There has been so much copy devoted to the MMR vaccine being associated with autism that it makes my brain hurt. Worse, celebrity-activists like Jenny McCarthy who have personal experience with autistic offspring trumpet their personal anecdotes like so much peer-reviewed unbiased scientific evidence, and they get the pulpit to preach from, on Oprah and the like.
Yes, autism rates are higher now than they were years ago; this is likely because of increased diagnosis, a widening of the spectrum, improved detection and diagnosis. Additionally, autism symptoms usually appear between the ages of 2-3 years old, coincidentally the same time that the MMR vaccine is administered. This led one researcher, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, to postulate in a small, retrospective study of twelve children, that there may have been a causal relationship. The section of the paper with these claims has since been retracted by ten of the study's thirteen authors. He has also since been accused of several counts of professional misconduct, for deliberately misleading the medical community and parents. It has come to light since that the 12 children he studied were recruited to the study via a lawyer preparing to sue the MMR manufacturers, and that his employer had been paid for the research into these children by the parents via a legal aid board. He was also personally paid around four hundred thousand pounds for this study. More has come to light, including the accusation that Wakefield was hard at work at patenting his own measles vaccine, presumably under the guise of selling it to parents as a "safer alternative."
Since his study was published, confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales rose from 56 in 1998 to 1348 in 2008, and two children died, as well as several children left in critical condition on life support as a result.
Meanwhile, several large-scale peer-reviewed scientific studies done around the world, including but not limited to: Japan, the USA, and Denmark, just to name a few, have been unable to reproduce Wakefield's data. Reproducibility is the only way that scientific evidence can be accepted by the academic community as truth: in short, if it's correct, I should be able to do the same experiment and get the same results.
2. Vaccination causes other diseases
Does the DTaP cause SIDS? Probably not, it's likely a coincidence. Further research is ongoing to prove this one way or another. Does the HiB or Hep B vaccine cause diabetes mellitus? When the database on vaccinations + IDDM is mined for information, the answer they come up with is "no". Other studies from around the world have reproduced this result. In fact, the only researcher who believes that there's an association is a certain Dr. John B. Classen, whose research contains a number of limitations.
To begin with, his theory is based on laboratory experiments in lab animals, which doesn't always extrapolate exactly to human populations. His studies did not analyze for statistical significance (his results could have been pure chance, without this math.) Another study, by Karvonen in 1999, used the same data he used in his Finnish study to attempt to reproduce his theory: they found no statistically significant difference in the incidence of diabetes among vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children. (ref) When certain companies (Biogen, GSK, Merck & Co,) attempted to reproduce his results, he chose to lawyer up and claim his experimental methods were patented, and that attempting to reproduce his animal experiments directly were tantamount to patent infringement. In light of precedental caselaw, the US Supreme Court threw out his claim.
If I were to refute every single claim that has been made regarding vaccines causing diseases, this article could get very long. I encourage you to do your own research, however, your bachelor's degree in Googology does not qualify as research. Find scholarly articles, read them thoroughly, examine the methodology, and decide for yourself whether their research methodology is sound. If you lack the ability to determine based on reading the study whether the study was properly designed, perhaps it's a good idea to take a course in research, or, on the other hand, let a person with a background in research interpret the results for you.
3. Thimerosal in vaccines gives babies mercury poisoning
Thimerosal (C9H9HgNaO2S) is an organic compound containing a mercury atom in its molecule. It was patented in 1927 and has been used in many substances since, most notably as a preservative in vaccines to prevent contamination by bacteria. Incidentally, in 1928, there was an incident related to the contamination of a vaccine vial by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, killing 11 of 21 children injected with the substance contained within the contaminated vial. It was, at one time, one of the most widely used preservatives in vaccines, but has been phased out due to public concerns regarding mercury toxicity.
