A fraction of the population believes that vaccines are an insidious part of an Illuminati-style conspiracy. According to these mental heavyweights, vaccines have been foisted upon the masses by profit-motivated pharmaceutical companies with the blessing and assistance of the United States government.
Occam’s Razor suggests that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation is usually the right one. The anti-vaccination crowd, unfortunately, has been boycotting Occam’s Razor ever since Gillette made that “anti-men” video.
When they hear hoofbeats in the hallway, they don’t think the sound is coming from zebras. Come on, that would be ridiculous! Zebras? At this time of year? Localized entirely within your hallway? That’s just dumb.
No, they instead understand the sound must be coming from a legion of squirrels, each wearing four tiny tap shoes, trained as part of a secret military program to gallop in collective cadence to make “the enemy” (e.g. you) think you hear sound of approaching ungulate megafauna.
And if you’re so naïve as to think the clip-clop-clip-clop is coming from common horses, you’ve probably lost your damned mind from drinking too much fluoridated tap water. Educate yourself. And by “educate,” they mean, “ignore subject matter experts and instead skim an assortment of blogs found on the third page of Google results.”
Their reasoning on avoiding vaccines is as multi-layered as it is flawed. I thought it might be fun to take a look at few of those reasons and then, as the kids say, shit all over them. Fortunately, my blog lives well beyond Page 3 of Google, so they’ll never find this.
1. Look at all the chemicals in vaccines!
Sodium gluconate. Acesulfame K. Sodium benzonate. Phenylalanine. Aspartame. Caramel color. Caffeine. Wait, those are the ingredients in delicious diet cola, which I am enjoying right now. Mmmm, you can really taste the benzonate!
No doubt, vaccines—indeed, all medicines—contain a lot of chemicals.
The mere existence of chemicals in the ingredients list doesn’t stop people from doing other crazy stuff, such as drinking Diet Coke, taking antibiotics, putting fuel in their cars, giving their kids Gogurt, swimming in chlorinated pools, brushing their teeth, wiping their bums, or giving Gogurt to bums hanging out at the swimming pool.
There is, to be fair, a strong correlation between exposure to brushing one’s teeth and eventual death. It’s 1:1, in fact. Every single person born between 1700 and 1900 who brushed their teeth eventually died, and it has been extrapolated that the same 100% mortality rate will likely continue for the foreseeable future. You can’t ignore numbers like that.
“But I haven’t even heard of most of these damned chemicals!” she screamed from the shadow of Jenny McCarthy.
I don’t doubt that. The part about not having heard of the chemicals, I mean. I doubt you’re actually standing in the shadow of 90’s Playmate and Google-educated “expert” Jenny McCarthy. But either way, something having “big scary science words” as ingredients doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy, healthy, or somewhere in between. It doesn’t mean anything, actually.
Thimerosal, formaldehyde, aluminum, and other tasty chemicals are in vaccines for scientifically studied, valid reasons. Without boring you with details, they mostly serve as preservatives to keep vaccines potent and uncontaminated when produced and distributed at massive scale. I know, I was surprised, too. I figured they were in there because their thimerosal rep needed to move another ten cases or his district manager was going to be steamed…it’s an Albany expression.
Science Guy 1: I can’t find the recipe anywhere. Does this giant steaming cauldron of MMR vaccine get thimerosal?
Science Guy 2: Why the hell are you using the giant wooden paddle to stir it? We’re supposed to use the plastic one so it’ll leach a little BPA into the mix! And no, it doesn’t usually get thimerosal, but we have a lot on hand so let’s put a few gallons in. I don’t want to count it when we do inventory.
Look, Lurlene: vaccines aren’t spaghetti sauce. There’s not some family recipe from the Old Country that gets handed down from generation to generation, only to be adapted because your mom ran out of oregano once and you liked it better with thyme. No one down at EvilVaccineCo is sprinkling in a dash of thimerosal because they’ve got too much of it on hand and it’s going to go bad soon.
