Cover story articleAnti-vaccination movement

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Fears about vaccines were excusable when they were new, but present concerns are groundless.
Needles are scary


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Pricks against pricks

The anti-vaccination movement is a loosely organized subculture which blames modern vaccination for a wide range of health problems. The movement, often led by people with no medical or scientific qualifications (or even stripped credentials), is based largely on alleged short and long term side effects, which are often trivial when compared to the severity of what were once common illnesses.

In recent times, there has been much debate in the press and in the doctor's office regarding what possible side-effects vaccines cause and whether these outweigh the risks of leaving a population without a vaccination schedule. Vaccines have been alleged to cause all manner of illnesses; autism is a prominent example, as its direct causes are still fairly mysterious and probably very wide-ranging, with no single cause or lifestyle risk-factor being identified. Some prominent Americans have spoken out vociferously about the supposed danger of vaccines.[1]

The mechanisms for claimed health problems are rejected or have not been explained by current scientific research. Vaccine-preventable diseases have been a major cause of illness, death, and disability throughout human history. The advent of the modern vaccine era has changed this significantly; most North Americans and Europeans have little memory of a pre-vaccine era where diseases such as mumps and measles — to say nothing of smallpox or polio — were common and often deadly.

In the United States, many state laws support an individual (or parental) right to choose whether to be vaccinated against any disease. Forty-eight states allow religious exemptions for compulsory vaccination as of 2014, and twenty states allow exemptions on philosophical or personal objections to vaccination.[2]

John D. Grabenstein, wrote an extensive analysis on parents' religious exemptions for vaccines versus what a wide-range of religions actually say. His analysis found that there were "few canonical bases for declining immunization, with Christian Scientists a notable exception." Parents claims for religious exemption were usually based on fears rather than specific religious tenets.[3][4]


[edit] Origins of vaccination

A Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) chancellor of China, Wang Dan (957–1017 CE), lost his eldest son to smallpox and sought a means to spare the rest of his family from the disease, so he summoned physicians, wise men, and magicians from all across the empire to convene at the capital in Kaifeng and share ideas on how to cure patients of it until a man from Mt. Emei spread knowledge about inoculation.[5] The first clear and credible reference to smallpox inoculation in China comes from Wan Quan's (1499–1582 CE) Douzhen xinfa (痘疹心法, Philosophy on Poxes) of 1549 CE, which states that some women unexpectedly menstruate during the procedure, yet his text did not give details on techniques of inoculation.[6]

Inoculation was reportedly not widely practiced in China until the reign of the Longqing Emperor (reign 1567–1572 CE). From these accounts, it is known that the Chinese banned the practice of using smallpox material from patients who actually had the full-blown disease of Variola major (considered too dangerous); instead they used proxy material of a cotton plug inserted into the nose of a person who had already been inoculated and had only a few scabs.

[edit] Premise

Anti-vaccination rhetoric is usually presented in lots of scary, little "facts." Notice also the gigantic, oversized depiction of the needle.

There are many ideas which are not supported by reviewed and accepted scientific evidence that vaccines are inherently harmful. For example, it is claimed that specific vaccines such as MMR (mumps, measles and rubella), or specific ingredients like thiomersal are causative factors leading to disease. Some claims are more vague, based on the feeling that vaccines are "unnatural," that they are somehow "useless," or that the diseases they prevent "aren't that bad anyway." Anti-vaccination campaigners often use the language of being for "freedom" in whether to be vaccinated, such as with MMR, where the campaign was the "choice" to take a non-combined vaccine. These beliefs often stem from other ideological positions; for instance, vaccination programs are seen as excessive government interference, or as an implementation of socialized medicine, although it's hardly just a conservative thing, as a look around The Huffington Post will tell you, and New Age woo is another reason some oppose vaccines. Similarly, those against "artificial" interference will also shun vaccination regardless of efficacy. It could be argued that these ideologies are the root causes of anti-vaccination positions, and bias which specific concern an individual will be attracted to.

There is, of course, well developed published data on the complication rates of vaccines and this data plays an essential role of the approval process vaccines must pass in order to be licensed for sale, and recommended for use.[7] When faced with this, anti-vaccination activists often argue that the reporting system is not robust enough, resulting in these figures being misleading. The reality is that unexpected side-effects can occur, just as a parachute may fail to open, but the regulatory process ensures that such events are rare and within a risk boundary that means vaccination is statistically safer than non-vaccination.

For vaccination recommendations by governments or advisory institutions (ie. the World Heath Organization) to change to an anti-vaccination stance, it must be fully demonstrated that the harms caused directly by the vaccine are greater than the harms caused by withholding the vaccine from circulation. This needs to be demonstrated at a population level, with solid and significant statistics.

[edit] Known side effects

Adverse reactions to the HPV vaccine Ceravix, reported between April 2008 and 23 September 2009. Very few, and fairly mild.

To put it simply: complications are more likely to arise from illness than from vaccination.

Most commonly used vaccines have a risk of severe complications; however, the risk is ridiculously low. With respect to milder complications, it's often difficult to tell if the vaccine actually was the cause as the nocebo effect can be very strong with injections.

