Vaccine Quackery

Published on April 17th, 2015 | by Rayne


Diseases: Not giving a shit about your choices or beliefs since the dawn of history

Update: It looks like the Australian Government has landed on the side of reason and officially stopped all religious exemptions. It was declared on Sunday that all religious exemptions in Australia would stop. No more religious exemptions. No more “conscientious objectors” exemptions. Medical exemptions only. Story here.

Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), Human Papillomavirus (HPV), Influenza (Flu), Measles, Meningococcal, Mumps, Pertussis, Pneumococcal, Polio, Rabies, Rotavirus, Rubella, Smallpox, Tetanus, Typhoid, Tuberculosis (TB), Varicella (Chickenpox), Yellow Fever.

These are just some of the horrible diseases that have killed thousands upon thousands of people before the invention of vaccines.

Amazingly, there are still parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated. Ironically most, if not all of these parents will they themselves be vaccinated. It has gotten to the point that because some parents cannot be arsed being responsible members of society, the government has needed to step in and attempt to do the parents job for them.

In a bold move by the Australian Government this week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released news that a change in policy is set to happen come January 2016, a move that has the anti-vaxxer movement in Australia seething.

No jab, No pay.

In other words, if you don’t get your child vaccinated using the current Australia Immunisation Schedule – you won’t received government benefits. Fucking brilliant.

A small background on how government financial assistance works in Australia: Every parent in Australia who is an Australia citizen qualifies for several payments to help them with the cost of having a child. Namely the “Child Care Benefit”, the “Child Care Rebate” and Family Tax payment. The Child Care Benefit “helps with costs for approved and registered care such as long, family or occasional day care, outside school hour care, vacation care, pre-school and kindergarten” (source), whereas the Child Care Rebate “covers 50% of out of pocket child care expenses for approved child care, up to a maximum amount per child per year, in addition to any other child care assistance” (source). The Family Tax Benefit comes in two parts, either A or B and is defined as “a 2 part payment that helps with the cost of raising children” (source).

The above payments are income tested (except the Child Care Rebate payment) and the amount you get per fortnight depends on how much money your household earns annually. Every Australia citizen with children is eligible for these payments which means despite popular argument – the Australian government isn’t just targeting the poor. They’re targeting everyone with children and considering vaccinations are free in Australia, there is no monetary based excuse for not having your child’s vaccinations up-to-date.

Under the new policy, children can still be exempt from vaccines under medical or religious grounds however the new policy will make it harder for parents to get religious exemptions. The “Conscientious objectors” excuse will no longer exist under the new policy. Medical exemptions for those who can’t get vaccinated extend to immunocompromised children and children with conditions signed off on by a medical doctor. “Religious exemptions” under the new policy means a religious based exemption recognised by and registered with the government, by a religion that is also recognised by and registered with the government. Out of all the recognised religions in Australia, only one has been given a pass by the government to submit a “valid” religious exemptions to vaccinations.

Christian Science.

Yeah, I think we all saw that one coming. recently contacted the Christian Science HQ with questions about their stance on vaccines:

So, we contacted Christian Science to ask them if the church has any objections to immunisation. This is the reply:

Thank you for your email and inquiry about whether there is a Christian Science church policy on vaccination. The answer is that members of a Christian Science church are free to make their own healthcare decisions/choices, including vaccinations. There is no church policy regarding vaccinations.

So that’s it. The only religion which is recognised by government as having an objection to immunisation does not have any objection to immunisation.

Why the hell is there a “religious exemption” get out of jail free card then?

Oh that’s right. Personal choice.

I’ve discussed the irony of parental choice being mislabeled as personal choice before. It’s not a personal choice if you’re making the choice for another person – especially your child. It’s not a personal choice if that choice has consequences for your children, your family and the wider community.

Of course, anti-vaxxers are angry at the new policy with contagions groups of anti-vaxxers fighting to find ways to get around it because apparently bringing back diseases that kill people is all the rage right now. Including but not limited to: setting up a fake church with the ringleader being none other than Stephanie Messenger, author of Melanie’s Marvellous Measles and co-ordinator of the recently failed attempt at getting anti-vaccine docotor Sherri Tenpenny to Australia.

