Vaccines work

By Phil Plait | January 5, 2010 7:30 am

I just wanted to post this graph, which I found while researching vaccinations.


Antivaxxers: bite me*. We win.

* Of course, antivaxxers would never bite me. Since I’m fully vaccinated, they might get autism or mercury poisoning or accidentally catch my reality cooties.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Alt-Med, Antiscience

Comments (98)

  1. Of course, antivaxxers would never bite me. Since I’m fully vaccinated, they might […] accidentally catch my reality cooties.

    You know, they have a cooties vaccine available.

    Oh, wait… Never mind.

  2. StevoR

    Off topic sorry but please can some-one please tell me (or better yet link the thread) – Who was that crazy woman who thought NASA needed to get the Moon goddesss’es permission to land a probe (think it was LCROSS) on the Moon?

    I’ve been looking in the archives here but can’t seem to find it or at least not sure. Is it the same as the astrologer who cast the LRO’s horoscope or was that somebody else?

    Its for explaining *this* story to a local writers group :


    By StevoR 2009 Dec. 29th.

    The Moon Goddess drifted lonely and restless across the magnificent desolation that was her home and very self. Selene, she’d called herself based on an old myth that she’d heard but an eye-blink of her perception ago. She was composed of demi-Higgs and super-charmed quarks and other particles and fields as yet unknown to Human minds and still outside their conception of the electromagnetic spectrum. An ethereal Spirit, she’d been here from the start, from the femtosecond the Moon had coalesced from the shattered remnants of Earth and Theia. Born in fire, collision and lava and shortly afterwards bombarded late into her birth night with a battering of asteroids and comets.

    After awakening and beginning her sleepless sentience, she then observed, reflected, wandered, felt and simply was for aeon upon aeon; night upon night. Sensing everything within her restricted domain of Moon and, if she stretched out her will, even the shared Earth-Moon space to which she was bound. For near eternity, almost all her life there had been nothing she could do but watch and wonder as comets came and went, as the reverberating thump of the occasional new-forged crater made her not-quite heart not-exactly jump. She merely absorbed ever deeper in her being-home its cratered shades of grey, sinuous rilles and smoothly rounded peaks.

    After billennia of testing her limits of sensing – and they were vast indeed – she gradually became aware over so many aeons of something special rising and sparking on the world that lit up fully half of her and was her nearest and dearest of companions.

    Special creatures that Selene found she could inspire and connect with telepathically in the vaguest possible way. Come she called! It’s been so long! I seek your presence close with me! Inspire me and build me anew as I inspire you and cause your ambitions to reach for the very Moon I am!

    Selene learnt and followed their mayfly generations, watched progress rapid yet paradoxically so painfully slow. She yearned and burned for them and then, at last, they came .. but oh so briefly! She’d gained and lost such marvellous alien new friends in so agonisingly short yet long a time. She wandering amongst her internal landscape now, sliding herself against reminders of their presence. She caressed the descent stages of the six LEM’s the precious memories they contained, pressed herself to the lingering warmth in the minuscle craters where Kaguya and Chandrayaan met their ends.

    Selene loved the blues, she felt that mood crash down upon her now, far harsher than the feather-light touches of those wonderful men and their flying machines. It has already been so long, so long! She played a lonely not-note to herself on a non-existent harmonica equivalent its non-sonic waves unheard amid the airlessness.

    Selene called at wavelengths just barely outside the thick headed Humans range of mental hearing. O Come on! Don’t give up on me, just get in your spaceships and head to me now!

    The dogs heard inside and howled in the night as Selene strove to somehow reach out.
    And on that distant world nearest her, Selene got the barest hint of contact – some silly woman pretending to speak for her and telling the opposite of her wants – and her wrath knew no bounds …

    The End?


    Any constructive feedback welcome too – hope y’all enjoy it. :-)

  3. Grizzly

    Okay, I get both the humour and the frustration behind it. But I think that the graph could stand for itself without the “Bite Me”, I believe that there’s a certain standard of civility that has to be maintained and the “Well they’re wackos…” or “They did it first…” arguments don’t cut it either.

  4. Marzo

    Long time lurker, first post: this post is prompted by an intriguing coincidence, regarding the measles vaccine. Namely, the fact that this vaccine seems to *reduce* the incidence of autism in children:

    Have fun!

  5. Siphoneuphoria

    Science is Real…

    Erm, are you going to blog about Doctor Who? Pretty Please? Or, did I miss it?

  6. Michael D.

    any thought or info about the 100% + increase in cases in the early 1950s and then the 40% or so decrease in the late 1950s?

  7. Just a small point – being right isn’t the same as winning.

  8. Michael D:

    any thought or info about the 100% + increase in cases in the early 1950s and then the 40% or so decrease in the late 1950s?

    Isn’t it obvious? At the start of the “space race”, we broke through the upper atmosphere, letting in some mysterious radiation from space that killed off many strains of the Measles virus, causing the large drop in the late 1950’s. Then, as humans ventured into space, even more “mysterious space radiation” came through, causing the tremendous drop in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, when we went to the Moon, new strains of Lunar Measles were brought back to Earth, causing the bump around 1970. (Fortunately, the holes in the upper atmosphere let in enough radiation to kill those off quickly.)

