Recently, Ms. Ginger Taylor, a leader in a number of anti-vaccine organizations and a proponent of the belief that vaccines cause autism, wrote a letter aimed at people participating in vaccine discussions online. In a video, Ms. Taylor said it’s an expression of her belief she has a duty to warn against vaccines – but the message is directed at “trolls”. She defines trolls as people who contradict her claims about vaccines. Naturally, she hopes to reach anyone willing to consider her points in order to scare them away from immunizing.
The Ginger Taylor vaccine letter
Her letter (above) repeatedly suggests that claims asserting vaccines are safe and effective are false because they have not been legally tested before the jury. This suggestion assumes—incorrectly —that jury trials are a primary or superior way to prove scientific truths. Jury trials are not the primary way scientific facts are established. After all, most of the world does not use juries for civil trials, and not all places even use them for criminal trials. Even in the U.S., most cases filed never make it to a jury trial. And most scientific issues, specifically, are never tested in court. If the only way to establish facts was the jury trial, we would have a problem.
Jury trials are not the only, or even a particularly good way, to examine scientific issues. The scientific method has yielded abundant evidence that vaccines are safe. Believing evidence about vaccines has been falsified is unrealistic since it could never withstand the decades of scrutiny during which anti-vaccine activists have been attacking them.
Every country in the world supports vaccines, every health authority at local, state, national and international level. Countries with no liability limitations on suing manufacturers support vaccines. Countries with national health insurance, where the state has a clear interest in minimizing health costs, support vaccines. They don’t offer this support because they are all controlled by a grand conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies that have magically taken over every country of the world. They don’t do it because they were taken over by reptilians. They don’t do it because they are part of a cabal to harm their own citizens and children. So why do they do it?
Governments support vaccines because science
- The World Health Organization points out that vaccines save 2-3 millions of lives a year, and could save another 1.5 million lives if coverage improves.
- The measles vaccine alone has saved 20 million lives since 2000.
- In the United States alone, between 1994 and 2013, vaccines prevented “an estimated 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations, and 732,000 deaths over the course of their lifetimes, at a net savings of $295 billion in direct costs and $1.38 trillion in total societal costs”.
- A study looking at the birth cohort of 2009 in the United States estimated that vaccines prevent 42,000 early deaths, 20 million cases of disease, $13.5 billion in direct costs and $68.8 billion in social costs.
Governments want to reduce costs, deaths and diseases in their population. Vaccines do that.
Governments support vaccines because they are very safe
- Many studies look at vaccines’ safety. Here are some studies for HPV vaccines, Tdap vaccines in pregnancy, and more.
- The licensing process is rigorous: To be licensed in the United States, vaccines undergo three rounds of clinical trials, the latest including thousands or tens of thousands of people. Other countries have similar requirements.
- There is monitoring after licensing.
- In the United States there is active surveillance via a nine million people program called the Vaccine Safety Datalink, an emerging active monitoring platform called sentinel, and a passive monitoring system through The Vaccines Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS). Multiple committees examine vaccine safety.
- In Canada, there is an extensive program to monitor vaccine safety, and a reporting scheme.
- England has a reporting system (pdf) for adverse events, as well as active monitoring through expert committees and studies:
- Australia has a system for reporting adverse events and ongoing monitoring, too.
- Mexico has monitoring mechanisms in place (pdf).
- The European Union has reporting and monitoring mechanisms.
- Other countries have monitoring systems, too. Countries have passive reporting systems to report issues and active monitoring systems and here.
To hide harms, someone would have to control all of these systems. And everyone involved would need to keep the secret. Such a conspiracy is fantastical and unrealistic.
- The Professional Vaccines Textbook has literally hundreds of references in each chapter— tens of thousands total, addressing vaccines safety and effectiveness. Those studies are done all over the world, by large teams of scientists amounting to thousands of people all together. Not one country, not one company, no collaboration of companies could control all of them. The book finds a very, very high level of safety for vaccines on the childhood and adult schedules based on these many studies. For example, (These screenshots are from the 6th edition, just because I had it handy, but the same is true of the new 7th edition):
In other words, the book draws on abundant literature for its conclusions.
- A recent systematic review (the pinnacle of the hierarchy of biomedical research) that started with over 20,000 articles (and then narrowed it down) concluded that serious harms from vaccines are very, very rare.
Governments support vaccines because after a lot of work to examine whether they are safe, they learn that serious harms from vaccines are extremely rare, and the harms prevented by them extensive. When health practitioners say “vaccines are safe,” they are weighing this mountain of information.
Nothing is 100% safe – but vaccines are a lot safer than most things we encounter in life and a lot safer than not vaccinating. Preventable diseases, on the other hand, can cause, in Ms. Taylor’s words, “neurological damage, autoimmune disorders, chronic illness, disability and death.” Measles, for example, can cause encephalitis in 1:1000 cases, ITP commonly, blindness, deafness, death and a complication called SSPE, which is always (and slowly) fatal.
Science from all around the world shows that vaccines don’t cause autism:
Decades ago when the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism was raised, scientists examined it closely. Scientists in many, many countries examined the question because they wanted to know whether autism was a risk of vaccines. Many large teams of scientists looked at millions of children. The result was consistent and conclusive: the scientists found no link between vaccines and autism.
Because of the many teams involved from many countries, a conspiracy to hide the link would simply fail. Even if one assumed all the many scientists that worked on this in the United States would be willing to lie, and there is no good basis to this assumption, they would not have been able to control the scientists in Canada, Japan, U.K., Poland, Scandinavia, Australia and elsewhere that studied these questions.
Even if we assumed the United States government would be willing to enter into a conspiracy with pharmaceutical companies to hide a link between vaccines and autism, it could not control other governments, including those with national health insurance.
The entire conspiracy theory is implausible.
Thus, parents of children with autism – like Ginger Taylor – are not parents of vaccine injured children. Their children are autistic, and they are blaming vaccines in error.
Other issues with the Ginger Taylor letter
The letter also uses several statements common among anti-vaccine activists that are inaccurate and can mislead.
- The letter implies that vaccines are legally classified as unavoidably unsafe, and the letter assumes that defines vaccines as dangerous. Both parts are inaccurate: the category of unavoidably unsafe actually refers to a product that “properly prepared, and accompanied by proper directives and warnings, is not defective, nor is it unreasonably dangerous.” Further, the Supreme Court rejected the use of the term to interpret the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.
- While the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has paid several billions for vaccine injuries, using the amount of compensation masks the fact that actual cases compensated are few – less than one per a million doses. What is missing is the understanding that since one debilitating injury can cost millions, small numbers add to large amounts.
- Ms. Taylor claims most “victims” are not compensated. The reality is that NVICP’s standards for showing vaccines caused harm are less demanding than those of civil courts. If someone cannot meet them, their problem is like unrelated to vaccines. They are not, therefore, “victims” of vaccines. Further, if we put aside the 5,000 or so claims that vaccines cause autism filed with NVICP – claims correctly rejected, since abundant evidence shows vaccines do not cause autism – the rate of compensation in the program is fairly high.
Ginger Taylor ends her letter with a “buyer beware” warning. Pro-vaccine people should share a similar warning: Buyer beware. Accepting claims made in letters like Ms. Taylor’s, by anti-vaccine activists, creates risks for children and the community. Get your information from credible sources.