Though it is frustrating that some researchers publish “evidence” from small studies that are poorly designed in an attempt to invent issues with HPV vaccines if you look at the best designed unbiased studies, the facts are clear–Gardasil is safe and effective. It could be one of the safest and most effective vaccines since it was developed and studied in the era of harsh, and mostly unfounded, criticisms of vaccines by certain antivaccine activists.
The goal of this article is to respond to a number of recurring myths raised by anti-vaccine activists regarding vaccine testing and safety – a common trope used against vaccines.
The bottom line is that vaccines are extensively and carefully tested for safety, and that vaccine safety is shown by many, many studies from a variety of sources, reinforcing each other and all pointing to the same result – serious problems from vaccines are possible, but extremely rare. And those small, rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits vaccines provide by protecting us against much larger risks.
Here we go again. Just like the popular zombie TV shows, the flu vaccine myths continue to rise from the dead, scaring people away from protecting themselves from a dangerous disease. And just like Rick Grimes, it’s my job to help my fellow skeptics stop this zombie outbreak and safeguard the innocent from the brain eating tropes of the antivaccine crowd.
There are innumerable myths and tropes about raising children. My mother used to tell me to not go into the pool until 30 minutes (or some random number) after I ate; and she always told me I’d catch the flu or a cold if I didn’t put on a jacket during winter. Of course, neither are science based, and neither are “facts.”
But those were innocuous little myths. I don’t like being all that cold, so putting on a coat isn’t the worst thing ever. It had nothing to do with whether I’d catch a cold or not.
Unfortunately, some myths about parenting and raising children are dangerous. The whole “vaccines cause XYZ” mythology have infected the internet have caused some drops in vaccination, especially amongst those who should know better.
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I wanted to provide you with following statement from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, regarding Vaxxed at the Festival:
“Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”
I am sympathetic to De Niro’s personal association with the autism issue. But there are no “discussions” about vaccines and autism. Vaccines are absolutely not related to autism – science speaks in black and white, and in this case, there is no debate.
What this propaganda film does is cause people to not vaccinate their children, putting them at risk of many vaccine preventable diseases. Wakefield is a fraud – that has been established by boatloads of evidence, including his inability to get a judgement against his accusers who have stated that fact.
If De Niro thinks that vaccines cause autism, then he should take is millions of dollars that he’s earned from his movies, and fund a great autism research center that relies upon science and evidence to speak to what causes autism.
Instead, he’s going to allow the cunning fraud, Andy Wakefield, lie to an audience with the passive, or more probably, the active support of one of our generation’s greatest actors.
As the elegantly subtle Orac says:
[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I almost feel sorry for Mr. De Niro. Almost. He’s about to be besieged by antivaccine cranks, who will now look at him as a hero and try to get him to support all sorts of wacky quack and pseudoscience causes. I hope he likes his new admirers.
Actually, I do feel a bit sorry for Mr. De Niro. He’s now finding out the hard way why those of us who’ve studie him say that Andrew Wakefield discredits anything he touches. That now includes the Tribeca Film Festival.[/infobox]
I actually don’t care what celebrities say. In general, they are uneducated fools whose purpose in life is to create an illusion for the audience. But I have a policy – I do not pay a penny to any actor who tries to intentionally harm people through their ignorance and foolishness. Vaxxed will hurt children.
Even if only one child isn’t vaccinated because of the pseudoscience and lies in this fake documentary, that’s one child too many. Is Robert De Niro willing to risk one child based on a fraud and conman’s lies?
Thus, I will never watch another movie by De Niro. He’ll still get millions for each movie he does, no one will care about me.
But I’m on the side of science and truth. He’s not. Children will lose in the long run.
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Editor’s Note: This article – separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle’s Red Wine and Applesauce blog. Many thanks to Tara and a host of other people for creating this list.
Note from Tara Haell: This post is co-published with NPR’s health blog Shots. Check out the story for updated information about this year’s flu shot from a CDC medical officer.