  9. Dave


    The post you’re looking for was over here:

    And after you’ve checked out that astrologer’s wacky page (and the comments on her page are usually hilarious), note that she has at least two other articles written as a follow-up. It all goes downhill from her first foray….

  10. Dave


    While the comment is awaiting moderation, the post you’re looking for is called “Why I moved away from San Francisco,” which I found by searching the site for “Astrology.” And check out Satoya Wossname’s other articles, too…

  11. rob

    Phil, i hear there’s a homeopathic cure for reality cooties.

  12. Tom

    I wonder if the high activity in the 1950s was because those were the years that the baby boomers were in elementary school.

    Large spike in the number of kids=Large spike in the number of cases of measles

    I’m curious about the 50% drop in the number of cases a few years before the vaccine was licensed, and for the years after the level was fairly constant until the vaccine was introduced. Was it due to another demographic shift (the baby boomers are mostly out of elementary school by this point), or something else?

  13. any thought or info about the 100% + increase in cases in the early 1950s and then the 40% or so decrease in the late 1950s?

    Widespread air travel?

  14. ND

    In the spirit of xkcd, it should be phrased as “Vaccines, it works b*****s”

    or maybe that should be “b***h” instead of “b*****s”

  15. Tom

    So, I wonder if the bump in the graph in the ’90s correlates with an outbreak in an unvaccinated group living relatively close together… Anyone know?

  16. Theron

    Let me imagine troll thinking – confronted with this graph, the troll will seek out a reversed image graph that will purport to show a corresponding rise in autism with the decline in measles. The troll’s graph no doubt would never pass muster if examined critically, but that will be irrelevant to the troll. This is of course a guess on my part, but one based on established patterns of troll behavior. So, yes, you win, we win, but they sure as heck ain’t going to admit it.

  17. John

    Correlation does not equal causation, if it did you could say that the assassination of kennedy caused the drop in measles.

    Not that I disagree with the science here, just that you need more than a graph to persuade me. I’m a skeptic.

  18. jack lecou

    any thought or info about the 100% + increase in cases in the early 1950s and then the 40% or so decrease in the late 1950s?

    I Am Not An Epidemiologist, but the pre-vaccine graph looks noisy enough that it could all be chalked up to normal annual variation. Some strains in some years might just be more virulent than others.

    But maybe high birth rates in the late 40s have something to do with it too, with rates spiking upward for the following decade as those children come on the market for the virus, so to speak.

  19. Gary Ansorge

    That spike in the late ’50s IS consistent with the post WWII influx of Boomers into grade school, which then leveled off to more normal levels, consistent with acquired immunity from catching the bug. It’s the precipitous drop from the mid sixties introduction of the vaccine that’s really interesting.

    I have a friend who interprets for the deaf. Her clients are declining in number because of that vaccine.(those who developed hearing loss because of measles are dying off now.) Another 20 years and most of those who went deaf because of the measles will be nearly gone. Fortunately, she should be retired by then.

    Gary 7

  20. John #17: I think you’re going overboard on the “correlation does not imply causation” thing here. Don’t confuse it with “correlation is never due to a particular cause”. In other words, correlation CAN imply causation, but you just don’t want to start with that assumption.

    In this case, the supposed increase in autism (which in itself is up for debate) supposedly correlating (which is also up for debate) with an increase in the use of vaccines (which actually has happened) doesn’t imply a cause, because there is no obvious link. When the link was suggested, it was researched, and found not to be there; so now we know with a high degree of certainty that vaccines do not cause autism. But there is an obvious and self-evident link between vaccinating for a disease and a correlating decrease in cases of that disease, so that famous (and sometimes overused) statement doesn’t apply here.

    Put simply, people who were given the polio vaccine had a much lower incidence of polio than people who were not given the vaccine. To look at that and say “well, correlation doesn’t imply causation” is getting a bit existential, isn’t it? It sort of misses the point of science.

  21. JWB

    1) Didn’t you just post a while back about the need for civility in branding skepticism? “Bite me” doesn’t seem up to this blog’s usual rigor. We all give in to the animal from time to time, though. I get it.

    2) I don’t think most antivaxxers would argue that they don’t work, just that they have mystical, unproven side effects.


  22. So very very true.. this chart is so telling.

    I was just doing some research on this as well and found a recent article that links autism increase more to environmental pollution than to vaccines, which is a lot more plausible considering the extreme concentrations of pollutants in ACTUAL polluted areas versus the minute (some might say almost homeopathic!!!! haha.. forget that..) concentrations in vaccines:

  23. Echoing Grizzly in comment #3 and others. The ‘Bite me’ part, while it made me smile, didn’t help the skeptic(TM) brand.

  24. JJ

    I don’t disagree that vaccines do indeed prevent the spread of disease, however the antivax movement argues the correlation between vaccines and autism, not that vaccines don’t work. Therefore, this data is irrelevant in that argument. I am, however, still skeptical that vaccines are not, at least to some degree, connected to autism. There’s a significant amount of data and real world experiences that suggests a correlation. You can’t tell me, without a doubt, that bombarding an under-developed immune system with 30+ vaccines can’t cause some sort of damage in certain infants. Vaccines can be dangerous to anyone, as seen through cases of Guillain Barre for example. Certainly, more research wouldn’t hurt.