The current impact of vaccines on health is very simply stated by the CDC.[8]

Children who get measles have a 1 in 20 chance of developing a serious complication; however, serious complications from the vaccine number 1 or 2 per million, according to the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins University.[9] Based on historical analysis of measles-infected vs. measles-vaccinated children, a 2015 analysis reported that it is likely that there is a long-term immuno-suppression caused by measles infection that increases the likelihood of fatality from other diseases.[10][11]

Before the introduction of measles vaccination, there were about half a million cases per year in the United States, while only 89 cases were diagnosed in 1998.[9] Historically, the mortality rate for measles in the U.S. was about 1 to 3 deaths per every 1000 cases, with young children suffering the highest mortality rates.[12] Most deaths occur as a result of pneumonia or encephalitis.[13]

After the introduction of polio vaccination, cases in the United States decreased from almost 30,000 in 1955 — many of which led to paralysis or death — to 910 cases by 1962. New cases of polio in the U.S. are now a thing of the past.[9] Of the two types of polio vaccine, the oral vaccine, while effective, is the less safe of the two. As there are no more naturally acquired cases in the U.S., the oral vaccine had become the only cause of polio (8-9 cases). Since the vaccine risk, however small, eventually exceeded the disease risk, the oral vaccine was abandoned in favor of the killed vaccine. In regions where polio is still a major problem, the oral vaccine is still a better choice, as it can enter the water supply and vaccinate others passively. In regions with high HIV rates, this may be less true, as live vaccines are usually avoided in patients with compromised immune systems.

According to Willem van Panhuis et. al. 2013, "a total of 103.1 million cases of these contagious diseases have been prevented since 1924 on the basis of median weekly prevaccine incidence rates."[14]

In Britain, there was concern in the early 70s about the pertussis vaccine, where it was blamed for several cases of encephalitis. Despite the connection never being proven outright, vaccination rates still dropped from 77% to 39%. Following this drop in immunization, the UK was hit by two large whooping cough epidemics (one in 1978, and another in 1982), both of which resulted in many deaths.[9][15] Unfortunately, these sorts of consequences from vaccine denial aren't confined to history; whooping cough also hit the American northwest, generating one of the worst outbreaks in 70 years, with a 1300% increase in cases in 2012 entirely blamed on recent hysteria over vaccines.[16]

The rates of complication from vaccines are so low that the benefit of vaccines for each individual child is higher than the risk of a poor outcome, so it is not true that the few children with adverse events are being sacrificed for the health of others. Nonetheless, in the United States there is legal recognition of the potential for adverse effects from vaccines, which are handled by the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ("vaccine court").[17] This court uses a no-fault compensation program based on a vaccine injury table[18] that is regularly reviewed by the Institute of Medicine.[17]

[edit] Disease vs vaccine

Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vs. the MMR vaccine
Complication rates per infection Complication rates per injection


  • Pneumonia: 60,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Encephalitis: 1,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Corneal lesions: Leading cause of blindness in developing countries.[20][21]
  • Death: 2,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Incidences:
  • Reported: 500,000 cases per year in the U.S. (about 0.3%), population approx 190,000,000[22]
  • Estimated: 3-4,000,000 cases per year (about 2%)[22]

MMR Vaccination:

  • Possibly vaccine-caused anaphylaxis[wp]: 0.65,[23] 1,[19] or 1.8[24] per 1,000,000 injections
  • Possibly given 5 times in a lifetime, including booster shots, high-risk populations, and persons without documentation of vaccination; usually only given 2 times
  • Congenital Rubella Syndrome: 250,000 in 1,000,000 (if woman becomes infected early in pregnancy),[19] which comes with a 7.4% risk of autism.[25][26]
  • Incidences: Rubella occurred primarily in epidemics every 6 to 9 years. During 1964-1965, there were an estimated 12.5 million rubella cases in the United States, population approx. 191 million.[27] Rubella then affected about 0.868% of the population each year, if 12.5 million cases occurred on average every 7.5 years.


  • Testicular atrophy: 140,000 per 1,000,000 males[28]
  • Miscarriage: 250,000 per 1,000,000 in the first trimester[28]
  • Meningitis: 100,000 per 1,000,000[28]
  • Incidences: Before 1967, about 186,000 mumps cases (0.0936% of population) were reported every year; many more occurred.[29]
Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis vs. the DTaP vaccine
Complication rates per infection Complication rates per injection


  • Death: 50,000 per 1,000,000[19]

DTaP vaccine:

  • Continuous crying, then full recovery: 1,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Convulsions or shock, then full recovery: 70 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Acute encephalopathy: 0-10.5 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Death: None proven[19]


  • Death: 200,000 per 1,000,000[19]


  • Pneumonia: 125,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Encephalitis: 50,000 per 1,000,000[19]
  • Death: 650 per 1,000,000[19]

[edit] Purported reasons not to get vaccinated

[edit] Ingredients

[edit] Thiomersal

See the main article on this topic: Thiomersal

Some anti-vaxxers argue that vaccines are bad because they contain thiomersal. Usually, it is claimed that thiomersal is bad because it contains mercury. While some mercury-compounds are toxic, the concentrations of thiomersal in vaccines is so low as to be almost negligible, thiomersal's type of mercury-compound is significantly less harmful, and thiomersal has been phased out from most vaccines in developed countries.

[edit] Intentionally tainted vaccines

A growing number of Muslims believe that Western pharmaceutical companies have intentionally tainted the polio vaccines used in their countries. They believe that Western powers secretly use the vaccines to spread AIDS and/or infertility among Muslims. An alternative story, also applied to insulin, is that the vaccine's chain of manufacture includes live pigs or pig cells. Unfortunately, this wave of hysteria has led to a sharp decrease in polio vaccinations and an almost equally sharp increase in polio cases in Muslim countries.[30] Four state governments in the predominantly-Muslim part of Nigeria further increased the hysteria by banning all polio vaccines in 2004.[31][32] This isn't limited to the developing world; Eustace Mullins wrote an article claiming the polio vaccine was a Jewish plot to mass-poison American children.[33]

