Vaccines: gambling with our children's health

Why we chose not to vaccinate our children

John Stumbles

To my children, without whom this piece wouldn't have come into being.
And to their mother, without whom my children wouldn't have come into being.

The Vaccine Hoax Is Over

As parents we all have to face the issue of vaccination. Many don't question it, simply going along with what the doctors, nurses and health visitors say and letting their children have all the vaccinations the medics recommend. Others are more wary, wanting to know what vaccines are being recommended and why:

Do vaccines really work? Aren't there cases of children who've been vaccinated getting the disease they're supposed to have been immunised against? Aren't there even instances where there's been an outbreak of a disease and where more of the children who catch it have been vaccinated than those who haven't?

And how safe are vaccines anyway? Do we really know? Drug companies — "Big Pharma" — are notorious for covering up ineffectiveness and even devastating side-effects of their products. Is there any monitoring of side-effects that show up more than a couple of weeks after a vaccination? How come the US side-effects reporting system (VAERS - Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System) shows quite alarming health problems occurring after vaccinations? And why are drug companies protected by governments from being sued for vaccine problems, whilst government funds (read: tax-payers picking up the bill) are used to quietly compensate victims of vaccine damage?

Is it really safe to inject vaccine materials directly into the body, which has skin and mucous membranes to protect it against naturally-occurring infections? Surely it can't be good to repeatedly bombard a baby's immune system with random collections of different bugs? Wouldn't it be better to give vaccines singly (if at all) than as multiple shots like MMR and DTP? And don't vaccines contain Mercury — a notorious poison, and Aluminium — linked to Alzheimer's Disease, and toxic Formaldehyde?

And what about Autism? More children are being diagnosed than ever before and there are many reports of children who've developed symptoms shortly afer vaccinations: surely that can't just be coincidence? What about that doctor who claimed to have found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism and had a paper published in the British medical profession's prestigious journal "The Lancet"? And who was subsequently accused of fraud, his article retracted, and struck off the Medical Register: doesn't that sound like the medical establishment closing ranks in a clumsy attempt to suppress a courageous whistleblower exposing a medical scandal? There are plenty of groups and individuals campaigning on the vaccine-Autism (and specifically MMR-Autism) issue: surely there must be something in it?

There are even people who claim that vaccination is a ploy by Big Pharma to weaken children's immunity, making them more susceptible to diseases and therefore needing more (profitable) medicine — or even to actually make them sick from the vaccines so they need treatment! Certainly the big pharmaceutical companies aren't in the vaccines business out of charity, and doctors and nurses get paid to give vaccines so why should we believe the advice of people who've got a vested interest in them?

Given all these uncertainties why would anyone gamble with their children's health by vaccinating them?


Unfortunately we can't choose not to gamble: we can only choose which way to bet.

Not vaccinating our children is also a gamble: that vaccines are unsafe and/or ineffective, that the diseases they claim to prevent are no longer (or never were) a real danger to our children, and that the entire medical profession and medical scientific community are either incompetent or part of a massive conspiracy to deceive us.

What if infectious diseases really are dangerous; and what if vaccines are reasonably safe and effective, and pose less risk than the diseases they protect against?

Every parent has to decide for themself, but we are betting on our children's lives and health and we owe it to them — as much as we owe them food and shelter and our love — to put the time and effort into really understanding the issues, to put aside our prejudices and preconceptions, to make well-informed decisions for their health and safety. I hope what follows may help.

Big Pharma Conspiracy, much?

Proponents of alternative medicine such as Dr Joe Mercola regard the pharmaceutical industry — "Big Pharma" — as conspiring to promote entirely worthless products purely for profit. Yet Dr Mercola himself runs a business (reckoned to be worth $7 million a year) selling alternative-health products at staggering prices: clearly not a non-profit operation! (Mercola also alleges that paediatrician Dr Paul Offit who spent 25 years developing a vaccine against rotavirus, on which he now holds a patent, and who has written several books for parents and others about vaccines cannot be trusted for advice because of his financial interests whilst Dr Mercola's own financial interests presumably don't compromise the advice he offers to his own readers and customers.)

Natural News' Mike Adams goes further than Mercola and claims that "the controllers" are embarked on a plan to cull 90% of the world population using "flu vaccines containing stealth cancer viruses", "GMOs, chemical food additives, medications and other synthetic chemicals"! (He also claims that the Boston marathon bombing was carried out by the US government itself; puzzlingly, however, he doesn't explain how a genocidal conspiracy willing and able to bomb its own citizens is unable to prevent Mr Adams and his website from telling us the "truth" about their operations!)

Whale.to goes further still, offering conspiracy theories from mind control through covert genocide to our reptilian overlords, and even includes the notorious anti-semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery which was used by Hitler to justify the Holocaust.

a sheep no more

Conspiracies are real. During my lifetime the US and British governments have fabricated evidence to justify wars, governments have engineered coups d'etat, governments, corporations and powerful individuals have murdered political activists, the sexual abuse of children has been systematically covered up and the president of the USA was caught bugging political opponents' offices. And these are incidents we know about: like the tip of an iceberg there may be vastly more hidden.

But that doesn't mean that every conspiracy theory, from faked moon landings through Roswell, Area 51, contrails/chemtrails, climate-change hoax to 9/11 and 7/7 "truth" is true.

One factor is that there are [practical limits] on how big and long-lasting a conspiracy can be: it might be possible that a handful of well-trained, highly motivated and regulated people (such as military personnel at an isolated establishment) might keep a secret about an incident that happened at some point or period in the past but the more people who need to be 'in' on the secret, the more diverse they are, and the longer the conspiracy they are hiding persists the more probable it is that sooner or later someone will give the game away, either accidentally or deliberately. For huge conspiracies such as the moon landings or climate change being a hoax, or vaccine dangers or cures for cancer being suppressed, there would have to be so many people involved that in the real world the cat would have escaped from the bag long ago. Such conspiracies depend on being engineered by masterminds with Bond-villain levels of evil genius and power who also — like Bond villains — make ridiculously stupid mistakes that let the Alex Joneses and Mike Adamses of this world easily see through their conspiracies.

There's also a common-sense principle that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. If I tell you I saw a cat in my garden you'd probably take my word for it. If I told you I saw a unicorn you'd want some pretty convincing evidence! So if we are to claim that the US and UK governments bombed their own people, or that governments colluded with industry for decades to conceal that vaccines were ineffective and harmful (as claimed in the ["Vaccine Hoax" infographic at the top of this page]) we need to produce very solid evidence.

We know that the big pharmaceutical companies that develop and manufacture drugs and vaccines are dishonest. We know they distort trials, cover up trials showing products that are ineffective and/or unsafe, and influence doctors and others to use their products regardless of their merits. And we know that the medical establishment — regulators, professional journals, patients' associations and doctors — collude with them and consistently fail to rein them in. There are examples from Thalidomide to Vioxx of drugs causing harm instead of good and manufacturers covering up their failings for as long as possible whilst raking in profits. One way we know all this is because Ben Goldacre, in his book [Bad Pharma], tells us what they do and how they do it.

Now I think Ben Goldacre is an OK guy: I think he's honest, knowledgeable and — most importantly — knows the limits of his competence. Dr Mercola seems like a nice guy too although I disgree with a lot of what he says. But I'm a lousy judge of character (actually it seems that [in cases like this we all are]): maybe Mercola is right and Goldacre is wrong. How can we decide?

Fortunately it doesn't depend on a beauty contest, or who has the best rhetoric, to decide whether to trust Ben Goldacre or Joe Mercola or Mike Adams or whale.to's John Scudamore. We can judge by the evidence they present for their claims. Of the 400+ pages of Goldacre's "Bad Pharma", over 34 are of references, almost all of them to peer-reviewed publications. He cites studies showing how trials conducted by drug companies are more likely to show the companies' products favourably than trials conducted independently. He references studies showing how doctors are more likely to prescribe expensive patented drugs made by a company whose reps they have seen or whose corporate hospitality they have accepted. And so on: his book presents real evidence for his allegations; and I, and anybody else, can follow these references to the sources and check them for ourselves. We don't have to take Goldacre's word for it.