Either anti-vaxxers don’t understand or they don’t care that their actions put others at risk. What other explanation is there for a bunch of people willing to lie about their religious beliefs in order to not vaccinate?

In the words of my friend Anna: “So according to that logic, a young baby with an under developed immune system should watch out for other people so they don’t get sick?”.

Exactly, now you’re thinking like an arsehole. Because it is apparently the responsibility of everyone else to look out for your unvaccinated child.

That was mean. #notsorry

If anti-vaxxers don’t understand the repercussions of their actions – then they need an education. A proper education based in evidence based medicine and science. However if they don’t care about the repercussions of their actions – then they don’t care if their own children or people in the wider community die. They don’t give a shit about anything else other than their so-called right to “personal choice” to decide for others. Which is ironically, the very thing they don’t want the government doing to them.

The Washington Post recently ran an article about a mother who changed her stance on vaccinations only after all of her 7 children caught whopping cough. Must we wait for anti-vaxxer parents to learn their lesson after children suffer through disease or die? The parents aren’t suffering with the disease, their children are the ones who are going to suffer because of “parental choice”.

The anti-vaccine movement is a very interesting one in terms of how they have managed to completely dismiss all the science around vaccines and create their own fantasy world as to how vaccinations work:

Not only are they denying the basic science of vaccinations such as herd immunity but they also scare other parents into not vaccinating by using junk science such as “shedding” (the idea that vaccinated children will pass the disease they’ve been vaccinated against onto others) and lies around the concept of “vaccines injuries”. Vaccinations like all medical interventions have side effects. Some people may experience: swelling at the injection side, headache, muscle pain, shivering, mild fever – these are all very common and well documented (source). We know they happen. More serious effects could happen if you have an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients in the vaccine, for which science has developed alternatives.

The vaccine injuries promoted by parents who don’t understand the idea that “correlation does not imply causation” include (but are not limited to) the now thoroughly debunked autism link, Shaken Baby Syndrome, diabetes, ADHD, ADD, cancer, speech and learning difficulties and a whole host of medical conditions that medical science only treats and not cures. This has paved the way for alternative medicine to promote junk “cures” to these conditions by taking an anti-vaccine stance. This means alternative medicine practitioner not only sell junk “cures” to incurable conditions but also scare parents away from medically certified vaccines and promote their own junk protection against vaccine preventable disease. All in the pursuit of money. Anti-vaxxers will counter this statement with “If vaccines don’t cause injury, why does the United States have a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program?”  and the age old “Package Insert Fallacy“. Both arguments have been debunked here and here.

Some anti-vaxxers object to vaccinations based on the terminology “herd immunity”. “But we’re not animals” they cry, clutching at their pearls.

Wrong. Humans being are mammals. Our binomial nomenclature or scientific name is: Homo sapiensHomo is the human genus, which also includes (now) extinct species of hominid. We are the only surviving species of Homo with our subspecies being Homo sapiens sapiens. We are animals. This objection raises two points:

1. The objector doesn’t understand high school biology.
2. The objector doesn’t understand the origins of the term “herd immunity” and its relationship to how vaccines work.

Vaccinations build a protective barrier surrounding the people with the weakest immune system with people with strongest immune systems. Stronger immune systems that are aided by vaccines. Vaccinated people surround those in the herd who cannot get vaccinated to build a protective barrier that disease cannot penetrate.

As we have seen, a lack of knowledge around vaccines certainly doesn’t help the community. An inability to grasp basic concepts such as:

The naturalness of a substance is not an indication of its safety.
You’d think this one would be pretty simple to understand but considering the entire alternative medicine industry is built upon and markets their treatments under the fallacy “Natural equals good, chemical equal bad” – apparently it’s a bit harder to understand than I first realised.