[edit] Aborted fetuses

An unfounded fear common to anti-abortion and anti-vaccination "activists" is that aborted fetuses are being used as ingredients in vaccines or that abortions are necessary to manufacture them. This is a distortion of the fact that the weakened form of the viruses in some vaccines are grown in a culture derived from a cell line taken from fetal tissue. There are no fetal cells in vaccines and the original fetuses were aborted way back in the 1960s.[34]

[edit] Diseases

[edit] Autism

There has been much concern about a possible link between autism and vaccines, particularly the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine in the UK and thimerosal in some flu vaccines.[35] Part of this concern is due to a possible rise in cases of diagnosed autism over the last few decades — much of it raised by parents of autistic children, and by prominent Americans such as Jenny McCarthy... but rarely by autistic people themselves. More often than not, evidence given by those peddling a link is indirect and anecdotal. When such groups do attempt to be scientific, they primarily cite links between ethylmercury exposure and other neurological problems outside the setting of vaccine administration. For instance, according to one source, "In 1977, a Russian study found that adults exposed to much lower concentrations of ethylmercury than those given to American children still suffered brain damage years later."[1]

The following statement, attributed to Dr Boyd Haley,[36] whom Orac has referred to as "disgraced,"[37] gives anecdotal evidence of a link between ethylmercury and "brain damage":

You couldn't even construct a study that shows thimerosal is safe... It's just too darn toxic. If you inject thimerosal into an animal, its brain will sicken. If you apply it to living tissue, the cells die. If you put it in a petri dish, the culture dies. Knowing these things, it would be shocking if one could inject it into an infant without causing damage.

This statement works to increase levels of fear, but makes no mention of actual vaccines or actual patients. It certainly doesn't mention statistics or dose levels, which is important when discussing medical effects of chemicals. Pouring a dose of a chemical into a petri-dish of cells (in vitro) is not the same as exposing an actual living human (in vivo) to the chemical — for a start the body has certain defence mechanisms against chemical attack. This is why actual studies are undertaken, and many promising anti-biotics and medicines have failed because they work in vitro but not in vivo.

Several very well-done population-based studies have been conducted into the link between autism and vaccinations, although they aren't very widely reported. These hard facts tend not to resonate with the public consciousness and media as much as anecdotes and sob stories from concerned individuals and interest groups do. This has been a problem with health scares for decades, and shows no sign of going away. The particular studies have looked at actual populations in real life conditions, exposed to the actual substance in question; none have shown any connection between autism and the thimerosal preservative or the MMR vaccine. There is overwhelming evidence that the MMR and thimerosal-containing vaccines play no role in the development of autism.[38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45] This contrasts with many of the papers supposedly showing a link, which are often underpowered or badly controlled. Ironically, one epidemiological study has indicated the MMR vaccine has reduced rates of one risk factor for autism-congenital rubella syndrome.[46]

A small study by Andrew Wakefield, published in The Lancet in 1998, became infamous around 2000-2002 when the UK media caught hold of it. It hypothesized an alleged link between the measles vaccine and autism despite a small sample size of only 12 children. This eventually lead to what Guardian columnist and science writer Ben Goldacre described as "the media's MMR hoax,"[47] due to the evidence for any link being so lacking that it may as well have been entirely manufactured. The paper was partially retracted several years later but continued to be the most often cited case study for the link, despite mounting evidence (including one large study into the rates of autism in adults who wouldn't have received MMR) to the contrary. It was finally considered "thrown out" on February 2, 2010 after it was discovered that Wakefield behaved unethically. Specifically, Wakefield was found guilty of not acting in the best medical interests of the children he did research on (one child was severely injured in a colonoscopy), as well as not disclosing his previous involvements with anti-vaccination groups prior to the study and it hitting the news.[48] Further examinations show that Wakefield outright fabricated information or selectively ignored facts in his study, such as preexisting conditions in 5 of the 12 children.[49]

Autistic adults maintain that it is hate speech to claim that vaccines cause autism because it implies claiming ipso facto that a person is better off dead of an easily preventable disease than alive and autistic.

[edit] Multiple Sclerosis

Concern has been raised about a connection between MS and vaccines, especially the Hepatitis B vaccine. One of the several studies done on the topic showed a potential link,[50] but there were methodological problems,[51] and most other studies failed to show a link.[52][53] The most recent CDC publication on the matter cites fifteen different studies showing no link between MS and the Hepatitis B vaccine.[54]

[edit] SIDS

The DTaP vaccine has been suspected of causing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which causes children to stop breathing and die.[55] However, studies have not shown a connection between SIDS and DTaP vaccinations.[56]

Recent studies have identified abnormalities in the development and function of medullary serotonin (5-HT) pathways in the postmortem brain from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases, suggesting 5-HT-mediated dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system in SIDS.[57][58] This is basically stating that SIDS has a strong genetic component and is more prevalent in families that have issues with serotonin re-uptake, thus preventing the infant from shifting when their airway becomes blocked while asleep.

Research into SIDS is progressing, and has left behind the fictional link to vaccines.

[edit] Shaken baby syndrome

A small group of people have tried to tie Shaken Baby Syndrome to childhood vaccinations. The "studies" that have been published are quite weak. Most are available only online from non-recognized sources, and are "based on personal experiences of the authors..."[59] The rest of the "evidence" is based on personal testimonials of involved parents and physicians.[60][61]

These ideas are well-debunked here (PDF warning).

