Hi all, i've seen a disturbing number of antivax types on steemit and thought it wise to refute some common arguments.
Of course, antivaxxers have every right to express their views, and I encourage the use of steemit for controversial viewpoints and free speech in general - but part of that is because I believe we can't refute someone's views if we don't know them.
So here we go....
"Vaccines cause autism"
This one hits close to home for me as i'm on the autistic spectrum myself (diagnosed aspergers, which is no longer a current diagnosis but I had mine as a child), and i've seen a LOT of bad pseudoscience about autism.
The myth seems to originate with andrew wakefield's now discredited and retracted paper in the lancet, available here:
Suffice to say, the scientific consensus is against the conclusions drawn in this paper, but one thing that stands out instantly is the old fact of "correlation is not causation" and a tiny sample size.
The lancet is a fairly respected medical journal, but so is BMJ, let's see what they said in response to the controversy:
Some choice quotes to show the bad science at work:
“Wakefield told us my son was the 13th child they saw,” he said, gazing for the first time at the now infamous research paper which linked a purported new syndrome with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. “There’s only 12 in this.”
Running his finger across the paper’s tables, over coffee in London, Mr 11 seemed reassured by his anonymised son’s age and other details. But then he pointed at table 2—headed “neuropsychiatric diagnosis”—and for a second time objected.“That’s not true.”Child 11 was among the eight whose parents apparently blamed MMR. The interval between his vaccination and the first “behavioural symptom” was reported as 1 week. This symptom was said to have appeared at age 15 months. But his father, whom I had tracked down, said this was wrong.“From the information you provided me on our son, who I was shocked to hear had been included in their published study,” he wrote to me, after we met again in California, “the data clearly appeared to be distorted.”
The current scientific consensus on autism is that the cause is a mix of genetic and environmental factors and the existence of "clusters" in areas such as silicon valley would seem to confirm this.
Put quite simply, there's a strong correlation between aspergers and classic "geek" personality and autism - it's the same condition fundamentally, with the primary distinction simply being level of functioning (higher functioning vs lower functioning - defined in terms of IQ).
I myself, if diagnosed today, would be classified as "higher functioning autistic", as would a lot of my family and friends. The DSM-V removed the aspergers/autism distinction for a reason.
It should also be noted that having measles, mumps or rubella are quite nasty diseases that any loving parent should not want their child to suffer and even if vaccines DID cause autism, being like me isn't so bad - I promise.
Finally, more recent studies have found no correlation between vaccines and autism anyway, here's one for example:
"Vaccines cause heavy metal toxicity"
Well first of all, metal is awesome and we could all do with more Black Sabbath in our lives.
But being serious, this claim is often based on the preservative Thiomersal found in vaccines, which does indeed "contain" mercury. This compound is used to prevent contamination of the vaccines from bacterial and fungal sources, but it is not biologically active in humans in the same way that mercury and other heavy metals are.
For one thing, it's not actually literally mercury - it's mercury with a few other bits added to the molecular structure. The body breaks it down into 2 compounds: ethylmercury and Thiosalicylic acid, only the former of which is a concern. Now, ethylmercury in large quantities is nasty stuff, but the amount you get from a vaccine works out to less than eating a can of tuna.
It must also be said that in all medical practice, there's a risk/benefit tradeoff to be made: the diseases prevented by vaccines are FAR FAR more deadly than the small risk from this absolutely tiny amount of mercury.
Another point to be made is that the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity are nothing like the mild flu-like symptoms reported in some patients after vaccines (these symptoms are triggered by immune response by the way - it's a sign the vaccine is doing what it should).
"We should use chelation to treat children who have autism"
This is a bit of a sidepoint, but suffice to say - no, don't.
Chelation has a legitimate medical use for cases of heavy metal toxicity in emergencies, but it should be applied within HOURS of the toxic insult and it can not undo or repair damage already done to the body.
Not that autism has anything to do with heavy metal either, except for all the aspie metalheads I know.
"The CDC reports adverse effects every year"
This is true, but these effects are all either known minor side effects (headache, mild fever etc - all expected and actually a sign of the vaccine working), or the odd rare case of an allergic response (far more rare).
Again also, we must bear in mind the risk of serious problems with modern vaccines is far far lower than the risk to health posed by the diseases they prevent.
"Natural immunity is better" / "Chickenpox is better when young"
This is just nonsense, and parents who have "bug parties" to get their children infected with a disease are in my view simple child abusers. It's true that some diseases (like chickenpox) can be better to get in youth, but that does not translate to other diseases and even chickenpox can have life-threatening effects.
Quite simply, you shouldn't expose your kids to disease if you don't have to.
"We have the right to refuse"
While I philosophically agree with this, because we all own our own bodies after all, where it comes to children - no.
Your responsibility as a parent is to lookout for your child's best interests, and if you can prevent them becoming ill you have a duty to do so.
As for adults, there's more of an argument to be made - but you're still fundamentally arguing for the right to become seriously ill, and you're also exposing others to the risk of infection.
"It doesn't matter if I don't vaccinate if vaccines work, because then I can't infect others who are vaccinated"
I believe a lot of the problems with anti vaxxers comes from lack of education so this point is often hard to get across for the same reason, but basically evolution plays a role here.
With "herd immunity" there's less people infected by any particular pathogen, which means less space for it to mutate and evolve into something the vaccines might not cover. We also have to think about those who can't take vaccines due to immune disorders or allergies - it's questionable whether the right to refuse injections means the right to expose others to illness.
Schools should really improve the way they teach evolution - a lot of people don't understand the basic principles behind it, but i'll try to give a brief summary here:
- DNA does not copy perfectly every time, and it also gets mutated from random environmental factors (radiation is a big one, but there's factors like viral infections and mutagenic compounds in the environment).
- When DNA is mutated, the mutations will either be of benefit to the organism, neutral or harmful
- Over time, if the mutations are beneficial, that organism reproduces more and is better able to compete for resources
- As a result, over long timeframes we get all the variety we see in life today
With bacteria in particular, they divide very rapidly and are quite vulnerable to mutation, but they also have been known to swap genes in a manner akin to the sexual reproduction seen in animals. The very rapid turnover of generations means that beneficial mutations (from the bacteria's viewpoint) stack up rapidly and this is why we see antibiotic resistance and why vaccines need to be changed from time to time to account for new strains. The same also happens with viruses and any other pathogens too.
"Disease rates are going down due to modern hygiene and other measures"
This is a talking point raised by some to argue vaccines aren't needed. While it's true that hygiene and the rest of modern medicine outside of vaccination also plays a role, it is not sufficient alone to prevent serious diseases.
No matter how well we clean our bodies and environments, pathogens will still lurk somewhere and eventually infect someone. Simple hygiene measures can slow down the spread of disease, but they don't eliminate the spread completely.
Conclusion and a call for input
Quite simply, vaccines save lives, and widespread usage of them keeps whole populations healthy.
If anyone knows of a widespread argument against vaccines i've not covered here, please comment. I've purposefully avoided the sillier conspiracy-theory arguments ("depopulation bombs", "big pharma" etc) and tried to address the most common ones i've actually seen myself, but undoubtedly there's loads more out there.