Mercola, Natural News and whale.to, however, offer practically no independent evidence, only links to articles on their own websites. Following these keeps us within their own closed world where we have to take everything they say on trust. And no matter how nice and sincere these gentlemen are they can't be experts on everything they talk about. Not even Dr Mercola: I don't know what his medical training and experience is but medicine is a huge field and no one medic can be the world's expert in all of it. Natural News' Mike Adams appears to have no medical training at all, and whale.to's John Scudamore is apparently a Herefordshire pig farmer: I'm sure he'd be scathing if, say, Ben Goldacre claimed expertise in animal husbandry so it doesn't seem unfair to question his own competence in medicine!

So Goldacre's "Bad Pharma" seems to be the most accurate picture of the problems with the pharmaceutical industry.

Besides the failings Goldacre exposes we know that "Big Pharma" also produces drugs which save lives: there are millions of people alive today (most of us know some of them) who would be dead from cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, infectious diseases, accidents, burns and countless other causes were it not, in large part, for the products of Big Bad Pharma. The problem seems to be that the system is so compromised that there are mediocre and even downright bad medicines alongside genuinely good ones, and doctors and patients have no way of knowing for sure which is which.

How do we know if vaccines are good medicines rather than mediocre or bad ones?

Whilst vaccines, especially newer ones still in patent, are profitable for the companies that make them, they form a tiny proportion — less than 1% — of their total profits, and most of the big drug companies that produce both vaccines and drugs and other products for treating disease would actually make far more money from treating children hospitalised with vaccine-preventable diseases than they do from the vaccines themselves.

Most drugs are given to relatively small numbers of people who are already sick, and many of those may also be taking other medicines, making side-effects harder to pin down to one drug. Vaccines, however, are given to vast numbers of healthy children so side-effects show up like a sore thumb.

And the way drug approval and regulation works at present means regular drugs only have to be shown to be better than nothing so they don't have particularly high standards of efficacy to acheive. Whereas when vaccines don't work we get outbreaks of the diseases they are supposed to prevent, which are very obvious.

There are huge studies of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines carried out all over the world, and there are systems for picking up and actively monitoring for unexpected side-effects. We know that vaccine formulations are changed from time to time to avoid side-effects or improve efficacy (or sometimes to increase safety at the expense of efficacy) and that this usually occurs even without being driven by "scares" and conspicuous public concern. This suggests that these safety checking and monitoring systems do, generally, work.

So are vaccines safe?

No. Not perfectly, absolutely safe.

Nothing is. Children die or are injured falling down stairs, falling off bikes and out of trees and from food and drinks they turn out to be allergic to or choke on or get food poisoning from, from electrocution and drowning and accidental poisoning and fires and all sorts of other causes.

And some — very, very few, but some — are [injured or even killed] by vaccines.

The evidence from studies of millions of children shows that it's a minute risk — around the one-in-several-million range, comparable to the risk of being killed or injured on the road any day of the week, or by falling off a bike or out of a tree or choking on food etc — but there's still a risk. It's a gamble. So the question is: how do the risks of vaccines compare with the risks of not being immunised?

Measles is so infectious that in the days before vaccines practically everybody without immunity caught it, so it spread through the population until everyone who had recovered from it had gained immunity and then there would be a few years until enough new children had been born without immunity to sustain another epidemic. For most people Measles is simply an unpleasant illness but some people need hospital treatment, a few end up with brain damage or other permanent disability, and some die. During recent outbreaks in Europe fewer than 1 person in 1000 died, although the figures include very poor Easter European countries and expected death rates of only 1 in 3000 are quoted for countries such as the UK. In an un-vaccinated population with large numbers catching Measles we would also expect to see cases of the horrific SSPA (Sub-Sclerosing Pan Encephalitis) complication which attacks children's brains causing disability and slow death years after infection as a baby. Mass non-vaccination against Polio, which cannot be cured once it has been caught, would result in numbers of children being paralysed, some permanently, and some dying. Diphtheria ("The Strangling Angel") would also exact its toll of death despite the best efforts of present-day medical care.

Nowadays thanks to community (or "herd") immunity the risks of not vaccinating are different. For a disease like polio they're practically non-existent: to catch it in the UK one would have to be in contact with someone from some parts of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria where polio still exists. For most British people this is a very low risk. Polio is part of the regular childhood vaccination programme because if no British children were immunised then it would be easy and quite likely for one traveller bringing an infection from abroad to start a devastating nationwide polio epidemic.

Likewise with diphtheria: thanks to community immunity an unvaccinated child is at little risk but when enough people are unvaccinated it can return and kill

With diseases like measles there's more risk to unvaccinated people, especially in areas of low vaccination such as South Wales (as seen in the recent epidemic), "trendy" places like Totnes and parts of North London, Steiner-Waldorf and Private schools. Although the numbers involved nationwide are small — there was only one death in the South Welsh outbreak — measles is so highly infectious that an unvaccinated individual in a largely-unvaccinated community has a very high chance of catching the disease and is then exposed to the full risk of death, brain damage, SSPE or other complications (and measles also wipes out immunity to other diseases leaving the victim vulnerable to other infections).

With Pertussis (Whooping Cough) an unvaccinated child is fairly likely to catch the disease but, especially for older children, at relatively little risk of dying of it: the greatest risk is to babies too young to be vaccinated who routinely die of it when outbreaks occur. Rubella (German Measles) presents practically no risk to an unvaccinated child but for an unvaccinated pregnant woman can damage her baby. The reason boys are vaccinated against it is to maintain community immunity to protect the unborn babies of expectant mothers who, for whatever reason, are not vaccine-protected.

So in our present society with generally high levels of vaccination and thus community immunity it is possible to "cheat" and avoid whatever risks may be inherent in vaccination by relying on the protection of others who have been vaccinated. For the measles (or the MMR) vaccine one would have to then avoid various parts of the country and sections of society — in practice largely withdrawing from society — to avoid being exposed to the wild disease. With Pertussis it would be a matter for one's conscience whether it would be morally acceptable to have one's child put tiny babies at greater danger of whooping cough. Not immunising girls against Rubella or boys against Mumps might seem less of a good idea as they grow older and the potential harms of the diseases become more severe.

Autism, allergies, diabetes, resistance to infections etc.

Autism rates as MMR vaccine withdrawn

Autism rates as MMR vaccine withdrawn in Japan

What about [Autism]? There had been practically no suggestion of a link with vaccines before [Andrew Wakefield]'s 1998 paper suggested it could be caused by the measles component of MMR. Even if Wakefield's work had not turned out to be based on brazen, profit-motivated fraud, his study of only 12 children was far too small to show any definite connection. It seems to have been through a combination of Wakefield's promotion of his agendas to provide "evidence" for the lawyer sponsoring him to sue vaccine manufacturers, and his own business interest in discrediting MMR in order to sell the alternative vaccine he was patenting, coupled with the media's uncritical adoption of him as a sort of Maverick Science Hero (entirely ignoring the enormous flaws in his case), that we have even heard of him and his idea of a link between MMR and Autism.

Although Wakefield's research was (apart from its fraudulent aspects) scientifically flimsy it elicited evident public concern. In the US there was also a public scare (which was also considered scientifically implausible) about the Mercury-based preservative Thimerosal used in some vaccines. And apart from Autism and ASDs, there were popular claims that vaccines could cause allergies, Type 1 Diabetes and weaken childrens' immune systems and make them more susceptible to all sorts of illnesses. In response to these concerns research has been carried out, many involving large populations in Scandanavia, Japan and the US, comparing vaccinated with unvaccinated children, children who'd had MMR with those who had single vaccines, looking at children who'd had different numbers of vaccinations, children who'd had different total amounts of vaccines; and looking for differences in rates of (and therefore possible connections with) Autism/ASDs, allergies, diabetes, whether children were more or less susceptible to other illnesses and so on. Thanks to the large numbers of children monitored in these studies it now seems clear that if there is any connection between, say, MMR and autism it would be at a level of risk of one in several millions.

