There are people out there that think vaccines cause autism. They have some
"celebrities" in their ranks. Never mind that these people are just plain WRONG
in their assertions, but they are a public health risk in their stances. Dr. Phil
Plait (The Bad Astronomer and President of JREF) takes on these people on a regular
basis. Not because it's particularly astronomy related, but because these people
are lying to make their case,
are endangering children
(not only their own, but others as well), and are trying to drag public health back 70 years.
Invariably, every time he makes a post on his blog, the anti-vaxxers come to try to
spread their lies and falsified claims. A fellow that posts on Dr. Plait's blog by the name of Todd W. has made a
preemptive compilation of why these people are wrong. So, for your enjoyment, here is that list:
The Truth About The "Evils" Of Vaccination
by Todd W
Before making any comments on how evil vaccines are and how they cause autism, please read the following. I apologize for the length, but the mouthpieces of the pro-disease anti-vax movement spout so much nonsense and misinformation.
A brief explanation of terms, added 4/30/09: After receiving some feedback on this post, I want to clear up my use of the terms "anti-vax" and "pro-disease". By anti-vax, I am referring to those individuals who actively argue that vaccines are bad and should be abandoned, as well as those whose arguments against vaccines have the effect of reducing vaccinations. I am not using the term to refer to the average person who may have questions or doubts about vaccines. I use "pro-disease", as well, because these people's actions are effectively working to bring diseases back into common circulation. In other words, by arguing against vaccines, they are effectively arguing for vaccine-preventable diseases. See the section on Vaccines in General, below, for more on how reduced vaccination rates lead to higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases. While some may find these terms offensive, I am going to keep them in until I find a better term to describe the people involved. If you would like to give me feedback, click on my name at the bottom of this page.
(info available from FDA, CDC, investigative reports by Brian Deer)
- * Some in the anti-vax movement claim that the MMR has/had mercury in it. However, the MMR vaccine does not and never has had any mercury in it.
- * The basis of the “MMR vaccine causes autism” argument is a flawed study by Andrew Wakefield (retracted by The Lancet on February 2, 2010), who had several ethics breaches, including failure to disclose financial compensation from a lawyer representing families claiming MMR cause their children’s autism, failure to disclose financial interests in patents for MMR alternatives, failure to include data which contradicted his conclusions, use of contaminated samples to support his conclusions. Furthermore, on January 28, 2010, Wakefield and two of his co-authors, John Angus Walker-Smith and Simon Harry Murch, were found by the UK.'s General Medical Council to have acted irresponsibly, dishonestly and not in the clinical interests of the children involved in the study (PDF Link). The basis for this decision included, among other things, colonoscopies, MRIs and lumbar punctures (spinal taps) when such procedures were not clinically indicated.
- * A 2009 study, titled "Lack of association between measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism in children: a case control study" examined whether there was a relationship between MMR and autism and concluded that there was no association. This study is one of the latest in the stack of evidence against a connection. (See also SBM's topic-based reference for more studies.)
- * Independent studies trying to replicate Wakefield’s results have come up negative. To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between vaccines and autism.
- * Many opponents of the MMR will claim that the diseases prevented are mild and not dangerous. This is not the case, as can be seen in numerous outbreaks around the world. Measles can lead to encephalitis (swelling of the brain) in about 1 of every 1,000 individuals, possibly leading to death. Mumps can lead to sterility in men, swollen ovaries or breasts in women and miscarriage in pregnant women, as well as encephalitis. Rubella (German measles) can cause encephalitis, as well as birth defects if contracted by a pregnant woman. While the majority of individuals who contract measles, mumps or rubella will survive with little or no lasting ill effects, there is still a significant risk of permanent injury or death. The MMR vaccine can help to greatly reduce the risk of not only contracting the illnesses, and thereby reducing the risk of serious complications, but also to reduce the risk of passing the diseases on to others.
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- * Many anti-vaxers express concern over the hepatitis B vaccine, often claiming that hepB is a sexually transmitted disease. While that is primarily true, it can be transmitted via other means, such as "Direct contact with the blood or open sores of an infected person". What this means is that if an infant comes in contact with the body fluids of an infected individual (e.g., family, hospital visitors, undiagnosed hospital staff, children at day care or day care workers), then they can contract the disease. This can be quite serious, because the younger a person is when infected, the more likely they are to develop chronic infection, which can lead to liver cancer and other serious complications.
- * Another concern expressed by anti-vaxers regards the amount of aluminum in the vaccine. See below, under Other Vaccine Additives for more information addressing this concern.
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(info available from both FDA and CDC)
- * Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in the manufacturing process of some vaccines and other medicines to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi, which could otherwise cause illness or injury.
- * It metabolizes into ethylmercury, not methylmercury, a mistake commonly made by pro-disease anti-vaxers who claim that the amount of mercury that used to be in vaccine exceeded EPA exposure guidelines. Those guidelines were for methylmercury, a compound that has a half-life in the body of several weeks to months and is often found in fish or other environmental exposures. Ethylmercury, on the other hand, has a half-life of a few days to about a week, meaning that it is not in the body long enough for it to build up to toxic levels from vaccination to vaccination.
- * It was removed from the final product of nearly all vaccines around 2001/2002. This was a political move, due in large part to public pressure, rather than based on sound science. This was a recommendation rather than a regulatory requirement. A handful of studies that suggested problems with thimerosal, but which were inconclusive, prompted a "better safe than sorry" approach from the FDA while the issue was investigated by FDA, CDC and others. No follow-up studies have found any health risks beyond local hypersensitivity.
- * Some vaccines still use it during the manufacturing process, but remove it from the final product, leaving, at most, trace amounts. The influenza vaccine still uses thimerosal, though thimerosal-free versions are available.
- * Despite the removal of thimerosal from vaccines, resulting in exposure levels lower than anytime in the past, autism rates have not declined, suggesting that there is no connection between thimerosal and autism.
- * To date, no properly controlled study has shown a causal link between thimerosal and autism.
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- * Some anti-vaxers claim that squalene, a vaccine adjuvant is toxic and caused Gulf War Illness (GWI) in soldiers that received the anthrax vaccine, supposedly contaminated with squalene. However, a comprehensive review of GWI by the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses observed that not only did the vaccine not cause GWI, but that the lots implicated did not contain any squalene as an adjuvant (instead, the anthrax vaccine used aluminum hydroxide). Like other claims, the anti-vaxers have no quality studies to support their contention that squalene causes severe adverse reactions.
- * According to the same GWI review, squalene is "an oily substance that naturally occurs in plants and animals. It is found in a variety of foods, lotions, and cosmetics. It is also used as a food supplement and has been postulated to provide therapeutic benefits. In humans, squalene is synthesized by the liver as a precursor to cholesterol, and circulates in the blood."
- * Squalene appears to be an effective and safe adjuvant, based on a PubMed search revealing several studies examining its use in vaccines.
- * It should also be noted that squalene is offered in pill form by a variety of organic and natural food stores, as well as makers of dietary supplements. Squalene is also promoted as a moisturizer.
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- * Some pro-disease anti-vaxers claim there is antifreeze in vaccines. This is false. Antifreeze is ethylene glycol. Vaccines use polyethylenes glycol. These are different substances, the latter of which is not toxic. More info can be found at Inside Vaccines.
- * Vaccines contain formaldehyde. However, the chemical structure of the formaldehyde in vaccines is the same as that produced by our own bodies. It is used during the manufacturing process, but is diluted to remove it from the finished product, leaving only small or trace amounts. The total amount of formaldehyde in a finished product is far less than what is naturally found in the human body.
- * As an aside; the total amount of Formaldehyde in vaccines from the vaccine schedule for a 6 year old child
is 1.2016mg, BUT 1 (one) banana contains 16.3mg! Understandably, the method of introduction is different, but it's still the same chemicals, and still introduced into the body where it can be absorbed.
- * Vaccines contain aluminum in a salt form. Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim this is toxic, and some will cite that 4ppm will cause blood to coagulate. However, individuals are not exposed to such amounts of aluminum in a single vaccination visit. Below are the vaccines containing aluminum, with the corresponding parts per million (ppm) for an infant (~251 mL of blood in the body) and an 80lb. child (~4000 mL of blood); note the two numbers for DTaP represent extreme ranges of aluminum content.:
ppm (w/v) = (weight in grams of sample/volume of sample in mL) * 106
||ppm in infant
||ppm in child
||age received (in months)
||2, 4, 6, w/ final ~4-6 yrs
||12 w/ final ~6 mo. later
||birth, 1 or 2, final at 6+
||11 or 12 yrs., then 2, 6 mo.
||2, 4, 6 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and Hep B)
||2, 4, 6, 15-18 (in lieu of DTaP, IPV and HiB)
||2, 4, 6, 12-15
- * Some anti-vaxers claim that the HepB vaccine, for example, exceeds federal regulations of aluminum exposure. However, they cite the 25mcg/L for large volume parenteral (LVP) nutrition products (21 CFR 201.323),which are given chronically over the course of days or weeks, rather than the regulations governing adjuvants. 21 CFR 610.15 lists the maximum amount of aluminum per dose in vaccines, depending on the method of calculation. This ranges from .85mg (that's milligrams) to 1.25 mg. HepB vaccine contains 250 mcg (that's micrograms) per dose, or .25mg. LVPs typically come in packages of 100 mL or more and are administered intravenously (i.e., directly into the bloodstream). Total parenteral nutrition therapy (TPN), which uses LVPs, is typically indicated for nutritional supplementation for >10 days given at about 2 L/day. So, assuming a case requiring TPN for 10 days, the individual would be exposed to 500 mcg, twice the amount in the vaccine.
- * Further, about 71% of the aluminum is excreted from the body after about 5 days or so.
- * An interesting source of aluminum is breast milk. After between 51 and 346 days of breast feeding, a child will have taken onboard the same amount of Aluminium as from the total US vaccine schedule for a 6 year old child. Understandably, the method of introduction is different, but it's still the same chemicals, and still introduced into the body where it can be absorbed.
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With H1N1 being all over the media this year, there is a lot of misinformation about the virus and the vaccine. Here are some of the more common claims heard:
- * Many people claim that the new H1N1 swine flu vaccine was fast-tracked through production and did not undergo proper testing. In reality, the vaccine went through the same process as the seasonal flu vaccine. Unlike the seasonal flu, which requires several months of study each year to determine which strains to include, the H1N1 strain was known, negating months of research. The initial occurrence of H1N1 also came at a time when production of a vaccine would not interfere with seasonal vaccine production, which had just finished, and when resources (e.g., chicken eggs for growing the virus) were still available.
- * Some claim that the H1N1 vaccine contains adjuvants, such as aluminum salts, AS03 or MF59 (aka squalene). After initial efficacy testing, however, the CDC determined that an adjuvant would not be required. Therefore, all forms of the H1N1 vaccine in the United States are adjuvant-free.
- * Inevitably, someone brings up the 1976 swine flu vaccine in an attempt to show the purported dangers of the new vaccine. They will cite that the vaccine killed more people than the flu. They will also state that the vaccine induced Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in recipients. Although technically true, they are misleading. The 1976 strain infected around 13 individuals and killed one. The vaccine was given to 48.2 million people, with 25 deaths linked to the vaccine, a rate of about 1 per 2.5 million. In addition, around 532 vaccine recipients developed GBS, a rate of about 1 per 100,000, only slightly above GBS rates in unvaccinated populations. The vaccine was distributed before the 1976 strain was fully understood. While it shared a lot of similarities with the strain that caused the 1918 pandemic, thus raising fears of significant deaths, the 1976 strain did not spread beyond Fort Dix. In contrast, the current 2009 H1N1 strain has already spread around the world. So, in 1976, the government, media and the public jumped the gun, reacting before enough information was understood. Click the links in this paragraph for more information.
- * The severity of H1N1, and seasonal flu in general, is often brushed off. People will claim that if infected, you will only be sick for a week, and then you'll be fine. For the majority of cases, that is true. However, the seasonal flu kills, on average, around 30,000 people in the U.S., and 500,000 worldwide, each year. The 2009 H1N1 strain appears to have a similar severity as seasonal flu, though the burden is shifted toward younger individuals. Even individuals who survive may still require hospitalization. An October online early release study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that critical illness occurred very rapidly after hospitalization, primarily in young adults, necessitating the use of mechanical ventilation and other rescue therapies. With the combination of seasonal flu and H1N1 occurring at the same time, there are some fears that there may be a shortage of ventilators and support staff.
- * Another common myth is that you can get the flu from the vaccine. With the flu shot, that cannot happen, as the vaccine uses an inactivated (killed) virus. The inhaled formulation uses a live, weakened virus, so it may cause mild flu-like symptoms, and there is a small chance of spreading the vaccine virus to close contacts. Generally, only minor local reactions occur. More serious reactions with either (e.g., headache, nausea, etc.) generally go away in 1 to 2 days, instead of the week or longer of more severe symptoms that true influenza infection would cause.
- * Generally speaking, both the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines are safe and effective. However, it must be noted that some people should not receive the vaccine (e.g., those with allergies to eggs). If you have any questions or concerns, consult your physician.
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- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that polio rates increased after the introduction of the polio vaccine, that OPV spread the disease, and that polio was on a decline before introduction of the vaccine. This is wrong.
- * Before the approval of the vaccine, paralytic polio struck 13,000-20,000 individuals every year in the U.S. The number of cases peaked at 21,000 in 1952, only three years before approval of the vaccine. By 1960, there were only 2,525 cases, and only 61 cases in 1965.
- * The oral polio vaccine (OPV) was nearly 100% effective in preventing polio, though it did have a very small risk of causing paralytic polio in the recipient. OPV-caused paralytic polio resulted in about 6-8 cases per year. However, when vaccination rates were low, OPV had the added benefit of contact immunity. In other words, the virus from the vaccine was present in the stool, resulting in about 25% of people who came in contact with the immunized person would also become immune.
- * With the eradication of wild type polio in the U.S., the OPV vaccine is no longer used, and the less effective inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is used. This version does not cause paralytic polio. OPV has not been used in the U.S. since 2000.
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- * The most prominent argument against the HPV vaccine Gardasil is that it has been linked to 43 deaths (as of June 2009). These reports were made to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Of these, 26 reported deaths were confirmed to have occurred, but no causal link to the vaccine was found after investigation. Based on the evidence available, therefore, it does not appear that the vaccine causes death.
- * A post-market surveillance study by the CDC found that the rate of reported deaths (including anaphylaxis) was 0.1 per 100,000 doses distributed. Their conclusion was that reported adverse events did not differ significantly from vaccines in general.
- * Further arguments against Gardasil mention fainting after immunization. This is a known possible side effect of some vaccines and is included in the package insert. The insert also includes recommendations to observe the patient for at least 15 minutes after injection to ensure the patient does not fall or suffer injury.
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(info available from the Autism Omnibus Proceedings)
- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that Hannah Poling and Bailey Banks are examples of successful Vaccine Court cases where vaccines caused autism. This is wrong.
- * Hannah Poling was found to have a mitochondrial disorder, and that the vaccine worsened her condition. The court did not rule that a vaccine caused autism. Note, mitochondrial disorder is not autism, though some in the anti-vax camp claim it is.
- * Bailey Banks was found to have suffered acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM). This disease occurs in approximately 1 or 2 per million vaccine recipients, compared with 1 per 1,000 individuals infected with measles and 1 per 500 rubella infections. The court ruled that this is a type of pervasive developmental disorder, but made clear that it is not autism. Like the Poling case, anti-vaxers try to distort the truth to make their case. In the case of ADEM, vaccination helps reduce the risk of contracting the disease by reducing the likelihood of natural infection.
- * Despite the low standards of proof in the vaccine court (more likely than not, or 50% + a hair), no one has been able to establish a causal relationship between vaccines and autism.
- * In three of the best cases put forth by the anti-vax movement, the court ruled in all three that vaccines did not cause the individuals' autism.
- * Before VICP, the media fueled fears about vaccines, leading to increases in law suits and many manufacturers halting production of vaccines altogether. The VICP was proposed by a coalition of government, health organization, and industry representatives, as well as physicians and ordinary citizens as a means to ensure a suitable supply of vaccines while allowing legal recourse to those injured by vaccines.
- * Individuals may still seek damages through the tort system, if they choose, though they must then prove not only that the vaccine caused the injury, but also that the manufacturer was at fault.
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- * Very often, anti-vaxers will point to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a database to collect reports of adverse events associated with vaccines, as evidence of the harm that vaccines do. It is a publicly searchable database sponsored by FDA and CDC, to which anyone can submit a report. Healthcare professionals and vaccine manufacturers are required by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) to report adverse events occurring after administration of a vaccine. In this regard, VAERS serves as a useful tool for identifying possible trends in safety data that might call for further investigation or more immediate action.
- * As useful a tool as VAERS is, it has several important limitations. One of these that is, perhaps, most important when dealing with anti-vax claims is that it does not establish causality. In other words, the reports found in VAERS cannot be taken at face value as meaning that a vaccine caused a specific effect. Many of the reports may be merely coincidental. Some may be spurious. Others may actually have a real, rather than merely apparent, connection between the vaccine and the outcome.
- * An oft-quoted example of just how unreliable VAERS can be can be found from James R. Laidler, MD. Dr. Laidler submitted a report to VAERS that the influenza vaccine had turned him into The Hulk. The report was accepted and posted to the database. As Dr. Laidler reports, he was contacted by a representative because the AE was so unusual. They asked his permission to delete the report from the database, after discussing it with him, and he agreed. Had he not given his permission, the report would still be in the VAERS database.
- * In the end, while VAERS can be a good tool for finding possible trends of vaccine-related adverse events, it is also open to being skewed by bad data. Compound this with lobbying, grass-roots efforts to get people to report certain events, and the data become horribly polluted with potentially misleading information. Why is this important? Well, it means that when searching VAERS, the results need to be taken with a substantial grain of salt, and that further, more in-depth inquiry is needed. Secondly, it means that mass-reporting of spurious connections can divert scarce resources away from investigating real health risks to chase after ghosts.
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- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers want vaccines that are 100% safe. This is never going to happen, as all medicines carry some risk. However, the relative risk of injury from vaccines is significantly lower than the risk of injury from getting the disease naturally. For more information, see the CDC website.
- * This is so important, I'll say it again: The only people that insist vaccines are (or should be) 100% safe are the anti-vax pro-disease advocates.
- * Reduced vaccination rates lead to higher incidents of infection. This has been illustrated in the U.K. following Wakefield's bogus study, in Germany in 2006 (including two deaths in unvaccinated children), in California, in MN (where an unvaccinated child died from hemophilus influenza type b).
- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that "Big Pharma" makes lots of money from vaccines. If vaccination rates dropped, however, there would be an increase in preventable illnesses, many of which have high rates of complications resulting in hospitalization and expensive treatment. See the link about Germany above for information on costs associated with the measles outbreak there. The money to be made from the diseases far outweighs any money to be made from vaccines.
- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that better hygiene has led to a decrease in disease, rather than vaccines. However, many of the diseases prevented by vaccines are airborne, and are not greatly impacted by improved sanitation or hygiene.
- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim that too many antigens (the parts that make the vaccines work) are given at once, ignoring that infants and children are exposed to thousands of antigens every day by touching things and putting their hands or the object in their mouth, through absorption or by inhaling.
- * Some in the anti-vax movement say that an alternate, spaced-out schedule is better, yet they have no scientific studies to support such a protocol. They also claim that the schedule recommended by the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics is not backed up by science. This is not true. Each year, the schedule is reviewed in the light of the latest scientific studies on vaccines and revised as necessary, with the newest recommendations being published each January.
- * Another claim made by anti-vaxers is that so-called "natural" immunity (i.e., immunity gained by infection with the disease) is better or lasts longer than immunity gained by a vaccine. This is not necessarily true. For example, natural immunity to pertussis, similarly to the vaccine, wears off after about 10-11 years. Therefore, even if an individual had pertussis as a child, they may still become infected as an adult, suffering the full effects and passing it on to others.
- * Some anti-vaxers will ask "why worry" whether they immunize their child or not, if you and your child(ren) have been immunized? There are a number of reasons. First, not everyone is able to be immunized, due to a variety of medical reasons (e.g., egg allergies, age, etc.). Second, vaccines are not 100% effective, though most are very close. This means that in order to prevent an outbreak, a high number of individuals needs to be immunized so that a virus or bacteria does not have enough potential hosts to sustain itself. There is a small possibility that even with vaccination, you will not gain immunity. Finally, there are some individuals (the elderly, AIDS patients, transplant recipients, some cancer patients, etc.) for whom vaccines just will not work or not work as well, because their immune system does not, or cannot, mount a full response to it. These individuals are also unlikely to gain immunity from infection, either. For all of these reasons, it is very important to keep vaccination rates up, so that those who do not or cannot benefit from vaccines are protected by herd immunity.
- * Something for people concerned about overwhelming the immune system, take into account that in 1985, doctors vaccinated for seven diseases using 3,000 antigens. Today, health care providers can vaccinate against 16 diseases using only 200 antigens.
- * There have been no properly controlled studies establishing a causal link between vaccines and autism.
- * There have been numerous properly controlled studies sponsored and run by various people and organizations around the world that have shown no link between vaccines and autism.
- * There is a phenomenon called "Herd Immunity". So even if you have your children vaccinated, the irresponsible pro-disease anti-vax people are still endangering your child with their antics.
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- * Pro-disease anti-vaxers claim the Amish do not vaccinate and do not have autism. This stems from a lie by Dan Olmsted from Age of Autism. The Amish do, in fact, vaccinate, and it appears that their rates of autism may be lower than in the general population (perhaps indicating a genetic root?).
- * Some claim that the Chinese do not have a word for autism (they do, it's ). And simply not having a word for the disease does not mean that it does not exist, merely that it is not recognized as a specific disorder. Did autism only afflict people after someone created the diagnosis? No, but it may have been called something else.
- * The same claim about the Chinese has been made about Somalis due to a recent article about Somalis in Minnesota. Again, lack of recognition does not mean that the disease never occurred in the population. Further, the cases in Minnesota do not have a consistent connection to vaccines. Some of those with autism have been vaccinated, some have not. Despite a lack of evidence, Generation Rescue (which runs Age of Autism) has told the Somali parents that vaccines were the cause.
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Sites for info on vaccine safety, efficacy and general information:
Sites for info on clinical trials and other research:
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