The real problem is akin to Dunning-Kruger effect. Dunning-Kruger happens when stupid people overestimate their own intelligence. “Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their competence or incompetence.” Yes, I just quoted Wikipedia quoting the actual article by Drs. Dunning and Kruger, namely because I cannot objectively evaluate the article itself without paying $11.95 to the American Psychological Association. I like you all, but not that much.
Similarly, people at the shallow end of the intellectual pool have zero frame of reference for understanding the academic rigor, industrialized production checks-and-balances, peer reviewed studies, FDA oversight, profit motive, patent seeking/expiring/re-seeking, and professional expectations that go into being a fucking vaccine-creating scientist.
And because the closest analogy they have is whippin’ up some of Grandma’s “gravy,” they miss 99% of the vital information necessary to craft legitimate opinions. Of course, that lack of info is precisely why they think their opinion is superior to those of people in hard-earned white lab coats.
On a related note, I like to sprinkle a little thimerosal in my spaghetti sauce. It’s an old family recipe. I used to use fennel seeds, but I ran out and all I had was thimerosal. Please don’t tell the former star of MTV’s Singled Out, okay?
2. When I was a kid, we got 3 shots, now kids get 412 shots!
It’s true, the number of diseases that are preventable via inoculation has dramatically increased in the last several decades. This is largely because scientists that would have died of polio started surviving long enough to solve other diseases.
Okay, I don’t have any proof of that, I’ll admit it. But I can tell you that none of the scientists who are inventing and refining vaccines today died of polio as children. Is that why they’re solving preventable diseases? No, but it’s not not why.
A corollary of Dunning-Kruger is that people (even smart ones) tend to extend their own anecdotal evidence to explain phenomena beyond which those anecdotes apply. Perhaps a few examples will help. And I’m giving you some even if you don’t want them. If enough of you understand this, the ones who can’t understand will be protected by the rest of the herd.
“Helmets? Toughen up, snowflakes! We rode our bikes without helmets, busted our heads wide open, and we all turned out just fine!”
“Our moms all smoked and drank while they were pregnant with us, and it didn’t hurt us at all.”
“I heard about a guy who got trapped in his car and burned up because of his seatbelt, so to hell with that.”
Sound familiar? It sounds familiar for me, but that could be because I just wrote it about 12 seconds ago.
People have a hard time thinking beyond their own experiences. It’s not because they’re evil or stupid, though that’s a great guess. It’s more than human nature, it’s animal nature.
We’re hard-wired to value our own experiences first, then the experiences of those with whom we’re close. A distant third is the experiences of people like us…people whose experiences mirror ours closely enough that we can empathize with them.
Without a significant amount of education (formal or informal, early or lifelong), that’s where it ends. If I don’t know you or can’t easily imagine myself in your shoes, your opinion won’t influence my behaviors. The end.
But even with several years of compounded learning, we only get a distant fourth-place finisher: the statistical realities of groups of people as relayed to us by disinterested scientists. It’s still a stretch. Our human/animal instinct is still to value our own anecdotal experiences uber alles. Education just helps us suspend our instinct and trust in something bigger and farther away.
When scientists tell us that they’ve researched for 20+ years and discovered yet another disease they can miraculously prevent your child from contracting, most of us are immensely grateful. A small percentage of the population, however, views this announcement with the same skepticism a dog views the veterinarian.
Why do we need another shot? When I was a kid, we got by just fine without it. Well, except for that one hairy kid a few towns over that died a grizzly death from bordetella.
Your hairy kid needs “yet another” shot because while you’ve been busy licking your own butt, science has continued to advance to keep you and yours from dying prematurely and unnecessarily.
