Many of my patients choose not to vaccinate their children. I welcome these patients and, frankly, love each of them. I love that they are passionate about their responsibility as moms and take the time to research and educate themselves about things that affect their kids. I love that they question the status quo and don’t just go along with whatever people tell them. These are my kind of people: skeptical, caring, persistent.
What I hate is that when it comes to the subject of vaccination, the bulk of the information available to them is dishonest and designed to deceive. My patients and their babies are being victimized and lied to by the J.B. Handleys and David “Avocado” Wolfes of the Internet (usually for economic gain).
I frankly have avoided this topic because so many of my patients are opposed to vaccines; but, I have never supported this belief, and they know it. So, let’s dive in and deal with the issues head on. If you want to skip ahead to a particular issue, here’s a list:
Common Objections to Vaccination
Vaccines have never eradicated any disease.
The decline in child mortality was due to sanitation improvements.
Vaccines are filled with deadly toxins: Aluminum, thimersol (mercury), formaldehyde, etc.
Vaccines are made from aborted fetal cells and other cells from unclean animals like pig blood.
Vaccines contain carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzethonium chloride.
Although we get some of these metals and chemicals in our diet and the air, ingestion is different than injection (for example, snake venom can be safely ingested but not injected).
The federal government knows that vaccines are unsafe and classifies them as unavoidably unsafe and prevents drug companies from being sued.
Vaccines cause most childhood problems, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, tumors, autism, brain damage, asthma, eczema, diabetes, scoliosis, meningitis, behavioral issues, developmental delays, and much more.
Vaccines cause most infant deaths through SIDS and other problems and explain why the US has such as high infant mortality rate, including a very high death rate on the first day of life.
Vaccines cause an incredible amount of injury and death that is covered up through the government hush-money program. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) records ten of thousands of serious injuries and deaths caused by vaccines each year.
Vaccines have never been subjected to randomized, placebo-controlled trials. No studies have ever been conducted which compare the outcomes of vaccinated to unvaccinated people.
Parents are not given informed consent when vaccines are administered by doctors.
There have been no studies on the safety of the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule.
Vaccines prevent natural immunity from working, we are giving far too many!
Vaccines don’t actually protect people from the diseases they are supposed to and many people still get a disease they have been vaccinated against.
We have cures for all the diseases that we vaccinate against and these diseases simply aren’t life-threatening.
Many of the diseases we are preventing are actually important to get and they prevent cancer and other diseases if children are allowed to get them.
Infants can’t take advantage of vaccines anyway because their immune systems are immature and if they did actually respond to vaccines they would have brain damage.
Doctors are ignorant and have been educated by Big Pharma to believe lies. Even the CDC used to recommend cigarette smoking in the 1950s.
Insurance companies bribe doctors with bonuses to vaccinate their patients so doctors are not objective.
Unvaccinated children pose no threat to immune-compromised children and herd immunity is a myth.
Herd immunity only works if the disease is acquired naturally, not through vaccination.
Natural immunity is far superior to vaccine immunity.
The CDC is a business that sells over $4B worth of vaccines each year.
The CDC has been exposed by whistle-blowers and the vaccine studies are frauds.
Multiple peer-reviewed studies prove that vaccines cause autism.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been demonized and unfairly accused of evil doing but his work has been replicated dozens of times.
“Nutritious food, fresh water, proper sanitation habits, as well as adequate amounts of sleep, sunshine, natural medical care, and toxic-free environments” are the keys to health, not medicines.
Vaccines are given nonsensically, like TDaP to pregnant women or tetanus shots to people with a cut.
Hundreds of brave doctors have spoken out on this evil conspiracy to poison our children.
But …. AUTISM!
Okay, I get it … vaccines are safe and effective. But why do we vaccinate against diseases that aren’t a problem anymore? Isn’t the risk of even a rare side effect greater than the risk of the disease?
I just don’t like the idea of using something unnatural. Surely, nature has provided us with everything we need to prevent and treat these diseases. Our ancestors, who lived more natural lives, knew this.
But what if I vaccinate my child, and my child suffers an injury – even dies – because of a vaccine? How could I live with myself?
Religious Objections to Vaccination
Common Objections to Vaccination
Patients send me articles or webpages about vaccines all the time and ask for a response. I have used one of those webpages in particular as a source for common claims about why parents shouldn’t vaccinate.
Let’s deal with each of these common arguments put forth from those who oppose vaccines, one by one. The bulk of the arguments against vaccines I will discuss are taken from here, a commonly circulated website that purportedly reflects one selfless mother’s attempts to protect her children (one will note that this webpage, which has been shared thousands of times on Facebook, has 53 advertisements and has likely proved very profitable for its creator). Interestingly, she is quick to point out that she has no education that should make her qualified to have an opinion about the topic, and, fortunately for her, most of her readers are in the same boat. Scientific literature is difficult to read and understand for the best of us; it is fraught with stumbling blocks for most of us. Scientific papers can rarely be read in isolation. It takes 12 years to become a doctor for a reason.
But let’s dive in.
1. Vaccines have never eradicated any disease.
This is an easily refuted and ridiculous claim. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox on a worldwide scale and eliminated many diseases on a national scale (such as polio in the US). Worldwide eradication of most diseases has been held back due to a lack of worldwide vaccination and the fact that many diseases we vaccinate against are also carried by animals whom we do not vaccinate. Smallpox exists only in humans, making it easier to completely eradicate.
The Americas were declared polio free in 1994, but polio still exists in other parts of the world, meaning that vaccination still prevents re-introduction of this disease into the United States. In 1952, before the polio vaccine, there were 58,000 cases of polio in the US which killed 3,145 people and paralyzed or disabled another 21,269 people. The US population then was 157 million, less than half of today’s population. If the polio vaccine had not been created, we would expect about double the rate of polio cases in the US due to increased population density, meaning about 4x the number of deaths and paralysis or about 12,000 deaths per year and nearly 100,000 cases of paralysis. There is no effective treatment for polio. Only about 9,000 children under the age of 14 die in the US each year from all causes, meaning that without the polio vaccine alone, the rate of death for children would more than double and polio would far surpass all other causes of death (currently the leading cause of death for children is accidents)
Similar stories exist for most other diseases we now vaccinate against. In 1900, before vaccinations existed, we know that the following numbers of children were affected by these common diseases each year:
Today, we vaccinate against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping-cough (pertussis), polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and the flu. Polio and smallpox have been eliminated in the US and diphtheria nearly eliminated. Deaths from these diseases have been reduced by about 99% at a time when more children should be getting them due to increased population density.
2. The decline in child mortality was due to sanitation improvements.
I have to agree with this. In fact, I have written about this extensively. This isn’t a secret, and sanitation programs were spearheaded by public officials and physicians in the US 100 years ago. The graphic below demonstrates the importance of clean water, food preservation, and pasteurization.