Thimerosal in vaccines is an ethylmercury compound, which is not to be confused with methylmercury, the compound most frequently associated with mercury poisoning. Methylmercury's half-life within the human body is around 50-70 days, and in toxic doses (greater than 200 micrograms/L of blood) causes tingling, difficulty in coordination, visual and hearing loss. It has been estimated that the minimum lethal dose of methylmercury for a 70kg person ranges from 20-60 mg/kg. It causes direct damage to the central nervous system (CNS), which chelation therapy cannot reverse. Chelation therapy is used to remove the heavy metal from the body, however, in contrary to many claims from the anti-thimerosal lobby, chelation therapy cannot repair CNS damage. The EPA's estimated daily dose of methylmercury thought to be without effect on the body is 0.1 microgram/kg/day, or roughly one 6-ounce can of tuna per week for an adult, based primarily on the observation of neurologic abnormalities in babies exposed to mercury. (A 6-ounce can of tuna contains between 2-127 micrograms, or an average of 17 micrograms, of mercury.) This is not a hard-and-fast number, since it would be unethical to do a study involving the direct administration of a toxic substance to a human until negative effects are observed. For example, the World Health Organization's recommended limit is 0.47 micrograms/kg/day; the EPA's recommended exposure is one of the lowest in the world.
Ethylmercury on the other hand, does not accumulate in the body as methylmercury does, and when research on the mercury content of vaccination was completed, the researchers found that the half life of ethylmercury in the blood of vaccinated children was 7-10 days, and when vaccinations are given several months apart, it's very unlikely that there would be any accumulation of ethylmercury to toxic levels over a long period of time. This is not to say that ethylmercury is safe in high doses: in toxic doses ethylmercury causes similar effects in the CNS and kidney damage, despite its quick removal from the body via the stool. This rapid elimination and lack of accumulation has been demonstrated in animal studies. The lack of a causal relationship between a higher dose of mercury via thimerosal (approximately 50 micrograms) has led the WHO to state that based on the evidence, thimerosal is safe to continue using in vaccines. Indeed, the only reported events of thimerosal toxicity involve doses thousands of times greater than this, from 3,000 mcg/kg to several hundred thousand mcg/kg. Incidentally, chelation is also effective at removing the ethylmercury from a human body, but equally ineffective at reversing the damage it causes in toxic doses. Further studies involving measuring the mercury levels in human blood post-administration of childhood vaccines to babies (two months and six months old) found that blood levels of mercury in the babies studied never exceeded 29 ppb, the amount thought to be safe in cord blood based on previous research.
4. Aluminum adjuvants in vaccines are toxic and will give children Alzheimer's later in life
This statement was made in 1997 by Dr. Hugh Fudenburg during his speech at the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) International Vaccine Conference in Arlington, VA and immediately began circulating around the internet. His evidence was never presented, was never verified, or documented. It was a speculative statement given to a crowd of anti-vaccination activists at a conference for a privately-run anti-vaccination organisation. His opinion was not based in science.
Since then, science has had a chance to research his claims. Multiple epidemiological studies have found no link between exposure to aluminum and neurological disorders, let alone specifically exposure to aluminum in vaccines. Indeed, many antacids contain a higher dose of aluminum than your child will ever receive from a vaccine.
5. Too many antigens at once will overwhelm a child's immune system and harm them
We have living on our skin and in our bodies 10 to 100 times more bacteria than there are cells that make our bodies. That's about 100 billion bacteria, called "normal flora", representing 1000 different species of bacteria that play an individual role in our ordinary body processes such as digestion, wound healing, and the suppression of other infections. In addition to these bacteria we're exposed to the bacteria in our food, in our water, in our environment, from our pets and from other people. The reason our bodies are not overwhelmed by these organisms is that they are kept at bay by our immune system.
Every day, our bodies are exposed to thousands of bugs with the potential to infect us, thousands of mini-vaccinations against the world around us, that our bodies produce antibodies for, resulting in immunity that prevents us from getting sick. We produce antibodies every single day for multiple organisms existing in our environment. It's a myth that vaccines at birth or during the infant period would overwhelm their immune system to a non-functioning state. Their immune systems are indeed not as mature as an adult's, which renders them particularly susceptible to certain bacteria, such as haemophilus influenzae B (HiB) and hepatitis B. This is part of the reason why it's recommended that a baby receive their first hep B shot prior to leaving the hospital: exposure to hep B at that age is very likely to kill them, whereas their immune system is perfectly capable of building antibodies towards hepatitis B when given a vaccine against it, even as soon as hours after birth. This is because the vaccine are specialized, called conjugate vaccines which allow their immature immune systems to recognize them and build antibodies, resulting in immunity that is often more robust than natural infection with, say, HiB, which frequently causes fatal meningitis in babies.
Even immunocompromised children such as infants with SCIDS and HIV infection are able to receive some vaccinations and mount an immune response, protecting them from infections later in life.