The first three points stem from a lack of understanding and fear around chemicals and chemistry. The idea that “Nature equal good, chemicals equals bad” is a false dichotomy. Nature includes harmful substances such as arsenic, Jellyfish neurotoxin, snake venom and poo. Chemicals include pretty much everything. A chemical is simply a form of matter that has a constant chemical composition. You already know and need several chemicals to live, oxygen for example, amino acids for another. Scare-tactics around chemicals only work on people who don’t understand what a chemical is.

Water is a chemical. Its chemical name is Dihydrogen Monoxide. It has 2 Hydrogen atoms and 1 Oxygen atom, that’s why its chemical symbol is H2O. In fact Penn and Teller were able to scare people into signing a petition to ban water, simply because people lack an understanding of what chemicals are.

A substance being created in a laboratory does not mean it is harmful.
The next point again comes from the “Nature equals good, chemical equals bad” fallacy. Just because something has been created in a laboratory does not mean it’s harmful – the chemical composition is still the same. Hormones for example, they are created in the body and they can be created in a lab for mass production to be given to people who have hormonal issues. The chemical composition of the hormones are exactly the same, they work exactly the same, they have just been created differently.

The dose makes the poison.
Formaldehyde is a great example for this point. Formaldehyde is used for many things some of them that are fatal to humans if exposed to them but the one thing chemphobes forget is that Formaldehyde is created by your body as a by-product of digestion. If you drink a bottle of Formaldehyde, you are going to die because the dose you have taken is clearly at a level that is toxic to humans. The level of Formaldehyde your body makes however, is perfectly fine.

The LD50 (Median Lethal Dose) of a substance is how we know the dosage that is harmful to humans. It is the amount of the substance needed to kill 50% of the test subjects, the amount is measured as milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg).  The LD50 for Water for rats is 90 ml/kg. If you consume enough water – you can experience water intoxication (known as Hyponatremia) and become very ill or die. While your kidneys can process 15L of water per day, for someone like myself – if I were to drink 8L of water in a short amount of time (say a few hours) I would most certain by affected by it badly and potentially fatally.

Let’s change the “Nature = good, chemical = bad” fallacy to something a bit more accurate, how about “Both natural substance and chemicals can be harmful or beneficial depending on the dose”.

Correlation does not imply causation.
Correlation (a relationship between two variables) does not imply causation (to be the cause of the relationship).  Perhaps the most famous example of pseudoscientists not understanding this concept is the vaccine-autism debate. Some parents believe their children have autism due to the MMR vaccine, often because the vaccine is administered in children around the same time parents begin to notice their child’s autistic behaviours. Just because the autistic behaviours started around the time the vaccine was given, doesn’t mean the vaccine caused the child’s autism.

A correlation between two events can be a flag for further research, if you find a potential correlation between two variables – you conduct further research to assess there is causation. Further to that point, two events can correlate with each other without having a causal relationship. There can be a correlation between two events without one causing the other. For example: Height may correlate with good reading skills. A study may find that the taller a person is, the better readings skills they have – does an increase in height cause an increase in reading skills?

As a correlation between two events is a flag for further research, the next step is to do high quality research and take into account the confounding variables to see if they influence the correlation in anyway.  Access to education is a confounding variable and may be the reason for the correlation. In the case of vaccines vs autism, a correlation between vaccines and autism is a prompt for further reason to search for the source of the correlation. The vaccines-autism link has been debunked, there is no relationship between the two more than autistic behaviours may be noticed around the same time the vaccine is given. This is called a casual inference. Vaccines have not been found to cause autism.

So while correlation between variables act as a prompt for further research, scientists will still promote correlation not implying causation to stop people from taking the simple approach and making causal inferences and jumping to conclusions. It is important to note while two events can be correlated – it does not mean one has caused the other.

Not all scientific studies are of high quality.
Just because you have found a study to back up your claim – doesn’t mean it is a high quality study. Studies that aren’t high quality run the risk of being littered with confirmation bias, selection bias, design flaws and other errors that can impact on the quality of the data. I’ve created a guide on how to spot high quality studies or you can watch this short video.