Once again, flu season is upon us — and so are all the misconceptions, excuses and worries that have kept so many people away from getting their flu vaccines. Plenty of people are fully informed about the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and simply choose not to get the vaccine, as is their right (as long as they don’t work in healthcare settings where it’s required). But many others may have skipped the shot because they’ve bought into one of the many myths about the vaccine that always circulating with the influenza virus itself. Or perhaps they’ve read something unsettling about the vaccine that has a kernel of truth in it, but which has been blown out of proportion or misrepresented.
Of all the vaccines out there, the flu vaccine is unique in several ways: it’s the only one the CDC recommends for the entire (eligible) population every year, it has the most variability (and nearly always the lowest percentages) in effectiveness, and it has more tall tales told about it than Paul Bunyan. Much of the debunking and explaining you’ll find here is essentially the same as in past years’ posts, but a couple misconceptions have been rearranged, and I spent a bit more time discussing the evidence about potentially lower effectiveness of the flu vaccine in people who had gotten it the previous year.
Finally, I called these items “concerns” instead of “myths” because several of the issues discussed here are not outright “myths.” That is, some of these concerns originated from factual situations, but the details got gnarled and twisted along the way, or else the fact itself doesn’t have the implications people may expect it does. “Concerns” therefore better captures that each of these items is a legitimate concern for many people but is something that simply requires explanation, whether that’s an outright debunking or simply context and clarification.
One thing that needs a bit of clarification is last year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, as I discuss in the NPR Shots blog post that accompanies this one. The overall flu vaccine effectiveness last year was an uninspiring 23%, low enough to legitimately make you wonder why you bothered if you got the vaccine. But as I explain at NPR based on an interview with CDC influenza medical officer Lisa Grohskopf, the overall effectiveness doesn’t capture the effectiveness of each strain within the vaccine.
A poor match with the H3N2 strain — which caused the most illness and the most serious cases — was responsible for the lion’s share of that low number. Meanwhile, the match between the vaccine strains and the virus strains for B viruses, which circulated the most toward the end of the season, was good enough that the vaccine was closer to 60% effectiveness for those strains. This year, changes to the H3N2 strain for the vaccine should boost the effectiveness and offer a better showing than last year’s lousy run, according to Grohskopf.
With that info out of the way, let’s get to the flu vaccine concerns, with two important notes. First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in the hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed research articles, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.
Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common misconceptions and clarify common concerns about the flu vaccine. This post does not constitute a recommendation from me personally to each reader to get a flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2015-2016 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.
To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 concerns at the top followed by the factual information below it. They hyperlinked facts will jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.
Debunking anti-vaccine myths are one of the goals of this blog, which has evolved from my original intent of mocking anti-evolution lies. Mostly, the tactics of both science deniers are the same, so most of what I write is interchangeable–it was a natural evolution to vaccines.
Yes, I went there.
There are several tactics to criticizing the anti vaccination cult. For me, it’s being pejorative (hey, I call them a cult), being rude, and mocking them with all the fervor I can find in my brain. Since ALL of the evidence supports the fact that vaccines are relatively safe and very effective, short of someone actually bring the same volume of science that disputes that fact, making fun of the cult is my reason to exist.
I know my tactics aren’t very popular in the pro-vaccine world–I really have fun doing it.
Just so all of you understand this clearly, I do not discriminate in my mockery of pseudoscience. I’ve done much worse to the anti-evolution gang. And don’t get me started on the purveyors of junk medicine, like chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy–I seriously enjoy making fun of them all.
Kahan presents some very convincing evidence that more civil discussions with vaccine deniers can be more helpful–obviously, I disagree, but Professor Kahan makes extremely valid points. I’m glad that there are dozens of other pro-vaccine websites who meet or exceed his recommendations on civility. I’m too exhausted from decades of fighting against pseudoscience and straight out science denialism to change my methods now. Like I said, I’m having too much fun doing it my way.
However, there seems to be a third way to deal with the anti-vaccination crowd. It probably will not convince the true believers who think that evidence is only what supports their point of view, like the crackpots at Age of Lying about Autism who still think that Mr. Andy Wakefield is some sort of hero.