  25. Greg in Austin

    John Says:

    Correlation does not equal causation, if it did you could say that the assassination of kennedy caused the drop in measles.

    Not that I disagree with the science here, just that you need more than a graph to persuade me. I’m a skeptic.

    Not the case here, John. Scientifically speaking, the reduction in the cases of Measles can be directly measured. We know the vaccines work in a lab, and we have data that it works in the general population. Just like the use of seatbelts and airbags has measurably caused a reduction in traffic fatalities, we can show how that works in both crash tests and in traffic data.

    The whole point of using science here is to FIND a direct causation. Your skepticism is appreciated, but misguided.


  26. Theron

    I fully support the use of “Bite me.” The anti-vaxxers are getting people killed. “Bite me,” under the circumstances, is actually a bit on the overly polite side of things.

  27. John #17,

    I agree with carey #20, but I think (s)he missed a point. Correlation usually is applied to two things with similar responses. For example #of swimming pools and global temperature. Its why the AGW denialists claim that this fallacy is used for CO2 and global temperature. Its also why cause and effect are hard to wean out and hard to communicate for GW.

    That is not what we have here, we have a specific event and then a significant change in the characteristic response of problem. you are thinking of a post hos fallacy (not causation-correlation). But we have good knowledge of the mechanisms of why this happened. Further still this is the expected result (i.e. verification of a prediction) from this specific intervention (i.e. it was not pos hoc).

    A graph summarizes all of this very well.

    I like the “Bite me” part. Its far tamer than showing scientists eating babies.

  28. Perhaps this is a naive question, but the graph refers to “cases” of measles, not deaths. Isn’t that part of what anti-vaxers are on about? That, and autism? I mean, if people simply “got” the measles, but didn’t die, why is the reduction in cases significant? What’s the death and/or impairment rate for measles and how does it compare with the death/impairment rate for vaccine side effects?
    Just asking (pro-vaxxer here!)

  29. CJSF

    Would expressing the the number of cases per 1000 or something similar smooth out the graph? Is that data available?


  30. cjsf,

    the data may be avalable but you can do it in you head.

    we know america population has been increasing since the 50s. You questions is what happens if we change the y-axis to % of population. There were more cases pre-vaccine and lower population, so the percentage would be larger than when there are fewer cases and more population.

    It would make the graph look even worse.

    As for death rate…Since the infection rate has dropped, the death rate should drop accordingly. however since medicine and treatment has improved, its likely the the deathrate has dropped even further than would be expected simply by dropping the infection rate.

  31. John Keller

    Here’s a nice website that includes the infection rate of may more diseases and when appropriate the effect of vaccines on the infection rate.

  32. @artbot

    True, the graph doesn’t tell the whole story. I don’t have anything at the tip of my fingers, but you can examine the CDC’s Pink Book data to see death rates and such for the various years.

    Also, in general, I encourage people to give a read (linked in my name) before posting, as some questions may be answered there.

  33. Steve in Dublin

    Original comment withdrawn. Got my decades mixed up. I thought Wakefield’s paper came out in 1989, but I checked and it was 1998. I see Todd W. already beat me to it.

    As a former Sat Nite Live actress would have said: “Oops. Never mind.”

  34. @Steve in Dublin

    It the data were for the UK, perhaps, but as this is for the U.S., and it took a while before Wakefield’s nonsense made it across the pond, doubtful.

  35. No, no no, the drop in childhood disease is due to a hard push of Christian revival tent tours that increased prayer rates across the country and thus lessened the Lord’s [TM] sanctions against us.

  36. I don’t think most antivaxxers are saying that vaccines don’t work. It is the side effects of the vaccine that are in dispute. This graph does nothing to confirm or deny side effects.

  37. ndt

    Grizzly Says:
    January 5th, 2010 at 7:43 am
    Okay, I get both the humour and the frustration behind it. But I think that the graph could stand for itself without the “Bite Me”, I believe that there’s a certain standard of civility that has to be maintained

    Your concern is noted. “Bite me” is pretty damn tame.

  38. Calli Arcale

    Actually, quite a few of them do claim that vaccines don’t work at all, and that therefore any side effects at all are unconscionable. Some do a bit of a kettle defense — vaccines don’t work, natural exposure is more effective, and the diseases aren’t that bad anyway. One of the most frequent antivax claims is that measles rates were dropping well before the introduction of the vaccine, so we’re vaccinating against something that’s gone anyway.

    Problem is, they’re all looking at measles *deaths*, not measles *cases*. Deaths did drop a bit before the vaccine was introduced, mostly because of advances in life support technology that allowed the very very ill a chance of survival. But the actual incidence of the disease didn’t change, and neither did the rate of severe cases.

  39. @Jerry Critter

    Actually, a lot of antivaxers do dispute the efficacy of vaccines. Some agree they work and focus on side effects, but there are quite a number who argue that good hygiene/sanitation and diet are responsible.

    And as I said earlier, it is true that the graph doesn’t tell the whole story. That info is available, though.

  40. TBell

    @Jerry Critter

    Antivaxxers understate the benefits in addition to overstating (or outright fabricating) the risks, so the graph is useful in that respect.