Autism immediately after Vaccination

But despite the mass of evidence that there's no link we still hear cases of children who have suddenly become Autistic immediately after a vaccination. This intuitively seems pretty clear-cut evidence of a vaccine causing autism: how could it not be so?

It seems to be a case where our intuition — evolved on the savannahs of East Africa millions of years ago in a world of a few hundred fellow-humans — fails us in the modern world of 7 billion people, many of whom thanks to the internet are practically next-door neighbours. The sheer numbers of people getting vaccines mean that even with absolutely no connection between, say, MMR and Autism, it's simply inevitable by random chance that some Autistic children's symptoms will first show up just after a vaccination. It's a tiny percentage, but when there are millions of children involved that adds up to [hundreds or thousands of cases that we may hear of]. Vaccines would have to actively prevent Autism for there not to be such cases!

Science in Court

Italian court rules that MMR caused autism

In November 1999 Sally Clark was convicted of the murder of her first two children on the basis of what was later acknowledged to be a gross and grotesque miscarriage of justice, due largely to basic misunderstandings of statistical probabilities by prosecution, defence, judges and juries alike. (It was as if the winner of a lottery jackpot were prosecuted for fraud because the odds of them winning the jackpot legitimately were so remote that they must have cheated.)

In March 2003, in a case similar to Sally Clark's, Dutch paediatric nurse Lucia de Berk was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder largely on the basis of the Dutch courts' mind-bogglingly incompetent grasp of statistics.

In June 2012 an Italian court ruled that MMR vaccination caused autism in a child.

In October 2012 an Italian court jailed six scientists for failing to correctly predict the magnitude of the 2009 earthquake that devastated the city of L'Aquila, despite the obvious and well-known limitations to seismology's predictive abilities.

It seems fairly clear that courts are capable of grossly misunderstanding science and especially probability. In the case of the Italian MMR - Autism ruling there was no evidence, apart from the coincidence of the child's parents first noticing symptoms of his autism a few days after his vaccination, for linking the two, and the court decision was subsequently overturned.

A related issue is so called "vaccine courts" — the US' National Vaccine Injury Compensation program, the UK's Vaccine Damage Payment scheme etc. If they are paying out billions doesn't it mean that vaccines are pretty dangerous? Actually no: even though these schemes are weighted to give the benefit of the doubt to claimants the overall rate of claims and compensation awards is a tiny proportion of the numbers of vaccines given every year.

Mercury, Aluminium, Formaldehyde and other poisons.

How can it be safe to inject vaccines containing toxic chemicals into tiny babies?

The pioneering Renaissance physician Paracelsus observed "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous". There is a chemical present in all vaccines which can cause confusion, disorientation, nausea, and vomiting, and lead to seizures, coma, and death. It is water. Vitamin D is essential for life but it is as poisonous as cyanide. The amounts of [Mercury, Aluminium and Formaldehyde] used in vaccines are just too small to be harmful, even to tiny babies.

Too much, too soon?

Although there was considered to be no risk that the number of vaccines, or the ages they were given at, could "overwhelm" infants' systems, nevertheless research has recently been carried out specifically to address concerns about children receiving "too many vaccines during the first 2 years of life, ...too many vaccines in a single doctor visit, and a possible link between vaccines and learning disabilities, such as autism". The research looked at hundreds of children with and without autism and compared the number of vaccinations and total quantities of vaccines received by each group. They found no connection.

How Dangerous are the Diseases?

Death rate for Measles in Australia

Measles deaths in Australia

Are the diseases vaccines are supposed to protect against really still dangerous?

Opponents of vaccination point out that death rates for various diseases were falling before vaccines were introduced for them, due to better sanitation, better nutrition, smaller families with less crowded living conditions and better treatment of diseases when they did occur.

Hospital ward full of children in Iron Lungs

Ward full of children in Iron Lungs

Boy in Iron Lung with sister

Boy in Iron Lung with his sister

A good example of how better treatment saved lives is polio. Many victims used to die of suffocation if the polio virus paralysed their chest muscles so they could no longer breathe. Then in the early 20th century the Iron Lung was developed which could keep alive those whose chest muscles were paralysed by the virus, by mechanically breathing for them.

Most polio victims (such as the boy on the left) recovered after a few weeks in the Iron Lung, but some had to remain in the machines for life. Others were left disabled.

Incidence of Measles before and after vaccine introduction

Measles incidence

Incidence of Polio in New York City in 1916: 9000, India 2015: 0

Despite improvements in living conditions which helped reduce the number of people catching some diseases, and advances in medicine reducing the numbers dying or suffering permanent damage when they did get ill, some children and adults still died from polio, measles, mumps, Hib, diphtheria, Congenital Rubella Syndrome etc, whilst others suffered deafness, brain damage, autism, paralysis and other permanent physical and mental disabilities from these diseases. Vaccines reduced the numbers of these casualties, and the numbers catching these diseases in the first place, to the low levels we take for granted today. Smallpox vaccines totally eradicated the disease which is now officially extinct in the wild (with only some samples kept securely in a laboratory). Polio and measles could also be eradicated if there weren't still [reservoirs of un-vaccinated people] keeping them going in various parts of the world.

How dangerous are the so-called "vaccine preventable" diseases to healthily-fed children (and adults) in societies with good sanitation and healthcare? According to the Peckham Report for every 100 cases of measles notified one results in neurological complications (which can result in deafness or brain damage) and in 1 in 5,000 cases result in death. There is also the horrific — but fortunately rare — disease of SSPE where a child exposed to measles — typically as a baby — suffers progressive, irreversible brain damage causing mental degeneration and slow death years later — possibly as a young teenager. In the UK during the 1970s and 80s this used to happen to 18 children for every 100,000 who caught measles.

Mumps can cause excruciating pain and possible sterility for adolescent boys and young men. Tetanus can cause agonising spasms and take up to a year to recover from.

Pertussis (whooping cough) and Rubella (German Measles) vaccines are not intended to protect the children given them so much as babies too young to be vaccinated (in the case of pertussis) and unborn babies in the womb who can be damaged if their pregnant mother catches the disease (in the case of rubella). This damage — known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome — can include Autism Spectrum Disorders, so ironically (considering the MMR-Autism scare) the Rubella vaccine (part of MMR) actually reduces incidence of ASDs.

Varicella (Chicken Pox) can kill. In Belgium where children aren't routinely immunised against the disease a young girl died in April 2012 from severe complication of chickenpox. Her mother has started an association to inform parents of the dangers and to encourage them to seek vaccination for their children.

Whooping cough still kills small children and especially babies.

If the measles vaccine had not existed then we would expect to see periodic epidemics of measles as we did in the 1940s, 50s and 60s with peaks of a few hundred deaths per year during epidemics (and correspondingly higher numbers of encephalitis, pneumonia etc and hospital admissions). To put these numbers in perspective they would be significantly lower than the numbers of people killed on our roads. It's not that it would be a public-health problem so much as being tragedies for the victims and their loved-ones: literally tragic in the Greek drama sense if their deaths and injuries were preventable but brought about by human folly.

How Effective are Vaccines?

90% of infected children had been vaccinated

Someone doesn't understand statistics

Statements like "90% of whooping cough outbreak victims are already vaccinated against whooping cough" sound alarming but are really an example of the saying ""lies, damned lies and statistics".

Like other medicines, no vaccine is 100% effective so if there's an outbreak of (say) whooping cough then some people will catch it even though they've been vaccinated. Percentage figures can be misleading — "damned lies and statistics". It's the actual numbers catching the disease that matter: 10 vaccinated people getting ill because a vaccine is only 90% effective is obviously better than 100 unvaccinated victims.

