"Forced" to be an antivaccinationist?

Every so often there are articles or posts about which I want to blog that, for whatever reason, I don’t get around to. I’ve alluded before to my observation that blogging tends to be a “feast or famine” sort of activity. Sometimes, there isn’t a lot going on, and, if there’s one thing I’ve failed to learn, it’s not to try too hard to find blog fodder when not much is going on and just chill out. On the other hand, one thing I have learned is not to try too hard to blog about everything you want to blog about when the blog fodder is hitting you fast and furious, as it sometimes does. It’s better that way. Besides, sometimes you get the opportunity to go back and revisit a link that you had originally planned to write about but, for whatever reason, didn’t get around to.

Posts like this massive exercise in burning straw men entitled We’re “Anti-Vaxers” Because We Don’t Have a Choice. My reaction upon reading it was to respond: Not exactly. You’re antivaxers because you don’t know science and cling to magical thinking despite the scads of evidence that contradict your belief that vaccines are dangerous, cause autism, and result in a whole host of health problems. The writer of the post, Jennifer Hutchinson, is someone we met before. As you might recall, she is a person who wrote a book entitled Unlocking Jake: The Story of a Rabies Vaccine, Autism & Recovery and especially has a strange view of what constitutes “proof.” She begins with a discussion of what “pro-vaxers” are:

ll children should be vaccinated according to the AAP schedule.

There should be no exemptions because unvaccinated children risk public health.

Vaccines prevent serious illnesses and death and have, throughout history, eradicated diseases.

Vaccines are 90 to 99 percent effective. If a vaccinated child does get a disease, it’s milder and less serious.

Vaccines are safe. They do not cause autism.

The risks of not being vaccinated outweigh the risks of vaccines.

Vaccines generate about $20 billion a year in the U.S.

Vaccines save society money. Every dollar spent on vaccines saves the public $18.40, or $42 billion, in medical costs, missed work, disability, and death. (This amount is from a 2003 article. I’m not sure if it is accurate for today and whether it’s a per-year figure or not.) [2]

OK, it’s not really straw men, at least not most of it. All children who don’t have a valid medical reason not to be vaccinated should be vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, and vaccines have indeed eradicated at least one disease (smallpox) and brought many others under control. Vaccines are safe, and they most definitely do not cause autism, as far as science has been able to ascertain. It only starts to get dicey when it’s pointed out that vaccines generate $20 billion a year in revenue. There are many arguments for vaccination, but that’s not one of them.

Now, the “antivaxer” side. You won’t even recognize it, although you will recognize the inflated opinion antivaxers have of themselves. Here are the first three:

Parents should have the right to make an informed choice about vaccines, including refusing them. The government shouldn’t intervene.

Forcing parents with religious beliefs against vaccines to vaccinate their children violates their First Amendment rights.

Many diseases were eradicated or almost eradicated before vaccines were available, mostly due to better hygiene and nutrition and clean water.

Parents already do have the “right” to refuse vaccinations in most states based on religion, and many states have “personal belief” exemptions, too. Some of them are so easy to get that all the parent has to do is to is to sign a piece of paper. This has led to what I call the problem of nonmedical exemptions, which has gotten so bad that states are actually trying to make nonmedical exemptions to vaccine mandates a little harder to get by requiring a physician’s signature certifying that they told the parents the consequences of not vaccinating. Even that minor reform is sending the antivaccine movement into a paroxysm of bile directed at legislators in the states that had the temerity to try to improve their vaccination rates. Then of course, the last bit there is the infamous (and highly intellectually dishonest) “vaccines didn’t save us” gambit.

It doesn’t end there, unfortunately:

Vaccines create artificial immunity, which damages the natural immune system and leaves children more susceptible to diseases of all kinds. Diseases strengthen the immune system and leads to natural immunity. Recent disease outbreaks, such as measles and whooping cough, are mostly among vaccinated children.

Vaccines can cause serious and sometimes fatal reactions. They can lead to autoimmune disorders and cancer as well as brain inflammation, which can cause autism or death in some children.

Since diseases aren’t usually life threatening, the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits.

The lifetime cost to care for a person with autism is approximately $3 million.

Yes, indeed. It’s the usual fetishization of “natural” as being somehow superior. Of course, Hutchinson fails to note that the price of “having the immune system strengthened” by disease is suffering from the disease and all its attendant suffering and complications, up to and including death for some diseases. While it’s true that the latest pertussis outbreaks are mainly in vaccinated populations (as I discussed quit recently), unvaccinated children are still 23 times more likely to get pertussis. As for measles, there is a much higher risk of measles in the unvaccinated as well. Antivaccinationists use the deceptive tactic of looking at the total number of vaccinated children who catch measles in an outbreak compared to the total number of unvaccinated. Because the number of children who are unvaccinated is usually less than 5% and the vaccine is about 90% effective, the gross number of measles victims who are vaccinated will be larger than the number of unvaccinated. But if you look at the relative risk of catching measles, it’s much, much higher in the unvaccinated.

Particularly vile is the claim that the diseases aren’t “usually” life threatening. On a strictly semantic level, that’s true, but it completely ignores the large numbers of children who are put at risk for severe complications of the diseases vaccinated against, including encephalitis and even death. But, hey, what are some dead children and children with permanent brain damage from measles-induced encephalitis compared to that “natural immunity”?

The rest of the article is a mish-mash of antivaccine conspiracy theories, anti-big pharma rants, the “vaxed versus unvaxed study” gambit, the rants about how each child is a special flower and shouldn’t be subjected to a “one size fits all” vaccination schedule; in other words, there’s nothing there that we haven’t seen before, except for one thing. Hutchinson uses an analogy so nasty that even I was taken aback:

Why isn’t there another option when it comes to vaccines? Such as pro-safe or pro-choice? Here’s something I’ve personally never understood. Unborn babies can be legally murdered on the grounds that the mother has the right to have an abortion. She has that choice. But if a mother chooses to not vaccinate her child, she risks the child being taken from her, vaccinated against her will, or thrown out of school.

Because vaccinating your child is exactly like abortion.

On second thought, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Antivaccine activists are prone to Nazi analogies; so seeing one compare vaccination to abortion should evoke a reaction of relief to be spared from the specter of the Hitler Zombie. On the other hand, if there had been a good Nazi analogy, then maybe we would have been spared this self-pitying whine:

I’m tired of the name calling and insults. Not that I’m personally offended, but it’s a waste of time and energy and doesn’t begin to address the problem. We are forced to be all or nothing. We either get our kids all the recommended vaccines or we’re anti-vaxers. If we question the safety or necessity of vaccines and choose not to vaccinate our kids, we’re putting other children’s lives in danger. We belong to a cult. We are conspiracy theorists. We have blood on our hands. We are ignorant.

Yes, you are ignorant. The problem is, you don’t know it. You think you’re smarter than everyone else, that you have discovered “secret knowledge” that the “sheeple” who get their children vaccinated are too clueless to have noticed. It’s nothing but the arrogance of ignorance in action, the Dunning-Kruger effect. You’re not antivaxers because you “question” vaccines. You’re antivaxers because you believe misinformation and lies about vaccines and in turn try to spread the same misinformation and lies to others. You’re antivaxers because you believe vaccines to be, in essence, evil, poison, toxic, when they are not. You’re antivaxers because you have every characteristic that defines an antivaxer. Yes, it’s just a word, but it’s a word that describes Hutchinson perfectly.