Sanitation policies and projects still form the cornerstone of public health policies worldwide. But vaccination is also a hugely important contributor to the reduction of child mortality. Notice that in urban areas in the US, almost half of children died in 1850 by the age of 5. Half! Sanitation projects, water filtration, chlorination, and milk pasteurization contributed enormously to declines in the rate of children dying.
But most who oppose vaccines don’t realize how old vaccination is. The vaccinia vaccine was used starting in 1796 and was used in at-risk populations extensively in the 19th century; it proved very effective. It was one of the greatest conceptual breakthroughs in medical history and perhaps the most important. Pertussis, diphtheria, typhoid, and tetanus vaccines all predate 1950. By the time the polio vaccine came along in 1959, you can already see how low child mortality was compared to 100 years prior, but remember that the polio vaccine alone saves thousands of lives per year and tens of thousands of cases of paralysis.
By 1950, child mortality was already reduced to 36/1000 from around 10 times that number 100 years prior. Today, child mortality is around 6.5/1000. A large portion of that reduction in child mortality is due to vaccinations, and that just speaks to children under age 5. Many of these diseases have historically had a much large impact on adults than children and adults benefit too.
A good example of this in action is in Africa today. In 1990, child mortality in Africa was 163/1000, or 16.3%. Today, it has been cut in half almost exclusively due to vaccines. In fact, just since 2000, about 50 million lives have been saved due to this reduction in mortality.
How has it been reduced? Vaccination rates have gone from around 10% to around 80% in Africa in the last 30 years and correlates strongly with the reduction in child mortality; the reduction in deaths from these diseases is the greatest evidence we have for the value of vaccines on a large-scale. Little else in terms of public works or medical infrastructure has improved signficantly in that time in Africa.
3. Vaccines are filled with deadly toxins: Aluminum, thimersol (mercury), formaldehyde, etc.
This tired statement automatically tells you something about the person stating it: they either have no scientific knowledge whatsoever or they are being deliberately dishonest. This statement takes advantage of the unfortunately common rise of chemophobia, or the fear of anything that sounds like a chemical. But, of course, everything we ingest is a chemical, from the dihydrogen oxide (water) we drink to the nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide, neon, helium, and methane (air) that we breathe every minute of every day.
But mercurcy is a toxin! Quantities matter, for every chemical. People die from drinking too much water and they die from drinking too little. People die from breathing in too much carbon dioxide, yet you continue to breathe. Lettuce and tomatoes both contain mercury, but few antivaxxers are arguing that we should stop eating vegetables because they contain deadly toxins.
Mercury, contained in the preservative thimersol, hasn’t actually been in vaccines for many years, except for the multi-dose flu vaccines which are now rarely used. If your child is fully vaccinated and under age 15, she probably hasn’t been exposed to any mercury at all. But even if she had been, quantities matter:
How many antivaxxers are asking us to not eat a can of tuna because of the poisonous mercury? How many cans of tuna have you had in your lifetime? Even worse, the mercury contained in tuna (methylmercurcy) is the form of mercury associated with harm, while the mercury in thimersol (ethylmercury) is not associated with harm.
The same type of argument can be made for all of the ingredients in a vaccine that someone might question. I will also speak about formaldehyde since that ingredient is so commonly paraded out as the great evil of vaccines.
Formaldehyde, like almost every other substance in nature, can be dangerous at certain levels. But you have formaldehyde in your body, right now! Your body is an amazing chemistry lab, with trillions of chemical reactions and processes occurring every second. Formaldehyde is a very common organic compound that occurs as an intermediate in countless chemical reactions. Luckily, our bodies protect us from all the naturally occurring formaldehyde by immediately converting it to formic acid, which is so safe that it is commonly used as a food additive. By the way, one pear has more than 100 times the amount of formaldehyde as a vaccine.
One last word about chemophobia: outcomes are what matter. Most efforts at attacking vaccines center around trumping up fear of the unknown by creating boogeymen, like mercury. You’ll notice this attack anytime you hear the words “toxins” or “dangerous chemicals,” etc. This is not a legitimate form of argument. If someone says that an ingredient of a vaccine is bad, they should be able to cite evidence where the specific component in the specific amount has caused the specific harm in a placebo-controlled trial.
The typical vaccine has far fewer chemicals and at far fewer amounts than the typical piece of chocolate, which contains 300-500 chemicals in every bite, including: theobromine, caffeine, phenylethylamine, anandamide, serotonin, apigenin, and hundreds of others dangerous chemical compounds. It even contains dangerous arsenic-like toxins such as selenium, which is known to kill humans (oh, and just 50 grams of chocolate will kill your dog!).
If you are truly scared of “toxic” chemicals, your only real choice is to stop eating, breathing, and drinking.
4. Vaccines are made from aborted fetal cells and other cells from unclean animals like pig blood.
Antivaxxers commonly appeal to two broadly different categories of people: extremely liberal, anti-science types (think Alicia Silverstone) and extremely conservative types. The mere mention of the word ‘abortion’ is highly effective for the latter group (we will discuss specific religious objections later). The statement above implies that all vaccines are currently produced through a cooperative agreement with the abortion industry, which supplies aborted babies to Big Pharma to bottle them up as vaccines.
Let’s look at the truth.
In the history of live or attenuated vaccine development, living cell lines were used to develop vaccines and those living cell lines are used to store and culture the viruses today. The rubella vaccine is the most well-known example.
Rubella is an infection that historically caused significant problems for pregnant women as it infected the placenta and fetus and caused major birth defects or death. In 1964-1965, for example, there were 12.5 million rubella infections in the United States which resulted in 11,000 miscarriages, 2,100 newborn deaths, and 20,000 babies born with severe congenital anomalies. That was just in one year. Mothers were begging for a vaccine that would prevent so much tragedy. The rubella vaccine was introduced in 1969 and as of 2004 the disease has been eliminated in the US. Unfortunately, it is still an epidemic worldwide and so vaccination necessarily continues.
The rubella vaccine was developed in the US using human diploid lung fibroblasts (HDLF) sourced from two aborted pregnancies from Europe. Because it is an attenuated virus, it needs living tissue to live in, replicate, and be stored. In the 1950s, research scientists realized that human cell lines like HDLFs could serve this process and replace the practice of routinely killing monkeys for research purposes. The complete history can be found here and the Vatican’s thoughtful history and moral statement about the issue can be found here.
But let me give you a way of thinking about what happened that you might not have heard before:
Two women chose to have an abortion in Europe in the 1960s where abortion was legal. I’ll assume that you are completely morally opposed to abortion; so let’s say this: a female fetus and a male fetus had their lives taken away by their mothers’ choices. Now that was going to happen regardless of the vaccine researchers. They didn’t ask the women to abort their babies so that they could experiment on them. They did it on their own.