[edit] "Vaccinosis"

"Vaccinosis" or "Chronic Vaccine Disease" is a term invented by the alternative medicine fraternity to describe a raft of symptoms purportedly caused by vaccines. Like many made up illnesses, claims about "vaccinosis" often exploit genuine symptoms, such as known adverse reactions to vaccines, and exaggerate them to pander to fear and mistrust of medicine.[62]

WHO defines vaccinosis thusly: "Your search for vaccinosis did not match any documents."[63] The CDC, on the other hand, define vaccinosis as: "No pages or documents were found containing 'vaccinosis'."[64]

[edit] Overwhelming the immune system

Under-vaccination and delayed vaccination of children is a much more common problem than completely unvaccinated children. "Overwhelming their developing immune systems" is frequently given as an excuse for parents to delay or skip some vaccines for their children.[65][66]

Because the number and frequency of childhood vaccines has increased over the years[note 1] and because many parents have never seen the horrible effects of most of these separate childhood diseases[note 2], an increasing number of parents have become vaccination-shy on behalf of their children.

A review of medical literature concluded:

Current studies do not support the hypothesis that multiple vaccines overwhelm, weaken, or "use up" the immune system. On the contrary, young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines, as well as to the many other challenges present in the environment. By providing protection against a number of bacterial and viral pathogens, vaccines prevent the "weakening" of the immune system and consequent secondary bacterial infections occasionally caused by natural infection.
—P. A. Offit et al., Pediatrics Vol. 109 No. 1 January 1, 2002[67]

[edit] Complications

[edit] Breastfeeding

One theory, promoted widely across the internet, holds that CDC research showed that breastfeeding reduced the effectiveness of vaccines, and so breastfeeding should be stopped or postponed.[68] However, the study made no such conclusions.[69]

[edit] Social evils

[edit] Big Pharma

Vaccines are often touted as a major source of revenue for Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industry). However, vaccines have much lower profit margins than alternative drugs and only make up 2-3% percent of a trillion-dollar worldwide pharmaceutical industry.[70] If Big Pharma was protecting their bottom line, they wouldn't focus on vaccines.

[edit] Promiscuity

Some ideologues oppose vaccination for political or moral reasons. For example, certain conservatives oppose the use of Gardasil on young girls for fear that it will discourage them from sexual abstinence by eliminating an STD,[71][72] thereby depriving the right of one of its favorite pro-abstinence scare tactics. Though it won't placate Christian fundamentalists from promoting ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs, the CDC announced that a study has shown that Gardasil does not increase the likelihood of unsafe sex among teens.[73]

[edit] Population control conspiracy

Another example was when strange congressman Louie Gohmert voiced his equally strange concerns about vaccination on a Family Research Council broadcast: he's convinced that liberal elites are using vaccination programs to cull the earth's human population due to concerns about the scarcity of natural resources. Apparently, the evil cabal behind such a plan are aiming for a target population of 700 million, which indicates that Gohmert may have pulled that number out of his ass arrived at that number by purely imaginary means.[74]

[edit] Government intrusion

Libertarians also oppose mandatory vaccination, believing simply that the state does not own your body, and therefore mandatory vaccines are a direct contradiction to individual liberties.[75] (Note that vaccination is most effective when everyone else is also vaccinated, meaning this is a clear case of individual choices affecting the "liberty" of others.) So-called Beltway libertarians among others usually make an exception for state-mandated vaccination out of practicality, much as they do national defense. Ronald Bailey at Reason has covered the issue[76] with an argument part moral and part pragmatic, which looks something like this:

  • (1) No vaccine is 100 percent effective.
    • (This concession isn't actually necessary, but is helpful to understanding herd immunity)
  • (2) Vaccines considerably reduce the likelihood that the vaccinee will contract the disease being vaccinated for.
    • Corollary: Taking vaccination as a baseline (which, in the developed world, it is), the unvaccinated are more likely to contract diseases for which vaccines are in widespread use than the average person.
  • (3) You are more likely to catch many of these diseases from someone who has contracted the disease than from someone who has not.
    • Pertussis comes to mind as an example.[77]
  • (4) Per (3), the more people around you have a given contagious disease, the more likely you are to contract it.
    • Corollary: People around you are more likely to contract said disease if you have it.
  • (5) Per (2), (3) and (4), the more people around you are vaccinated, the less likely you are to contract the disease for which they are vaccinated.
    • This is the case irrespective of whether you personally are vaccinated or not.
    • Corollary: If you personally are vaccinated you are less likely to contract that disease, and therefore less likely to transmit it to people around you.
      • Corollary of corollary: If you personally are unvaccinated you are more likely to contract the given disease, and therefore more likely to risk transmitting it to people around you.
    • In both directions, this is the basis of herd immunity: every individual vaccinee in a population reduces the likelihood that a case of a disease will occur at all, and every case that doesn't occur reduces the likelihood, in the rare cases where a vaccine does not work as expected for a given individual, that the individual will ever be exposed to the pathogen anyway. The success of mass smallpox vaccination illustrates the positive feedback loop at work here.
  • (7) As a consequence of the various parts of (6) and the corollary established in (2), by abstaining from vaccination the abstainer exposes people around him to a risk of disease greater than the baseline.
  • (8) Per (7), abstention from vaccination may be reasonably perceived as endangering people around you.

[edit] Social alternatives

Can you explain why better nutrition and sanitation eliminated polio in 1954-55 but waited until 1964 for measles? It's very sneaky of nutrition and sanitation to kick in only at the same year vaccines are released.
—Andrew L.[78]

Many anti-vaxxers claim that better sanitation is the true reason that rates of diseases were massively reduced around the time. This is very questionable. As noted by the quote above, not all diseases decreased at the same time or the same rate, suggesting that they were not prevented by the same changes. "Sanitation" is not a binary -- for example, modern toilets and plumbing, which hugely helps in preventing waterborne diseases such as cholera, took many decades to reach even a majority of citizens in any country. And polio has been nearly eradicated not by eliminating world poverty and lack of sanitation, but via vaccination -- so even if sanitation helps, it is clear that vaccines work.

