Email to an Anti-Vaxer

I recently had an email conversation with an anti-vaxer. I enjoy critical thinking exercises like this, and thought my response might be useful to publish.

The anti-vaxers key points (I’ve paraphrased here as it was a private email) were:

“An Australian TV program A Current Affair (ACA) screened a segment around a family who was awarded a $10M settlement after their baby had a serious adverse reaction to a vaccination. The ACA article claimed 200 other similar cases, and that a cover up by professionals was involved. The Anti-vaxer knows Doctors, Nurses, and Microbiologists who share the same anti-vaxer views, and considers the list of ingredients in vaccines to be horrible.”

Here is my response:

I researched the case you mentioned and there is indeed evidence (Link) that the poor child sustained brain damage as a result of that vaccination procedure. It’s food for thought:

  1. If true, that’s 1 serious adverse affect out of perhaps 10M vaccinations in this country (my guess) last year. I understand there are often adverse but minor reactions (e.g. fever). It also appears the authorities dropped the ball on that vaccine. However it has been noticed, and corrected. That’s why I love science.

    When was the last time an anti-vaxer said “Oh, you know what – I was wrong”.

  2. Mumps (alone) very badly hurts 2 children out of 1000 (Ref).
  3. If you get in a car your risk of death is 5 in 100,000 per year (Ref). So when your drive to your anti-vaxer meeting you have a 500 times greater risk of stone cold death than a possible risk of injury from vaccination.
  4. “A Current Affair” is not known for reputable science journalism. That doesn’t mean their claims are not true, but it would be prudent to look further rather than accept a tabloid TV story just because it fits your world view. Do you have any evidence for the claims of the other 200 cases? If it’s truly a criminal cover up involving harm to a child, are the Police investigating? Why not?
  5. Dr/Nurses having an opinion is called an “argument from authority”. Their view has some validity, and is a good source of a hypothesis (i.e. an untested idea or theory). But it doesn’t prevail over evidence. It’s not a fact – merely an opinion. The gold standard for evidence is peer reviewed journal papers. If you really want to know – go Google a few of them. I was surprised to find the medical ones quite easy to read.
  6. There are horrible substances in nature (like animal faeces spread on my vegetables to fertilise them, or nasty bacteria in milk). Doesn’t make vegetables bad for me. Oh wait.
  7. However it’s a lot of work to read up on all this, and we seem to get one health “risk” shoved at us after another from friends (“They say…….”), Facebook, and the media.

    So I have a very quick test I use to filter claims. Do you personally know anyone who has sustained any permanent damage from a vaccine? Ever been to a funeral where some one has died from a vaccine?

    David’s very simple test of what’s really a health risk and what’s not – “who do you know who has died from this?”. I know many people have died in a car accident, or from suicide, heart disease, old age, and cancer. So they are real risks for me.

  8. These graphs from the CDC say it all. Infectious disease. Nailed. Deaths halved. Life spans doubled. IFL vaccinations and anti-biotics!

    – David

8 thoughts on “Email to an Anti-Vaxer”

  1. Stories about injuries from vaccines are remarkable precisely because they are unusual.

  2. Our family friends have a child who has been through chemotherapy for a “benign” (meaning not metastatic) brain tumor. She lived. During the time she was immunocompromised, coming near someone who skipped vaccines and was passing the associated disease would have increased her risk of a lethal infection. Parents who skip vaccine don’t consider all of the risks they create for others.

    1. And why should I care about the “risks” to others when I am the one who is taking the vaccine? I know Bruce is a raging liberal but even he should know that to take a drug should be a personal choice not a mandate from government regardless of the benefits/risks of the drug. Saying that my lack of vaccination is a risk to you is rather presumptuous and assumes that I am infected with something that my body is not successfully fighting off for my benefit later. It is up to you to protect yourself and assume that nobody else is vaccinated. Why should I weaken my own immune system by helping it along with a prepared vaccine just to make you feel good. Wear a mask, wash your hands, etc. if you are that concerned about being around “carriers” but do not force me to take a vaccination if I do not want to. Liberals always want to control everybody else and do not believe in personal responsibility. So all the pro/con debate on vaccination has no bearing on my choice. I simply do not want to be told I have to do it.