The suggestion that multiple vaccines would "overwhelm" the child's immune system ignores the fact that kids have the capacity to respond to an enormous amount of antigens, even at one instance in time. Assuming several things a child could respond to up to 10,000 antigens at one time. The MMR, or DTaP, both combined vaccines, contain 3 antigens. Each. Even if 11 vaccines were to be given to infants at one time, perhaps 0.1% of the circulating immune cells would be "used" to produce an immune response -- and these cells are replenished at a rate of several billion per day.
Additionally, the math concludes that kids receiving all 11 childhood vaccinations today actually will be exposed to fewer antigens than they were in years past -- the 1960 smallpox vaccine contained about 200 antigens, whereas the entire combined childhood vaccination schedule exposes kids to about 130.
Not to mention, in the research that's been done shows that not only do kids not have a weakened immune system after receiving vaccines, if anything, they seem to get fewer infections overall.
6. Vaccines are not monitored for safety or are otherwise unsafe
Incidents of vaccine contamination and adverse reactions in the past have polarized the debate: there's still a memory of the swine flu vaccine in 1976 that caused a rash of Guillian-Barré Syndrome, of the contamination of the yellow fever vaccine with Hep B during WWII, and of the paralytic polio that was a result of the Salk vaccine.
Regarding vaccine injury, in the United States in 1998, there was a national program created, called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which was established in response to concerns that injury lawsuits were threatening the US's vaccine supply. Because the injuries claimed were not in the VICP's claims table, in order to receive compensation through the program, the families had to demonstrate through medical or scientific evidence that it is more likely than not that the vaccine played a significant role in causing such injuries.
In the proceedings that followed, an extraordinary amount of information was reviewed, including the testimony of 28 medical experts, 50 expert reports, and more than 5000 pages of proceedings, transcripts, and briefs that included over 900 scientific articles. The reviewers had great concern for the difficulties families feel when trying to cope with chronically ill children, as evidenced throughout the 600 pages of legal decisions, and felt that the parents had filed their claims in good faith. However, they were far less sympathetic towards both the evidence tabled and the physicians who testified on behalf of their claims. According to Special Master George Hastings, writing in Cedillo v. Sec'y of HHS, "This case . . . is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners' causation theories. . . . Unfortunately, the Cedillos have been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment." (emphasis in the original, pp 172-173.)
With another example, the polyomyelitis vaccine, the oral vaccine of live virus did present a risk to those with weakened immune systems; as such, the recommendations in the United States have changed to recommend vaccination with killed virus. Though the effectiveness of that vaccine is lower, the vaccine itself is safer, and given that there are no longer 16,000 cases of polio a year in the United States, the risk/benefit ratio was re-evaluated and recommendations changed.
In the US, there exists the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), a publicly funded office intended to centralize reports of rare side effects from vaccine administration, backed by the Center for Disease Control, with the intent of there being a large coordinated follow-up effort to reported adverse events resulting from vaccine administration. The VAERS receives about 3,000 reports of serious harm each year, in a country of 300,000,000 people. In Canada, the name of a similar agency is called IMPACT. It is a myth that many of these events go unreported -- these systems exist precisely to investigate these occurrences, and they do work. In 1998, a novel vaccine for rotavirus, called RotaTeq, was removed from the market because of a slightly increased risk of intussisception in children: therefore, it is also a myth to say that vaccine manufacturers and health agencies do not act on this information.
No medical intervention is 100% safe, and truly, nothing in life is ever 100% safe. We are in a constant state of evaluating and re-evaluating risk, in contrast to the benefit of the action. Do I let my child play outside in the daylight without adult supervision, and teach him valuable life skills like independence, conflict resolution, and resourcefulness? Or do I stick him inside in front of a screen where I can watch him like a hawk, eliminating the theoretical risk of pedophiles but increasing the theoretical risks associated with a lack of socialization and physical activity?
The call for "100% safety" is also known as the "Perfect Solution Fallacy" or the "Nirvana Fallacy" that claims that only a perfect solution is an acceptable one. This is a logical fallacy, since in actual practice, no solution is perfect -- it implies that until such a "perfect solution" is found, the imperfect solution should be denied to everyone. By any measure, vaccines are extremely safe, with an extremely low risk of complications. Science, however, will always strive to present all of the facts on the issue -- even the undesirable ones -- and so, no scientist worth his or her salt will ever tell you that any medical intervention is "100% safe" -- unless they're trying to sell you something. Water isn't 100% safe -- should we ban water?