Thankfully, the women did agree to allow the tissue to be used to help others. The result: Instead of those two lives being thrown in the trash can, they have gone on to save millions worldwide. Between 2000-2015 alone, about 20 millions lives were saved from rubella due to the vaccine. The total number of lives saved by the vaccine is upwards of 50 million and a large portion of these were unborn children and newborns. Millions more were spared debilitating birth defects.
I think of it like organ donation: a typical organ donor can help save eight lives. These two fetuses have saved the lives of tens of millions. Yes, they didn’t consent to it and yes, their mothers aborted them. But think about this: Let’s say you are an organ donor and you are a shot and killed by someone else. Should we not harvest your organs and turn the tragedy into something positive? I can think of no better legacy for those two aborted children than to be memorialized by having saved tens of millions of lives and prevented countless miscarriages. Whether you believe in abortion or not shouldn’t alter this perspective.
However, if you don’t agree with this moral argument, then you are certainly allowed to refuse vaccines that have this origin. Here is an anti-abortion website which provides a complete list of those vaccines and alternatives to them that you can request, as well as an ethical discussion from a right-to-life perspective. Note well: Most vaccines do not rely on fetal cell lines and alternatives exist for almost all that do, meaning that this objection, even if you have it, is not a reason not to vaccinate. No vaccines are made which currently rely on aborted babies for their manufacture.
5. Vaccines contain carcinogens like formaldehyde and benzethonium chloride.
This is another chemophobic-based claim. Carcinogenicity is again directly related to the amount of the substance. Almost everything is a carcinogen according to the state of California, including hundreds of substances commonly found in humans, such as formaldehyde. Substances like benzethonium chloride are found naturally in many places as well. Benzethonium chloride is found in grapefruit seed extract or citrus seed extract, so you might currently be diffusing this in your child’s room, exposing her to phenomenally more carcinogenic benzethonium chloride than occurs in any vaccine (and doing so for no known benefit). Oh, by the way, caffeine causes cancer according to California, too, so put down that cup of Joe.
6. Although we get some of these metals and chemicals in our diet and the air, ingestion is different than injection (for example, snake venom can be safely ingested but not injected).
This claim is made directly to answer the points made above; that is, yes, we get benzethonium chloride from our essential oils diffuser and we eat mercury in cans of tuna, but that’s somehow different from getting injected with these same substances. The example of snake venom is disingenuous; snake venom contains many proteins that are destroyed by stomach acid. When you are bitten by a snake, there is no stomach acid. This is the same reason that insulin must be injected rather than taken orally – the acid destroys it. But this has nothing to do with breathing (you don’t have stomach acid in your lungs) and it has nothing to do with things that stomach acid doesn’t break down (such as mercury or aluminum). This argument is incredibly duplicitous and irrational. It doesn’t apply to any of the substances in vaccines that antivaxxers claim to be worried about.
7. The federal government knows that vaccines are unsafe and classifies them as unavoidably unsafe and prevents drug companies from being sued.
Among antivaxxers, there are some common themes: there is a grand conspiracy among evil doctors, the government, and powerful and evil corporations to make money at the cost of killing our children. A surprising amount of this is propagated by trial lawyers who badly want to sue vaccine makers (and everyone else they can) and get a multibillion dollar settlement that will mostly go to cover their fees. There are only a couple of countries in the world where attorneys can take contingency cases (we get paid, and get paid a lot, if we win). Hint: the US is one of them. These types of large class-action lawsuits enrich attorneys (who themselves largely make up the big evil government and the leadership of big evil corporations) and do almost nothing for the plaintiffs. It’s a business, and a slimy one, and antivaxxers unwittingly (and sometimes wittingly) are being used by attorneys to further their cause.
Trial lawyers have an incredibly negative effect on US medicine and shoulder a huge responsibility for why drugs in the US cost so much as compared to Europe or Canada and why medicine in general is so expensive. Because of this, lawmakers (your elected officials) have stepped up to try to stop some of this perversion of the legal system by greedy trial lawyers. Many vaccines have indeed been declared “unavoidably unsafe” by lawmakers and courts. This is a legal term; it doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is dangerous, but it means that the product has been made as safe as possible while preserving its beneficial function. Bleach is an example. Bleach has been declared unavoidably unsafe. It is a useful and necessary product, but you shouldn’t drink it. It carries warning labels about using it for the intended purpose and not abusing it. Its intended purpose is great and as long as it is used that way then it meets this definition. If you drink bleach and get sick, don’t sue Clorox. Your case will get thrown out. A large number of medicines, medical devices (think scalpels), and consumer products have been declared unavoidably unsafe by Courts. It means that they have been made as safe as possible but they are needed because of the good they do and lawmakers don’t want trial attorneys suing every company that makes scalpels; if they did, not one would make scalpels or they would be so expensive that no one could use them.
It doesn’t help anyone if trial lawyers become richer and medicines become more expensive.
Brothers: one not immunized against smallpox, the other immunized.
8. Vaccines cause most childhood problems, including autoimmune diseases, cancer, tumors, autism, brain damage, asthma, eczema, diabetes, scoliosis, meningitis, behavioral issues, developmental delays, and much more.
And here it is: vaccines cause autism. It was always hidden in the heart of every antivaxxer. Because a low-level of evidence (read: no evidence) is required by the antivaxxers to believe that vaccines cause autism, then that same evidence (read: no evidence) can be used to argue that vaccines cause basically all childhood illnesses.
How can we determine whether vaccines cause these problems? We have to look at controlled, scientific studies. Here’s some evidence to consider (and here’s a source with longer explanations of most of these articles).
The Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety Stakeholder Concerns, Scientific Evidence, and Future Studies. This document was prepared to address concerns of parents and reviews more than 60 important studies. Result: no evidence of safety concerns from receiving vaccines on-time over the last 40 years.
Adverse Effects of Vaccines Evidence and Causality. This report from the National Academy of Sciences concludes conclusively that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism or Type 1 Diabetes.
On-time Vaccine Receipt in the First Year Does Not Adversely Affect Neuropsychological Outcomes. This study following over 1000 children for 10 years after on-time vaccinations that found that fully vaccinated children did better on many and no worse on any of 42 different neuropsychological outcomes that were studied compared to children who received fewer or delayed schedule vaccinations.
Measles-Containing Vaccines and Febrile Seizures in Children Age 4 to 6 Years. This study found no difference in risk of seizures for over 700,000 children who received on-time versus delayed vaccination administration.
No Evidence for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine-Associated Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Autism in a 14-year Prospective Study. This prospective study rebuked Andrew Wakefield’s claims and found no evidence in over 3 million children prospectively followed for an increased risk of autism or inflammatory bowel disease related to the MMR vaccine.