      1. Hi Joe,

        Please tone down terms like “raging liberal”. It’s the facts, not the person, we debate here. The herd immunity issues around vaccination are well supported by evidence, it’s not an assumption. You don’t weaken your immune system by being vaccinated, quite the opposite. Do you have any evidence for these claims? Your point about individual choice is an interesting one. From my point of view, I see an un-vaccinated person as a public risk, and a personal one to my children. A statistical Typhoid Mary. So I would take action to protect myself and those around me. If some one chooses not to vaccinate then I choose not to let them near me, my family, and on a wider scope a baby, or a school, or a hospital that my tax $ support.

        – David

      2. Coming late to the party here…

        @JoeD: “Liberals always want to control everybody else and do not believe in personal responsibility.”

        That’s an interesting take on “personal responsibility.” I’d suggest that contributing to protecting us all from the spread of deadly diseases is indeed an expression of personal responsibility.

        Most of the improvements in standards of living and increased lifespan over the last centuries are a result from cooperating as a society. All members benefit significantly by being a part of that society. You too benefit from it, otherwise you would live out in the bush in a hut instead of connecting with others on this blog.

        Part of your contribution for taking advantage of the benefits of society is helping prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

        Perhaps you think it’s okay to reap the rewards of society and not contribute? Is that “responsible”?

  3. I had a reply from the Anti-vaxer, I have paraphrased the key points below, and added my comments:

    1/ “The Anti-vaxer claims they personally know children whose vaccination has resulted in adverse reactions including autism.”

    The implied relationship between vaccination and adverse reactions is correlation, not causation. The theoretical link to autism has been shown to be a complete scam.

    2/ “The views held by the anti-vaxer are shared by Doctors that they have spoken to.”

    Argument from authority. Opinions are not evidence.

    3/ “The anti-vaxer claims that amongst professionals who do not vaccinate, Doctors and Nurses are in the majority, and documentation exists for this ‘fact’. ”

    Argument from authority again. No reference provided for this “documented fact”.

    4/ “The Anti-vaxer questions the scientific validity of my simple test above”

    My simple test is a quick poll design to filter out silly theories. It is science – it asks for evidence (i.e. death) when faced with a claim of a serious adverse health outcome. Curiously, my list of mortality closely matches the CDC data above. The Anti-vaxer used a similar test (poll of peers) in (1).

    But I’ll think I’ll leave it there. Nothing new to be learned. People with strong views simply discard any contrary evidence. Which leads us into psychology rather than immunology. However I’ve enjoyed a chance to work on my critical thinking skills.

    – David

    1. The theoretical link to autism has been shown to be a complete scam.

      While this is completely true, there’s something rather important that the anti-vaxers miss about the alleged link. Andrew Wakefield claimed a link between autism and the combined MMR vaccine. Even he did not claim a link with vaccines in general, and in fact advocated giving the three vaccinations separately instead.

      We now know, of course, that Wakefield falsified data, he had a substantial conflict of interest, and the results were impossible to replicate. As such, the word “scam” seems appropriate. Nonetheless, even if he’d been right, the fix would have been to rearrange the standard immunisation schedule slightly, as he advocated at the time.

      So even the bogus study was never an anti-vaccine argument, merely a different-timing-for-vaccines argument.

  4. Whilst I appreciate I’m male, so arguably not well-qualified to pontificate on this, I used to take the natural childbirth view – it’s over-medicalised, nature knows best, don’t let the hospital near you, etc.

    Then I stumbled across the perinatal mortality figures. Between the 50’s and the 00’s it reduced by an order of magnitude in the UK.

    That’s one-tenth of the families now hit by the tragedy of their newborn dying at or soon after birth. I’d trade that any time for keeping a doctor away from my body.

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