  41. Calli Arcale

    BTW, part of the trouble with measles is that though most patients won’t die, a significant number will have serious consequences such as brain damage, blindness, or even just the setback of missing enough school to have to retake the semester. (Not really a problem for an affluent kid, but it could alter the life prospects of a poor kid.) We need to keep herd immunity up against it until it is eradicated, because like smallpox, it is extremely contagious. It would take very little for it to restablish itself if our community became naive (in the immunological sense) and then children would die.

  42. Greg in Austin

    Jerry Critter said,

    I don’t think most antivaxxers are saying that vaccines don’t work. It is the side effects of the vaccine that are in dispute. This graph does nothing to confirm or deny side effects.

    The known possible side effects are not in dispute either. They are actually listed on the CDC’s website. In any case, the side effects are far better than the alternative – you know, like millions of people dying from the virus.

    If you search, even briefly, for pro-antivax websites, you will see right away that their top 3 arguments are “Vaccines don’t work,” “Vaccines are unsafe,” and “Vaccines cause autism.” All 3 of these are untrue.


  43. Dave

    (Call me Dave2 — different Dave from the one above.)

    To repeat what a few others have said: “bite me” is in poor taste. The “it’s actually pretty tame” defense is not a good one. The whole point is that we don’t want to just be talking to ourselves. We want people who initially disagree who stop by here not to be turned off by poor manners. The fact that Phil could have said something more rude than “bite me” should not be confused for “bite me” being a welcoming thing to say.

    Quoting from Steve Cuno’s “Brand Skepticism” post a few days ago that Phil linked to:
    “Play nice. There’s no need to respect silly beliefs, but there’s also no need to treat with open derision the people who hold them. We may think we’re standing up for science, when in reality we’re only conveying, “Skeptics are ill-mannered.””

  44. Ray

    With all due respect to the “civility” crowd – bite me is more than appropriate.

    There are times and places when you must be blunt to the willfully ignorant and uneducated. They understand nothing more complicated and its rather like talking to your dog; Ginger blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah.

  45. Dave

    (Dave2 again.)

    To those who have commented on the skeptical comment above regarding whether the graph proves that the vaccine works:
    (1) Many of you seem to be of the opinion that the only examples of spurious correlations are silly ones of the ilk of “Kennedy’s assassination caused a decrease in measles cases.” This is not true. The most dangerous sort of spurious correlations are not ones that are obviously false, but ones that seem genuine, ones where we think we have a causation mechanism in mind, but where we’re actually wrong.
    (2) Although I am sure that the graph is depicting a drop in cases due to real efficacy of the vaccine, you have been adding information to the graph in your responses to the commenter. The commenter is right that the graph itself shows only correlation, not causation.

    Also, while it’s important to note that measles vaccine seems to work, this does not prove that flu vaccine works. There is a recent article in The Atlantic that argues that flu vaccine has the most beneficial response in young people with healthy immune systems — a demographic that is unlikely to be adversely affected by influenza anyway. Yes, this is true even though there might be a mildly W-shaped mortality curve for swine flu: infants and the elderly are at far greater risk than healthy youth. And it seems that the immune systems of infants and the elderly do not benefit much from flu vaccine.

    The article doesn’t argue that we should be scared of side-effects, but simply points out that flu vaccine is not terribly effective in preventing death from flu.

  46. Dave


    @Ray (#44):

    (a) If you want this to be a place where we sit around pleasuring each other, then “bite me” is fine.
    (b) If you want this to be a welcoming environment for people initially prone to be skeptical of vaccine, “bite me” is counterproductive.

    I prefer (b), personally. I hope Phil does too.

  47. Just take a long term outlook. Antivaxxers are one of the few remaining politically correct methods of culling the herd.

  48. @vanderleun

    Except that they cull good members of the herd along with themselves.

  49. Trebuchet

    I gained my measles immunity the hard way, by contributing to the early 1950’s spike. I wish there’d been a vaccine, I remember feeling pretty lousy even though I was only five years old. The correlation between the spike in the early 50’s and the first of the boomers entering school makes perfect sense to me.

    I never had mumps or rubella so I expect I’m depending on herd immunity to protect me from those even today. I did have chicken pox — my parents took me to play with a sick kid on purpose so I would get it and get it over with! Thanks to that, I got to have shingles as an adult.

    I was also one of the first to receive the Salk polio vaccine. Another horror the anti-vaxers don’t seem to remember.

  50. rrt

    My comments seem to be getting eaten, so I’ll try a shorter version.

    I think we’re ignoring the inherent benefit in preventing the “consequence-free” cases of measles, etc., too. These diseases aren’t fun all by themselves, and I would gladly get a shot purely to avoid the pustules.

    As for the pearl-clutching, I’m sorry, but I very much disagree. I do indeed think derision has an important, useful role in diplomacy. We can debate how much–I hardly ever use it. But these people aren’t just ignorant or dumb or willful liars. They’re causing suffering and death. I’ve watched some of that suffering firsthand, and in light of even that minor experience I will NOT criticize someone for saying far worse to them than “bite me”.

  51. @Todd W: “Except that they cull good members of the herd along with themselves.”

    Think “gene pool” as in “shallow end.”

  52. Quiet Desperation


    Some Navajos protested to NASA about the Lunar Prospector probe because the vehicle carried the ashes of Eugene Shoemaker (of Jupiter impacting comet fame). Could that be what you’re thinking about?