Autism and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine: No Epidemiological Evidence for a Causal Association. This study compared children getting the MMR vaccine to unvaccinated children and found no difference in number of cases of autism or other outcomes. Also see the following studies which show no relationship between MMR and autism or inflammatory bowel disease:
Mumps, Measles, and Rubella Vaccine and the Incidence of Autism Recorded by General Practitioners: A Time Trend Analysis MMR and autism: further evidence against a causal association
Time Trends in Autism and in MMR Immunization Coverage in California
Measles-Mumps-Rubella and Other Measles-Containing Vaccines Do Not Increase the Risk for Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Case-Control Study from the Vaccine Safety Datalink Project
No Evidence for a New Variant of Measles-Mumps-Rubella-Induced Autism
Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Bowel Problems or Developmental Regression in Children with Autism: Population Study
Relation of Childhood Gastrointestinal Disorders to Autism: Nested Case Control Study Using Data from the UK General Practice Research Database
Neurologic Disorders after Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination
A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism
Prevalence of Autism and Parentally Reported Triggers in a North East London Population
MMR Vaccination and Pervasive Developmental Disorders: A Case-Control Study
Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children with Autism and School-Matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta
No evidence for links between autism, MMR and measles virus
No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study
Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism
Relationship between MMR Vaccine and Autism
Is There a ‘Regressive Phenotype’ of Autism Spectrum Disorder Associated with the Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine? A CPEA Study
Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Montreal and Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and Links with Immunizations
Immunizations and Autism: A Review of the Literature
No Evidence of Persisting Measles Virus in Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells from Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
MMR-Vaccine and Regression in Autism Spectrum Disorders: Negative Results Presented from Japan
Measles Vaccination and Antibody Response in Autism Spectrum Disorders
Lack of Association between Measles Virus Vaccine and Autism with Enteropathy: A Case-Control Study Lack of Association Between Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination and Autism in Children: A Case-Control Study
Association Between Thimerosal-Containing Vaccine and Autism. This study of almost half a million children found no association between thimerosal (mercury) and autism. Here are some others:
Thimerosal Exposure in Infants and Developmental Disorders: A Prospective Cohort Study in the United Kingdom Does Not Support a Causal Association
Thimerosal and the Occurrence of Autism: Negative Ecological Evidence From Danish Population-Based Data
Autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines: Lack of consistent evidence for an association
Thimerosal Exposure in Infants and Developmental Disorders: A Retrospective Cohort Study in the United Kingdom Does Not Support a Causal Association
Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism
Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and Links With Immunizations
Early Thimerosal Exposure and Neuropsychological Outcomes at 7 to 10 Years
Mercury Levels in Newborns and Infants After Receipt of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines
Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: mercury in retrograde
Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal from Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism
Lack of Association Between Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination and Autism in Children: A Case-Control Study
What do these studies mean? They mean conclusively that vaccines do not cause autism, developmental disorders, diabetes, behavioral problems, bowel disorders, or any other claimed diseases. Mercury doesn’t causes these diseases, either. The number of vaccines don’t matter (that is, no difference in on-time, as recommended, vaccines versus a delayed administration schedule).
This amount of evidence (this is actually just a small sample of it) is overwhelming. There are virtually no issues in medicine that have been more thoroughly studied. If one chooses to continue to argue that vaccines are related to autism or developmental disorders, etc., by any mechanism of action, then one cannot use science to do so and in fact one must reject all of science and the scientific method.
There are a lot of things in science that are uncertain; in fact, most things in science and medicine are uncertain. But not this. Move on.
9. Vaccines cause most infant deaths through SIDS and other problems and explain why the US has such as high infant mortality rate, including a very high death rate on the first day of life.
This is an incredibly untrue statement and again smells of deliberate lying. Antivaxxers cite one case series from 1983 to bolster this claim and ignore every other piece of evidence which says that the small case series was incorrect, like this study from this year. But selective cherry-picking of evidence without any attempt to present data fairly is characteristic of the con-artists who are most vocal about vaccines. Interestingly, the same person states that the United States has a very high first day of life death rate and that this must be due to vaccines!
Often when people try to confuse others with data, they are able to do so because not everyone understands enough about a particular topic to have an opinion. Take infant mortality, for example.
As you can see, the US does have a relatively higher rate of death in the first month of life compared to the first year of life. In the rest of the world, the trend is typically reversed. But death in the first month of life isn’t due to the one vaccine those children have received by then, it’s due to the fact the US attempts to save more extremely premature babies than any other country. Those babies that are dying are very small, premature, and typically unvaccinated. Carry the line out for five years and you’ll also see how low the US child mortality rate is compared to the rest of the world. If you survive the first month of life in the US, your chances of dying decrease as you approach age 5. But in the rest of the world, the risk of death increases as children reach age 5. What do they die of? Pneumonia, dysentery, and malaria. Thanks, vaccines, for not allowing 16% of our children to die.
By the way, the US doesn’t have a high infant mortality rate when apples are compared to apples. Read more about that here.
10. Vaccines cause an incredible amount of injury and death that is covered up through the government hush-money program. The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) records ten of thousands of serious injuries and deaths caused by vaccines each year.
These objections are heavily promoted by trial attorneys. They want legislators to open-up vaccine makers to liability and they encourage patients to blame problems their children might have on vaccinations.
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is a government program that allows patients and physicians to report adverse events potentially related to vaccines. People are free to report anything they want. If you feel that your child fell off the front porch because of a vaccine, you may report it. Antivaxxers will frequently cite the numbers of reports to the database as proof of vaccine harm. In 2016, there were almost 60,000 reports to the database, including 432 deaths. Because antivaxxers figure that only about 1% of adverse events are reported, then they claim that 43,200 children per year are killed by vaccines! That’s quite a leap and incredibly dishonest.
First, they have no evidence to estimate what the true reporting rate is. Second, they have no evidence than any of the reported adverse events were actually related to vaccines. Third, as we already noted, only about 9,000 kids under the age of 14 die each year in the US and the cause of death is known in almost all of those deaths. Most are accidents. Yet antivaxxers feel no shame in claiming that 43,200 kids die each year in the US due to vaccines alone!
In fact, the evidence suggests that a substantial number of reports are fraudulent. Significant evidence exists that attorneys are encouraging patients whose children have autism to submit a report, for example. Any parent can submit anything. One person submitted a report claiming that vaccination had turned him into the Incredible Hulk. Does your kid get lots of infections? Don’t blame your cigarette smoking, blame vaccines! Did your child develop Type 1 Diabetes? Don’t blame your mutated gene, blame vaccines! So the logic goes.
