A few days ago, some anti-vaxxer on Twitter complained that she didn’t want to be called anti-vaccine. She said it was a personal attack on her. And that she really wasn’t anti-vaccine.
Well, that’s just an incredibly laughable position that is unsupported by anything in reality. These anti-vaccine activists want to appear rational, thoughtful, and scientific, when, in fact, their position is anything but rational, thoughtful, or scientific.
We call someone anti-vaccine because they refuse to accept the vast scientific consensus about every vaccine on the market. No matter how many times we talk about a large, well-analyzed, unbiased study about a vaccine, they ignore it, and then they give preference to anecdotes and false authorities that confirm their pre-ordained conclusions about vaccines.
Now, just to be clear, parents who sit on the fence because they are confused about vaccines are not anti-vaxxers. They aren’t promoting anti-vaccine nonsense, they are trying to find good evidence to support getting vaccinated. I try to target this group lately because they seem to be working in good faith about vaccines. I’ve had numerous people over time that information I’ve prevented has moved them from “vaccine-hesitant” to pro-vaccine. That’s my mitzvah.
I’m going to write about true anti-vaxxers who present bad information about vaccines while complaining that they are being characterized as “anti-vaccine.” They deserve the label, and I’ll show you why.
Still anti-vaccine and anti-vaxxer
Let’s take a look at each of their points.
- Is it derogatory? No, it is an accurate description no different than calling me pro-vaccine, though I prefer pro-science. Anti-vaccine is not an ad hominem personal attack, it is a precise and accurate description of their attitudes about vaccines.
- Is it inflammatory? See above. These individuals deny scientific evidence to press their anecdote-based, unscientific claims about vaccines.
- Does it marginalize women? Wow, an excellent example of a strawman argument. When I accuse someone of being anti-vaccine, it is irrespective of one’s gender. There are plenty of men and women in the anti-vaccine movement, so I don’t consider that in my analysis of their position. Making it appear to be some anti-woman comment is plainly false — it’s only about the settled science about vaccine safety and effectiveness. The anti-vaxxer denies that science and then tries to convince other people (men and women) to cause harm to a generation of children by frightening parents from choosing vaccines.
- Is it “dismissively simplistic, highly offensive and largely false”? This reads like “well, you’re being mean to us by pointing out that we don’t have any evidence to support our claims.” Anti-vaxxers lie, and we have shown how much they lied. Every time some new anti-vaccine claim has been made about the COVID-19 vaccines, for example, I spend hours digging up the real scientific evidence that dismisses their false claims. This is not simplistic, and it is very factual. Every pro-vaccine blogger that I know points out the false claims of anti-vaxxers using real science. If the anti-vaxxer wants to think that’s simplistic, offensive and false is just simply wrong and trying to shift the argument from science and facts to pretending to be hurt.
Vaccine risk aware? Really?
For years, anti-vaxxers have tried to claim that they aren’t anti-vaccine, instead, they are pro-“safe vaccine”. It’s a magic trick that does everything to keep you from seeing what they are really saying — they are actually anti-vaccine, period, end of the story.
Furthermore, to be accurate, pro-vaccine people are the most risk-aware individuals in this discussion. We read the research carefully, always favoring the highest-quality published evidence over anything else, the epitome of scientific skepticism. When I say that the HPV vaccine is safe, it is based on huge clinical trials or epidemiological studies that contain thousands or even millions of subjects.
When an anti-vaxxer tries to convince us that they are “risk aware” of the HPV vaccine they rely upon:
- VAERS dumpster diving (thank you Orac), which is the cheap and easy way to make all kinds of claims about vaccines. Those with real science backgrounds know that VAERS has value but only as a signal that must be confirmed with better research that has been published. Again, all vaccines on the market have been repeatedly analyzed for safety issues, and when they happen, very rarely, everyone is made aware of them.
- Anecdotes and testimonials which try to convince us that parents know that something happened after vaccines, using the post hoc fallacy. Almost all of the claims that vaccines cause autism (they do not) are based on the observation that vaccines are usually given at an age when autism appears — they are correlated by age, but there is simply no evidence that vaccines are linked to autism. None.
This is where the whole “risk aware” nonsense makes no sense. The safety and effectiveness is settled science — that is, the robust, repeated, and reliable scientific evidence support the safety claims of the vaccines. Furthermore, as I stated, pro-vaccine people are risk-aware, it’s just that we know that there is no Nirvana vaccine that is perfectly safe and perfectly effective.
What pro-vaxxers do is present the data that shows the costs (or risks) vs benefits. The “risk aware” anti-vaccine activists ignore or devalue the benefits while promoting the risks. It’s a magic trick that tries to convince people who might be on the fence that “there be dragons.”
Yes, they are anti-vaxxers
No matter how hard the anti-vaxxers try to say that they are not actually anti-vaccine, that’s the result of their commentary. They ignore the science. They rely upon pseudoscience for their claims. They think that VAERS is the best way to understand vaccine safety. They do everything wrong.
This isn’t dismissive or condescending, but it is a fact. I am not filled with Dunning-Kruger issues — I don’t pretend to be a lawyer, a cancer surgeon, or baseball player. I stay in my lane as someone who has extensive education in immunology, cell biology, biochemistry, and biology. I can read an article about vaccines and understand them.
The anti-vaccine world wants to convince us that they know something, but when pushed for evidence, they whine that we call them anti-vaccine.
As I always say, it’s all about the evidence. And it must be high quality evidence. If they actually had robust evidence supporting their “risk aware” moniker, if they really understood risk versus benefit, and if they really weren’t trying to convert people to their false religion, maybe I’d back off the “anti-vaccine” label. But if the shoe fits!
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