It’s hard to put faith in that which you do not personally witness, I get it. But given the fact that you willingly accept the mysteries of Alexa, air travel, and the all-you-can-eat salad and breadsticks deal at the Olive Garden without a scintilla of idea as to how any of them work, here’s a thought: Scientists (and Olive Garden line cooks) are smarter than you, they’ve done infinitely more research than you, they have zero incentive to lie to you, and they’re trying to help you.
How about you stop trying to bite what you don’t understand, and let the nice lady give you your shots so you can get a treat (e.g. not dying of diphtheria, you dipshit).
3. My kid should be old enough to make his/her own choice.
On things that are inconsequential and don’t affect the rest of us, like getting their ears pierced or getting baptized, I agree.
But on things that affect the rest of the population—especially those with compromised immune systems who rely on herd immunity to insulate them from opportunistic diseases—I don’t really care what your crotch fruit thinks.
As a society, we’ve decided that kids are too young, uneducated, self-serving, naïve, and fragile to do a ton of things. They can’t drive, smoke, drink (without using a fake ID that says they’re 26-year-old Brian McGee), buy a gun, they join the Army, go to an R-rated movie alone, get samples at Costco, rent a car, run for Congress, stay out alone after dark, or vote.
If you—an “adult”—are dumb enough to think your child should have a say in whether or not they’re immunized, just think: your child is almost certainly dumber than you. Society’s interest in our collective health outweighs your uninformed opinion on this…and it really outweighs the opinion of your spawn.
4. The vaccine manufacturers can’t be sued.
Yes they can. But unlike negligent 18-wheelers and catheter makers, you don’t have to sue them to get THE COMPENSATION YOU DESERVE!
Let’s say you create a medicine that saves lives. You don’t make much money on it, but it’s profitable at scale, and the government decides it’s important enough to recommend it to everyone.
Then, it turns out that one out of every 1,000,000 users of your medicine drops dead—maybe from using it, maybe not—but “dropping dead” is indeed the 27th least likely side effect of using your drug. For the other 999,999 patients, your medicine makes them healthy and helps their wildest dreams come true, assuming their wildest dream is “not dying.”
When you distribute that drug to millions of people, you’re going to get a stack of lawsuits. Some are from opportunistic shills, some are from the estates of people who died right around the time they used your stuff. Because you get sued on a regular basis, your liability insurance company is going to drop you. Economically, you’ve got a crappy decision in front of you: (1) jack the price of the life-saving medicine through the roof to cover the known, expected litigation costs, or (2) stop making the medicine and go do something less likely to land you in court.
Society gets one of two crappy options, too. Either we as a nation are going to knowingly price disadvantaged people out of attaining life-saving drugs, or we’re going to face a severe shortage. And because we’re a capitalist country, that shortage will have the effect of knowingly pricing disadvantaged people out of attaining life-saving drugs, anyway.
In 1986, time travelers read this very blog piece FROM THE FUTURE and wrote the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. The NCVIA creates a “no-fault” scheme under which those injured by vaccines can file a claim and gain compensation without going through litigation. If the injury you suffer is anywhere on the list of possible things that could happen after immunization, you just file your claim and get paid.
And if you think your case is unique and worthy of discovery, hearings, subpoenas, delays, people in pinstripe suits, wooden hammers, pearl-clutching, and dramatic soliloquys, you can still sue anyone you want.
So, if you were hoping to achieve your Munchausen-by-lottery dreams by suing a vaccine maker because Lil Ralphie keeps failing English, it’s not unpossible. Give it a…wait for it…shot. But for all of the actual, statistically inevitable injuries, getting compensation is guaranteed and simplified.
And because the known liability is insulated, drug makers keep making drugs to help the other 999,999 kids, no one is priced out of getting vaccines, and all of us reap the benefits of a healthy population.
The alternative risk—avoiding vaccinating for easily preventable diseases and watching those diseases kill and maim many, many more people than any side effect of any vaccine ever could—is simply untenable in a modern society.
