Rebuttal: Parents you are being lied to.
Entitled “Dear parents, you are being lied to,” Jennifer Raff lists all the vaccination-related arguments she’s heard over the years from (presumably) those who choose not to vaccinate (she simply addresses a collective “they.”) What makes this article so appealing is that she doesn’t bog us down with details. She simply lists her points statement-rebuttal style and includes a few links to her pro-vaccination statements. The problem with this is that when you take the time to dig down into the details, you soon realize she’s wrong. By exaggerating the information cited in each argument, she makes what is (judging by the popularity of the article) an apparently compelling argument to those unwilling to dig deeper, but is essentially a straw man once the surface is scratched. In some cases, she uses studies from countries as far away as Bangladesh and Scandinavia to prove the efficacy of vaccinations and includes illnesses and deaths due to diseases found nowhere on the recommended childhood vaccination schedule to show that the message against vaccines is having “dire consequences.” In other cases, she links to articles that have absolutely nothing to do with the points she’s trying to make. Like many such arguments, she sets up a very clear “us” vs. “them” theme and attempts to draw black-and-white conclusions from what is, essentially, a very gray area. No matter which way you look at it, this article, although written by a scientist, is not scientific.
Raff’s article and the popularity it has gained make it glaringly obvious that we simply don’t pay attention. If someone writes an article claiming something as “fact” and adds a reference at the end, we don’t bother checking the reference. Rather than study information for ourselves, the vast majority of us essentially want others to take responsibility for our safety – especially in the areas of food and medicine. If the FDA says it’s safe and effective then we believe it’s safe and effective no-questions-asked. The reality that Raff ignores is that this debate is not about the “pro-vaccine” camp vs. the “anti-vaccine” camp, it’s about evaluating what our children need, and determining who gets to answer that question. Does the government get to decide what our children need, or do parents get to decide, based on the research available to them? Do we, as parents, sacrifice our responsibility to think on the altar of science’s ability to make stuff? Should we be required to take what the government, the FDA and the CDC hand to us, simply because it’s offered? Or should parents exercise their right to examine research on their own and choose methods of care for their children according to what they believe is best?
Below, I have gone through Raff’s article in its entirety, point by point, revealing the details that she has neglected to give us and including information that is glaringly absent from her article. To the best of my ability, I have quoted only articles written by the CDC, FDA, pro-vaccine websites/publications, and articles whose facts can be easily verified.
Raff’s information is grouped according to subject and presented in blue. Quotes are indented.
Illness is dangerous!
People could DIE!
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS OUTBREAKS OF MEASLES ARE ON THE RISE
“In light of recent outbreaks of measles and other vaccine preventable illnesses, and the refusal of anti-vaccination advocates to acknowledge the problem, I thought it was past time for this post.”“Recent outbreaks” according to the linked article: 189 (out of roughly 300,000,000) people in 2013.
To put this in perspective, that’s 1 out of every 15,000,000 in the United States. That’s hardly an epidemic.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT NOT VACCINATING PUTS OUR CHILDREN’S LIVES AT RISK
“You are being lied to. The people who claim to be acting in the best interests of your children are putting their health and even lives at risk.”“At risk” according to the linked article: an interactive map from weather.com that shows “vaccine preventable” outbreaks around the world.
Number of outbreaks in the US since 2008, according to the article:
Whooping Cough: a whole bunch (more on this later)
Chicken Pox: 141
Let’s consider this information for a moment. First of all, this website deals with the total number of outbreaks across America – counting both adults and children. Second of all, (putting aside whooping cough for a moment – more on that later), lets look at the disease with the most cases of illness – mumps. Not only does the CDC admit that mumps outbreaks often occur in highly vaccinated communities, they also state that side effects from mumps are extremely rare. If we consider the number of mumps outbreaks in the United States over the last six years, we find that 1 in 400,000 people in the United States are at risk for mumps each year. 1 in 400,000! Every year! And the risk of contracting measles or chicken pox is even lower. Is this really a “risk” I should be concerned with?
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT MEASLES IS A DEADLY DISEASE
“They say that measles isn’t a deadly disease.According to the linked article:
But it is.”
- Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children even though a safe and cost-effective vaccine is available.
– In 2012, there were 122 000 measles deaths globally – about 330 deaths every day or 14 deaths every hour.
Please note that both of these statistics deal with the global implications of measles. When you factor in the poor diet and lack of sanitation often seen in third-world countries, it’s not surprising that the number of measles deaths are so high.