Anecdotes are not the plural of evidence.
Science requires research. It requires study. It requires fact born from impartial high quality research free from bias. Pseudoscience relies on testimonials and anecdotes to sell false information because people relate to emotional stories more than facts and figures. Anecdotes aren’t evidence because emotional stories can be filled with bias.

“Alternative medicine” means untested for safety and effectiveness.
Apart from acupuncture which has been studied in clinical settings and deemed to be nothing more than a high priced placebo – many alternative medicine treatments have not been tested for safety and effectiveness. I don’t really need to say much on this one. Something that hasn’t been properly tested for safety or effectiveness isn’t something you should be putting into your body.

Another point to mention: diseases don’t give a shit about your personal beliefs in a god or prayer. They also don’t give a shit about your so-called right to “parental choice” or the more emotionally loaded terminology of “personal choice”. If you cannot take responsibility for your child’s health, than someone needs to step in and take responsibility for you. We have solid science around vaccines, we have empirical evidence dating back decades on their effectiveness. Science and evidence based medicine isn’t a buffet where you get a pick what you like – you don’t get to spread lies against vaccinations while popping painkillers for a migraine.

The word “choice” means making a choice that affects you and you only. Keeping in mind that choices rarely only affects the person making them and they come with consequences, I can choose to have a shower with my clothes on but that choice will certainly impact on my wife if it is her turn to do the washing. My choice not to wear a seatbelt will affect me greatly if I get into a car crash. I have the choice to not wear my seatbelt – the consequence is injury, fine or worse. I don’t have the right to make that choice for children. What school your child goes to, what church you attend, homeschooling – these are parental choices not without consequences for your child or for your community. The school could have bullies, your homeschooling curriculum could be factually incorrect, your church could have an anti-gay stance that teaches that gay youth are sinners.

Parents need to do whatever they can to ensure their children’s safety because their choices will affect their children and their friends children, the children down the road and the wider community.

When you make a choice to disregard medical science based on fear or lack of education or lack of caring, you aren’t exempt from the consequences of that choice. Especially when it is a choice that may mean that doctors need to clean up your mess. The irony of the anti-vaxxer movement is demanding science to save your child when they come down with a disease that could have been prevented if they listened to science to begin with. I don’t want to deny children treatment because of the stupidity of their parents, I want their parents to stop being so stupid in the first place.

Not vaccinating your child not only impacts the wider community but also the taxpayers of Australia. Until the new policy comes into play, the cost of not vaccinating will be been borne by Australian taxpayers and even once the new policy is implemented – with religious exemptions, taxpayers will still bear the cost. Every outbreak of  whooping cough or measles generates work for medical professions, hospital resources and staff involved in tracing and notifying contacts of those infected.

Not vaccinating comes with a price tag, not just a monetary value but human life.

Occasionally, the worst cost imaginable affects parents whose children are too young to be vaccinated. Not vaccinating costs money and lives. Sometimes it is the lives of children that anti-vaxxers parents don’t know and don’t care about, sometimes it is their own children and they have the live with learning their lesson far too late.

The ultimate irony of the Australian government pandering to parental choice under the guise of religious belief is the fact is it completely counter productive. The government attempting to increase the herd immunity by cracking down on anti-vaxxers is a great idea. However you can’t attempt to take the burden off the healthcare system while still maintaining loopholes so parents can make choices that will continue to burden the healthcare system. Wanting to protect children is noble, maintaining loopholes so parents can continue to put their children and community in dangers makes no sense.

To protect ourselves, our children and our  children’s future, it takes all of us. Not some but all.

To hear what anti-vaxxers really sound like:

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2 Responses to Diseases: Not giving a shit about your choices or beliefs since the dawn of history

  1. Pingback: » 22 Things We Should Be Saying to Mums Who Don’t Vaccinate: Part 2

  2. Sia says:

    Actually, I’d argue that seatbelts aren’t a personal choice, either.

    In the event of a crash, someone not wearing a seatbelt essentially becomes a loose heavy projectile.

    Have you seen the U.K advert that’s for….well….it’s an ad where the message is essentially “wear your seatbelt, FFS” entitled “Julie”?

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