Vaccines absolutely do cause some adverse events, including rare cases of death related to severe allergy. This was why the database was created, so that data could be collected and studied. It is also why the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was created. Prior to the program’s creation in 1986, trial attorneys had filed so many frivolous lawsuits over the DPT vaccine that manufacturers just stopped making it rather than fight greedy trial lawyers in court. The Government had to intervene. Legislation was passed to start both a reporting database and create a court that could award money to patients or parents who had a plausible grievance. The Court has a relatively low standard of evidence and has awarded money to families even where scientific evidence says that the suspected injury could not be related to vaccines; but the Court helps to control frivolous class actions that would imperil vaccine makers and, arguably, has saved millions of lives.
They also ruled definitively that vaccines don’t cause autism based upon overwhelming scientific evidence (U.S. Court of Federal Claims decision in Omnibus Autism Proceeding).
11. Vaccines have never been subjected to randomized, placebo-controlled trials. No studies have ever been conducted which compare the outcomes of vaccinated to unvaccinated people.
We are getting into the silly claims section. Vaccines have been studied in a variety of ways, including placebo-controlled randomized, clinical trials. There are potentially significant ethical issues involved in this type of study in a pediatric setting and in the setting of such a life-saving medication, but such studies do exist. This article lists some of those studies. Specific studies of this nature have found no differences in the rates of allergic diseases between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, lower rates of asthma among vaccinated children, increased cognitive test scores among vaccinated children, lower risk of heart attack with adults receiving the flu shot, and less preterm deliveries, fewer fetal deaths, and higher birth weights among pregnant women who received the flu shot.
12. Parents are not given informed consent when vaccines are administered by doctors.
This simply isn’t true. Parents are informed that vaccines have some rare and potentially life-threatening effects, but that those side-effects are dramatically outweighed by the decreased risk of death and disability from the diseases they prevent. The antivaxxers mean that parents aren’t told that vaccines will give their children autism – and that’s a good thing, because it is a lie.
13. There have been no studies on the safety of the CDC’s recommended vaccination schedule.
Not true. The first several articles under #8 above are specifically related to current vaccination schedules. Many people take issue with this because they claim that the current schedule of so many vaccines overwhelms a child’s immune system. Apart from this being scientifically erroneous, it’s simply untrue. We are giving children fewer antigens today than before (See #14 next).
14. Vaccines prevent natural immunity from working; plus, we are giving far too many!
This is an absurd statement, designed to use the word “natural” to imply good and fuzzy warmness. Vaccines train and utilize our “natural” immunity and make it work better. It’s the same thing that happens when someone coughs on you in the grocery store, except in the case of vaccines, you get the immune response without the illness. Read more about how vaccines work with the immune system here. I’ll also point out that if you have ever taken your child to a play date with other kids, your child has had more antigen exposure then than during any routine vaccination. Vaccination number is a ruse. Children are exposed to countless antigens every day. Most are relatively harmless and self-limited, but the immune system still is activated and kicks butt. Vaccines just find the most dangerous of these bad antigens, the ones that kill and maim, and gives our immune systems a head start. In fact, though we are preventing more diseases with more vaccines, we are actually exposing children to LESS antigens than in the past.
15. Vaccines don’t actually protect people from the diseases they are supposed to and many people still get a disease they have been vaccinated against.
This is another nonsensical statement. We can clearly show for each vaccine how much the vaccine has contributed to a reduction in disease burden. It is true that vaccines aren’t perfect. The best example of this is the flu shot. There is a lot of guessing each year about which flu strands will be most prevalent and sometimes that guess is way off. Even when it is right, it may not protect you. But it protects a lot of people each year and saves tens of thousands of lives in the US alone. The good news is that the more of us who get fully vaccinated, the more benefit we all get through herd immunity. If you got the flu last year, someone gave it to you, and someone gave it to her, etc. The more flu shots, the less flu, and the less transmission. There is no controversy about this.
Here’s graphical look at the impact vaccines have:
The numbers don’t lie. This study showed that the range of number of lives saved each year due to vaccination in the United States is on the scale of 3 to 4 million!
16. We have cures for all the diseases that we vaccinate against and these diseases simply aren’t life-threatening.
Not at all. Look at the list of diseases in the graphic above. We don’t have cures for any of them. We offer supportive treatment and you either make it through or you die. That’s why we developed vaccines because the best treatment is prevention. Smallpox is just as deadly today as 100 years ago.
17. Many of the diseases we are preventing are actually important to get and they prevent cancer and other diseases if children are allowed to get them.
The author of this bizarre statement cites this paper, which basically says that if you got mumps as a child, there might possibly be a chance that you would have a slightly reduced risk of ovarian cancer. Of course you would be sterilized as a child due to the infection, but, hey, a slightly and clinically insignificant reduced risk of ovarian cancer might happen!
18. Infants can’t take advantage of vaccines anyway because their immune systems are immature and if they did actually respond to vaccines they would have brain damage.
False. False. False. This is just grasping for straws. The proof is in the pudding. The incredible reduction in childhood illnesses due to childhood vaccination shows that kids are doing just fine with their immune responses.
19. Doctors are ignorant and have been educated by Big Pharma to believe lies. Even the CDC used to recommend cigarette smoking in the 1950s.
I won’t go out of my way to defend most doctors; they aren’t perfect. But my defense of vaccinations isn’t based on the opinions of doctors, it’s based on troves of scientific data.
Did the CDC once recommend cigarette smoking? Of course not. You would think this statement would totally destroy the credibility of antivaxxers, but, alas, when you lie then lie big. Who did recommend cigarette smoking? Environmentalists like Rachel Carson who worked with scientists who took money from the tobacco industry to shift blame on cancers caused by cigarettes onto to DDT, a life-saving chemical that helped us eliminate malaria in the US. The demonization of DDT (which feels similar to the demonization of vaccines) has caused as many as 50 millions deaths worldwide in the last fifty years.
20. Insurance companies bribe doctors with bonuses to vaccinate their patients so doctors are not objective.
It is true that some insurance companies give quality bonuses to physicians who practice quality medicine, meaning they comply with evidence-based standards of care. That’s a good thing. The truth is, there is more money for Pediatricians who go over to the dark side and start boutique practices that cater to antivaxxers.
But ask yourself this: why would big, evil greedy insurance companies pay doctors to vaccinate everyone? And pay for the vaccines on top of that? Because it saves them money in the long run. They know that vaccination is associated with better health outcomes and less disease; they know that they save money because they work.
By the way, doctors are parents, too. I have six children and all of them are fully vaccinated. They live full and healthy lives. Two of them have Type 1 Diabetes, but I don’t blame vaccines, I blame the faulty gene that I gave them (I have it too). I’ll even say that I feel guilty about that; it crushed my soul when they were diagnosed. I was angry. It would have been easier to blame vaccines, but it would be dishonest.
I don’t know doctors who don’t vaccinate their children; I am sure they exist. But the vast majority of people who have the most education about the topic, the best ability to read and interpret the literature, and the most direct experience with vaccination, all choose to vaccinate their own children. And, yes, we get our feelings hurt when people claim that we are part of some vast conspiracy.
