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Friday, September 17, 2010

Vaccinations and the Bad Science of the Anti-Vaccination Activists

Earlier today a friend of mine posted this link to an article about the current outbreak of whooping cough in California. Along with the link she posted the following quotes:

"We need to remember that vaccines are probably the biggest reason that
so few of us lose our children when they are young," said Dr. Patricia
Samuelson, speaking on behalf of the California Academy of Family
Physicians. "They used to say in this country, 'Don't count your
children until after they've had measles' because so many would die."

And this statement of her own opinion 


Most of the resulting conversation was on par with what I expect from people whom my friends choose to socialize with. It was in agreement with the idea of vaccinations and carried some slight jest at some of the medical ideas that go against all known science.

But then, on the tenth response, began the anti-vaccination opinions.  The first one (response #10) was inquiring about why they have to be so toxic and draining on the young immune system. Why are they so dangerous? It was geared in an acceptable and inquiring mind. It was phrased such that the person obviously has been exposed to the controversy started by the bad science of the anti-vaccination activists but someone who seemed to really want answer, rather than someone who had already made up their mind.
I, and a couple of other people, provided them with some (admittedly, opinion laced) answers to the inquiries.

Why is there mercury in vaccines? Because it was used as a preservative in a stable and non-toxic compound: just like in your fillings.

Why give 3-4 vaccines in a single injection instead of spreading them out? Because spreading them out would have the average person receiving the last of their vaccinations when they are 20 years old. Most of the diseases we are protecting against affect people before they reach that age. There is no point in vaccinating someone against Measles after they have died from it.

Why are the vaccines now so toxic that they induce a fever? Because they always have been: it's how they work. The vaccination generates an immune response to the pathogens that generate the disease so that your body knows what to do when it next encounters those pathogens. That means it generates a MUCH milder version of the same immune response. That means a mild fever. The response burns energy which makes you tired. People are super concerned about this type of response now because of the anti-vaccination-activists but the reality is this type of response by the body has always existed. Your muscles ache after a tetanus shot. That's been a reality for a LONG time. It's not new. It's the body generating an immune response to the pathogens that cause tetanus. (Yes a tetanus shot is a vaccine).

I will come out and plainly say it. Willful ignorance of science fact is stupid. If you CHOOSE to disbelieve the evidence presented by science I will find your opinions stupid. If you want to convince me otherwise: use reason and logic. The next anti-vaccine poster was much more hostile. She, who had not participated in the conversation to that point, felt that those who were answering the challenges of the science were calling her (and those who believe as she does) stupid even though care had been given to state things in an educational way (with the exception of flatly stating that those who push the mercury in vaccines scare do not understand chemistry: which is true). Her response was angry at those who support vaccines and angrier at those who wish to discredit the anti-vaccine movement. She has anecdotal evidence on her side regarding her niece who is now exhibiting autism signs after having been given the hepatitis B vaccine before going home from being birthed. It is obvious to me that she blames the vaccine for the autism.

This is the point where I point out the cold, hard logic.
1. Are there more autism diagnosis than 50 years ago? Yes.
2. Are there more people than 50 years ago? Yes.
3. Is there a higher percentage of people who obtain health care than 50 years ago? Yes.
4. Does modern health care have a greater means of communicating data on various anomalies in behavior and symptoms? Yes.
5. Does modern health care have better tools to diagnose and treat conditions? Yes.

If you follow these questions the logic train is easy to follow AND it can be followed with ANY disease that has an increase in the NUMBER of diagnoses (e.g. autism, asthma, ADHD, depression, etc):

5. Better equipment means more people with less severe symptoms can be diagnosed.
4. Better communication means that more doctors can be made aware of the symptoms of any condition and perform a more accurate diagnosis.
3. A higher percentage of people acquiring health care means that the percentage who were afflicted, but not treated, are now being treated. This alone will boost the number of cases even if the population did not grow.
2. More people means a greater number of diagnoses. The only way to prevent that is to find a way to make the condition being examined rarer.