If every single person in the population had been vaccinated then, even though not many people actually caught a disease, we'd be able to say "100% of victims are already vaccinated". The 90% figure quoted above doesn't actually tell us anything about the effectiveness of the vaccine any more than "50% of people have below-average intelligence" tells us anything about the intelligence of a population. If not everybody is vaccinated then in a disease outbreak we may find that 10% of vaccinated people catch the disease and 90% of unvaccinated ones do. But if most people are vaccinated then the number of vaccinated people who still get the disease may still outnumber the unvaccinated ones.

Why would my unvaccinated kids be a threat to your vaccinated kids, if you're so sure that vaccines work?

Someone doesn't understand efficacy

In the case of whooping cough babies too young to be vaccinated are most at risk from the disease, and we know the vaccine isn't 100% effective, so the ideal is where 100% of those catching it are vaccinated because that means only older children — who are at less risk — are getting it, and vulnerable, unvaccinated, babies are being protected by community immunity.

A corollary of the fact that vaccines are less than perfect is that even if someone — say, one of your children — has been vaccinated they may still be vulnerable to the disease, if they are one of the ones for whom the vaccine didn't work, and you wouldn't know until they got exposed to the disease. Since unvaccinated children are much more likely to catch and pass on diseases they still pose a threat to some vaccinated children as well as to other unvaccinated ones.

Chicken pox in unvaccinated baby, child & adolescent

Chicken pox in unvaccinated baby, child & adolescent

Breakthrough chicken pox in a vaccinated child

Breakthrough chicken pox in a vaccinated child

Even where someone gets a disease they've been vaccinated against it may be less severe.

For example with Chicken Pox (varicella) it is known as "breakthrough varicella" and typically results in far fewer pox lesions which tend to be flatter rather than the riased, fluid-filled lesions of wild chicken pox, and typically do not blister or bleed and are much less contagious.

(It is also possible for a person to catch Chicken Pox from the vaccine but this seems to happen extremely rarely: between 3 times in 21 million and 5 times in 55 million vaccinations.)

The Kids and I

When our first child was born I trawled the fledgling internet (using Alta Vista — this was before Google existed) for information on vaccines to set against the rather blandly reassuring trust-us-we're-the-government information we received from official sources. Some of what I found seemed to be the product of paranoid conspiracy thinking but there did seem to be some genuine concerns and arguments: whether it was vaccines or improvements in public sanitation etc that had brought down diseases, whether the diseases being vaccinated against were still a significant risk in this country, whether it was better for well-fed basically healthy children to go through diseases naturally rather than be vaccinated against them, and whether there might be long-term side-effects that weren't being checked for and picked up.

Tory minister John Selwyn Gummer feeds his daughter Cordelia a burger in a publicity stunt to reassure the public that British beef was safe despite public concern over the BSE epidemic

Trust me, I'm a politician

I had grown up in and lived through times when

I'd discovered that Cannabis wasn't the Reefer Madness bogey it was officially portrayed to be but was safer (and a lot more enjoyable!) than alcohol, but that even its medicinal uses were prohibited by stupid laws. I identified with the counter-culture, Anarchist, alternative and underground movement of Oz, International Times, R. Crumb, Freak Bros, Nicholas Saunders' Alternative London self-help directory, wholefoods, squatting, Green Gatherings and Anti-Nuclear protest, and I'd been active in student protests, the Legalise Cannabis Campaign, peace camps, organising a CND bike ride from London to the Trident base at Barrow-in-Furness, been arrested in Trafalgar Square at a confluence of a Stop The City and anti-Cruise Missile demos and had been taken to court for a non-payment protest against the Poll Tax.

The medical profession I had grown up with tended to be aloof, patronising and arrogant: "trust me I'm a doctor" types who would be personally offended if you asked them to justify their medical opinions and decisions. I knew very little about health and medicine: my only significant health issue had been migraines against which conventional medicine was (in those days) powerless but which some "alternative" therapies — Bioenergetics, Alexander Technique, Feverfew and Tiger Balm — seemed to help with. I knew people who'd had ghastly experiences at the hands of the mental health profession (which had not long abandoned Lobotomy and electric shock treatment and whose only tools seemed to be incarcerating people in Cuckoo's Nest-like institutions and medicating them with powerful and often debilitating drugs) whilst it was people outside the profession who were offering humane, person-centred approaches to psychotherapy (and in the case of early NLP practitioners pioneering a systematic approach based on what could be shown objectively to work).

Given this background I didn't find it hard to suspect that commercial, profit-motive factors and political expedience might be involved in official vaccine recommendations, and while we were thinking about the vaccines issue we came across someone who practiced something called Homeopathy, who matter-of-factly informed us that it could treat any of the diseases vaccines were supposed to protect against if our child did catch them. I knew nothing about homeopathy but I'd somewhere picked up the idea that it was one of those things that nobody knew how it worked but that even doctors acknowledged that it just did. Combined with our distrust of the Establishment in general and the Medical Establishment in particular, and being keen to find a reassuring alternative to the frankly scary prospect of injecting our precious, delicate new-born baby with unknown and irreversible agents, this led us to decide to have him vaccinated only against Tetanus — which seemed a real risk for the active outdoors-ey child we hoped ours would be — but not the rest.

Exquisite agony

When our second child came along we didn't think so long and hard about it but basically followed suit (though for some reason we didn't even get him the Tetanus shot — possibly that was no longer available singly rather than as part of a multiple vaccine). It wasn't until fairly recently that I started to question our earlier decisions. Partly it was prompted by our older son going off to University: I was aware that Meningitis exacts a continuing tragic toll of University students so I wanted him to be protected against that. I also knew that Mumps Orchitis was not a fun thing to get as an adult man (I'd heard the words "exquisite agony" used to describe it somewhere) so that seemed worth him being protected against as well. And I'd been reading: in particular Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" had shown me that, whilst the pharamaceutical industry was as venal and corrupt as I'd taken it to be and wilfully perverted the practice of evidence-based medicine to suit its commercial ends, so-called "conventional" medicine is at least in principle based on what provably works rather than the wishful thinking of most ["alternative" medicine"].

Shortly after our older son's innoculations my wife had a minor accident, cutting her hand on rusty metal in the garden, and had a Tetanus booster. This prompted me to think again about our younger son's vaccinations (or lack of them). By this time I knew Roald Dahl's tragic story of how his daughter Olivia died of Measles and did some more reading and realised that such diseases weren't necessarily so trivial. Despite some misgivings on my wife's part (she doesn't share my views regarding alt-med) we agreed for our younger child to have his vaccinations too.

Wrong Again

The late Margaret Thatcher famous declared of herself "the lady's not for turning" and in politics, and many other walks of life, "U-turns" and "flip-flopping" are regarded as personal moral failures. This is unfortunate. We all make mistakes: our minds, which evolved to deal with the human-scale world of plants, animals, natural objects and small numbers of other people, are poorly adapted to deal with the complexities of our modern societies teeming with other humans and machines and social structures of mousetrap-like complexity. Studies show time and again that we are swayed by what others around us think to the point of overriding our own judgement, that we pay more attention to evidence that fits our existing beliefs than that which contradicts them, that we (in the West) over-estimate our abilities to understand complex matters, that we see patterns in what is actually random and ascribe cause-and-effect relationships to pure coincidence. Adding to our natural fallabilities a stigma to admitting when we are wrong is not helpful!


We tend to think science is about gravity and relativity and evolution and penicillin and the chemistry that turns oil into plastics and so on, but those are just the fruits of science. None of these fruits would be possible without the ways science has developed of finding out what is real despite our minds' tendencies to mislead and deceive us. One way that scientists do this is by describing in detail what they think and do and sharing it with others who [pick it apart] looking for faults. Real Scientists do this, and accept it being done to their work, not grudgingly but because that's what validates their work. An idea, or some experimental finding, has little value on its own: the more other experts in the field have checked over the workings-out and tested the theories and repeated the experiments the more valid and accepted someone's work becomes. The reason we accept Einstein's theories of relativity are not that he was a lovable eccentric with crazy hair, but because thousands of people have tested his ideas and time after time they fit the evidence. And the reason science rejects Andrew Wakefield's idea that MMR causes Autism is not distaste for his priviledged background, his dangerous and unethical medical experiments on vulnerable children or that he stood to make millions from his own patented but unproven vaccine, but because the evidence doesn't support his claims.