21. Unvaccinated children pose no threat to immune-compromised children and herd immunity is a myth.
This statement is a myth. Herd immunity is an incredibly well-understood phenomenon that is mathematically defined.
If a significant portion of a community is immune to a disease, then there are fewer vectors for that disease to travel through and a lower risk that a non-immune person will come into contact with it. There are many children who cannot get vaccinations because of immune problems or other health issues. Which do you think is safer, to place that child in a community where 90+% of folks are immune and there are almost no cases of the disease, or place them in a community where no one is immune and the disease is rampant?
22. Herd immunity only works if the disease is acquired naturally, not through vaccination.
Wrong. No difference. Remember, “natural immunity” means you get sick and if you survive the disease you have some protection. I think what antivaxxers mean by this is that if you have the disease, you can give it to someone else and they too can get sick and build immunity. This isn’t called herd immunity, that’s called an epidemic. Vaccination lowers the burden of disease in the community so that unvaccinated people aren’t exposed to the disease in the first place.
23. Natural immunity is far superior to vaccine immunity.
Only if you enjoy being sick and almost dying before you gain immunity.
24. The CDC is a business that sells over $4B worth of vaccines each year.
More lies for the choir. The CDC doesn’t sell vaccines. They are not economically impacted by whether drug companies sell vaccines or not, except that if they didn’t, there would be a lot more disease for them to control and they might get a bigger budget from the government.
25. The CDC has been exposed by whistle-blowers and the vaccine studies are frauds.
This claim stems from a man named William Thompson who has made a name for himself (and some money) by claiming that a 1998 paper omitted data which suggested that black male children were at an increased risk of autism after MMR vaccination. This issue has already been thoroughly debunked and discussed elsewhere. The short story is that the paper did indeed show that black males were at an increased risk of receiving an autism diagnosis, but not of having autism. Read this also for more information.
26. Multiple peer-reviewed studies prove that vaccines cause autism.
This garbage bag list of studies is often cited as the treasure trove of evidence. Most of the studies say absolutely nothing above causation and most are small, inconsequential studies with insufficient power, published in pay-to-publish journals. Read here for a guide of how to interpret scientific literature. I would challenge you to compare any one of these studies with a few dozen participants to the studies cited in #8 which involved millions of children and careful controls.
If you actually believe that a single one of the studies listed in the garbage bag “proves” that vaccines cause autism, let me know and I’ll give you details of why it doesn’t. Let’s just deal with the first one listed, which the collector of the articles believes is the best and most damning study.
This “study” is in fact a poster presented at a small conference. It was never published, nor peer-reviewed. The author said that data set was small and uncontrolled and that further studies were needed to draw conclusions. Interestingly, the author did that better study and that study was peer-reviewed and published.The conclusion: No significant associations were found between thimersol-containing vaccines and adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. I’ll let you decide why antivaxxers are so patently dishonest, but I’m sick of it. This is the best “paper” on the list.
27. Dr. Andrew Wakefield has been demonized and unfairly accused of evil doing but his work has been replicated dozens of times.
Dr. Wakefield published the fictional paper that first suggested a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. It has since been retracted and Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his right to practice medicine. He is a greedy, unconscionable person who had received nearly £500,000 from an English law firm that hired him to create evidence that would lead to a lawsuit against vaccine makers. Wakefield is the worst kind of charlatan, a pathological liar, and has created the anti-vaccine movement (or at least given it momentum) out of pure greed. If you are interested, read about this fraud here: How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed.
Many people ask why folks would spend their time and energies attacking vaccines if there wasn’t something really there, and the story of Andrew Wakefield and the immoral attorneys he worked for demonstrate this better than anything. Unfortunately, children worldwide have died and been injured because of this evil conspiracy.
28. “Nutritious food, fresh water, proper sanitation habits, as well as adequate amounts of sleep, sunshine, natural medical care, and toxic-free environments” are the keys to health, not medicines.
We have already conducted this experiment on a large scale and the results don’t support this statement. Read here for details.
29. Vaccines are given nonsensically, like TDaP to pregnant women or tetanus shots to people with a cut.
Tetanus kills about 1,000,000 people each year. Americans are lucky to have the tetanus shot. Here’s how it works. We also know that TDaP given to pregnant women does impact the rates of newborn whooping cough.
30. Hundreds of brave doctors have spoken out on this evil conspiracy to poison our children.
No. Hundreds of spineless, greedy, charlatans deceive the public to gain celebrity and money. Meanwhile, millions of actual doctors tell patients that vaccines are safe and effective.
31. But …. AUTISM!
I get it. The apparent rise in the rates of diagnosis of autism are alarming to any parent. Our expectation of our children is that they are born perfect and perfectly healthy, full of potential. Then something goes wrong. We want to blame someone or something. For many parents, the only thing that comes to mind are vaccines.
But we understand autism much better than antivaxxers would have you believe. Many of them are trying to make money off you by selling chelation therapy to cure autism, etc. Don’t be a victim. The people pursuing vaccination as a source of autism are wasting time, money, and emotional energy.
We have good evidence about why the rates of autism have been increasing.
Here is article discussing some of the reasons why autism rates are increasing.
32. Okay, I get it … vaccines are safe and effective. But why do we vaccinate against diseases that aren’t a problem anymore? Isn’t the risk of even a rare side effect greater than the risk of the disease?
This is one of the more logical objections to vaccination I hear. We have to make a risk-benefit decision with any intervention, whether it is a vaccine, drug, surgery, or recommendation. A mom asked me this morning why it makes sense to give vaccines, that might cause the death of a few hundred kids per year, when the diseases we are protecting them against don’t really kill anyone in the United States, at least any more. This type of thinking is an example of cognitive bias; in this case, it is called base-rate neglect, where we ignore the actual incidence of side-effects and the actual incidence of the diseases we are preventing. Cognitive bias is hard to overcome, even with explicit facts.
So why should give a vaccine in this case?
Here’s why: If you go to the doctor and your blood pressure is finally under control, he doesn’t stop the medicines that controlled it. If your blood sugars are under control, he doesn’t stop your insulin. We should only stop vaccination when the diseases are no longer a threat.
Let’s take a look at the current schedule:
Let’s address why each vaccine remains important:
Hepatitis B: Almost 1/3 of the world population is infected with Hepatitis B and about 750,000 people die each year because of it. In the US, about 2.2 million people are infected and potentially could spread the disease to others. But this disease and the infections from it are entirely preventable. The Hepatitis B vaccine protects Americans from this worldwide epidemic.
Rotavirus: Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhea in infants and children. The virus kills nearly 250,000 children each year and causes severe, life-threatening illnesses in tens of millions. In the US, prior to the introduction of this vaccine, about 2.7 million children fell ill each year with about 60,000 hospitalizations and around 50 deaths per year. The rotavirus vaccine has dramatically reduced these numbers since its introduction in 2006. So far, in countries that have implemented this vaccine, the death rate among children has been cut in half.