There are actually people out there in the world who think there’s a “debate” about vaccines. On one side, the ignorant, the uneducated, and the logical fallacy lovers, without any evidence whatsoever, invent some dubious and truly head shaking nonsense about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
On the other side (as if there really are two sides), are the educated, the logic lovers, and the skeptics who value published scientific evidence as the most important and fundamental guide to determining a scientific consensus. This scientific consensus has determined that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, that all organisms on this earth have evolved from a single organism 3 billion years or so ago, and that vaccines are safe and effective. A scientific consensus exists not because I say it, it exists because a vast majority (not 51-49, more like 99-1) of experts in the field agree to this consensus.
But some people refuse the flu vaccine because of adherence to easily debunked myths and misinformation. If you are on the fence about the flu vaccine, read Tara Haelle’s It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear. She worked hard to put that list together, so if you’re on the fence about the flu vaccine, read it before the flu season takes off. You won’t be sorry.
OK, what is your flu vaccination status? And if you have any comments, just drop them into the Disqus comments below. We’d especially like to hear from people on the fence, maybe we can give you some gentle persuasion to get the vaccine!
Based on what I write, you’d think I was all about vaccines and thoroughly mocking the ignorance of the antivaccination world. And, apparently, I’m paid to do that. Sadly, I do not have a new BMW M5 in my driveway. I’d rather write about evolution, but there’s a direct correlation between not vaccinating and harm to children from vaccine preventable diseases, so it seems more important to me than arguing about the stupidity of creationism.
I tend to be the cranky one on the interwebs with respect to vaccines. I’m the mean, angry uncle who turns on the sprinklers when the antivaccine parents walk their dogs in front of my house. Extra benefit–their dogs don’t poop on my lawn. See, I’m the curmudgeonly neighbor of the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.
Shot of Prevention. One of the older websites that is pro-vaccine (by old, I mean 4 or 5 years), Shot of Prevention focuses on practical parenting issues with regards to vaccinating and diseases. What I love about Shot of Prevention is that its writers come from all walks of life, and really gives the reader a broad perspective on immunization.
Red Wine and Apple Sauce. This website has a different appeal, but it’s an outstanding resource for a thoughtful analysis of immunizations. Tara Haelle, who is a science journalist and writes nearly all of the articles, discusses more than just vaccines, but numerous current topics that are important to parents. She writes long detailed articles, filled with links that support her points, and she should be on anyone’s list for getting information about vaccines.
The Value of Vaccination–A Conversation. A relatively new entrant into the conversation about vaccines, Value of Vaccination focuses in a different way–the stories are more personal, with the perspective almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a parent or individual. It features conversations that show us what the value of vaccination is and how it makes our lives better.
PKIDs Online. PKIDs, officially Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases, probably would not describe themselves as a “pro-vaccine” website, but they really are pro-vaccine. They tell the personal stories of parents of children who have chronic infectious diseases, most of which are vaccine preventable.
Vaccine Education Center. Run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (known by almost everyone as CHOP), it is one of the top websites for information about vaccines. Yes, Paul Offit is involved again. Well, when you’re one of the leading experts in immunization of children, and you’re on the faculty of CHOP, that’s what happens.
Vaccine News Daily. This website, more or less, aggregates news articles about vaccines, while giving a brief, but useful, summary of the information. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the vaccine world.
I Speak of Dreams. Although not necessarily about vaccines, I Speak of Dreams is an important resource in myths (and debunking of said myths) about autism. And because vaccines and autism has been a manufactured issue since the late 1990’s, anyone who discusses myths about autism has to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking the myths of vaccines and autism. If I might remind everyone, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.
All of these websites have non-cranky writers. Well mostly. And most of them are much more patient with comments than I am, because I have no patience when it’s clear that a commenter doesn’t get what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t.
I’m sure I missed an important website or two. This article isn’t static, I can make changes whenever I want, so drop me a comment. Besides, I’d want to know about your website!