(Links to articles on how science works in the section below.)

We have different ways of making sense of the world, and specifically of health issues. Some people refer to their own experience or that of people they know. Many of us (at least, those of of older generations) know someone who caught measles or chicken pox or mumps and was just fine, so we tend to think of them as mild illnesses: nothing to be worried about. But we can also find examples of children who caught measles and died (like Roald Dahl's daughter Olivia) or had chicken pox and were brain damaged or died. Individual examples like these don't tell us much about these diseases; we can deduce that they're not OK for everyone — some people can die from them — but that they're not fatal for everyone because most people do survive. Smoking is similar: there are countless tales of people who've smoked 60 a day all their lives and lived to a ripe old age as fit as a fiddle, but there are plenty more who die of lung cancer and heart disease which we know — because we've looked at what happens to millions of smokers and non-smokers over the years — were caused by smoking. So this sort of anecdotal, testimonial evidence isn't good to go on for making important decisions about our children's (or our own) health.

Instinct and intuition are not reliable guides to complex health issues either. When one is no-nappy parenting I'm sure one quickly develops an exquisite intuitive instinct for when one's baby is about to poo (we didn't try this ourselves!), just as we learn to sub-consciously register when they're getting hungry or tired or ill or something's generally not right (or, when they're older, up to mischief!). But our instincts and intuitions also tell us that spiders are more dangerous than cars and completely fail to warn us about all sorts of actual hazards like the damage we can suffer from intense sunshine and what contact with electricity can do to us.

In many ways I'm pretty conventional: heterosexual, cis-gendered, with a wife, a mortgage and two kids. But I'll proudly "come out" as Wrong. I've been wrong in the past about more things than I care to remember, I'm sure I'm wrong about stuff now and will be wrong about things in the future. I identify as a "skeptic" (like a scientist without the white coat: someone who tries to adopt a scientific attitude even if they don't do science for a living). I think there's an objective reality which exists independently of what we believe: we can fool ourselves but we can't fool nature; we can have our own opinions but we can't have our own facts. There either is or there isn't a god or gods, angels, fairies, life after death, telepathy, a Higgs Boson, gravity waves and dark matter. The planet either is or is not warming significantly. There are various factors that cause cancers, HIV, Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Diabetes and heart diseases. By careful, clever and honest investigation — often coupled with plain good luck — we can discover the reality of these matters. But often nature — and our human nature — will mislead us, and we have to recognise our prodigious talent for being wrong and humbly change our minds when the evidence suggests so.

I think I was wrong about vaccines and disease when our first child was born. I'd read up on vaccines and diseases and thought I understood the issues — to be honest I thought I understood them better than the doctors who were advising us otherwise. I was a classic example of the "Dunning-Kruger effect": not only did I not really understand the subject but I didn't even realise how little I understood!

I think we (and others around us) were lucky that neither of our children got measles or mumps or diphtheria or whooping cough and that my wife didn't catch German measles while she was carrying our children. For that I think we largely have to thank other parents who did vaccinate their children for the community (or "herd") immunity that protected ours. And of course the medical science that made vaccine protection and that community immunity possible.

The issue of vaccines, and whether to vaccinate or not, arouses heated debate and, sometimes, outright vilification of those with differing opinions. I don't wish to contribute to that. Issues like vaccination — and many other health issues, not to mention climate change, genetic engineering, nuclear power and other topics prone to generate more heat than light — are generally outside the competence of the lay person to understand thoroughly. Even if we know how to read a scientific paper (and know what papers to read to find out about a particular subject) many relevant papers can be prohibitively expensive to access for those of us outside the academic or research communities. And the scientific literature is written by scientists, for scientists and is pretty impenetrable to those (even other scientists) without a grounding in the subject area. So how can we make sound judgements? Who can we rely on for advice: government agencies, health authorities, doctors, science journalists, the media, bloggers, self-appointed experts, celebrities, campaign groups, our friends, our own intuition and instincts ... ?

Trust me, I'm a blogger

Agencies such as the World Health Organisation, the US Centers for Disease Control and the UK's Health Protection Agency present the official views. Some people are probably entirely happy with official recommendations, but they are probably not reading this! At the other end of the spectrum there are those who think there's a massive global conspiracy and all the official bodies are lying to us; I will leave those folks to suggest why (whether it's because they're in the pockets of Big Pharma or that vaccines are being used to implant us all with tracking agents). But I don't think you have to be a paranoid conspiracy theorist to be a bit sceptical of official recommendations: government agencies are bureaucracies and subject to political and commercial influences and inertia and sometimes plain old incompetence. So where can one go for a second opinion?

I don't think there is any single 100% reliable trustworthy source. Obviously in the case of a medical issue such as vaccination medical doctors and researchers may at least have relevant knowledge of the issues, but being doctors or researchers doesn't make them all world experts in every field of medicine, and there are plenty with cranky ideas which are probably plain wrong. (And then there are those who are "doctors" because they have a PhD — which can be in anything from Ancient History to Zoology — not to mention those who simply buy academically-unaccredited correspondence course qualifications.)

Apart from medics there is no shortage on the internet of lay people and groups weighing in to advise us about vaccines, whether for or against. They're usually very clear in their pro- or anti-vaccine agenda and one has to wonder: if some new evidence came along that contradicted their position would they embrace it and change their stance, or ignore it or deny it? And this is where I find myself judging the sources I value.

I have mentioned Ben Goldacre: blogger, sometime Guardian columnist and author of "Bad Science" and "Bad Pharma". He's a doctor and medical researcher but doesn't big up the "Dr" title and in his books and blog posts he fairly even-handedly takes apart the defects he sees in conventional medicine (his book "Bad Pharma" is all about that), alternative medicine, the media, education and much else beside. I don't suppose he's right about everything (and on his blogs there are often commentators pointing out errors he's made) but he seems to be more interested in what's factual than what supports a particular agenda.

Another medic and blogger who seems more interested in truth than agenda is Orac. For example in a blog post about Steve Jobs' illness and death he criticises a "skeptical", anti-alternative-medicine blogger for claiming that Jobs died because he initially pursued "alternative" treatment for his cancer; Orac points out that the evidence does not support such a claim. I find people like this much more plausible than those who seem to want to fit everything into their pro- or anti-alternative medicine views.

A feature of many bloggers' writing I dislike is their disparaging references to those they strongly disagree with. An example from Orac's article on Steve Jobs is his reference to an alt-med proponent as a "despicable crank". There's no need for this: one can express strong opinions in "parliamentary" language, and excoriate ideas one despises, but I think ad hominems polarise discussions and make communication between people with differing views harder. This is particularly pertinent to an article by Orac on the psychology of parents' decisions whether or not to vaccinate their children. Entitled (without a hint of irony) "Winning antivaccine hearts and minds" the content of the article is thought-provoking and potentially of interest to parents inclined either way, as it shows how much we may be swayed by what our friends, relatives and neighbours think, but it is couched in such belligerent language that only those fairly firmly rooted in the pro-vaccine camp would be likely to read it.

As Orac's 'winning hearts and minds' piece shows valuable information may be conveyed in off-puttingly partisan language and if we are to consider things open-mindedly we have to see past the rhetoric, whether tirades against "quackery" or allegations of being a "shill" for "Big Pharma", and digest the factual content.

An important aspect of sources that gives me confidence is where they give references for the evidence they present, and where the references are to authoritative sources, especially peer-reviewed scientific literature. However the mere presence of such references isn't a guarantee of accuracy: the references may not back up what the author is claiming! Although there are papers that aren't freely available to the general public a reasonable number of them are and I find many worth reading and at least trying to get the gist (to be honest a lot goes over my head). Even for papers that aren't themselves freely available their abstracts are usually online and these should at least convey what the paper is claiming. The fact that a paper has been published in a peer-reviewed journal doesn't make it the authoritative word on its subject: it should just mean that its methods are reasonably sound and its conclusions have some plausibility. It can still, however, be wrong and sadly, as Goldacre points out, a journal that publishes a paper may not publish a follow-up that confirms its findings, or even one that contradicts them! And of course papers can get published that are the results of scientific fraud, like that of Wakefield and his collaborators in 1998, and which are subsequently retracted. So one paper on its own doesn't prove anything: only in combination with other work does it build up a convincing body of evidence. Even if Wakefield's research had been genuine, and even if it had involved enough children to give us confidence in his findings, it would have required other people's work confirming his findings to give us reasonable confidence in them.