7. Childhood diseases have been eradicated and therefore vaccination is unnecessary
By contrast, these diseases are not eradicated. In many countries, they are endemic, even epidemic. People travel. As a result, there's been a significant rise in vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in areas where a higher percentage of parents have refused vaccination for their children. In Michigan, several outbreaks of whooping cough (pertussis) were clustered together in areas and schools where vaccine refusal was high. In Colorado</i>, similar events have taken place, where 11% of the vaccinated kids who got the measles contracted it through an unvaccinated child. Measles cases have increased throughout the United States, with the first four months of 2008 having as many measles cases reported as in each of the previous four years. In nearly all of these cases, the disease began in unvaccinated children, and later spread within the community.
8. Vaccines are less safe than contracting the disease they are intended to prevent
9. Everyone else will get their kid immunized -- so I don't have to
This claim falsely rests on the integrity of herd immunity in the community. Even if 100% of the population within a community were to be immunized, (an ideal number since invariably someone in the community would be unable to be immunized for medical reasons or otherwise,) not 100% of those immunized will have an immune response that produces immunity.
These individuals, and those who are unable to be vaccinated, rely on a high level of vaccination within the community to prevent disease from persisting within the community -- a term called "herd immunity." The percentage depends on the vaccine but generally speaking between 80-95% of the population needs to be immune to the disease before the disease will no longer spread beyond a single-person outbreak. If you or your child is medically able to be vaccinated, for public health reasons, it's extremely important to be vaccinated. Widespread complacency has caused herd immunity to collapse in the past, as described above, resulting in children getting sick and occasionally, dying.
10. Vaccines contain toxic amounts of formaldehyde
To begin with, the term "toxic" is a relative term. Most everything is "toxic" in large enough quantities -- water is toxic when drunk in high enough quantities to disrupt the normal electrolyte balance and can cause convulsions, heart failure and death.
Formaldehyde, like water, exists in the environment and exposure (aside from industrial exposure) is difficult to limit. Smog, car exhaust, cigarette smoke and other environmental pollutants all release formaldehyde into the atmosphere. It's also commonly used in permanent adhesives, such as those used to glue together particle board, plywood and to glue down carpeting. It's also injected into kleenex, toilet paper, and paper towel in order to give the paper strength when wet. It's used in the textile industry to keep fabrics from creasing. Because of its use in new construction, it's one of the more common indoor air pollutants. It's a known carcinogen. And yes, it's used as a step in the manufacturing of vaccines.
Formaldehyde plays a special role in the manufacture of vaccines: it's used as an agent to inactivate the virus, rendering it harmless to humans. Other inactivating agents have been used, such as beta-propiolactone, and glutaraldehyde (Cidex).
The quantity of formaldehyde in vaccines does not exceed 0.1mg -- a quantity assumed to be safe for two reasons. Firstly, because formaldehyde is an essential intermediate in human metabolism and is required for the synthesis of thimidine, purines, and amino acids. (pp 369-446.) Therefore, all humans have detectable amounts of formaldehyde in their systems, roughly 2.5 micrograms per milliliter of blood. Assuming the infant to be vaccinated (around two months of age) weighed 5 kg and had an average blood volume of 85 mL/kg, the total amount of naturally occurring formaldehyde in this infant's system would be approximately 1.1mg -- or ten times more than in any individual vaccine. Secondly, quantities of formaldehyde at least 600 times greater than that contained in vaccines have been administered to animals with no observable ill effects.
12. Squalene in adjuvanted vaccines is harmful
Squalene is another chemical that is naturally occurring in humans, manufactured in the liver, and present even in the oils on our skin. It's used to make the vaccine more effective with less antigen -- fewer antigens, less preservative, but more effective. It's commonly used in cosmetics as a skin moisturizer.
Where does the controversy come from? There was an attempt to link Gulf War Syndrome to the addition of squalene to the anthrax vaccine given to Gulf War veterans -- however, this vaccine contained no squalene.