    The moon is considered sacred by many native Americans, and spreading ashes on sacred ground is bad. Or something. That prompted a local radio host to say about whomever at NASA first got the call of protest: “Doesn’t anyone ever just hang up the phone?”

    I cracked up at that. :-) I find I can use it for so many woo news stories.

  53. Well, if the moon is sacred ground to some Native Americans couldn’t we just move the tribe back there? It’s only fair.

  54. I can just hear Jackie Gleason saying, “One of these days…. one of these days, Na’vi… POW! right to the moon!”

  55. Petros

    I am stunned at the sight of ‘Politenessman’ dashing about hurling his steel hankie, over the use of the term ‘Bite Me’.

    How polite do you need to be to a pack of delusional serial killers?

  56. Grizzly

    Well, I was actually going to refer to the Cuno post myself, but as I said, I do see the humour in the invective. As a moderator I have used it myself.

    Fact is though that we as skeptics are purveyors of facts in a land where feelings rule, and we should be aware of that. Come across as smug and arrogant and we lose more people than we can ever know.

    As the father of an Aspie who has some Aspie traits himself, I see a lot of the “Spock” mentality among skeptics. And hey, we can preach to the choir a whole heck of a lot, but that’s not who we’re trying to reach.

    Feel indignant, feel upset at the fact that children are dying over this idiocy, but fight the idea and speak to the idea in a way that is civil.

    Understand that the people we are trying to reach aren’t speaking the same language we are, and when they feel ridiculed they turn away.

  57. Vaccines work, we have the data, we win or we should be winning. Having the data doesn’t always mean you win.

  58. Michael Swanson

    I don’t remember where I picked this up, but it’s a beautiful satire about how people can’t tell coincidence from correlation from causation. The bread comment in the article reminded me of it.

    Bread Kills!

    1. More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users.
    2. Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests.
    3. In the 18th century, when virtually all bread was baked in the home, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza ravaged whole nations.
    4. Every piece of bread you eat brings you nearer to death.
    5. Bread is associated with all the major diseases of the body. For example, nearly all sick people have eaten bread. The effects are obviously cumulative:
    • 99.9% of all people who die from cancer have eaten bread.
    • 100% of all soldiers have eaten bread.
    • 96.9% of all Communist sympathizers have eaten bread.
    • 99.7% of the people involved in air and auto accidents ate bread within 6 months preceding the accident.
    • 93.1% of juvenile delinquents came from homes where bread is served frequently.
    6. Evidence points to the long-term effects of bread eating: Of all people born before 1839 who later dined on bread, there has been a 100% mortality rate.
    7. Bread is made from a substance called “dough.” It has been proven that as little as a teaspoon of dough can be used to suffocate a lab rat. The average American eats more bread than that in one day!
    8. Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and osteoporosis.
    9. Bread has been proven to be addictive. Subjects deprived of bread and being fed only water begged for bread after as little as two days.
    10. Bread is often a “gateway” food item, leading the user to “harder” items such as butter, jelly, peanut butter, and even cold cuts.
    11. Bread has been proven to absorb water. Since the human body is more than 90 percent water, it follows that eating bread could lead to your body being taken over by this absorptive food product, turning you into a soggy, gooey bread-pudding person.
    12. Newborn babies can choke on bread.
    13. Bread is baked at temperatures as high as 400 degrees Fahrenheit! That kind of heat can kill an adult in less than one minute.
    14. Most bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.

  59. Simple jimmy

    Off course some vaccines are good,but takeing 40 in a lifetime is not ok.

  60. Brian Too

    Well, the graph is certainly bogus. Take a look–it’s a hockey stick! And as we all know, hockey sticks are proof positive of fallacious reasoning. In fact all you have to do is say the words “hockey stick” to disprove any scientific publication.

    Or so certain commentors on another topic would have us believe.

  61. Bill in SF

    I’m going to echo Trebuchet #48 – I got measles around 1960, though I’m slightly later in the Baby Boom and wasn’t in elementary school yet. Got chicken pox as a birthday present from my brother, and having seen my grandmother go through shingles, I’m planning to get that vaccine once the CDC, Euros, and Big Pharma settle on whether it’s more effective if I wait for age 60 or not. Pneumonia vaccine? It doesn’t cover all types, but Not Dying from Easily Preventable Causes sounds like an obvious choice.

  62. StevoR

    @ 9 & 10. Dave Says:

    @StevoR: While the comment is awaiting moderation, the post you’re looking for is called “Why I moved away from San Francisco,” which I found by searching the site for “Astrology.” And check out Satoya Wossname’s other articles, too…

    Thanks that’s exactly the one I was thinking of! Excellent. :-)

    That is very much appreciated. Hope y’all enjoyed the short story there too. :-)

    @ 51. Quiet Desperation Says:

    @StevoR: Some Navajos protested to NASA about the Lunar Prospector probe because the vehicle carried the ashes of Eugene Shoemaker (of Jupiter impacting comet fame). Could that be what you’re thinking about?

    No but it’s quite a similar situation – thanks. :-)
    I don’t recall hearing about that one – did the BA blog on it?