In the United States, however, the CDC estimates the death risk of measles to be 1-2 out of every 1,000 who get the disease (and only about 150 people per year even contract measles in the US!) In fact, according to the CDC there has not been a single death in the United States from measles since 2003. Calling measles “deadly” is like calling bunny rabbits “deadly” because they can spread tularemia.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT CHICKEN POX CAN BE A “BIG DEAL”
“They say that chickenpox isn’t that big of a deal.From the linked article:
But it can be.”
- Varicella (chickenpox) is a highly contagious disease that is very uncomfortable and sometimes serious.
– The number of people who get chickenpox each year as well as hospitalizations and deaths from chickenpox have gone down dramatically in the United States.
Since there’s not much information in the link provided to support her claim that chickenpox is “a big deal” I thought I’d do a little digging of my own:
- “In the pre-vaccine era, there were 3-4 million cases a year. What people may not have realized, every year, about 105 people died of chickenpox. About half of those were children.”
That’s a much better statistic. So chickenpox at it’s very worst killed 50 children every year. Depending on your definition of “big deal” that may support her claim… at least, it did a decade ago. What’s interesting to me regarding this statistic is that even at its height, people were still more likely to die from drowning, choking or, if you happened to live in Africa, being mauled to death by a hippopotamus. So is chickenpox a “big deal?” Yes. And so are hippopotamusses.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THE FLU IS DANGEROUS
“They say that the flu isn’t dangerous.I’m not sure if Raff linked to the wrong site here or what, but I couldn’t find anything on her link to show that the flu is dangerous. However, I did some digging again on her behalf and here is what I found:
But it is.”
“The CDC reports that about 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized for flu-related complications each year.”
The CDC also reports that how well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season. The vaccine’s effectiveness also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated. “At least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or ‘match’ between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed.”
The CDC also states that: “While the flu vaccine is the single best way to prevent the flu, protection can vary widely depending on who is being vaccinated (in addition to how well matched the flu vaccine is with circulating viruses).”
In other words, although the flu can cause serious complications in immune-compromised adults and children, vaccinating against the flu is a gamble, at best.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS WHOOPING COUGH IS BAD FOR CHILDREN
“They say that whooping cough isn’t so bad for kids to get.I’m not even going to bother providing information from Raff’s link because while I agree that whooping cough is a serious disease and a threat to children in the United States, the whooping cough vaccination is not only ineffective against whooping cough, but that vaccinated children can actually spread the disease! Since that fact is worth repeating, here is the section of the FDA article in full:
But it is.“
“The FDA conducted the study in baboons, an animal model that closely reproduces the way whooping cough affects people. The scientists vaccinated two groups of baboons – one group with a whole-cell pertussis vaccine and the other group with an acellular pertussis vaccine currently used in the U. S. The animals were vaccinated at ages two, four, and six months, simulating the infant immunization schedule. The results of the FDA study found that both types of vaccines generated robust antibody responses in the animals, and none of the vaccinated animals developed outward signs of pertussis disease after being exposed to B. pertussis. However, there were differences in other aspects of the immune response. Animals that received an acellular pertussis vaccine had the bacteria in their airways for up to six weeks and were able to spread the infection to unvaccinated animals. In contrast, animals that received whole-cell vaccine cleared the bacteria within three weeks.
This research suggests that although individuals immunized with an acellular pertussis vaccine may be protected from disease, they may still become infected with the bacteria without always getting sick and are able to spread infection to others, including young infants who are susceptible to pertussis disease.”
In light of this, I have to ask… whose children are putting whose “at risk?”
Medical science holds the answers
and vaccines protect us
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT VACCINES ARE EFFECTIVE AT PREVENTING DISEASE
“They say that vaccines aren’t that effective at preventing disease.From the linked article:
But 3 million children’s lives are saved every year by vaccination, and 2 million die every year from vaccine-preventable illnesses.”
“With regard to past evidence, several data from the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries show that the widespread use of smallpox vaccination starting at the beginning of the nineteenth century resulted in a marked and sustained decline not only of smallpox-related deaths, but also of the overall crude death rate, and contributed greatly to an unprecedented growth of European population. As to the present, it is estimated that 3 million children are saved annually by vaccination, but 2 million still die because they are not immunized. Tetanus, measles and pertussis are the main vaccine-preventable killers in the first years of life. Data from Bangladesh show that full implementation of EPI vaccines has the potential of reducing mortality by almost one half in children aged 1-4 years.”
Perhaps vaccines have saved millions of children in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Europe, and Bangladesh, but I still question their efficacy against disease in the United States today. Consider, for instance, the fact that many childhood illnesses were well on the decline BEFORE vaccines were introduced:
But even putting this aside, is it possible that vaccines are helpful at certain times, in certain circumstances, and not in others? Are there any immunizations that “science” comes up with that people in the United States should consider not taking? Consider, for a moment, vaccinations against yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid. Adding them to the vaccine schedule would be akin to advising every United States Citizen to dig a well in their back yard in order to get clean water. Although much-needed in some countries, it’s just not necessary here. Is it possible that we’re still vaccinating for illnesses we don’t need to vaccinate for? What are the criteria for determining when a vaccination is no longer necessary? At what point is enough enough and who gets to make that decision?
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT VACCINES ARE ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS WE CAN DO TO PROTECT OUR CHILDREN
“The truth is that vaccines are one of our greatest public health achievements, and one of the most important things you can do to protect your child.”Aside from the fact that it’s well documented (as Jennifer Raff herself admits) that vaccines aren’t 100% effective, I absolutely agree with Raff that vaccines can save lives. The next time I’m headed to Africa, I may very well inoculate myself against Yellow Fever and Malaria. The question I have to ask myself as a parent is: which vaccines should I subject my children to? I mean, I could vaccinate them against yellow fever, malaria and typhoid even before our next safari, but is there a good enough reason to? Likewise, is there a good enough reason to vaccinate infants against the sexually transmitted disease hepititus B, or two-month olds against tetanus? Is there a good enough reason to inoculate children against measles, which adversely effects only 63 (out of 74,000,000) children each year and hasn’t taken a life since 2003, or chickenpox which at it’s heyday was killing less children each year than accidental drowning? What about mumps, a disease the CDC admits has a very low complication rate, or the flu which vaccines are only sporadically effective against? That’s a question every parent must answer for themselves.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT NATURAL INFECTION DOESN’T WORK AS WELL AS VACCINATIONS
“They say that “natural infection” is better than vaccination.The study Raff linked to here has NO information whatsoever as to whether natural infection is better than vaccination!!! Instead, it briefly mentions “measles parties” and goes on to describe the symptoms and complications of measles.
But they’re wrong.”
Interestingly enough, however, I did find the following information on a different page the author herself linked to:
“Research shows that people respond better to some types of risks than others. Natural risks (such as infections for which there are no vaccines) are better tolerated than manmade risks (such as vaccine side effects).”
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT NATURAL AND ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES DON’T WORK AS WELL AS SCIENCE-BASED MEDICINES
“They say that ‘natural’, ‘alternative’ remedies are better than science-based medicine.First of all, the article linked to specifically deals with natural treatments for autism. There is nothing in this article refuting the benefits of alternative remedies for any other illness, including those we currently vaccinate for. To link to this article as a statement that ‘natural’ and ‘alternative’ remedies don’t work is irrational at best, deceptive at worst.
To use an example she herself uses, how does Raff explain the antibodies present in breast milk, that act as nature’s own vaccinations and will, in fact, reduce the efficacy of medical vaccinations if “natural remedies” don’t work? Maybe we should eliminate breast milk and give them something scientifically formulated instead. Oh wait… we did that, and it killed our kids.
Furthermore, if Raff is going to deny the effectiveness of natural remedies vs. “science-based medicine,” I’d love for her to explain the placebo effect which utilizes sugar pills as a “remedy.” In some cases, these placebos actually work better than scientific remedies – even when patients are told they are taking a placebo! To state that natural and alternative remedies don’t work is not only entirely false, but also completely disregards the brain-body connection.
Vaccines are safe
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT VACCINES ARE RIGOROUSLY TESTED
“They say that vaccines haven’t been rigorously tested for safety.Considering that prescription drugs are the 4th leading cause of death in America, and that over 100,000 people die every year from adverse reactions to prescription drugs, the fact that the vaccines are “subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than any other medicine” doesn’t inspire much confidence.
But vaccines are subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than any other medicine. For example, this study tested the safety and effectiveness of the pneumococcal vaccine in more than 37,868 children.”
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT SEVERE SIDE-EFFECTS FROM VACCINES ARE RARE
“They will say that doctors won’t admit there are any side effects to vaccines.Raff’s point here is that the known side effects of vaccinations are mild except in rare cases. I counter that the complications due to vaccine-preventable diseases are mild except in very rare cases. Should we put our children at risk for complications due to vaccinations to prevent the possibility of risk due to illness?
But the side effects are well known, and except in very rare cases quite mild.”
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM
“They say that the MMR vaccine causes autism.I’d be interested to know who funded those studies… here is a list of over 80 studies that show otherwise:
It doesn’t. (The question of whether vaccines cause autism has been investigated in study after study, and they all show overwhelming evidence that they don’t.)”
“No Evidence of any Link“
They say that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.See Here for information indicating otherwise.
It doesn’t, and it hasn’t been in most vaccines since 2001 anyway.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT ALUMINUM FOUND IN VACCINES IS NOT HARMFUL
“They say that the aluminum in vaccines (an adjuvant, or component of the vaccine designed to enhance the body’s immune response) is harmful to children.First of all, lets consider that in the study Raff sites, the amount of aluminum present in breastmilk was determined by taking multiple samples over the course of four months and ranged from 0.004 mg to 2.67 mg. Now lets consider that according to the recommended vaccination schedule, a child will get 29 doses of a vaccine before the age of six, each dose of which contains anywhere from .17 mg to .85mg of aluminum. This means that, taking only the very lowest numbers of aluminum present in vaccines (4.93,) children are injected with twice the amount of aluminum as that present in the very lowest numbers of breastmilk (.012 over the course of a year.)
But children consume more aluminum in natural breast milk than they do in vaccines, and far higher levels of aluminum are needed to cause harm.”
Secondly, allow me speculate for a moment on the safety of aluminum in vaccines by asking a question to you gardeners out there…
Which is better for the soil, NPK fertilizer or compost? While it’s a pretty well-known fact that healthy soil includes nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, it’s an equally well-known fact that if you extract those three elements and introduce them into soil on their own, you actually destroy the soil. This begs the question… does the method of delivery of certain substances effect the reaction to the element being delivered, and the consequences thereof? What else is there in breastmilk that effects how an infant’s body reacts to aluminum? Show me how vaccines are like breast milk in ways other than the aluminum content and I’ll be much more likely to consider them “safe.”
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT VACCINES HAVE NEVER BEEN PROVEN HARMFUL
“They say that the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (and/or the “vaccine court”) proves that vaccines are harmful.Agreed… correlation does not equal causation. That’s true for both sides of the argument.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT THE NORMAL VACCINE SCHEDULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED
“They say that the normal vaccine schedule is too difficult for a child’s immune system to cope with.Hat’s off to Raff as she makes another good point here and links to a site with actual scientific evidence to support her statement. I am, however, curious as to what she’d say regarding the normal vaccine schedule in light of the fact that breastmilk has been shown to negatively impact the potency of vaccinations. Should we delay vaccinating our children until we’re finished breastfeeding, or wean them early so that they can be “protected?”
If you don’t vaccinate your child,
my child will die.
- JENNIFER RAFF SAYS THAT UNVACCINATED CHILDREN ARE PUTTING EVERYONE ELSE’S CHILDREN AT RISK
“They say that if other people’s children are vaccinated, there’s no need for their children to get vaccinated.What does it mean to put someone “at risk?” Am I endangering someone if I carry a gun? The answer is yes. Technically, I could shoot someone. Should I give up a freedom because it might hurt someone else? Should I start making decisions regarding my own child’s health based on someone else’s fears and concerns? Not only is the “risk” unvaccinated children pose statistically insignificant (I’m actually putting more children “at risk” by owning a bee hive than I am by not vaccinating my children,) but the logic behind this argument simply doesn’t make sense.
This is one of the most despicable arguments I’ve ever heard. First of all, vaccines aren’t always 100% effective, so it is possible for a vaccinated child to still become infected if exposed to a disease. Worse, there are some people who can’t receive vaccinations, because they are immune deficient, or because they are allergic to some component. Those people depend upon herd immunity to protect them. People who choose not to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases are putting not only their own children at risk, but also other people’s children.”
Let’s take that same logic and apply it in a few more ways…
FACT: Breastmilk inhibits the effectiveness of vaccines
FACT: Children who are not effectively vaccinated against disease can spread disease
CONCLUSION: Mothers should not breast feed their children
FACT: In the United States, most of the measles cases result from international travel.
FACT: Both vaccinated and unvaccinated children and adults can contract and spread measles
CONCLUSION: United States citizens should not travel to other countries
FACT: Children who are vaccinated against whooping cough contribute to the spread of whooping cough
FACT: Unvaccinated and vaccinated children can contract whooping cough from vaccinated children
CONCLUSION: Parents should stop vaccinating their children against whooping cough
(Personally, I think that last one is spot-on.)
And although I have tried not to use pro-vaccination websites to make any of my points, this article addresses the so-called “herd immunity” myth and is worth reading.
Non-vaccinators are lying bullies
who don’t know anything!
“I can predict exactly the sort of response I will be getting from the anti-vaccine activists. Because they can’t argue effectively against the overwhelming scientific evidence about vaccines, they will say that I work for Big Pharma. (I don’t and never have). They will say that I’m not a scientist (I am), and that I’m an “Agent 666” (I don’t know what that is, but I’m pretty sure that I’m not one).”I won’t accuse her of any of these things. I will, however, accuse her of writing a biased, unscientific article with a myriad of references that have nothing to do with the points she tries to make.
“None of these things are true, but they are the reflexive response by the anti-vaccine activists because they have no facts to back up their position. On some level, deep down, they must understand this, and are afraid of the implications, so they attack the messenger.”On the contrary, we are armed with the same types of information that the pro-vaccine side is armed with. Incomplete studies, biased doctors and researchers and statistics that can show correlation but not causation. What it all boils down to in the end is that we don’t know. We don’t know what causes autism and we don’t know whether vaccines contribute. We don’t know how frequent the adverse reactions to vaccines are, and we don’t know how effective they are against disease. For every study “proving” one point, there is another “proving” the opposite.
“Why are they lying to you? Some are doing it for profit, trying to sell their alternative remedies by making you afraid of science-based medicine. I’m sure that many others within the anti-vaccine movement have genuinely good intentions, and do honestly believe that vaccines are harmful. But as a certain astrophysicist recently said “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it”. In the case of vaccine truthers, this is not a good thing. Good intentions will not prevent microbes from infecting and harming people, and the message that vaccines are dangerous is having dire consequences. There are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses now throughout the United States because of unvaccinated children.”We’ve already covered some of the “dire consequences” of not vaccinating children, but here is another faulty link from Raff. The link takes you to an “anti-vaccine body count” listing the number of preventable illnesses and deaths from June 2007 to March 2014. Among those listed include illnesses and deaths due to California serogroup virus disease, Eastern equine encephalitis virus disease, Powassan virus disease, St. Louis encephalitis virus disease, and Western equine encephalitis virus disease, among a host of other diseases found nowhere on the recommended childhood vaccination schedule.
The article she uses to site “outbreaks” of vaccine-preventable diseases itself states:
“It’s true that we’ve yet to see measles outbreaks on a massive scale – what counts as a major outbreak, these days, is the 20 confirmed cases in New York City.“
As for all those speaking out against vaccinations and attempting to make a profit… can we really use this as an attempt to discredit them? After all, if we flip that argument around what does that say about the multi-billion dollar vaccine industry?
“In only one respect is my message the same as the anti-vaccine activists: Educate yourself. But while they mean “Read all these websites that support our position”, I suggest you should learn what the scientific community says. Learn how the immune system works. Go read about the history of disease before vaccines, and talk to older people who grew up when polio, measles, and other diseases couldn’t be prevented. Go read about how vaccines are developed, and how they work. Read about Andrew Wakefield, and how his paper that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been withdrawn, and his medical license has been revoked. Read the numerous, huge studies that have explicitly examined whether autism is caused by the vaccine…and found nothing. (While you’re at it, read about the ongoing research to determine what IS the cause—or causes —of autism, which is not helped by people continuing to insist that vaccines cause it).”I agree that every parent should research this for themselves and I am convinced that two people can do the same amount of research and come away with completely different opinions as to whether they should vaccinate their children. AND THAT’S OKAY. Parents have to make the decisions they feel most comfortable with. But scare-tactics such as those in this article don’t help parents to make informed decisions and it’s unfortunate that this article has gained so much ground among parents.
“That may seem like a lot of work, and scientific papers can seem intimidating to read. But reading scientific articles is a skill that can be mastered. Here’s a great resource for evaluating medical information on the internet, and I wrote a guide for non-scientists on how to read and understand the scientific literature. You owe it to your children, and to yourself, to thoroughly investigate the issue. Don’t rely on what some stranger on the internet says (not even me!). Read the scientific studies that I linked to in this post for yourself, and talk to your pediatricians. Despite what the anti-vaccine community is telling you, you don’t need to be afraid of the vaccines. You should instead be afraid of what happens without them.”I agree that you should do the research for yourself. And unlike Jennifer Raff, I believe that the research supports BOTH sides of the vaccination argument and that it’s up to every parent to evaluate the risks and decide for themselves. Yes, it will be a lot of work, just as it’s been a lot of work to check out all of Raff’s references and discover that over half of them have been used to exaggerate her claims or have little to do with the information she has given us. But it’s worth it.
Whew! I’m exhausted, what about you? To bring this full circle and hopefully help you end with a smile – here is a song for your enjoyment … and research verifying my claims!