I think Wikipedia is often quite reliable. Even where articles about contentious issues have been subject to editing by people eager to convey one side or another of an argument the process often involves them challenging the references cited by their opponents so that the article becomes based on pretty reliable sources.

With newspapers (either online or in print) I look for the name of the article's author: are they a science journalist? As Goldacre points out newspapers seem to think non-science-specialists are capable of covering important complex science issues although they wouldn't dream of letting the same general journalists tackle major complex finance, politics or sport stories. And even science journalists can find themselves out of their depth in branches of science they have no particular expertise in. BBC News seems generally more trustworthy. However news reports rarely give references, although sometimes Googling the names of researchers or institutions or keywords mentioned can get to the source of a story.

I'm a bit suspicious of most health-related websites and blogs. Many of the 'skeptical' blogs seem to adopt a didactic approach: the authors seem certain that they are right and are telling their readers about it. I think the authors probably do know what they're talking about but they often seem to be selling their particular point of view in black and white terms rather than exploring an issue that may be more complicated and less clear cut. It's possible to draw on perfectly accurate material but still convey a biased view of the world by selecting what to include or exclude. My litmus test would be how they would react to evidence that severely challenged their views; say, that MMR did cause Autism, or that homeopathy or acupuncture worked. I don't think any reputable skeptic or scientist would outright reject sound evidence, but I imagine someone like Orac might evaluate such evidence more open-mindedly and with a genuine curiousity and interest, than many others.

On the other side of the fence, however, commentators like Dr Joe Mercola, the whale.to website and Natural News seem to live in a world of Big Pharma / Medical Establishment [conspiracy theories]. Whilst we know that Big Pharma does do many bad — and some downright evil — things, and they corruptly and deleteriously influence much that goes on in medicine, they don't run the whole world or even everything that goes on in medicine: there are safe and effective treatments and honest, independent-thinking doctors and medical researchers within "conventional" medicine, and unscrupulous charalatans within the "alternative medicine" industry. So I don't find these sites to be sources of unbiased information! (I am sure some of what they say is true but — as with the more polarised skeptic sites — I suspect the facts don't support the story they're trying to tell with them.)

Place your bets

We somehow have to sift through our uncertainties regarding the available evidence and take a decision which can irrevocably affect our child's health — or even make the difference between life and death. It's not an enviable position to be in. We have to decide whether:

How plausible are these possibilities and what are the implications?

If vaccination really is a huge conspiracy of the sort alleged by Mercola, Natural News & Co, and vaccines are designed to harm our kids rather than protect them, then presumably all the history of deaths and disability from infectious diseases, and children in Iron Lungs, is a fabrication to bolster the conspiracy, and "polio survivors" are stooges. If so is it enough to simply refuse vaccination for our kids? Could a conspiracy so Big-Brother-like that it can manipulate history be so easily thwarted? Surely they could find ways to surreptitiously inject our kids, perhaps like the pellet gun used to assasinate Georgi Markov? To keep our children safe we would need to take them away from the world and live self-sufficient and survivalist-style, repelling all strangers in a mountain eyrie or a securely guarded compound like Osama bin Laden's family. And if there is such a powerful and pervasive conspiracy how come it hasn't silenced Natural News' Mike Adams and others who daily "expose" it?

What if there's a lesser, medical conspiracy of the sort darkly implied by Joe Mercola and Andrew Wakefield, and Big Pharma is covering up harms such as MMR causing Autism (and probably a host of other diseases)? Even this conspiracy would have to be pretty pervasive, subverting different groups of researchers around the world and falsifying huge numbers of the medical records in the UK, Scandanavia, Japan, the US and elsewhere that provide the mass of evidence disproving large-scale vaccine harms. And then one has to ask why they didn't also cover up, say, problems with the Urabe strain Mumps vaccine in MMR, or whole-cell Pertussis or oral Polio vaccines — and many others that have been publicly acknowledged to have had safety issues?

My personal punt is that

  1. biology and immunology really is complicated: it's not just medical researchers and practitioners pretending so to protect their lucrative jobs,
  2. medical science generally does understand diseases and immunology pretty well, and a lot better than us lay people doing our "research" on Google,
  3. governments don't spend money on vaccinating citizens unless they're pretty sure that it will result in saving money overall by reducing death and illness (especially expensive hospital care) by preventing disease,
  4. there's pretty good monitoring of both disease levels and vaccine side effects (including credible possible long-term effects),
  5. nothing's perfect: some vaccines turn out to be less effective or to have worse side-effects than expected (and, scanadalously, sometimes a government will use a cheaper, worse vaccine when a better but more expensive one is available),
  6. the whole business of vaccinating practically the entire population is very high profile so there's a huge incentive for the Powers That Be not to get it too badly wrong, so:
  7. vaccines, disease risks and vaccination programmes are monitored and revised reasonably well.

What do you think? (You can email me via the link in the comments section.)

Further Reading and Resources

Vaccines and Immunisation Generally

The History Of Vaccines The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
As the site's name suggests it documents the history of vaccines (including a timeline from 900CE to present day), and also has a variety of articles about vaccine science, history and current developments, and simulation-type games and visual materials.
Vaccine Knowledge Project — University of Oxford
"Decisions about vaccination can be a source of anxiety. People wanting to find out about immunisation are faced by a huge amount of information, including an ever-growing amount online, but it can be difficult to assess the authority of this, or what it means for you.
This new project, funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and the Oxford Martin School, aims to make independent and authoritative scientific information available to all. It gives everyone, from teenagers to parents, access to the expertise and knowledge of Oxford Vaccine Group researchers. The pages are designed with a non-specialist audience in mind, the aim being not to simplify but to clarify complex information. The site is updated regularly to reflect the latest developments, and all medical content is reviewed by Professor Andrew Pollard."

The site includes information on UK vaccination schedule, vaccines and their safety, infectious diseases, parents' concerns and a blog
The Science of immunisation: Questions and Answers — Australian Academy of Science
Gives a general discussion of immunisation and the role of vaccines, what is in vaccines, individual and community/herd immunity, the role of hygiene and healthcare versus vaccination and how safe vaccines are and how we know. It also has some speculation about future developments in vaccines. The contents of most of the document is fairly comprehensively referenced to the scientific literature.
[The high-resolution PDF, is larger, and slower to download, but in the low resolution version the background images are so dense that they make the text un-readable in places (on my PDF viewer).]
8 Reasons You Are Wrong About Not Vaccinating Your Daughter Red Wine and Apple Sauce — Health and Science news for Parents website.
A mother who was initially uncertain about the pros and cons of vaccines writes about what she learned about their risks and benefits.
8 Reasons Parents Don't Vaccinate (And Why They Should) — Parents magazine
Addresses concerns about vaccines overewhelming babies' immune systems, containing 'toxins', their efficacy and risks etc.
Immunization Action Coalition
A US 'non-profit' (financially supported by the Centers for Disease Control) "work[ing] to increase immunization rates and prevent disease by creating and distributing educational materials for health professionals and the public that enhance the delivery of safe and effective immunization services. The Coalition also facilitates communication about the safety, efficacy, and use of vaccines within the broad immunization community of patients, parents, health care organizations, and government health agencies." IAC also runs www.vaccineinformation.org and www.izcoalitions.org.
Vaccine Safety and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction — Paul Offit and Charlotte Moser (excerpted from their book "Vaccines and Your Child")
Discusses how we know how safe vaccines are from studies and from reporting systems such as VAERS and VSD; how vaccines are tested before widespread use; how safe are multiple vaccines; whether they can cause autism, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, allergies, cancers, diabetes or other diseases; what is in vaccines and why vaccine package inserts may be misleading
Immunity? Easy Peasy…. Lemon Squeezie — Avicenna
Explanation of how the various parts of the immune system work from a young medic (couched in very polarised pro-vax language).
Vaccines – Educative Ignorance — Avicenna
Discussion of some claims and criticisms raised against vaccines.
Vaccine safety web sites meeting credibility and content good information practices criteria — World Health Organization
Vaccine information websites from different countries.