[edit] Natural alternatives

Some anti-vaxxers, rather than holding some truly far-fetched idea about autism or other diseases being caused by vaccines, claim that natural infection is better for a child than vaccination, simply because it is natural. Very few of these same people want to give their kids large doses of all-natural cyanide, though, for reasons unexplained. That aside, there are several problems with this approach:

  • Vaccines have a much smaller likelihood of causing the symptoms of the disease, such as pneumonia (pneumococcus et al.), meningitis (Haemophilus influenzae, type b), liver cancer (hepatitis B), etc.
  • Some vaccines do a better job building immunity than a "normal" infection with the corresponding disease.[79] It is known that measles infection causes short-term immuno-suppression, and there is evidence to believe that it also causes long-term immuno-suppression.[10][11]
  • Many of the alleged means by which to infect your child are either hit-and-miss or outright scams.

[edit] In the news

[edit] USA

Disease is pestilence, and pestilence is from the Devil. The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down. But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.
—Dina Check, on why her daughter should be entitled to spread disease in New York public schools[80]
A man gets his H1N1 shot. Beware!

In August 2013, there was an outbreak of measles in the Eagle Mountain International Church based in Newark, Texas. The pastor, Terri Pearsons, was critical of vaccines (due to the mythical autism link) and because of this the majority of the church's members refused vaccination. After a member of the congregation traveled to Indonesia they brought the measles back, where it spread quickly to the congregation, staff, and day care. Every reported case (21 total in the church) came from people who refused vaccination. There were no deaths from the outbreak, and the silver-lining came in the form of Pearsons reversing stance and advocating vaccinations, as well as the church hosting vaccination clinics. [81] Another outbreak in late 2014-early 2015, which started in Disneyland, was directly linked to children who weren't vaccinated, where 15 of the original 20 patients in the outbreak had not received the MMR vaccine.[82]

In the United States it is generally held (perhaps "legally held" is a better way to phrase it) that parents have the right to have their children not be inoculated if they, the parents, so desire.

The H1N1 swine flu vaccine was a hot topic among vaccine denialists, from fears the vaccine was unsafe (stoked by reports of side effects from the old 1976 swine flu vaccine) to conspiracy theories that the vaccine was a plot to curb overpopulation.[83]

Safety concerns about the HPV vaccine Cervarix were raised after a girl died after being injected with the vaccine.[84] The story was immediately jumped on by anti-vaccination groups and was widely reported in the general and scaremongering media. It was later determined that the death was due to an undiagnosed tumour, but the same media that cried out for "more research" into the incident preferred to bury this conclusion; undoubtedly a large part of the UK population still believe the young girl died due to a direct reaction to the vaccine. Anti-vaccination blogs and organizations, of course, have cried foul on this conclusion. The Sunday Express also hyped up fears about the jab by — one can only assume deliberately — misquoting Dr Diane Harper and claiming that the vaccine was "just as deadly as the cancer." Indeed, practically every single one of the claims, which were on the front page of the newspaper, were false; ranging from what Dr Harper actually said, to her actual level of involvement in the vaccine. In true tabloid style, the corrections were well and truly buried.[85]

It got into the spotlight in the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination as candidate Michele Bachmann claimed a woman told her her daughter had become mentally retarded after receiving the HPV vaccine while attacking her opponent Rick Perry.

Three of the Republican candidates for the 2016 Presidential race announce that childhood vaccines should be voluntary: Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Rand Paul. Chris Christie was accused of "pandering to the anti-vaxxer crowd".[86][87] Dr. (!) Rand Paul doubled-down — and reiterated Bachmann's idiocy from the previous race — by saying that vaccines can cause "mental disabilities".[88]

In April 2015, California legislators proposed removing the "personal belief" exemption from childhood vaccination requirements in public schools.[89] The proposed legislation does not remove a religious exemption, so how "personal belief" can be differentiated from religion remains to be seen[3][4] if the legislation passes in this form. Discredited ex-doctor Andrew Wakefield has begun rallying the antivax troops against this proposed legislation. He is reportedly contemplating busing chiropractic students to rally at the state capital.[90] The final bill that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown removed both the personal and religious exemptions from vaccine requirements.[91]

Having lost the legislative fight in California, antivax activists are attempting to recall state Senator Richard Pan from office. Dr. Pan, a pediatrician, was the primary author of the mandatory vaccination legislation.[92] The activists are also attempting to get an initiative on the state ballot that would overturn the legislation.[92]

A 2012 survey of US pediatricians and family physicians that was published in 2015 reported that one-fifth of pediatricians refused to treat children of vaccine refusers, primarily to protect other patients.[93][94]

[edit] UK

More recently, the MMR-autism link (mentioned above) hit the UK headlines after Andrew Wakefield, the lead author of a paper suggesting a link between autism and MMR, was found guilty of unethical conduct. Despite the ruling only applying to his ethical conduct in the research, which had been questioned for several years (a "conflict of interest" was raised in 2004, three years after he left the Royal Free Hospital under controversial circumstances), the UK media have taken the ruling to also mean "his work has been discredited."[95] As those who may have seen Wakefield's original research would know, a series of 12 case studies never particularly had any credit to actually be discredited,[96] and Wakefield's conclusions had been repeatedly discounted by further study long before the ethical matters were ruled upon. The Lancet — the premier medical journal that featured his research — issued a full retraction of the study in February 2010.[97]

[edit] Scandinavia

In August 2010, the Finnish National Institute of Health and Welfare recommended that use of the Pandemrix H1N1 vaccine should be discontinued, pending investigation into 15 cases of narcolepsy in recently vaccinated children and adolescents in the previous year[98]. At the same time, the European Medicines Agency and the Swedish Medical Products agency launched their own investigations to the vaccine. Far from being quashed by Big Pharma, these studies were completed in early 2011, and concluded that there was indeed an increased relative risk of developing narcolepsy in children and adolescents vaccinated with Pandemrix. A number of follow-up studies have found various relative risks, ranging from about 3 [99] to as much as 7.5. [100]. Because narcolepsy is so rare to begin with, relative risks are hard to estimate, and the confidence intervals mentioned in the studies reflect this, generally giving a range of half to one and a half times the cited risk. Also because of the rarity, the actual risk amounted to some four additional cases per 100 000 children [99].