DTaP: This vaccine provides protection against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. This vaccine is very old (1949) and protects against three potentially fatal diseases. It prevents at least 250,000 serious cases of these diseases each year. Unfortunately, as more people refuse vaccines, these diseases are coming back. For example, in 1976 there were only 1,000 cases of whooping cough in the US, but by 2004 there were 26,000 cases as parents decline the vaccine. Between 2001 and 2005, there were 140 children who died unnecessarily because of this and the numbers are rising.
H. Flu: H. flu is a bacteria that can cause several illnesses, including meningitis. Before the development of the vaccine, about 1000 children and adolescents died every year and about 6,000 developed permanent disability, like deafness. The vaccine reduced these cases by 99%, saving tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of cases of neurological disability since its introduction.
Pneumococcal: This vaccines protects against another bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Some of these bacteria are now strongly resistant to antibiotics. This too has been a success story for vaccination and has virtually eliminated serious illness and death. This slide shows how the introduction of the vaccine has contributed to a decline in serious infections:
Polio: We have already discussed the amazing success of the polio vaccine. We are close to eradicating this disease worldwide. We essentially eradicated polio in the US in 1994 but it persisted worldwide due to a lack of immunization. In 1988, there were still 350,000 cases worldwide. But in 2015, there were only 74 cases as vaccination rates increase! We are almost there. As long as it still exists in the world, we need to vaccinate. One person traveling from another country could reintroduce polio on an epic scale in an unvaccinated location. Since the virus is only transmitted by infectious humans, we may be close.
Influenza: The flu shot is hated by many people for lots of other reasons, but I will say this: the flu shot is not perfect; it is a guessing game every year; but, the flu shot saves thousands of lives every year in the US and is very safe. And no, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot. It is impossible.
MMR: Prior to the introduction of the MMR vaccine in the 1960s, about 500 people each year died from measles, with twice that many developing brain damage from the disease. About 50,000 were hospitalized each year with life-threatening illnesses. The vaccine has reduced this disease burden by 99%. Mumps has also seen a 99% disease reduction. Prior to the vaccine, mumps afflicted about 150,000 children per year, with many suffering permanent neurological damage or sterility. As we saw earlier, prior to the vaccine, there were 12.5 million rubella infections in the United States which resulted in 11,000 miscarriages, 2,100 newborn deaths, and 20,000 babies born with severe congenital anomalies. We eliminated rubella from the US in 2004. Each of these diseases still exist in other countries, so continued vaccination prevents reintroduction of these horrors back into the US.
Varicella: This vaccine prevents chickenpox. Before the vaccine, about 4,000,000 kids per year contracted chickenpox and about 10,000 required hospitalization each year. Around 50 kids died each year. We have virtually eliminated this unnecessary pain and needless deaths.
Hepatitis A: Before the introduction of this vaccine, about 300,000 acute cases of hepatitisdue to the virus occurred each year. Deaths did happen but not that commonly. However, about 15% of patients suffered chronic relapsing liver disease. Today, only about 1,500 cases are reported each year.
HPV: The HPV vaccine is another fantastic success story. The human papilloma virus causes most cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, or throat. It causes 99.7% of all cervical cancers. The current version of the vaccine prevents disease caused by the 9 worst strands of the virus. We are just now starting to see the benefit of this vaccine. Despite many parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, and despite just now seeing the first generation of women who have had it, we are seeing HPV infection rates drop dramatically and cervical cancers rates in young woman drop dramatically. As they age, the impact will be clearer: we have a way of virtually eliminating cervical cancer (and potentially many other cancers) saving thousands of lives per year. Parents often object to this vaccine in particular because they realize that HPV is sexually-transmitted and can’t imagine their innocent child ever having sex; but they will. This isn’t a reason to let people die of cancer. Nearly 90% of the parents who raise this objection have had HPV at some point in their own lives. The HPV vaccine is an incredibly safe and effective vaccine.
Meningococcal: This vaccine protects children and adolescents from a deadly bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis. The bacteria can cause sepsis and meningitis and is often fatal. In the US, around 2,000 cases occur each year, which is a historic low. The number has dropped over 80% since the introduction of the vaccine. Unfortunately, 10% of patients die. We can drive this number even lower with higher rates of vaccination.
33. I just don’t like the idea of using something unnatural. Surely, nature has provided us with everything we need to prevent and treat these diseases. Our ancestors, who lived more natural lives, knew this.
Nature is a wild place. Humans distinguish themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom by our ability to tame nature and protect ourselves from it. After a child is born, she would quickly die if left unprotected in nature. We wrap her in blankets, clothe her, wash her, and use buildings to protect her from nature. As she grows, we purify nature’s water to give her drink, and we prepare food that is not spoiled, protecting her from the natural bacteria and viruses that nature has to offer. We teach the child that some things in nature are good in the right circumstances and in the right amounts, and that other things are not. We teach her to avoid hemlock and poison ivy; we teach her to avoid poppy seed and Nightshade.
We teach the child that her skin offers her body a degree of protection from the bacteria covering it, but, if she gets a cut, she could get a serious infection from that same bacteria. We teach her how to care for the wound. We teach her that her feces are dirty (contaminated with bacteria) and how to maintain good hygiene so that she does not get sick. We teach her to avoid snakes that might kill her and to avoid too much sun that might burn her. We teach her to avoid certain places, certain animals, certain plants, and certain practices which might look alluring but which nature may use to kill her.
We don’t teach our children that nature is “good,” we teach them how to use what nature offers to their advantage and how to avoid what nature offers that might harm them. Nature is scary. But humans have made great progress in taming it.
When we limit ourselves to nature, we live short, miserable lives.
In 1850, a white male could expect to live to the age of 38.3 years, and a white female would hopefully see 40.5 years. Nonwhites lived only to 32.5 for men and 35 for women. Today, the average person can expect to live to 78.8 years of age.
In 1850, a woman had approximately a 1% chance of death during any given birth, and with an average of around 11 pregnancies, she had about a 1 in 9 chance of death due to pregnancy in her lifetime. Today, a woman in the United States has about a 1 in 2,500 lifetime risk of death due to childbirth, with just over 2 births per average.