Chicken pox (Varicella)

Chickenpox (Varicella): Questions and Answers; Information about the disease and vaccines — Immunization Action Coalition

Herd immunity

Herd Immunity Demonstration
Interactive graphical models of how infection spreads in susceptible, immunised and partly immunised populations.

Vaccine additives

Vaccine Additives and Preservatives — Vincent Ianelli; about.com pediatrics
Brief article describing contents of many vaccines, reasons for their presence and their safety.

Do multiple vaccines overwhelm the infant immune system?

Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System? -- "Pediatrics" - journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Informative discussion of newborns and infants' immune systems and response to vaccines.


Vaccine Shedding — Wikipedia
"Viral shedding is part of the mechanism of virus transmission. Shedding is impossible with killed vaccines or those made using only isolated proteins (most vaccines fall into one of these two classes), but a small number of vaccines contain live attenuated virus which can theoretically infect others. Not all pathogens are shed, shedding does not equal transmission, and transmission does not always cause disease. The only vaccine to have caused any significant number of infections is the oral polio vaccine (OPV) in the 1950s, and this vaccine is no longer used."
What is "vaccine shedding" and is it a threat?
Dr. Susan H. Wootton, associate professor at the University of Texas’ McGovern Medical School and a specialist in pediatric infectious disease, describes which vaccines use weakend versions of live viruses and hence are capable of "shedding", and the evidence for observed consequences of this.
“Vaccine Shedding”: Time Up For Another Vaccine Myth
Discussion of the extent and conditions in which viruses from live vaccines can be shed by the person receiving them and picked up by — and infect — another. (Strongly partisan pro-vaccine language.)


About the VAERS Program
Pages explaining what the US Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System is and how it works.

Flu vaccines

Viral Misinformation
Snopes examines some claims made against flu vaccines.
10 Flu Myths - Dispelling misinformation about the flu vaccine, sickness, treatment, and recovery
If you've ever had the flu, you know how sick you can be. Chances are good that some of the advice friends and family gave you about avoiding or dealing with the flu was wrong. There seems to be no shortage of misinformation and bad advice when it comes to dealing with the flu.
Here are 10 common myths about the flu.
Flu Vaccine Fake News That Goes Viral During The Flu Season
Besides ... common myths, there are posts that get shared over and over again through social media. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigated how misinformation grows online. The so-called “echo chambers” allow people to expand and amplify their own biases without obstruction. So before this fake information gets reinforced further by repetitive transmission – particularly on Facebook – let’s review those that get shared the most.
Flu shots work for kids under 2 Dr Nathan Boonstra; Blank Children's Hospital
"The most recent study I'm aware of is a 2014 study in Pediatrics by Blyth et al, and not funded by any pharmaceutical company. It looked at influenza seasons in 2008 and 2010-2012 (it excluded 2009 as that year, there was the recommendation to receive the separate H1N1 vaccine), and found flu shots to be 86% effective in kids under two, concluding "TIV* was effective in children aged under 2 years." (*TIV = Trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine)
Peter Doshi
The Facts About Johns Hopkins and Flu Shots Johns Hopkins Medicine
A statement from Johns Hopkins debunking a "rumor circulating on various social media outlets" which "attributes dubious claims about the influenza vaccine to “a Johns Hopkins scientist.” Johns Hopkins Medicine in no way endorses an article published in July 2013 by a former fellow at our school of medicine questioning the validity of the annual flu vaccine. The writer has no scientific affiliation with Johns Hopkins, nor is he employed by any of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated for influenza. At Johns Hopkins, we are confident that the benefits of the flu vaccine to individuals and to public health are very strong."
Discussion on Facebook "Vaccine Information Awareness" group
Links to, and excerpts from various articles discussing Peter Doshi's claims and opinions regarding flu vaccines.

Studies of Vaccines

Vaccines and Autism

New Meta-analysis Confirms: No Association between Vaccines and Autism Autism Speaks
Analysis of 10 studies involving more than 1.2 million children reaffirms that vaccines don’t cause autism; MMR shot may actually decrease risk.
Draws on study (paywalled) in Vaccine, Volume 32, Issue 29, Pages 3623-3629 by Luke E. Taylor, Amy L. Swerdfeger, Guy D. Eslick
Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Statistics on prevalence of ASDs, risk factors etc and links to further information.
Immunization Safety and Autism — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Summary of, and links to, studies investigating possible links between Autism and total amount of vaccines, Thimerosal, and MMR.
Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses — Jeffrey S. Gerber and Paul A. Offit from "Clinical Infectious Diseases" (official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America)
Discusses studies that have been carried out to test whether there could be links between autism and the MMR vaccine, the Thimerosal/Thiomersal preservative or the total number of vaccines given to children.
Autistic spectrum disorder: No causal relationship with vaccines — Paediatrics & Child Health (PCH)
Discusses studies that have been carried out to test whether there could be links between autism and MMR or Thimerosal.
Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence — American Academy of Pediatrics
Lists studies investigating possible links between vaccines (including MMR and ingredients such as Thimerosal) and Autism.
No Differences in Early Immunization Rates Among Children with Typical Development and Autism Spectrum Disorders — K. Angkustsiri, D. D. Li and R. Hansen
Study comparing rates of vaccination between children with and without ASD: generally those with ASDs had slightly (but not significantly) fewer vaccinations than the non-ASD group.
Withdrawal of MMR in Japan
Autism rises despite MMR ban in Japan — Andy Coghlan, New Scientist
Describes study of 30,000 children in Japan where the number with autism continued to rise after the MMR vaccine was replaced with single vaccines.
No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study — Honda H, et al. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005.
PubMed summary of the Honda et al study referred to in the New Scientist article above.
No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study — Hideo Honda, Yasuo Shimizu, Michael Rutter; Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry
The full paper of the Honda study
Rubella and Autism
Congenital rubella syndrome and autism spectrum disorder prevented by rubella vaccination — United States, 2001-2010 — Berger BE, Navar-Boggan AM, Omer SB
Estimate of number of cases of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, and of Autsim Spectrum Disorders, prevented by the Rubella vaccine component of the MMR vaccine.

Vaccines and Allergies, Auto-Immune Diseases, general health etc

Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Vaccines Cause Allergic or Autoimmune Diseases? -- "Pediatrics" - journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics
Discussion of how vaccines might cause allergies, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes, Chronic Arthritis and Lyme Disease, and what studies have been conducted to see if they do.
Vaccination Status and Health in Children and Adolescents: Findings of the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS) — Schmitz, R; Poethko-Müller, C; Reiter, S; Schlaud, M
Study of vaccinated and unvaccinated children comparing rates of vaccine-preventable disease and also how susceptible each group was to colds, bronchitis, gastrointestinal infections and allergies

Vaccine ingredients

Aluminum in perspective — Thoughtscapism blog, 27 April 2015
Mercury in retrogade — Thoughtscapism blog, 8 Sept 2015
Should you worry about formaldehyde in vaccines? — Thoughtscapism blog, 16 Sept 2015
Articles by biologist Iida Ruishalme discussing Aluminium (Aluminum), Mercury and Formaldehyde in Vaccines with reference to scientific evidence and science-based sources.

How Effective are Vaccines?