    The moon is considered sacred by many native Americans, and spreading ashes on sacred ground is bad. Or something. That prompted a local radio host to say about whomever at NASA first got the call of protest: “Doesn’t anyone ever just hang up the phone?” I cracked up at that. I find I can use it for so many woo news stories.

    Yes indeed. You have to wonder what the expression on the person’s face taking that call was. I bet there were some rolled eyes and raised eyebrow. ;-)

    @ 52. vanderleun Says:

    Well, if the moon is sacred ground to some Native Americans couldn’t we just move the tribe back there? It’s only fair.

    Classic – that’s a great one which wins the “comment of the thread” in my book. LOL. :-D

  63. @Michael Swanson (#56), thanks for a laugh! Reminds me of the DHMO controversy! Well done!

  64. Alezmendi

    Rad. Of course vaccines work.

    Like most conspiracy theorists and paranoids, ant-vaccinators need to move on and pursue something productive and worth their time.

  65. Naomi

    @Trebuchet — if you had measles but not mumps or rubella and didn’t ever get vaccinated against them, for goodness’ sake pick up a phone and make an appointment to get the vaccine. Vaccines are not just for children! They are more than willing to give the MMR to adults as well.

    I regularly run into other parents who never had chicken pox as kids, and who haven’t been vaccinated. Vaccines work (see above chart) and a shot is way more fun than getting the disease! If you’re an adult who never had the chicken pox — especially with chicken pox, you’re probably going to get exposed sooner or later, so go get the vaccine.

  66. To the concern trolls (yes, that’s what you are, don’t bother protesting it) wringing their hands and rending their garments: Bite me.

    To the generally ignorant popping up to spew anti-scientific garbage without anything other than their lack of knowledge to back them up: Bite me twice.

  67. Scott D.

    @ Simple jimmy #60, how many preventable communicable deceases do you want to catch?

    The more vaccines the population has, the fewer deceases there are for people to worry about and die from. I, fore one, was upset when I found out that the Lyme Disease vaccine was pulled (I’m in a high risk profession and would have liked to get that shot).

  68. Travis

    The oscillations in the graph are due to the natural variances in virus epidemics. Had the vaccine not been introduced you would have seen, on cue, another spike in the late 60’s. Of course we can see that the opposite happened and, when it should have spiked again, it dropped.

    Oh and just about every anti-vaxxer I’ve encountered does believe that vaccines don’t work, period! They have strange ideas that proper nutrition is all that is needed to wipe these diseases out and most, rather disturbingly, regard those that die from the disease as “inferior” and that society is better with the “weak” removed. They cite their own lack of infection from such diseases as proof that they are Ubermensch and, presumably, they believe their children will be as well.

  69. Buzz Parsec

    Simp@60, most people eat hundreds or thousands of times that many slices of bread in their lifetimes. Why aren’t you concerned about that?

  70. MadScientist

    That data is ancient history. Thanks to the anti-vax movement we are seeing such a huge increase in cases that the line no longer looks flat. You need an updated graph showing the growing mountain of cases and label it “Jenny McCarthy, Barbara Loe Fisher, et al”.

  71. Mark Hansen

    How many in a lifetime is good, Jimmy? One? Two? Five? Ten? At what arbitrary number should we literally say “ne plus ultra“? And why?

  72. @Ken B,

    “You know, they have a cooties vaccine available.

    Oh, wait… Never mind.”

    To be fair, that vaccine isn’t too effective. Simply draw a circle, circle, square, square and the vaccination is not only rendered useless but the person will have them everywhere!

  73. @Simple jimmy,

    40 in a lifetime isn’t ok? Are you arguing that those 40 are too much for our immune system or that “toxins” in the vaccines build up? If the former, do you know how many different pathogens we’re exposed to every day? (Hint: Much more than 40!) If the latter, most of the claimed “toxins” either aren’t really in vaccines (there’s no anti-freeze in vaccines) or exist in trace amounts. Even if you do get some small amount of chemicals in your system from the vaccine, your body has plenty of time to deal with it (read: remove it from your system) before you get your next shot.

  74. Jim

    My grandmother died of complications from post-polio syndrome. I saw a kid’s final minutes with Hib. I needed no persuasion to vaccinate both my boys in accordance with the AAP schedule, and if a new vaccine emerges – and is as properly tested and proven effective as the vaccines on the current schedule are – then they’ll be getting those as well.

    My oldest generally gets a mild fever after vaccination, the younger gets a little redness around the injection site. A minor price to pay to keep them from dying.

    I don’t think “bite me” is an overly harsh response to people who claim that by vaccinating, I put my children in harm’s way.

  75. Greg in Austin

    Simple jimmy Says:

    Off course some vaccines are good,but takeing 40 in a lifetime is not ok.

    Please elaborate. Which vaccines are good? Which ones are not good? Why do you think 40 vaccines is too many? Please give some reason for your argument, otherwise your comment is simply ignorance on your part.


  76. Grizzly

    @66, well, that was productive.

  77. D-Dave

    Hi Dave(2)! I should have known better than to use such a common name to post to a popular blog! I’ll go with “D-Dave” so that we have a clear Distinction between ‘Dis Dave and yourself.