In 1850, a white child had a 21.7% chance of death before the age of 1 and a nonwhite child had a 34% chance of death before age 1. Today, infant mortality (death before age 1) is about 0.5%. Overall, in 1850, about half of children did not make it past the age of 5 years. Today, the total number of children who die before age 5, including infant deaths, is just over 0.5%
The ten leading causes of death in 1850 were:
Parents in 1850 didn’t settle for that sort of existence. They worked hard and used science and technology to make life better for their children and grandchildren. We invented the miracles of the modern age: water purification and sanitation systems, food preservatives and refrigeration, antibiotics and insulin, and, yes, vaccines. In truth, 1850 was a pretty good year to be alive compared to the thousands of years before. Our ancestors were determined to have no more bubonic plague, which killed half of the people in Europe in the 14th Century. Those Europeans were one with nature: they had no pesticides or chemicals, they had no vaccines or antibiotics; they ate organic fruits and vegetables and free-range, unvaccinated meat; they weren’t obese and they worked hard every day, in good physical condition. And, they died powerless, slow and miserable deaths. Nature didn’t protect them, it slaughtered them.
Fortunately for you, your ancestors embraced advances in science and health that would make our lives better. The religious among them saw these breakthroughs as gifts from the God they served and gave glory to him. They would understand that making a vaccine or developing an antibiotic that saves the life of a child was no different from building a house or sewing a blanket that saved a life of a child.
Our ancestors hated “nature.” Read Dreams of a Better World for some perspective.
34. But what if I vaccinate my child, and my child suffers an injury – even dies – because of a vaccine? How could I live with myself?
As parents, we make important decisions that affect the life and well-being of our children every day. It is unequivocally true that some harm, even death, might befall your child if you vaccinate her. But it is much more likely that your child will die if you do not. You can’t play it safe; there is no neutrality in the world of parenting. Every decision has consequences. The best you can hope for is to make a decision where the benefits outweigh the risks. In the case of vaccines, this decision is a slam dunk.
Vaccines save the lives of thousands of children in the US every year and millions of lives worldwide, and they also prevent millions of illnesses, many of which lead to permanent disability. Thousands of studies show the same thing. Common sense, in fact, tells us how effective vaccines are. But we have forgotten what life was like 50 or a 100 years ago, and we assume that we are immune to the suffering still seen today in the third world.
Well, in fact, we are immune to it. At least my children are.
Religious Objections To Vaccination
Religious objections by some Christians take the following forms:
An example of these arguments can be found here. Let’s deal with each of these.
1. God has sovereign control over all outcomes, including those caused by infections (Ecclesiates 12:13).
The spirit of this belief is that if God wants you to die of a disease, you will, and if God wants you to live from a disease, you will. However, one must be careful not to deny God his human agency. If this belief is taken to the extreme promoted by some, then we shouldn’t use car seats for children or have dividers on the interstate or guard rails on curvy roads; we shouldn’t clean our houses or separate our water supplies from our human waste. These types of actions are examples of where humans use their God-given intelligence to bring order to the divine creation. God created man (Genesis 2:5) to be a manager and steward of his creation; to till the ground and harvest crops, to create society and civilization. In the same way, we read that God created physicians to be agents of his healing power:
Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). We read in Ecclesiasticus 38 (NETS):
Honor a physician for his services, for indeed the Lord created him. For healing is from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from a king. A physician’s skill will put up his head, and in the presence of nobles he will be admired. The Lord created remedies out of the earth, and a prudent man will not ignore them. Was not water made sweet from wood in order that his strength might be known? And it was he that gave skill to human beings in order to be glorified in his marvelous deeds. By them he cured and took away his pain. He who prepares unguents will make a compound with them, and his works will never be finished, and peace from him is upon the surface of the earth. Child, in your illness do not look elsewhere, but pray to the Lord, and he will heal you. Withdraw from error, and direct your hands, and from all sin cleanse your heart. Give a sweet-smell and a memorial of fine flour, and enrich an offering. And give a physician a place, for indeed the Lord created him, and do not let him withdraw from you, for indeed there is need of him. There is a time when success is in their hands as well. For they will also petition the Lord, that he might grant them success with rest and healing for the maintenance of life. He who sins before him who made him, may he fall into a physician’s hands.
Thus, a Christian has no right to deny God’s use of man as his agents or physicians as a mechanism of providing relief from suffering and disease. If God truly wanted a person dead, I’m sure he would be able to accomplish that regardless of what a physician or some silly vaccine might try to prevent. The passage says that there will be no end to the progress physicians may make in developing healing medicines; a Christian should view these as gifts from God and as evidence that God is working in her life.
2. God often uses plagues/viruses/disease to punish sinful people and sinful nations.
The Old Testament is full of these types of stories. He also used fire and flood to kill people, but I doubt many Christians would argue against fire departments and boats or smoke alarms and levies. Again, if God wants you dead, you’re dead.
3. A faithful believer is protected from these plagues (Deut. 7:15).
This self-righteous statement is the true core of many of these statements. While it is true that God promised in many situations, such as this episode in Egypt, that he would protect the faithful – that protection always came at the cost of human agency. Noah had to build the ark. The Israelites in Deuteronomy 7 were commanded to kill the people before them to gain God’s protection. Adam had to plant and harvest crops to avoid starving. Lot had to leave Sodom and Gomorrah to avoid death. His wife had to not look back (oops).
Protection from plagues and death and destruction is not a passive action. Matthew 5:45 tells us that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” How does God protect his people from the sun and the rain? He gives them the intelligence to build a roof. How does God protect a young, innocent child from dying of infectious disease? He gives his people the intelligence to practice good hygiene, provide clean water and food, vaccinate the child, and, in the event of an infection, provide other medical treatments as necessary.
In fact, to take this line of thinking to the extreme, a Christian should avoid all medical treatments and all normal health and hygienic precautions. Do you throw your spoiled milk out? Then you don’t trust God! Drink it! He will protect you. If you get sick, you deserved it!
4. A Christian isn’t allowed to interfere with God’s plan to punish people with diseases.
This is the same logic that has been used to deny women epidurals in labor because of Genesis 3:16, etc. Are Christians not allowed to tend to sick widows and orphans? Should they stand by idly as a person bleeds to death after an accident? Isn’t all healthcare, even with so-called “natural medicines,” just showing a lack of faith in God? There are Christians sects who believe this and eschew all medical intervention at all (they don’t live very long).
Rather, I would argue that by not using our God-given talents and medicines, we are denying the agency God utilizes to help others.
5. Since vaccines cause harm (and potentially kill or harm children), even if there is a greater societal good (herd immunity), we are forbidden by Christian law from giving them because we aren’t allowed to kill or injure people (Romans 3:8).
All medical interventions potentially cause harm but we give them because we believe they cause more good than harm. In fact, everything in life is this way. Do you cover your child up in a blanket at night to keep her warm? That same blanket kills hundreds of kids per year through suffocation. Do you feed your children nutritious vegetables from the garden? Those same vegetables cause food poisoning and even deaths every year. Do you use a heat source in your home to keep your family warm? Those same heat sources often burn the house down, killing everyone inside. There isn’t a single intervention in medicine that isn’t associated (potentially) with major harm. It’s all about risks versus benefits.