For information on squalene's safety profile, remember that post-licensure surveillance for vaccines is among the most extensive for any pharmaceutical product produced, and squalene-containing vaccines are no exception. As of 2009, over 40 million people (more than the population of Canada) have been given squalene-adjuvanted vaccines in Europe -- and the incidence of serious adverse events, 1.4/100,000 doses, is at the baseline -- it's the same as the people with no exposure to the vaccine. This hasn't stopped the medical community from studying squalene containing vaccines separately from the VAERS, thereby fortifying the already-impressive safety profile with more data.
13. There's antifreeze (ethylene glycol) in vaccines
Ethylene glycol does not exist in vaccines. Several chemicals with similar-sounding names do exist in vaccines -- polyethylene glycol, with its low toxicity, is used in several preparations -- including laxatives, skin creams, intimate lubricants, bowel prep solutions (GoLytely), and yes, in vaccines. There's no ether in vaccines either, incidentally -- that's another misreading of a chemical name, polyethylene glycol pisooctylphenyl ether (Triton X-100), a kind of detergent used as a surfactant.
14. The individuals claiming that I shouldn't get my kid vaccinated are all doctors with unpopular opinions who are simply being systematically persecuted by a pseudo-religious scientific orthodoxy which can't handle dissent
Indeed, science is one of the disciplines most well-equipped to deal with dissent. See how, in the studies linked above, the body of scholarly scientists seized upon the accusations from the anti-vaccination lobby, and studied them extensively to their exhaustive conclusion. They didn't stand there pointing, insisting the other side was wrong, they began from the standpoint of "maybe you're right," took the hypothesis they were given, and subjected it to the rigours of the scientific method. I had a truly wise science teacher once explain the scientific method to me as, "one professor comes up with a theory, and all of the scientists in the world for the rest of time try to prove him wrong." Dissent is how some of the best science has been done throughout the centuries -- the worst debacles in science have happened primarily because of the orthodoxy of a scientific community too attached to the dominant paradigm. (Aristotetlian astronomy, for example.)
In a society such as medicine which is expected to cling rigorously to the scientific method, an "unpopular opinion" is often an opinion that does not adequately conform to the scientific method. Peer-reviewed journals are journals where the article in question is submitted to several fellows, usually anonymous, who are familiar with the field in question. It's very possible that several of the more crackpotty theories are refused publication in respected journals precisely because these reviewers are there to filter out unscholarly work populated with junk science, pseudoscience, and other scientific misconduct. This is likely why much of the pro-vaccination information appears in the same scholarly places, whereas the anti-vaccination information is found clearly outside this peer-reviewed scholarly circle. The idea that the reason these 'scientists' must publish their findings as books marketed to the public is because the "scientific community is in the dark ages" is a kind of confirmation bias where, rather than seeing their exclusion as a red flag, their exclusion is trotted out as a kind of proof that the medical community-at-large is not to be trusted.
Further, the idea is also often trotted out that the reason the medical community is suppressing the research that confirms the anti-vaccination campaign is because "big pharma" is concerned about its profit from the sale of vaccines. This glosses over the truth that pharmaceutical companies stand to make much more from pill-a-day solutions to chronic illnesses than from vaccines that are administered less than five times in a lifetime, perhaps even only once, and which are often sold to government immunization programs at very little profit. In short, there's no money in it.
There is, however, plenty of money in the so-called "cottage industry" of crankpot theories. In the article "The Great Autism Rip-Off" the Mail shows rather handily how those most married to the ideas of antivaccination and vaccines as a cause of autism actually stand to make a disproportionately large amount of money by feeding on the ignorance of those without a subscription to several medical journals. The sadder thing is that this is money successfully diverted from real, effective treatments for some truly sick kids.
An Amazon search comes up rather handily with several books on why you shouldn't vaccinate your kid, complete with cherry-picked scientific evidence and $10-$20 price tags. Are they donating all of this money to charity? What about their private clinics many of them run (typically private homeopathy clinics or naturopathy clinics or clinics of oriental medicine) -- are their clients supposed to believe that these practitioners do not make money?
Even further, it's fairly obvious that nothing I said in this essay matters. The debate will not disappear. Posts like these ones are all over the internet, easily findable with a simple Google search, and confirm the hidden and sad truth that many individuals behind the anti-vaccine lobby are not actually interested in the truth as much as they are interested in having others parrot their opinions inside an echo chamber. The minds that most need to be changed will remain unchanged, so therefore it is a good thing that I wrote this for my own benefit and nobody else's, so that when the debate inevitably arises, I can say with confidence that "I have done my research."