As is usual with stopped clock cases, these findings did not result in widespread paradigm shift against vaccinations in medicine. Instead, the scientific method labored on to produce a model that explains these findings. A research group suggested that narcolepsy might be caused by the fact that certain surface proteins of the H1N1 virus resemble hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that transmits the "wake up" signal.[101] In June 2014, they retracted the paper after having failed to reproduce its key findings, although they continue to believe that their original hypothesis remains valid. [102] Later in the same year, a research paper comparing Pandemrix with another vaccine with the same adjuvants but different viral antigens concluded that the focus for finding the cause should be the viral antigens and not the vaccine adjuvants.[103]

[edit] Pakistan

In 2015, Pakistan arrested about 500 parents for refusing to have their children vaccinated against polio, and over 1000 arrest warrants were issued. Officials turned to these drastic means because of community opposition and Taliban threats. Sixty-four workers from polio eradication teams have been killed for doing their work since 2012.[104][105] In 2014, Pakistan had the highest number of new polio cases in the world 327 of 413 total (or 306 of 359 of wild-derived cases).[106]

[edit] Australia

Australia is planning to cut welfare payments to parents of unvaccinated children starting in 2016.[107]

[edit] Anti-vaccination proponents

[edit] People

[edit] Groups

[edit] Additional causes of confusion

It is an unfortunate but sad truth that uninformed parents will very often click on shiny, flashy, "attention grabbing" blog posts like this,[114] as opposed to "boring", "unexciting" peer-reviewed research articles such as this.[115]

A major cause of confusion among anti-vaxxers is the utter lack of understanding the difference between actual research and woo that someone wrote on their blog. Having little to no understanding of science or the scientific process, a parent is all-too-often more likely to trust something that entertains them even while it scares them. While this is no doubt also propagated by the media, there is a key element of human behavior at play here as well. Much of the anti-vaccine movement's successes lie more with how they present their "arguments" rather than what they're actually saying.

For example, if a television network were to create an anti-vaccine special in which they used a deep-voiced narrator, ominous music, and anecdotal cases of autism that fail to provide a causal link to vaccines, parents' minds would likely be swayed long before they cut to a commercial break following the narrator saying, "Find out what happens next when Billy gets his shot. You won't be able to believe your eyes. All this and more when we return to Vaccines: the deadly poison."

[edit] Conclusions

Despite the hysteria and media coverage, the only serious medical condition ever linked to a vaccine was specific to the virus strain used in the manufacture of the vaccine. In fact, epidemiological evidence shows that vaccines prevent a huge burden of disease and death in the world. Despite this, there is still a level of concern regarding vaccines. Public education about vaccines and health must continue, and we must continue to provide everyone with the rigorous scientific education needed so that they may avoid making vital public-health related decisions based on misconceptions and lies.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

