I understand full well we are a long way away from an actual usable and functional HIV vaccine, but the initial clinical trials suggest that such a vaccine could be right around the corner. So if we assume a HIV vaccine is within our grasp, and we already know over 33,000 people a year are diagnosed with HIV / AIDS and over 9,000 die from the disease annually, will there be a major push from the antivaxxer community to proclaim the vaccine is more harmful than HIV itself?
Perhaps it is too early to tell. We don't yet know of any potential side effects of the HIV vaccine so we can't say what harm it may cause. However if we look to other vaccines as examples of what we might expect it seems highly unlikely that antivaxxers will support such a vaccine even if it is shown to save thousands of lives.
How do we know this? Simple... just look at something like the HPV vaccine (Gardasil). We know the lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer in the US is 1 in 147 for those women who are unvaccinated while it is only 1 in 400 for those women who are vaccinated. Knowing the fatality rate of cervical cancer is around 35%, we can use simple math to determine that the HPV vaccine could potentially save approximately 2,500 lives per year in the US alone. Now antivaxxers are quick to point out that within one year of receiving a Gardasil vaccine there have been at least 68 reported deaths. Some sources cite slightly higher numbers, some cite lower numbers, but the 68 number is accurate as of June 2011 and came directly from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). What they fail to tell you however, is that that total includes all deaths... even those which were a result of suicide, car accidents, or unrelated medical conditions.
Now in case you are curious, even if we use the full 68 deaths, and we consider that at that point in time over 35,000,000 doses of the Gardasil vaccine were given it would mean that 68 works out to be 0.0004%. It is probably also a good time to mention that 0 of those deaths (0.0000000000%) have actually been attributed to Gardasil... and that number doesn't change no matter who has reviewed the data.
However, I'm in generous mood and I'm trying to make a point, so for the sake of discussion, let's just go ahead and assume out of those 68 deaths that the vast majority were a direct result of the vaccine. For the sake of argument, we will ignore all common sense and logic and simply assume that 50 of those 68 deaths were a direct result of Gardasil. Now let's also assume that VAERS only captures about 10% of the actual adverse events tied to vaccines, and therefore we need to now extrapolate that 50 deaths to be a total of 500. So out of 35,000,000 doses of the vaccine given, we are making a wild assumption of 500 deaths. In case you are curious that works out to be an effective rate of 0.00142%
Do you have any idea how small a number 0.00142 really is? That is roughly one out of 70,000. That means if you injected one person each day with Gardasil, you could continue to do so for 192 years before someone might actually die as a result - and that is under the huge assumption that all of these deaths can be directly linked to the vaccine (which we know they cannot).
Great - so the chances of dropping dead within one year of receiving a Gardasil vaccine are 0.00142%. Fine... I know it is a huge stretch, and we know the numbers are nowhere near that level, but even if we use worse case scenario logic coupled with idiotic assumptions, we still come up with a value which is incredibly small.
So how many lives have been saved by the vaccine during that same period of time? The Gardasil vaccine was approved by the FDA in June of 2006, so five years later in June 2011 by the time those 35,000,000 doses were distributed, we could have potentially saved 12,500 lives from the vaccine.
So let's be clear - if the vaccine saves 2,500 lives a year (12,500 lives over five years) and if the vaccines results in 500 deaths during that same period, that tells us the end result is a net increase in lives saved. This means the Gardasil vaccine actually saved at least 12,000 lives. Yes you can argue the number is larger or smaller, but in the theme of keeping things simple, this is a fairly conservative figure.
So what do antivaxxers say when presented with these numbers? Do they admit that the net effect of the vaccine is that lives are saved? No. Do they admit that even if the vaccine isn't perfect that it is still better than nothing? Nope. Instead of looking at the net impact, antivaxxers do what antivaxxers always do when the numbers don't help their cause. They deny the numbers and claim the math doesn't add up.... or better yet they simply refuse to talk about it.
Now we know it is impossible for even the most diehard antivaxxer to deny basic arithmetic, so instead they simply flatly deny that the vaccine saves any lives. They even go so far as to claim there is no connection between HPV and cervical cancer. Yes seriously. (In case you are wondering, the claim about HPV not causing cervical cancer is flatly untrue and stems from a misunderstanding of the virus. It is true that not all strains of HPV cause cancer and it is also true that many HPV infections are short-lived and don't result in cervical cancer, but it is widely know that some strains of HPV (namely HPV 16 and HPV 18) do in fact cause more than 99% of all cervical cancers).
So we can see with our own eyes that antivaxxers with do anything and say anything rather than admit a vaccination is actually beneficial. They will misinterpret data, they will misreport the facts, they will misrepresent scientific studies and even cherry-pick statements out of context. Even worse, when all else fails... they will just flat out lie.
So if one day we are presented with a HIV vaccine that could potentially save tens of thousands of lives each year, is it possible that antivaxxers would actually embrace the vaccine and admit that it benefits the health of the human race?
Considering many antivaxxers don't even believe that the HIV virus causes AIDS... not bloody likely.