TruthKings: Not so truthful about vaccines

When I wrote about a systematic review of the medical literature regarding measles and pertussis outbreaks that demonstrated quite convincingly that, for these two diseases at least, the nonmedical exemptions and vaccine refusal endanger everyone, not just the unvaccinated, I was rather disappointed. I was rather disappointed because, although the article had been in press a couple fo days at the time, no antivaccine loon had taken it on with the bad arguments that I mentioned. If there’s one thing that seems to escape antivaccinationists, it’s that the unvaccinated are at much more risk in outbreaks than the vaccinated, up to 35-fold more so, but the really bad thing about vaccine refusal driven by antivaccine lies is that it also endangers the vaccinated as well. The reason is quite simple. No vaccine is 100% effective, and herd immunity (also known as community immunity) is degraded, thus making the fraction of the vaccinated for whom the vaccine didn’t induce adequate immunity susceptible to the disease.

I should have waited a day.

Of course, I had already waited a day longer than I had planned, and I really wanted to discuss the article; so I just did. Then, just as I was going to risk serious injury to my neurons by taking on this bit of stupidity over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism (you have been warned), I came across a (somewhat) less brain-meltingly confusing bit of stupidity over at TruthKings. Now, I haven’t really written about anything published by TruthKings yet that I can recall, but perusing the site I can definitely say that it’s on par with Mike Adams and for the depth of its commitment to pseudoscience, quackery, and radical politics. In this case, it’s a post by someone named Shirley Shaw, who is billed as the mother of two children, one of whom is on the spectrum. It’s presented as an “open letter” with a title that should remind you of Jenny McCarthy, namely Mom’s Letter ‘I’d Rather My Child Have Measles Than Autism’. Yes, it’s the very same false dichotomy that Jenny McCarthy pulled out of her nether regions when she famously (and incredibly ignorantly) said, “It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.”

Yes, the post is that bad. Shaw also seems to think that she knows how to deconstruct a study or systematic review, but in doing so demonstrates a level of scientific ignorance typical of antivaccinationists. After saying she’s going to have a “closer look” at the findings in the JAMA and quoting results from the abstract (which is about as much depth as she can muster), Shaw bloviates:

First, let’s look at that portion I placed in bold regarding pertussis vaccinations. We’ve seen a lot of recent cases regarding pertussis being spread FROM the vaccinated TO the vaccinated. We’ve also seen this with Mumps recently (which is a part of the MMR cocktail): Here, here and here. The JAMA study and mainstream news stations both place these pieces of information as footnotes, of course. But the reality is, this study blatantly says that vaccinated people spread one of the illnesses. I’ve not taken one thing out of context; you can read it and source it for yourself.

No. the study says nothing of the sort, unless you twist it mightily, and the links she uses to back up her claims are more pseudoscience from TruthKings. Shaw’s first link is about waning pertussis immunity. This is indeed a problem, as I discussed before, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work or that vaccinated people are more likely to spread disease than the unvaccinated. It just means we need a better vaccine. In the meantime, the current one works, just not as optimally as we might wish.

The second link trumpets the story of six people previously vaccinated with MMR who contracted mumps. Hilariously, the article tries to use these six cases as “evidence” that the mumps vaccine is worthless and that the “vaccinated ARE the ones spreading the illnesses most of the time.” Even by antivaccine standards, this article is pathetic. The third one isn’t much better, as it’s the same thing, this time a story of Harvard students who were vaccinated but got the mumps. Let’s just put it this way. Waning effectiveness of pertussis vaccine is not “proof” that the vaccine doesn’t work or shouldn’t be given, and the fact that sometimes the mumps can be sometimes be caught by those who are vaccinated. Again, no vaccine is 100% effective; only in the magical thinking of antivaccinationists is a vaccine either 100% effective or utter crap.