[edit] Notes

  1. For example, there are 20 recommended vaccinations before age 2.
  2. Responses along the lines of "nobody I know has ever seen polio" are comparable to Were you there? responses by young-earth creationists — truth is not related to personal experience.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. "Deadly immunity", 2005 June 16.
  2. "Vaccination Exemptions", The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, undated, accessed February 8, 2013; "Exemptions from providing medical care for sick children", Children's Healthcare is a Legal Duty.
  3. 3.0 3.1 How Vaccine Skeptics Game The System With 'Religious Exemptions' by Catherine Thompson (February 11, 2015, 6:00 AM EST) Talking Points Memo
  4. 4.0 4.1 What the World's religions teach, applied to vaccines and immune globulins] by John D. Grabenstein Vaccine (Volume 31, Issue 16, 12 April 2013, Pages 2011–2023)
  5. Which was in turn credited as taught by deities from the mountain. Needham, Joseph. (2000). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 6, Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.154T
  6. Needham, Joseph. (2000). Science and Civilization in China: Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology, Part 6, Medicine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Page 134.
  7. Development & Approval Process (Drugs), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2012 October 15.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Aaron Levin. Vaccines Today. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2000;133(8):661
  10. 10.0 10.1 Study points to years-long immune system woes from measles by Eryn Brown (May 7, 2015) Los Angeles Times.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Long-term measles-induced immunomodulation increases overall childhood infectious disease mortality by Michael J. Mina et al. Science 8 May 2015: Vol. 348 no. 6235 pp. 694-699. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa3662
  12. Engelhardt SJ, Halsey NA, Eddins DL, Hinman AR. Measles mortality in the United States 1971-1975. American Journal of Public Health. 1980 Nov;70(11):1166-9.
  13. Gindler J, Tinker S, Markowitz L, Atkinson W, Dales L, Papania MJ. Acute Measles Mortality in the United States, 1987-2002. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. 2004 May 1;189 Suppl 1:S69-77.
  15. Christopher Wanjek. Whooping Cough Makes Whopping Comeback. LiveScience. 010 August 25.
  16. Steven Salzberg. Anti-Vaccine Movement Causes The Worst Whooping Cough Epidemic In 70 Years. Forbes. 2012 July 23.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Vaccine Court Aims To Protect Patients And Vaccines by Anders Kelto (June 02, 2015 3:21 PM ET) NPR.
  18. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration: Vaccine Injury Table
  19. 19.00 19.01 19.02 19.03 19.04 19.05 19.06 19.07 19.08 19.09 19.10 19.11 19.12 19.13 Some Common Misconceptions Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 29 May 2007.
  20. Semba, R., Bloem M. et al: Measles blindness, DOI:
  21. V Reddy, P Bhaskaram, N Raghuramulu, R C Milton, V Rao, J Madhusudan, and K V Krishna: Relationship between measles, malnutrition, and blindness: a prospective study in Indian children.
  22. 22.0 22.1
  25. Chess, Stella: Autism in children with congenital rubella, Journal of autism and childhood schizophrenia JANUARY–MARCH, 1971, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 33-47, doi:10.1007/BF01537741
  26. Chess, Stella: Follow-up report on autism in congenital rubella, Journal of autism and childhood schizophrenia, March 1977, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 69-81, doi:10.1007/BF01531116
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Sanjaya N Senanayake. Mumps: a resurgent disease with protean manifestations. Medical Journal of Australia. 2008;189(8):456-459.
  30. Vaccine boycott spreads polio. News24. 2004 February 11.
  31. Nigerian Muslims Bar Polio Vaccine. CBS News. 2009 February 11.
  32. Nigeria: Two more northern states ban polio vaccination
  33. Jeffrey Shallit. Lies of Our Times. 1996.
  34. Lies About Vaccine Ingredients — The Role of Fetal Cells, I Speak of Dreams
  35. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. embarrassing the Kennedy family again: "Attack on Mothers." The Huffington Post. 2007 June 19.
  36. - Boyd Haley Ph.D. quotes (Scopie's Law in full effect).
  37. Orac. The lowest of the low: Trying to bleach autism away. Respectful Insolence. ScienceBlogs. 2012 May 25.
  38. Hviid A, Stellfeld M, Wohlfahrt J, Melbye M. Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003 Oct 1;290(13):1763-6.
  39. Uchiyama T, Kurosawa M, Inaba Y. MMR-vaccine and regression in autism spectrum disorders: negative results presented from Japan. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders. 2007 Feb;37(2):210-7.
  40. Afzal MA, Ozoemena LC, O'Hare A, Kidger KA, Bentley ML, Minor PD. Absence of detectable measles virus genome sequence in blood of autistic children who have had their MMR vaccination during the routine childhood immunization schedule of UK. Journal of Medical Virology. 2006 May;78(5):623-30.
  41. Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines. 2005 Jun;46(6):572-9.
  42. Smeeth L, Cook C, Fombonne E, Heavey L, Rodrigues LC, Smith PG, Hall AJ. MMR vaccination and pervasive developmental disorders: a case-control study. Lancet. 2004 Sep 11-17;364(9438):963-9.
  43. DeStefano F, Thompson WW. MMR vaccine and autism: an update of the scientific evidence. Expert Review of Vaccines. 2004 Feb;3(1):19-22.
  44. Taylor B, Miller E, Farrington CP, Petropoulos MC, Favot-Mayaud I, Li J, Waight PA. Autism and measles,mumps,and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association. Lancet. 1999 Jun 12;353(9169):2026-9.
  45. Kreesten Meldgaard Madsen, M.D., Anders Hviid, M.Sc., Mogens Vestergaard, M.D., Diana Schendel, Ph.D., Jan Wohlfahrt, M.Sc., Poul Thorsen, M.D., Jørn Olsen, M.D., and Mads Melbye, M.D.:A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism, The New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 347:1477-1482 November 7, 2002, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa021134
  46. Berger, Brynn, Navar-Boggan, Ann Marie & Omer, Saad (2011). Congenital Rubella Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder Prevented by Rubella Vaccination. BMC Public Health [1]
  47. Ben Goldacre. The media’s MMR hoax. Bad Science. 2008 August 30.
  48. Autism-vaccine study retracted. CBC News. 2010 February 2.
  49. Retracted autism study an 'elaborate fraud,' British journal finds. CNN. 2011 January 5.
  50. Hernán MA. Jick SS. Olek MJ. Jick H. Recombinant hepatitis B vaccine and the risk of multiple sclerosis: a prospective study. Neurology. 2004;63:772-773