    Back to the scaremongering about vaccines (Simple Jimmy and others) – seriously, why the fuss? We willingly expose ourselves to vastly higher concentrations of mercury every time a can of tuna is consumed, and from my understanding, every other claimed culprit of what makes vaccines evil is also in our environment, either in much higher concentrations or in a much nastier form. For all the chemical soups we subject ourselves to, WonderBread is scarier than a vaccine. (Seriously!! It NEVER goes bad! Mold won’t touch it! What do those spores know that I don’t? How is THAT not creepy?)

    But guess what? Our bodies have an amazing ability to cope with such things. The only part of the vaccination process that our bodies apparently does NOT handle well is the fact that the injection itself is scary, icky, and potentially mildly painful. So let’s all be big girls and boys already, and let’s stop rationalizing our fear of needles!

  78. Dave

    (Dave2 here)

    @67 (Victor)

    So anyone who thinks that it’s a good idea to be polite even to those who disagree with us is, ipso facto, one of THEM, an antivaxxer? And apparently I, as a “concern troll,” am trying to undermine the “skepticism” crowd through the insidious tool known as politeness?

    I thought we were supposed to be the reality-based community. In the real world, where I like to hang out, bad manners tend to turn people off. Good arguments tend to make converts. Bad manners combined with good arguments tend to be less effective than good arguments alone.

    If you (and Phil?) would prefer to hang out in your “skepticism” party and say “bite me” to anyone who stops by with alternate viewpoints, you might have a fun afternoon, but you won’t change the world. I’d prefer to make the world a better place.

  79. Calli Arcale


    Also, while it’s important to note that measles vaccine seems to work, this does not prove that flu vaccine works. There is a recent article in The Atlantic that argues that flu vaccine has the most beneficial response in young people with healthy immune systems — a demographic that is unlikely to be adversely affected by influenza anyway.

    Ah yes, the Brownlee piece. That’s been taken apart by a number of folks, and you may want to read their opinions. Bottom line: the numbers for flu vaccine efficacy quoted in the article are not correct, and the vaccine is much more effective than Browlee paints it.

  80. Dave


    Thanks for the links. Looking forward to reading them.

    (And isn’t this a nicer way to discuss things than saying “bite me”? — this question isn’t directed at you, Calli.)

  81. Dave

    Okay, read them.

    The first link’s piece sure is longwinded, and focuses overly on bashing Jefferson’s character instead of the substance of the argument.

    That said, I agree that the Atlantic article was probably irresponsibly written and timed. Here’s how I feel, after having read the article: People should get vaccinated, but flu vaccine is less effective in preventing flu deaths than I had thought it was, especially for the elderly, and vaccine alone will not save us in the event of a truly deadly pandemic (though it will probably help a great deal).

    Now, I basically feel the same way. But it looks like Jefferson might a bit hyperbolic, and Brownlee a bit overly breathless in her descriptions of Jackson and Jefferson.

    Nowhere does the article argue that flu vaccine is dangerous, and it’s a shame (though this was predictable) that it is being used by antivaxxers to justify arguments against getting inoculation.

  82. Calli Arcale

    Well, that would be Orac’s style. The blog isn’t called “Respectful Insolence” for nothing. ;-)

    But the bottom line (which I didn’t have time to get into, which is why I grabbed a bunch of handy links instead, so I could get to a dreadfully boring meeting) is that flu vaccine efficacy is not that straightforward. Probably the best odds of a flu vaccine in recent memory would be this year’s 2009 H1N1 monovalent vaccine. It’s extremely rare for vaccine makers to have the luxury of actually knowing for near certain which strain to use, and this time they had that chance. Trials showed 95% effectiveness in terms of seroconversion (causing test subjects to produce the desired antibodies), and since these antibodies are known to be the “right” ones for this year’s flu, it should have much better than the rates Brownlee mentioned. (And the trivalent seasonal flu vaccine, which I received this year? 0% effectiveness in preventing flu, because that’s about your odds of even being exposed to that this year. 2009 H1N1 outcompeted those older strains quite effectively, though them, or bits of them, may come back.)

    So flu vaccine isn’t worthless, and it does improve the odds for the immune compromised. It’s less effective in them than it is in healthy folks, but it’s a lot better than nothing, and those folks have a great deal more to lose if they get infected with influenza.

  83. gaiainc

    I wonder if people who are worried about exposing their children to the antigens in vaccines have spent any time thinking about how many antigens a newborn is exposed to when coming out of a vagina. Probably, they don’t, because if they did, they would realize that a baby coming through a vagina is exposed to a hell of a lot more antigens, bacteria, and fungi than what is collectively found in the whole childhood vaccine schedule. Vaginas are not sterile places and are never sterile places and are not meant to be sterile places. This does not include the stool that often is part of the birth process as well as the blood that’s around. Many different ways to infect a baby coming out from a vagina and yet, most babies do fine and their immune systems seem to work pretty decently. I don’t hear the antivaxxers saying that we should do c-sections on all women to protect the babies’ precious immune systems.

    So when someone tries to tell me vaccines are too many too soon on a too fragile immune system, it requires effort to not say they are a fricking idjit and instead explain how unsterile childbirth is and how babies seem to survive that just fine.

  84. Dave

    Thanks for the elaboration, Calli.

  85. Pi-needles

    How polite do you need to be to a pack of delusional serial killers?