Next up, our intrepid antivaccine loon named Shaw tries to argue that because no one died in the cases evaluated in the systematic review that vaccines are crap and the evidence showing how vaccine exemptions and vaccine refusal lead to outbreaks isn’t all that big a deal because measles isn’t that big a deal. It’s a profoundly stupid argument that we’ve heard before. I’m surprised she didn’t throw in the “Brady Bunch argument,” based on a 45-year-old episode of The Brady Bunch in which a measles outbreak in which all six children got sick was played for laughs. The claim, of course, is that the measles is such a bening disease that we really shouldn’t need to worry about vaccinating against it or even fear it. Of course, the past and present rebuke those who would make such a profoundly ignorant and incorrect argument. The measles is not benign. That doesn’t stop Shaw from claiming it is:

Now there is the case of measles. We are talking about just upwards of 1400 cases. In these cases, there have been 0 deaths and no known injuries. Furthermore, half of the individuals were vaccinated. The new vaccine industry lingo, “waning vaccine,” is applied to justify such results. Also, “herd immunity” can explain the remaining curiosities. Again, however, we are talking about measles.

Yes, Shaw really said that. Because no one died, measles is no big deal. She also clearly misunderstands basic math. When the unvaccinated make up such a small percentage of the population, the fact that half the measles victims were unvaccinated should tell her something, and it’s not that the vaccine doesn’t work. I mean, seriously. How difficult are basic fractions? How hard is it to understand that when only maybe 2% or 3% of the population is unvaccinated but 50% of measles patients are unvaccinated, it doesn’t mean that the vaccine doesn’t work. It means that the vaccine works quite well.

Shaw even dives deeper into the stupid, with some irrelevant and meaningless comparisons:

There have been ten measles deaths since the year 2000 in the United States, according to data from the CDC. By comparison, in the United States, 1 in 68 babies born will have autism. Autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion annually. (Buescher et al., 2014). In 2014, more than 28,000 were killed by prescription medications (source). Pharmaceutical companies cause 28,000 deaths per year from prescription medications; measles doesn’t even qualify as a one death per year. The same industry which makes the MMR vaccine, of course, takes no responsibility for it’s relationship to autism. Autism is a magical disease found when children accidentally climb Jack’s beanstalk without permission. So autism has no cause.

This is what’s known as the technique of throwing a bunch of meaningless and irrelevant statistics against the wall and seeing if anything sticks. Since vaccines don’t cause autism (there are many studies that have failed to find a link) it’s irrelevant to point out that the prevalence of autism is 1 in 68 and an study that estimates that autism services cost US citizens $236 billion annually. It’s also equally irrelevant that 28,000 people a year die of opioid overdose which is what Shaw was referring to.

But the stupid doesn’t end here. Get a load of this incredible false dichotomy:

I’d rather my child have measles than I would have autism or become an OxyContin addict. All the resources I see wasted on measles is so draining to my soul it ‘s hard to watch even the news. The subjugation of information, such as the vaccinated spreading the illnesses, is a comment on society’s preoccupation with reality TV narratives and their subjugation by the media. We aren’t even willing to explore the truth anymore; we are too busy licking what’s left from the spoon. The problem is, the reality TV narratives shall soon be us. Because our reality, while we’ve been preoccupied, has caused us all to become characters in a dreadful movie that has an even worse end whereas we’ve ended up skeletons of our once healthy beings.

Is it possible to come up with a dichotomy more false than this? Measles versus autism or becoming an OxyContin addict? That latter one doesn’t even make any sense. Not that making sense was ever anything that die-hard antivaccine loons cared about.

In the end, I’m that I haven’t been able to find a lot of antivaccine cranks taking a run at this systematic review. I looked at the usual suspects, such as the merry band of antivaccine propagandists at Age of Autism (although there is an article about a doctor in California trying to use the letter of the law to violate its spirit as he sells nonmedical exemptions to vaccine mandates and bragging about it), the wine-fueled “thinking” that goes on at The Not-So-“Thinking” Moms’ Revolution, the science-y wannabes at SafeMinds, or the grande dame of the antivaccine movement herself, Barbara Loe Fisher at the Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center. Nothing, nada, zip. Not even Mike Adams at took a run at it. There might be more that I missed, but none of my usual go-to major antivaccine sites even acknowledged it, as far as I can tell, at least as of this morning.

Nope, instead only TruthKings, a website, apparently set up by “renowned” antivaccine crank Sherri Tenpenny, that I had heard of but as yet had never bothered to delve into, decided to take a swipe at the JAMA article. In doing so, its author, Shirley Shaw, helped illustrate exactly the antivaccine fallacies I discussed yesterday.

It’s also a new wretched hive of scum and quackery to provide me with blogging material.