ANY of the above logical points would lead to an increase in the raw number of cases of a condition over time. ALL of the them certainly will do so.

Connecting a rise in autism to a rise in vaccine usage is foolish. One might as well do a correlative study that shows that increased TV viewing in the average American home leads to higher autism rates or that the increase in the number of homes with internet connectivity leads to an increase in autism. People grab at the vaccines because it is an easy target that can be easily connected to autism because autism manifests (often suddenly) around age 3-4 which is after all of the vaccination batteries have (at least) begun (often mostly finished).

This correlation is based on fear and feelings, not statistical data. There have been repeated studies that have examined the data and NONE of them have found a reliable DIRECT correlation. The only one that found such a correlation was published by a doctor in the UK who performed the study in an unethical and unscientific way and whose supporting university has since redacted the entire article and (essentially) disavowed the doctor himself. The ONE study that shows a causal link was falsified. The ONE study that shows a correlation was performed by a doctor on a vaccine that was a direct competitor to HIS work that could be produced MUCH cheaper and faster than his work. The one study that shows a causal link was written to boost the cash flow to the author's bank account.

Another logical point, and one which has a recent study to support it, is that modern health care is happy to over-diagnose people. The recent study showed that among children diagnosed with ADHD in grades K-2 (whose were prescribed Ritalin to treat it) MOST of them (by a significant margin) were among the youngest in their class. They were diagnosed based on their fidgetiness and their inability to pay attention in class as observed by their teachers. The study implies that, perhaps, they do not have an abornmal behavior pattern but are, instead, acting normally for someone who is 15% - 20% younger than the remainder of their class. To someone who is 20 a 15% age difference is 3 years. As we age differences in age decrease in importance yet there is still a HUGE difference in the lifestyle of the average 17 year old and the average 20 year old. Often that lifestyle change has an equally large gap in maturity. If the change is that significant at that age imagine how much more significant it must be to a 6 year old. This does not prove anything other than over-diagnoses occur. If they occur in other areas they may also occur in autism.

Lastly I want to point out the basic numbers. As there is no correlation between vaccines and autism (or any other health care risk EXCEPT an allergic reaction) the probability of having vaccine-induced autism is 0%. But, for the sake of comparison, I feel like being generous. I'm going to say it is 1 in a million. That's .0001%. At this rate, for every 100 children vaccinated .01 would develop autism. Let's compare this to the mortality rate of measles: 15%. For every 100 children who contract measles 15 will DIE. Let's compare this to the mortality rate of Hepatitis B: 50%. For every 100 children who contract this 50 will DIE.

It seems to me that .01 out of a hundred is a MUCH less risky endeavor than HALF.

The natural reaction, of course, is to say "Well, who gets measles or hepatitis b anymore?" This is a perfectly sound question with a equally sound answer: almost no one because we're vaccinated against them.
For vaccinations to prevent epidemics 80% - 90% of the population must be vaccinated. If the vaccination pool drops much below that then the pathogens have enough population to move through that they can stay alive and spread and evolve. If you eliminate the viable hosts then you eliminate the habitat that the pathogens require. The disease gets wiped out (almost).
Sometimes, like in California, after a disease is assumed to be gone we'll stop vaccinating against it by default (another example is polio). When the general population is no longer protected and the disease comes back it will spread through the population as if there had never been a vaccine. If the anti-vaccinationists get their way and vaccines are stopped (or drop below 80% penetration rate) then, within 2 generations, we will see EVERY child-killing disease making a HUGE comeback.

This will kill MILLIONS of children.
This will flood the health provision system with sick, preventing others from getting the care they need.
This will dramatically increase the number of illness-related days of work lost which will hurt the economy.

Stopping vaccines is a bad idea.

That said: I think we should ALL have the right to CHOOSE for our children whether or not we vaccinate them. But do it based on DATA and KNOWLEDGE not FEAR and SUPERSTITION.

If you base your decision on data and knowledge you will choose vaccination as the less risky option unless new studies change the current belief.

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