    Depends how close to you they are & what they’re armed with. ;-)

    If they’re in custody, fine say what you like -but if they’re right in front of you with a shotgun – Be Polite. Be *very* polite. ;-)

  86. fred edison

    “Reality cooties.” Hahahahaha.

    BTW & FYI, I was finally able to get my H1N1 shot yesterday. Yay! If you are a member of the general population who had to wait for the higher risk categories because of the vaccine shortage, now is a great time to check with your local doctor, clinic, or pharmacy to see if they are offering H1N1 vaccine shot(s). It cost me $18 (a Wall is Green) because my insurance doesn’t pay for preventive medicine of this sort (What?!), but it’s well worth it for my peace of mind and the safety of other people I might come in contact with. I didn’t need any special appointment at my local pharmacy, where I spent all of 15 minutes or so to receive a quick and easy injection.

    What warmed my heart and reminded me why I had to wait so long for the shot, was a comment by the nice & intelligent lady who administered the vaccine to me (she was about 30 to 35 years of age in my guess-timation). She told me she had already had her H1N1 shot because she was pregnant and in one of those higher risk groups the rest of us had to wait for. No problem, nice lady.

  87. ndt

    I guess I’m having a hard time believing that anyone under age 85 would consider “bite me” ill-mannered.

  88. Chris

    Sometimes I really hate how this blog treats links… Dave, another article on the Atlantic piece:
    dub dub dub dot sciencebasedmedicine dot org/?p=2495

  89. I’d call myself “Dave” too but it would seem a little rude given the previous Daves’ compromise.

    I’d really like to see that graph superimposed with a graph of reported autism cases. We all know that correlation is not causation but if there isn’t even a correlation…

    Of course, if there is a correlation we know that doesn’t mean the vaccines caused it but it’s hard to argue against data.

  90. Chris

    David, which version of the DSM would you use for the 1950s and 1960s autism rates?

  91. hamletta

    What the Jenny McCarthys of the world don’t realize is that rising autism diagnoses have more to do with the maturation of developmental pediatrics than any extrinsic cause.

    It’s been years since I worked in the field, and I was a mere lay-critter, but autism has been with us always, we just didn’t know what it was. Tracking developmental progress along with weight and growth charts is a very recent um, development in the pediatric profession. The landmark paper, “The New Morbidity,” was only published in Pediatrics about 35-40 years ago, and only recently have large numbers of pediatricians begun to take developmental screening seriously.

    I don’t know about the specifics of the history of autism and its definition and diagnosis, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that a lot of people who were autistic were assumed to be, well, retarded, and received little to no treatment to help them function, let alone flourish.

    Autism is a heart-breaking mystery for researchers, let alone parents. The neurologists don’t know even what it is, exactly, and the psychologists are sifting for clues in videos of babies who were later diagnosed.

    When I was working in the field, there was some obscure reference to a digestive enzyme that had been give to some kids with autism for GI ailments, and it seemed to alleviate their autism for a while. We were bombarded with calls from desperate parents seeking something, anything.

  92. mbjb

    @hamletta and others upthread: this theory on the autism epidemic is also interesting:


    Autism, Mental Retardation, Cerebral Palsy and the Cord Clamp

    This story is basically very simple. Before birth, the placenta breathes for the child, feeds it and excretes for it. After birth, the child’s lungs, gut and kidneys must take over these functions that are controlled by the child’s brain. During birth, blood is transferred from the placenta to the child so that the lungs, gut, kidneys and brain can function well. Immediate Cord Clamping at birth (ICC) keeps this blood in the placenta.

    In adults, a stroke is caused by loss of blood flow to part of the brain. In the newborn, insufficient blood flow damages those parts of the brain that are actively growing. When a large amount of the child’s blood is clamped in the placenta, blood flow in the brain is impaired and injury results.

    The basic injury is blood loss into the placenta. Birth brain injury is avoided by not clamping the umbilical cord and by allowing placental blood to flow into the child during and after birth. The child closes its own cord vessels naturally and perfectly, and at the correct time – when the right amount of blood has been transfused.

    Autism, Mental Retardation and Cerebral Palsy are preventable by normal – physiological – umbilical cord vessel closure.

  93. Nik

    There’s a similar graph in the “Green Book”, the official UK Dept of Health guidance on vaccines. It’s available free at

    The measles graph is on page 211 (page 229 of the PDF), and not only shows how effective the vaccination is in general, but also how much better MMR is than the older vaccines.

    A lot of interesting info on vaccinations in there, well worth a browse.

  94. The Doc

    Anyone worth there salt in deciphering research would know that one graph cannot “prove” or “disprove” anything (You LOSE). I’ve read dozens of real research documents about many different vaccinations, and the FACT is that none of the research is Empirical. I’d venture to say that 85+ percent of the conclusions rendered from the research is anecdotal at best (much like this sentence). The truth is marred and confusing and not easily found when the issues of vaccines are at play. Vaccines potentially cause frightening and silent side effects that will stay with you, and your children, for the rest of your lives. Before condemning the anti-Vaxx population, understand that there is equal science on both sides of the road, and your half-assed “proof” doesn’t help an already touchy subject.
    So to review, nobody is biting anything, and you don’t win.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar

Login to your Account

E-mail address:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »