This is a very natural, and very common, response but it is wrong.

    The risk of death by vaccination is very, very small. The risk of death by exposure to the diseases that vaccines prevent is significantly higher – that’s why vaccines are used.

    Let’s put your argument another way. You have an accident, and are taken to hospital. The doctor recommends surgery to attempt to heal a problem. The likelihood of success is almost guaranteed and will in almost certainly save your life. A very, very few people have died as a result of the surgery being considered, but otherwise the surgery is considered routine and you will be discharged the same day. If you elect to not have the surgery, however, there is a significantly higher chance that you will die of an otherwise perfectly curable injury.

    Do you consent to the hospital performing the surgery?

  12. John Wilson:
    “Let’s put your argument another way. You have an accident, and are taken to hospital. The doctor recommends surgery to attempt to heal a problem. The likelihood of success is almost guaranteed and will in almost certainly save your life. A very, very few people have died as a result of the surgery being considered, but otherwise the surgery is considered routine and you will be discharged the same day. If you elect to not have the surgery, however, there is a significantly higher chance that you will die of an otherwise perfectly curable injury.

    Do you consent to the hospital performing the surgery?”

    That is an excellent way of looking at the situation! I have had to have frequent medical procedures, especially over the past 20 years. In every one of them, the doctor has to give you the spiel about the risk of whatever it is they are doing to your body. Usually it is some astronomical number like, ‘1 in 250,000 people die from this’.

    When I was younger, that freaked me out. Several times I wanted to cancel the procedure because of fear. However, I did not, and the procedure turns out fine.

    I personally know of no one that has had a negative reaction to a vaccine, either in themselves, or their children. It is time for parents to wake up, and realize that if this anti-vax movement gains strength, we could, in a very, very short period of time, be faced with diseases that were once thought to be eradicated in the west.

    Jeff, I find your position very selfish, and probably the result of unfounded fear. Please, tell us, do you know of anyone Personally, (not hearsay, not something Jenny McCarthy has said), that has had a negative reaction to a vaccination?

  13. Jeff

    @John Wilson:

    “The big problem is that you – like all of us – are dreadful at understanding risk. You appear to have taken the position that because there is a risk of dying from vaccination, your safest approach is to avoid vaccination. It is, of course, undeniably true that if you don’t vaccinate, you won’t die from a vaccination. However if you don’t vaccinate, you have a risk of dying from the disease that you could have been vaccinated against. You don’t factor this in to your decision, however, because you have no control over whether or not you will catch an infectious disease, but believe that by limiting your exposure to vaccines you are somehow limiting your risk.
    This is a very natural, and very common, response but it is wrong.
    The risk of death by vaccination is very, very small. The risk of death by exposure to the diseases that vaccines prevent is significantly higher – that’s why vaccines are used.
    Let’s put your argument another way. You have an accident, and are taken to hospital. The doctor recommends surgery to attempt to heal a problem. The likelihood of success is almost guaranteed and will in almost certainly save your life. A very, very few people have died as a result of the surgery being considered, but otherwise the surgery is considered routine and you will be discharged the same day. If you elect to not have the surgery, however, there is a significantly higher chance that you will die of an otherwise perfectly curable injury.
    Do you consent to the hospital performing the surgery?”

    This is excellent, and the general population should be given such a good message.

    Michael L: ” I find your position very selfish, and probably the result of unfounded fear. Please, tell us, do you know of anyone Personally, (not hearsay, not something Jenny McCarthy has said), that has had a negative reaction to a vaccination?”

    no, I don’t.

    I don’t disagree with your statement. “unfounded fear”, I’d just call it living a long time without anything but diet and exercise. I’ll never go under a needle, but hopefully I’m the last of an extinct breed.

  14. The horror stories about vaccination are as old as vaccination itself. The anti-vaxx arguments are still pretty much the same too. Here’s part one of a two-part series I’m doing on the early vaccination wars.

    http://drvitelli.typepad.com/providentia/2009/05/the-vaccination-wars.html

  15. Jeff, I hope you live in a cave or someplace else where no one else comes in contact with you then. Viruses don’t care if you eat well and exercise, and in some cases, relish that fact. And you aren’t doing anything to help her immunity either…

  16. Justin

    I don’t know if she is completely antivax, but here’s a nurse who is suing a hospital that didn’t hire her because she refuses to vaccinate herself. She thinks that they are “unholy”

    http://www.courthousenews.com/2009/05/28/Nurse_Says_Vaccinations_Are_Unholy_.htm

  17. Under the assumption that you’re not just trolling, Jeff, please explain to us why you have an irrational fear/prejudice against getting vaccinated.

    You claim to understand all the risks involved and you seem to accept that you are being irrational given that you have accepted that you are choosing the far riskier option for you and the people you come into contact with, including other people’s kids and babies.

    So what is it? A pathological fear of needles? A death wish? Masochism?

    Educate us, please.

  18. Jeff

    @tacitus: “So what is it? A pathological fear of needles? A death wish? Masochism?”

    stubborness

  19. Angela

    Hmm, so you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face?

  20. JB of Brisbane

    I would take tacitus’s query one step further – is Jeff afraid of needles, or is he also afraid to admit it?

  21. HCN

    Jeff, there is no herd immunity from tetanus. It lives in soil, and there have been cases of it being transmitted through insect bites. You should remember to stay inside, and order all your food delivered (since you could cut yourself while preparing food, or even stab yourself with a fork!). Fortunately it is not common (a bit over 40 per year in the USA), which is a good thing because one out of ten die from it, and ten out of ten suffer with lots of pain because of the spasms.

    Also, if you were vaccinated for pertussis as a child, the immunity has worn off. With pertussis returning because of vaccine avoidance you have a high chance of getting it. In China it is called the “100 Day Cough” — where you think you are coughing up a lung for at least a week of those 100 days (and there are those who have broken ribs just due to the coughing!).

  22. Sounds to me like case of you’re-not-going-to-tell-me-what-to-do-itis. Anyone with children should recognize that, though thankfully most of them grow out of the condition eventually. I guess some people just don’t care to grow up.

  23. Like I’ve said before, sometimes wearing a seat belt will get you killed.

    But you are *much* more likely to have a seat belt save your life.

    I bet that way every time I get into a car and buckle up.

    Vaccines are the same way, small risk but large benefit.

  24. Jeff

    @Angela, “Hmm, so you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face?”
    @Tacitus, “you’re-not-going-to-tell”
    @Brisbane (a good town): ” Is Jeff afraid”

    I’d prefer to call it taking the chances. If the odds are 1/1000 of getting a disease, that means I have a 999/1000 chance of not getting it. I’ll be in that 999 group.

  25. Geek Goddess

    Jeff is a troll. No use reasoning with someone whose only purpose is to provoke reactions.

  26. Jeff

    @Geek Goddess: “Jeff is a troll”

    No, actually I’m not., just stating my opinion. I won’t post again on this subject because I made a point about odds. Don’t want to go on and on so people think I’m trolling.

    “provoke reactions”

    no, just responding .

  27. QUASAR

    I was such a troll with vaccination entries, but I’ve had enough!

    If ET was watching the antivax thing here on our planet what would they think?

  28. @Jeff

    I’d prefer to call it taking the chances

    Ah, so you’re a gambling man. By your statements, I’d guess that you enjoy playing Russian Roulette. I also guess that you are a misanthrope and don’t really care much about anyone else around you, since, by not vaccinating, you are putting them at risk. Here’s a brief list of people that are at risk of serious complications:

    * Infants too young to receive vaccination
    * Children who have not yet completed their vaccination series
    * Children of parents who have refused vaccinations (I feel bad for these kids, but the parents get what’s coming to them)
    * Anyone for whom the vaccination did not take
    * People who suffer from allergies to some ingredient in the vaccine (e.g., eggs)
    * People with HIV/AIDS
    * Transplant recipients who must take immunosuppressants to avoid their body rejecting the new organs
    * People with other conditions affecting how well their immune system responds to disease
    * Elderly people who have lost immunity to certain diseases (like pertussis)

    Now, some of those individuals you can probably identify by sight (e.g., infants and elderly) and avoid coming within 10-20 feet. Others you cannot tell by sight, and so you won’t know whether you can come close to them or not. Add onto this that many of the diseases that we can prevent with vaccines can be contagious before any symptoms show. Some have initial symptoms similar to the common cold, so you may not take any extra precautions when symptoms do start to show. You might, therefore, end up spreading the disease to others without even knowing it.

    Once those others are infected, even if they are healthy and will not suffer complications, they can then spread it to others. The more crowded the environment, the more likely and quickly the infection will spread, potentially leading to a significant outbreak, and as more people become infected, the likelihood of complications popping up increases. That puts a strain on the medical system (taking up a bed at a hospital, using up meds, increasing insurance premiums, including yours).

    So, other than “I’m just stubborn, don’t like needles, and think that the risks from the disease are lower than the risks from the vaccines, even though I’m wrong,” what is your justification for putting other people at risk and for being a source of burden on the medical system?

  29. Peachy

    @ 28.Todd W.: Jeff is something much more dangerous than a misanthrope. He is a jackass (maybe even a psychopath). He isn’t just playing Russian Roulette, where you spin the revolver cylinder, point the gun at your own head, and pull the trigger. He is waving the gun around at all the people on your list (and more), closing his eyes, and pulling the trigger.

    People like Jeff should be treated the way lepers used to be treated. He should have to ring a bell and shout “unclean” wherever he goes. And we should be allowed to throw rocks at him if he comes near.

  30. Grizzly

    I am very much pro-vaccination despite having a child with a disorder on the autism spectrum.

    This discussion about percentages and risks does remind me of two things though, the Mark Twain quote about statistics and an event that happened to my wife and I as we underwent genetic counselling.

    Twain? “There are lies, damn lies and statistics…” I gather he knew that people can spin numbers to suit their arguments. I also perceive that he perhaps had encountered people like Jeff who won’t see reason regardless of the numbers thrown at them… because they can throw them right back.

    We had children late in life and were awaiting the birth of twins. The genetic counsellor gave us the “facts” that there was a very high risk of having a child with Down Syndrome. I don’t recall the actual number but say it was 1/90. She offered us the opportunity of having an amnio test done on one of the twins. We asked about the risk of losing a child as a result of that test and were told it was very low, and she straightfaced gave us the same number. I laughed in her face, much to her dismay. When I explained the reasons she still didn’t get it.

    People will use statistics however they see fit. Numbers don’t ensure impartiality, and someone who doesn’t want to be swayed will not be swayed.

    That goes both ways, in my story the genetic counsellor couldn’t see how it was ironic that the same risk was both high and low. And to be honest, we weren’t going to be swayed by her numbers one way or the other either.

    We like to assume that people are reasonable beings, but quite often we are far from that, even if we cloak our arguments in “scientific” bling.

    So… you won’t convince Jeff one way or the other.

  31. Jeff

    @Peachy: “People like Jeff should be treated the way lepers used to be treated. He should have to ring a bell and shout “unclean” wherever he goes. And we should be allowed to throw rocks at him if he comes near.”

    Now who sounds like they are out of the medieval ages?

    @Grizzly: “People will use statistics however they see fit. Numbers don’t ensure impartiality, and someone who doesn’t want to be swayed will not be swayed.”

    Exactly

  32. Jeff

    @Todd: “Ah, so you’re a gambling man. By your statements, I’d guess that you enjoy playing Russian Roulette”

    Odds in roulette are only 1/6 but in disease more like 1/1000.

    But let’s put this silly debate about odds to rest. Todd, since I know you are a thoughtful, educated poster, I appreciate your post.

    Here’s what I really think: I am pro-vaccination, it is the socially correct thing to do and teach. That doesn’t mean that certain stubborn individuals (like me) are going to to apply it to themselves. The other night, on coast to coast, George Noory said he won’t do vacs either, whatever the reason, fine. Don’t worry about blogs having this opinion, I’m sure Noory’s message just went out to 10 million people last night, are 10 million reading this? No? But you have nothing to worry about from my end of the spectrum, I’m sure there aren’t many out there except me, the nurse worried about “unholiness”, and a few others.

    So relax. The vaccinations are going ahead as scheduled and will continue to go ahead. No danger about that getting curtailed. This story of disease really will have a happy ending one of these years.

  33. @Jeff

    But you have nothing to worry about from my end of the spectrum, I’m sure there aren’t many out there except me, the nurse worried about “unholiness”, and a few others.

    So relax. The vaccinations are going ahead as scheduled and will continue to go ahead. No danger about that getting curtailed.

    Actually, the impact is a bit more than you seem to understand. I’ll cite some examples.

    * In MN recently, there was a small outbreak (5 individuals) of hemophilus influenzae type B. 1 was vaccinated, but had an immune disorder, so the vaccination did not take. 1 was too young to be vaccinated. The other three were children of parents who refused vaccination. Of those three, 1 died. (http://www.emaxhealth.com/1020/50/28863/minnesota-child-dies-lack-hib-meningitis-vaccination.html)

    * In CA in 2008, there was an outbreak of measles caused by an unvaccinated boy who contracted it when his family went to Europe. He spread it to his siblings, several schoolmates and several patients at the pediatrician’s office. (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm57e222a1.htm)

    * In Germany in 2006, there was a measles outbreak. Approx. 86% of the population was not vaccinated, with opposition to vaccination being one of the top reasons. In that instance, two infants developed encephalitis as complications from measles and died. Of those who survived, a large number required hospitalization. (http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/87/2/07-050187/en/index.html)

    * In Australia this year, a 4-week old died of whooping cough. Her family lives in an area with very low vaccination rates. The low vaccination rate is attributable to the activities of anti-vaccination sentiments. (http://www.northernstar.com.au/story/2009/03/12/whooping-cough-claims-life-of-Lennox-Head-infant/) Here’s an open letter from her parents (http://danamccaffery.com/openletter.html).

    * In England and Wales, there have been outbreaks of measles due to anti-vaccination activity (in large part thanks to a fraudulent study by Andrew Wakefield). While their vaccination rates are starting to improve, it is still well below the threshold for community immunity.

    As you can see, anti-vaccination sentiments do have a pretty big impact. Some of the big names who are spreading misinformation and outright lies about vaccines are: Jenny McCarthy, David Kirby, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Andrew Wakefield, Meryl Dorey and Barbara Loe Fisher. There are also several web sites doing the same: Age of Autism, Generation Rescue, National Vaccine Information Center. These people are also getting accepting forums to spread their misinformation: Larry King Live, Oprah and Ellen all gave air time to these folks with no one to counter their misstatements.

    I am pro-vaccination, it is the socially correct thing to do and teach.

    Glad to hear you say that. Actually, going back and re-reading your posts, I can see that you are for people getting vaccinated. I still find your reasons somewhat disturbing, if they are based on nothing more than stubbornness and a desire to not get jabbed with any needles. I would have hoped that you had some rational reason (e.g., medical condition precluding vaccination).

  34. TheBlackCat

    But you have nothing to worry about from my end of the spectrum, I’m sure there aren’t many out there except me, the nurse worried about “unholiness”, and a few others.

    The problem is that you are wrong. There are a great many people like you, and children are dying because of it. We are having major outbreaks of once almost unheard-of diseases because there are so many people like you. The concern about you infecting vulnerable members of society is not a hypothetical scenario, it is happening across the developed world.

  35. Jeff

    http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2008/WHO_IVB_2008_eng.pdf

    This link, for example, pages 18-19, shows an encouraging set of statistics for infant immunizations in countries reporting to WHO.

    For example, in americas, %vaccinated was 50% in 1980 but near 100% in 2000s.

    Sounds like the pro-vac forces are winning out against the anti-vac tirades.

  36. @TBC

    I have a comment in moderation illustrating the impact of people with attitudes similar to Jeff’s.

  37. Jeff

    @Todd: from the Australia article:

    “People ask how they can help ease our pain. We simply ask that:
    – All parents vaccinate their children
    – All adults get a booster, which the government should make free for everyone
    – If you have a cough, get tested for Pertussis to prevent the spread of the bacteria
    – All levels of government and health workers improve processes to warn the community of outbreaks of any virus or disease and precautions to take.

    We owe it to Dana.

    Yours in Community
    Toni and David McCaffery”

    Now that does get my attention. That is truly heartbreaking. I’ll do what I can to spread pro-vac information, and I’m in a position where I can do it. And if they ask me about myself, I’ll evade the question.

  38. TheBlackCat

    @ Jeff: Your hypocrisy and total disregard for the well-being of others are both staggering and terrifying.

  39. Jeff

    @TBC:

    forget the “hypocrisy”.

    I’ll be able to get at least a thousand people to get their vacs in next few years. Sounds like a good plan to me.

  40. TheBlackCat

    @ Jeff: How do you plan to do that? By getting so many innocent children sick that parents are scared back into getting vaccines? Otherwise I fail to see how you will accomplish anything. And I fail to see why you wouldn’t get vaccinated, except for a callous disregard for everyone else.

  41. Ryan

    You’d think someone looking for extraterrestrial life would be pro-virus and pro-bacteria seeing how they are the only things that will save us when the invasion comes.

  42. Jeff

    @TBC: “I fail to see how you will accomplish anything”

    Oh, I definetely will. I’ll work out the details with the local community people. Remember, I’m perfectly healthy, only people on this blog put it into your mind that I was sick.

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