Vaccine deniers are basically clueless about science. They invent stuff about the immune system, while missing how a vaccine induces a long-lasting immune response. They conflate correlation with causality, an important distinction if you’re going to understand epidemiology. They deny the germ theory of disease, one of the fundamental pillars of modern biology, which states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms. They simply ignore what makes science a logical and repeatable process, called the scientific method, preferring anecdote and cherry-picked data over randomized clinical trials and peer-reviewed systematic reviews.
But one of the more important scientific failures of the antivaccine gang is an unsophisticated lack of understanding of basic mathematics, specifically the measurement of risk. Using 2010 USA numbers only, let’s look at the top mortality risks for children aged 1-14:
- Unintentional injury (motor vehicle accidents, bathroom falls, etc.): 53.75 (out of every 100,000 Americans between the ages of 1-14)
- Malignant neoplasms: 22.33
- Congenital anomalies (commonly called birth defects): 14.25
- Homicides: 11.43
- Firearms (number broken out from the numbers for all homicides): 3.68
- Heart disease: 6.09
- Suicide: 4.85
- Chronic respiratory disease: 3.26
- Influenza and influenza-related pneumonia: 2.87
- Benign neoplasms: 2.50
- Meningitis: 0.58
- Meningococcal infection: 0.25
The average risk for “serious” complications from vaccines range from 0.1 to 1 in 100,000, with the risk of death from vaccines found to be so small, it can be barely measured as a risk. By the way, those of you who think that VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) should be used to estimate risk, the best I could say is that VAERS is pretty much useless, since it cannot establish causality, it is gamed by those with an antivaccine agenda, and the rate of adverse events is frequently below the background rate for these events in a typical populations of Americans. VAERS is an incredibly useful tool to spot potential new adverse events that might arise from vaccination, but the numbers themselves cannot be used to determine risk.
The risk of a serious reaction, like an allergic one, from getting the flu vaccine is less than 0.1 in 100,000, far far less than the actual death rate from influenza at around 2.87 per 100,000. Moreover, meningitis (and meningococcal infection) have risks of death far higher than the risks of vaccines.
The saddest thing about these numbers is that I’m spending so much time defending vaccines, which are as safe as drinking a glass of filtered water and clearly save lives from preventable diseases. The antivaccine activists, who claim to be worried about children, don’t focus on the things that actually kill children. Motor vehicle accidents, some portion of which are probably a result of drunk drivers. Or firearm homicides? Where is the outrage, that young children are dying from gunshots? Or that the risk of a child dying of suicide is thousands of times higher than the infinitely tiny risk of death from vaccines (if it even exists)?
Why is it that these vaccine deniers show incredible outrage over an indefensible belief that vaccines are dangerous, yet not try to stop homicides, especially with guns? Or safer cars? Or something that actually will help kids live longer.?
Actual guns kill more actual kids than the antivaccine myth that vaccines harm actual children. You see, vaccine deniers don’t actually care about children, or they would be yelling and screaming about guns. And drunk drivers. And the lack of mental health care for teenagers.
If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.
Updated 6 November 2013
One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.
Because they are strong supporters of vaccines, they have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. These attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.” For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I think I want to call this corollary “Offit’s Law,” named for Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or even “Gate’s Law.”
An vaccine denier, Sayer Ji, whom I have criticized in the past for his anti-science rants about the immune system, has placed the Gates Foundation firmly in his ignorant pseudoscientific crosshairs of criticism. Ji wrote an article, Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups, which is a bit fear-mongering, a bit of pseudoscience, and a bit of conspiracy theory lunacy. Ji has previously made a completely insane claim that vaccines “subvert evolution”, which was effectively ripped into tiny little pieces and incinerated by Orac a few months ago. Essentially, Ji brings out the Naturalistic Fallacy (he does this over and over with the immune system), a fallacy that presumes that how the world “is” should then be used to state how it “ought” to be. Ji stated that we interfered with “evolution” through the use of vaccinations. Orac disabused Ji of his crackpot beliefs:
Ji’s article is the naturalistic fallacy on megadoses of steroids. To him, science isn’t just subverting Nature (with a capital “N,” again!) but it’s producing vaccines that are allegedly going to permanently alter us to make us no longer “human.” Vaccine scientists and doctors are somehow “callous lack of regard for three billion years of evolution,” as though evolution could never be improved upon. What is medicine, after all, if not interfering with evolution. Antibiotics interfere with evolutionary selection in that they save lives that might otherwise have been lost, allowing reproduction that might never have happened. So does surgery, a whole host of medicines, and a number of other treatments. That’s the idea.
(more…) «Vaccine denialists really hate Bill…»
If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying. Those myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.
One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination lunacy is that there are too many immunizations for the poor baby’s tender immune system. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.
One of the most ubiquitous pseudoscientific claims that I keep hearing from the junk medicine crowd is that this supplement or that food “boosts” the immune system. These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day. And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize how complicated the immune system is by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it science.
And it isn’t that simple.
Using the Graham Coghill’s Science Red Flags, which are indicators of either bad science or unscientific nonsense (and which I’ve used with respect to GMOs), let’s do a quick review of a few outlandish claims of the junk medicine horde. I just cherry picked a few, because their pseudoscience is not the focus of this article. I don’t have that much time to find all the “immune system” rubbish on the internet!
(more…) «Boosting the immune system–sorting science…»