My dog Lemmy is afraid of the vent above my stove. He doesn’t understand that engineers designed it, machines and humans built it, and I’m using it to avoid the other thing he’s afraid of: the smoke alarm. So, he hides under the bed until I’m done cooking. Once I turn off the vent, he quickly comes to the kitchen to partake in the manna that just “appeared.”
Lemmy, for some reason, falsely equates the loud noise he doesn’t understand with an unknown, unconnected negative. He ignores the fact that that same loud noise ALWAYS results in him getting his favorite cuisine, people food. He runs and hides, and then enjoys the benefit of what the loud noise just helped create.
If Lem Lem and I were living in 1819, there would be no loud noise for him to fear, because there would be no electric vent over my stove. There would be no alarm to go off when our home filled with smoke as I cooked hardtack for our arduous, 40-day horseback journey to travel six miles to visit the apothecary to barter for opium. Horses were very slow back then, especially when ridden by dogs.
But in 2019, frying up a grilled cheese has the illogical consequence of scaring the hell out of my walnut-sized-brain best friend…until the noise stops and he gets a piece of delicious sammich.
Hang on to your phone, we’re making a hard turn…vaccines have literally nothing to do with autism. Nothing. They do, however, have a ton to do with the health of billions of people, which is a pretty awesome outcome.
“But there are a ton more cases of autism today than there were before vaccines!”
That’s true. But…brace for it: correlation is not causation.
Don’t believe me? Well, ever since they built a fire station near my house in Alexandria, Virginia, ten years ago, we haven’t seen a single rhinoceros attack. But you know what we have seen? A ton more Uber drivers. Ten years ago, there were zero Uber drivers in our neighborhood. Now, they’re never more than five minutes from pulling up three blocks away and confusedly calling to look for me even though the map clearly states exactly where I’m standing. I’m the guy in the I’m With Stupid shirt, standing by myself, now turning to aim the arrow at you.
In the years since vaccines became available and widespread, we’ve also invented the color TV, developed the hybrid car, made 72 Harry Potter movies, and created “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Which of those do you suppose caused autism rates to grow? If a former Playboy model told you that it was fake butter, would you panic? Don’t answer that, I’m sure you would, actually.
And on a side note, but an important one: autism is not the worst thing that can happen to someone. Not by a long shot. Autism is definitely different than being neurotypical. But when you loudly decide that you’d prefer your kid get fucking polio instead of autism, you’re not only being insanely stupid; you’re also being shitty to all of the people on the autism spectrum living happy, healthy lives.
Also, my dog doesn’t like you now, and I trust his judgment on everything. Except with regard to hiding under the bed vis-à-vis loud noises.
There are those who would try to frame the debate on vaccinations as one of freedom versus liberty. It’s a fair point. Those people drove the speed limit and wore a seatbelt en route to their office, which was vetted by code inspectors before it was built, all to get on their office-regulated internet portal to comment within the guidelines of the site on which they’re ranting. And no one’s gonna tell them what they can and can’t do, dammit, especially not some nanny state cuck like me.
Still, as the old adage goes, your freedom to punch wildly in the air ends at the tip of my nose.
I don’t honestly care if you elect to expose your own (I assume stupid, given my understanding of genetics) kids to every disease under the sun.
I care, however, when you expect your disease-addled offspring to attend school with my nieces and nephews. I care when you parade little Drippy around Target where my 86-year-old grandma is trying to buy oregano and/or Thimerosal for her spaghetti sauce. I care when enough of you host playdates with each other to give long-dormant diseases a newfound foothold.
In other words, your kids’ ability to fuck up 100 years of public health progress is absolutely my business as a member of the public. And since it’s my business, I’m humbly requesting/demanding you go down to your local physician and get your kids a
polio anti-polio shot.
Need some more Hitting The Trifecta right now? Try this one: These Are The People In Your Neighborhood. Sorry. Or how about this one? When In Doubt, Don’t Bark. I like this one, too: A Letter To My Younger Self.