  51. DeStefano F, Weintraub ES, Chen RT. Recombinant hepatitis B vaccine and the risk of multiple sclerosis: a prospective study. Neurology. 2005 Apr 12;64(7):1317; author reply 1317.
  52. Mikaeloff Y, Caridade G, Assi S, Tardieu M, Suissa S; KIDSEP study group of the French Neuropaediatric Society. Hepatitis B vaccine and risk of relapse after a first childhood episode of CNS inflammatory demyelination. Brain. 2007 Apr;130(Pt 4):1105-10. Epub 2007 Feb 1.
  53. DeStefano F, Verstraeten T, Jackson LA, et al. Vaccinations and risk of central nervous system demyelinating diseases in adults. Archives of Neurology. 2003 Apr;60(4):504-9.
  54. FAQs about Hepatitis B Vaccine (Hep B) and Multiple Sclerosis. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2010 July 8.
  55. Vaccine/SIDS Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS/cot death) and Childhood Vaccines: Is There a Connection? '"Shirley's Wellness Cafe."
  56. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and Vaccines. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2010 March 11.
  57. Rand CM, Berry-Kravis EM, Zhou L, Fan W, Weese-Mayer DE. Sudden infant death syndrome: rare mutation in the serotonin system FEV gene. Pediatric Research. 2007 Aug;62(2):180-2.
  58. Howard LM, Kirkwood G, Latinovic R. Sudden infant death syndrome and maternal depression. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 2007 Aug;68(8):1279-83.
  59. Harold E. Buttram, MD. Shaken Baby Syndrome or Vaccine-Induced Encephalitis? Medical Sentinel. 2001;6(3):83-89.
  60. Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS) or Vaccine-Induced Encephalitis? Misdiagnosed Shaken Baby Syndrome. Shirley's Wellness Cafe.
  61. Yurko Project. "Free Yurko."
  62. Vaccinosis, What Parents Need to Know. "" 2009 August.
  65. Vaccine efforts focus on shot-shy parents by Erin Allday and Victoria Colliver (February 1, 2015) San Francisco Chronicle.
  66. Vaccination holdouts a disparate mix of rural, populous counties by Erin Allday (March 22, 2015) San Francisco Chronicle.
  67. Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System?
  68. See [2](redirect), here, here, here, here, and here.
  71. Karen Houppert. Who's Afraid of Gardasil? The Nation. 2007 March 8.
  72. Moira Gaul. Gardasil: What Every Parent Should Know about the New HPV Vaccine. Family Research Council. 2007.
  73. HPV Vaccine Does Not Increase Likelihood of Unsafe Sex for Girls
  74. Gohmert: ‘Scary’ that liberal elites would use vaccines for ‘culling the population’ of humans, The Raw Story
  75. Not as a rule, but commonly. See:
  80. Religious Liberty Confers No Right To Send Unvaccinated Kids To School, Court Rules
  81. Measles outbreak tied to Texas megachurch sickens 21. NBC. 2013 August 27.
  82. Disneyland: The Latest Victim of the Anti-Vaxxers
  83. Sonya Smith. Minister Farrakhan joins the fight against H1N1 flu vaccine. 2009 October 20.
  84. Cancer jab alert after girl dies. BBC News. 2009 September 29.
  85. Ben Goldacre. Jabs "as bad as the cancer." Bad Science. 2009 October 10.
  86. Chris Christie gets Twitter-pounded for pandering to anti-vaxxer crowd with ‘balanced’ comment
  88. Rand Paul: Vaccines Can Lead to 'Mental Disorders'
  89. Lawmakers push legislation ending personal belief exemptions in California
  90. Anti-vaccine leader tells parents to fight immunization bill by Erin Allday (April 24, 2015) San Francisco Chronicle.
  91. Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill by Jeffrey Kluger (Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT) Time Magazine.
  92. 92.0 92.1 Vaccine law opponents seek statewide vote, try to recall sponsor by Melody Gutierrez (August 9, 2015 Updated: August 9, 2015 8:08pm) San Francisco Chronicle.
  93. Characteristics of Physicians Who Dismiss Families for Refusing Vaccines by Sean T. O’Leary, et al. Pediatrics October 2015.
  94. One in five pediatricians reject unvaccinated patients: Some doctors blame patient pressure because they are concerned their children will be exposed to dangerous diseases by Stephen Feller (Updated Nov. 3, 2015 at 12:54 PM) UPI.
  95. Nick Triggle. MMR scare doctor 'acted unethically', panel finds. BBC News. 2010 January 28.
  96. Ben Goldacre. The Wakefield MMR verdict. Bad Science. 2010 January 28.
  97. As predicted by serious scientists, a measles epidemic has broken out in South Wales, hospitalising many and causing at least one fatality.Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet. 2010 February 2.
  98. National Institute for Health and Welfare recommends discontinuation of Pandemrix vaccinations
  99. 99.0 99.1 Persson et al,Risks of neurological and immune-related diseases, including narcolepsy, after vaccination with Pandemrix: a population- and registry-based cohort study with over 2 years of follow-up, Journal of Internal Medicine Volume 275, Issue 2, pages 172–190, February 2014
  100. Wijnans et al, The incidence of narcolepsy in Europe: Before, during, and after the influenza A(H1N1)pdm09 pandemic and vaccination campaigns, Vaccine Volume 31, Issue 8, 6 February 2013, Pages 1246–1254
  101. De la Herrán-Arita et al, CD4+ T Cell Autoimmunity to Hypocretin/Orexin and Cross-Reactivity to a 2009 H1N1 Influenza A Epitope in Narcolepsy, Sci Transl Med 18 December 2013 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007762
  102. Journal retracts paper linking vaccine and narcolepsy
  103. Vaarala, O. et al., Antigenic Differences between AS03 Adjuvanted Influenza A (H1N1) Pandemic Vaccines: Implications for Pandemrix-Associated Narcolepsy Risk, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114361
  104. Pakistan arrests parents for refusing polio vaccination
  105. Over 500 Pakistani parents arrested for children's failure to get polio vaccine
  106. Global Polio Eradication Initiative: Polio this week as of 25 February 2015
  107. 'No jab, no pay:' Australia cuts benefits for parents who don't vaccinate kids by Naomi Ng, CNN Updated 1:15 AM ET, Mon April 13, 2015
  108. Joss Whedon On #GamerGate, JURASSIC WORLD, Adam Baldwin And Speaking Out Badass Digest "I never understood. He very sweetly begged me not to vaccinate my children. He gave me books on the subject."
  109. Lesley Messer. Alicia Silverstone's Son Has 'Never Had a Drop of Medicine. ABC News. 2014 April 17.
  110. Vaccinations, and Other Things I Don’t Want to Discuss. "Kveller". 2012 May 21.
  111. McKinney on vaccines, among other batshittery]
  112. Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency thwarting UN war on polio: One of last polio holdouts, West Africa country 'in best position' ever to stop spread of disease
  113. CIA Vaccination Cover in Pakistan
  115. On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes by Smith et al. Pediatrics Vol. 125 No. 6 June 1, 2010 pp. 1134 -1141 (doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-2489)
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