Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HuffPo: Anti-Vaccine Vitriol: Seeking Reason

Dr. David Katz recently published a piece on The Huffington Post in response to some of the anti-vaccination nonsense that gets posted on the HuffPo website on a regular basis.  The amazing thing is HuffPo is known to  be somewhat of a safe haven for antivaxxers, so to witness them being called out for their tactics and lunacy is nothing short of amazing.

I'd love to cite some specific passages from his article, but the truth is if I cited only the parts of the article which make sense and which make very valid points, I'd end up posting the entire piece.  Therefore I encourage you to read the entire article in its entirety over at the HuffPo website.  You can find the article at this link:  Anti-Vaccine Vitriol: Seeking Reason.

Well ok, I do have to list one of my personal favorite quotes that Dr. Katz wrote: "In other words, if you want to offer advice against vaccination that reasonable people can take seriously, try being reasonable".

I dare say the phrase "reasonable antivaxxer" is an oxymoron, but perhaps one day I'll actually come across one.  It is difficult to imagine a world where a reasonable person tosses aside all logic and common sense while ignoring mountains of scientific evidence and historical records, but perhaps there are varying levels of reason.

Of course even after reading the article, the antivaxxers once again come out in full force in the comments section.  Sadly it seems most of them were unable to complete the entire article before posting because many of their comments are using the very tactics discussed in the article itself almost as if they antivaxxers were so enraged after the first paragraph or two they skipped the remainder to cut and paste more anti-vaccine nonsense.

One comment that caught my eye was from an antivaxxer who complained of a lack of "[d]ouble-blind, randomized controlled studies" showing the efficacy of flu vaccinations.  Not only did this particular antivaxxer clearly not read or understand Dr. Katz's article, but she also appears to be very confused about ethically questionable studies.

We of course have discussed this issue in the past, and frankly anyone of average intelligence should understand the moral issues with trying to perform such a study, but even more troubling is how these antivaxxers presume it is possible to prove a negative in the first place.  I just have to wonder if someone did perform a double-blind randomized controlled study on a flu vaccine and those individuals who did not receive the vaccine were six times more likely to contract the flu - would antivaxxers actually suggest the vaccine was functioning as designed?  I think we all know the answer, and that answer is "no", because they would simply claim there was bias, or they would challenge the funding source for the study, or they would make claims about how correlation does not equal causation (even though they are guilty of confusing the two on a continual basis).

The truth is, even if the results did come out as expected it wouldn't change perceptions or the minds of the anti-vaccination crowd, so what benefit would such an unethical study provide, and at what costs?  What if one of the test subjects contracted the flu and died as a result of complications?  What if those study participants who didn't receive the vaccine contracted the flu and spread it to dozens or possibly even hundreds of others?

You see when someone doesn't receive a vaccine, it isn't only them who is impacted.  Potentially it is everyone around them.  It is anyone and everyone who comes into contact with that person which is precisely why I have no problem with calling someone who willfully skips their vaccinations out of ignorance to be nothing short of selfish.  If you want to kill yourself I have zero problem with it, but when you put the lives of others in danger due to your selfishness, then I have a problem with your actions.

We have seen the ramifications of scientific ignorance when antivaxxers refuse to allow their children to receive vaccines, and in some cases it has lead to outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases such as the measles or pertussis... with the end result being hospitalizations, prolonged illness, and in a few select cases even death.

Therefore antivaxxers can continue to protest that no double-blind randomized and controlled studies on the efficacy of the flu vaccine have been performed, but it won't change anything and is merely a distraction.  As much as we might love to see such a study, it won't be happening anytime soon not only because of the ethical issues, but because anytime a study is performed and the treatment has such profound effects, the study will be interrupted.  It is simply inhumane to continue a study when a sample group shows such a significant benefit over the control group, and any long-term study of a vaccine is most certainly going to show this disparity thus we must look elsewhere for the necessary data.

Granted it isn't like we can't look at actual historical data to know if something works.... say for instance the fact that the CDC reported the incidence of invasive Hib disease dropped from 40-100 per 100,000 children down to 1.3 per 100,000 due to routine usage of the Hib vaccine from 1980 to 1990. Surely that is merely a coincidence.

Then again, Australia found the same thing... which results in this chart showing how the Hib vaccine resulted in over a 90% drop in reported cases in 12 years and actually eliminated all fatalities within 7 years.

It still must just be a coincidence right?  I mean we can't use this type of data because it isn't part of a double-blind randomized and controlled study... so it must be garbage.

Then again, there have never been double-blind randomized and controlled studies proving the efficacy of parachutes either, and there won't be anytime soon.  Does that mean we shouldn't trust the efficacy of parachutes?  Of course not, because we already know they save lives.  We already have more than enough evidence to know that parachutes are a great idea, and we know what the alternative is.  To suggest we need a double-blind study to determine whether parachutes work or not would be unethical (and obviously idiotic), but when you think about it, vaccines are no different.

So the next time an antivaxxer asks for a double-blind study aka: a "vax vs. unvaxxed" study showing the efficacy of vaccines, just ask them if they are willing to participate in a double-blind study for parachutes.  Sure that seems incredibly stupid, but so does the idea of passing on a vaccine because of scientific ignorance or fear.

Now if you need an example that is more in tune with vaccine, simply look no further than shoulder-mounted three point safety belts in automobiles.  We know the usage of such devices has resulted in many lives saved, and we know what the statistics are prior to their usage much in the way we know what the rates of disease were prior to vaccines being developed.  So should automobile manufacturers be required to perform double-blind studies on seat belts prior to installing them in vehicles?  Should they be required to report any findings of shoulder injury or broken arms due to the seat belts even though those same people may have died without the seat belt?

Our world isn't always so black and white, and sometimes the data is impossible to obtain via a perfectly controlled scientific study.  In some cases we need to look at the other sources of evidence such as infection rates or historical data.  It may not always be as clean and concise as a chart listing infection rates of X vs. Y, but unless you are willing to jump out of a plane without a parachute you really have no business complaining about a lack of double-blind studies.


  1. Well, not only that - but there aren't many anti-vaxxers who would REALLY let their child participate in a double blind, randomized, placebo controlled vaccine study.

    Because - that means their child might actually receive a vaccine - and they can't have that.

    What they REALLY want is a self-selected, self-reporting survey which further reinforces their ignorance and bias.

    Idiots, the lot of them.

    1. True on all counts. Just another reason why such a study is nearly impossible to perform.

  2. I've told you before Mr. Hubbs, until you admit to using sock puppet accounts to post under multiple names, I reserve the right to reject any and all of your comments. If you cannot have a civil discussion without resorting to such tactics (or resorting to the blatant fabrications and accusations), then I see no reason to engage you in discussion.

    Bye bye now.

  3. I have to laugh at Lowell's comments over at HuffPo.

    Even the nutjobs think he's nuts.

  4. You cant be serious author of this article? In order to demonstrate effectivness youd need to show us what the rates were prior to vaccinations (at least 20 years). Its interesting that the same year the "vaccine" came out also shows the MOST deaths. Actually the death rate that year was so large that the us life expentacy rate declined for the first time in over 8 decades. Were those deaths related to unvaccinated people? Or an experimental flu cocktail via innoculation? Maybe both. Either way this graph demonstrates nothing.
    P.S. Cite your source.

    1. You may feel the graph "represents nothing" but it is a lot more telling of the effectiveness of the vaccine than the graphs shown by the AVN and other antivaxxer groups which refuse to acknowledge anything other than simply "death rates".

      If you really want data, it is available.


      (Note the sources near the bottom)

      This is also a good summary as it includes data from numerous nations:


      The source for the graph I used in the original post pointed to a page that no longer exists which is why the link was removed. Yes I can perform a Google image search and find several other pages where that image is used, but they are not the original source. No matter, the numbers and data in the above links support the graph if you wish to review them.

    2. Here is a graph for the whole century:

      Source: http://avn.org.au/vaccination-information/meningitis/hib/

    3. @ Anon 11/29: As I've shown in the past, this chart is a prime example of how misleading antivaxxer groups like the AVN are. Notice they focus upon death rates but ignore incidence, because they know they can't explain away the drop in incidence rates after the vaccine was introduced.

      Medical advancements do get better over time, and therefore we are able to keep people alive longer - yet that doesn't cure the disease. Polio is an example of this where over time treatments improved and those who contracted the disease were at less risk of death, but still at risk of significant injury and suffering and were often left with permanent disabilities. If you look at purely the polio death rate you would think polio was on the decline prior to the introduction of the vaccine... but that wasn't the case. You must dig deeper and you need to look at the data objectively. The AVN and other anti-vaccine groups prefer to hide all the facts because it doesn't fit their core message - but if you refuse to accept their narrative and instead rely upon your critical thinking skills the truth becomes very, very clear.


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