Mumps Outbreaks in Vaccinated Populations: Are Available Mumps Vaccines Effective Enough to Prevent Outbreaks? — Gustavo H. Dayan1, Steven Rubin; Clinical Infectious Disease
Review of long-term efficacy of mumps vaccines.
Is Childhood Pertussis Vaccine Less Effective Than We Thought?Maryn McKenna; Wired
Discussion of the recent epidemics of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) and possible problems with the acellular versus whole-cell version of the vaccine.

Studies comparing vaccinated with unvaccinated

Myth: no studies compare the health of unvaccinated and vaccinated people — Iida Ruishalme
Review of studies comparing vaccinated with unvaccinated people.

HPV Vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix

Here Is How We Know Gardasil Has Not Killed 100 People — Matthew Herper; Forbes
How misunderstanding and misuse of VAERS data leads to erroneous claims of harm from Gardasil - and other vaccines in general.
Safety of quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine administered routinely to females — Nicola Klein & others
Study of almost 200,000 girls who received the HPV vaccine: the only adverse effects found were fainting on the day of vaccination, and skin infections in the following two weeks.
Large Study Supports Safety of Gardasil HPV Vaccine
Commentary on the above study by Klein and others.
Autoimmune, neurological, and venous thromboembolic adverse events after immunisation of adolescent girls with quadrivalent human papillomavirus vaccine in Denmark and Sweden: cohort study Lisen Arnheim-Dahlström & others, British Medical Journal, 9th October 2013
A study of almost a million Swedish and Danish girls comparing about 300,000 girls who had been HPV vaccinated with 700,000 who had not to examine the incidence of a wide range of diseases and thus determine if there are any serious adverse effects of the vaccine.
No serious adverse reactions to HPV vaccination
News item from the Swedish Karolinska Institutet, whose researchers conducted the study, on its methods and findings.
An Overview of Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine Safety: 2006 to 2015 — Michelle Vichnin MD and others, Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, September 2015
"a summary of the published, postlicensure safety data from active and passive surveillance. Only syncope, and possibly skin infections were associated with vaccination in the postlicensure setting. Serious adverse events, such as adverse pregnancy outcomes, autoimmune diseases (including Guillain–Barre Syndrome and multiple sclerosis), anaphylaxis, venous thromboembolism and stroke, were extensively studied, and no increase in the incidence of these events was found compared with background rates."
Gardasil HPV Vaccine Safety Assessed In Most Comprehensive Study To Date — Forbes, 15/07/2015
An article for the general reader describing the study by Vichnin and others (linked above) and its implications.
HPV prevention: vaccination works
How HPV causes cancers in men — such as Michael Douglas — as well as women — such as Jane Goody who died of cervical cancer — and how vaccines can protect against them.
Out of 25 Million Vaccinations, Only 33 People Had a Serious Reaction, CDC Finds
HPV Vaccine: The Science Behind The Controversy npr, 20/09/2011
Discussion of some of the social factors around immunising pre-teen girls against HPV: "''My daughter is so not sexually active that it seems very premature to even think about protecting her from cervical cancer ... I realize it's probably more about my squeamishness with the thought of her becoming sexually active than the vaccination itself," she says. "It's not the science. I think it's my own issues around her developing sexually''". "Studies done before widespread HPV vaccination show that by the time they're 15, nearly 10 percent of American girls are infected with HPV. By age 17, that has doubled to nearly 20 percent". Also discusses Dr Diane Harper's thoughts on the issues.
Questioning Whether To Get Your Child the HPV Vaccine? Read This
— Shot of Prevention blog, 21 Jan 2016
Talks about some of the issues around HPV and vaccines against it, including the misconception that the infection can only be acquired through sexual intercourse, describes the testing and monitoring regime for assessing and assuring the vaccine's safety and list some of the large-scale studies looking for possible adverse effects including blood clots, autoimmune diseases, multiple sclerosis etc.
The HPV Vaccine Doesn’t Deserve Its Reputation. Get It for Your Kids LifeHacker, 18/12/2015
Discussion of medical and social issues around HPV vaccines with references to studies.
What HPV Took: Stephanie’s story
A woman who was born too early to receive the HPV vaccine recounts her ordeals dealing with the effects of HPV strain 16 and 18 infections, resulting ultimately in her losing her womb.
Prevalence of HPV After Introduction of the Vaccination Program in the United States
Markowitz et al, Pediatrics, Mar 2016
Study examining prevalance of HPV infections in vaccinated girls and young women.
Vaccine halves cancer-causing HPV infections in US teen girls
Report based on the Markowits study above.
Inadvisable anti-vaccination sentiment: Human Papilloma Virus immunisation falsely under the microscope
Discussion in Nature NPJ Vaccines journal rebutting claims made about the safety of the HPV vaccine, which were based on poor-quality studies and misleadingly claimed to be endorsed by the Nordic Cochrane Centre.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is not a vaccine but some people who distrust vaccines through fears of "Big Pharma" etc feel similarly about Vitamin K, which is given to new-born babies to protect against heamorrhages in the brain and gastro-intestinal tract.

Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding
CDC page with links to resources on Vitamin K and Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB)
Babies hemorrhage after parents refuse vitamin K shots — USA Today, 31st August 2013
Article about concerns aroused by normally rare brain hemorrhages and intestinal bleeding in babies linked to parent's refusal to have their babies given Vitamin K injections.
Judah's story — CDC website, 1st April 2014
One mother's story of how her fifth child suffered two brain haemorrhages believed to have been caused by Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding.

Andrew Wakefield and MMR-Autism controversy

MMR vaccine controversy — Wikipedia
Wikipedia article on the controversies around the MMR vaccine including use of Urabe versus Jeryl Lynn strains of the mumps vaccine.
The media’s MMR hoax — Ben Goldacre
Goldacre examines the role of the media in building up the MMR-Autism story.
The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud T. S. Sathyanarayana Rao and Chittaranjan Andrade, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Apr-Jun 2011
A brief paper reviewing the facts and implications of the Wakefield affair, with numerous references.
Andrew Wakefield and the MMR-autism fraudBrian Deer
Summary (written by Deer in the third person) of Deer's investigation for The Sunday Times, Channel 4 and the British Medical Journal of Wakefield's part in the MMR-Autism scare.
Sunday Times and BMJ reports — Brian Deer
List of Deer's Sunday Times articles on Wakefield
How the vaccine crisis was meant to make money — Brian Deer
Deer's article in British Medical Journal (with references)
Wakefield filed for a patent on vaccine products before unleashing MMR crisis — Brian Deer
Deer's article regarding Wakefield's application for a patent for his own Measles vaccine

Other work by Andrew Wakefield

What has Andy Wakefield done for science? "The Mad Virologist", 29 Dec 2016
Describes Wakefield's manipulation of qPCR analysis in a 2002 paper "Potential viral pathogenic mechanism for new variant inflammatory bowel disease".

VAXXED: film by Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree and others

Vaxxed: an expert view on controversial film about vaccines and autism — Jessica Glenza, The Guardian, 2 Apr 2016
Interview with Dr Philip LaRussa, professor of pediatric medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, who He specializes in infectious diseases and immunization and recently served on the National Vaccine Advisory Committee for the US federal government. The interview addresses how the film addressed the supposed link between vaccines and autism, what side effects of vaccines are documented and the likely impacts of the film.
Reviewing Andrew Wakefield’s VAXXED: Antivaccine propaganda at its most perniciousDavid Gorski, Science Based Medicine, 11 Jul 2016
Comprehensive (and trenchant) criticism of various aspects of VAXXED.
#Vaxxed, reviewed: What happened inside the movie Colin; 13 June 2016
#Vaxxed, reviewed: What happened outside of the movie. Jennifer Raff; 13 June 2016

Responses to Anti-Vaccine claims

Those Lists of Papers Claiming That Vaccines Cause Autism: They Don't Show What They Claim: parts 1, 2, 3, 4
Examination of a list of scientific papers being circulated by anti-vaccine campaigners claiming to show evidence of links between vaccines and autism.
Natural News has a list of what it claims are "The 21 curious questions we're never allowed to ask about vaccines"
Liz Ditz has a post in which she answers these questions, and in a discussion on the Vaccine Information Awareness facebook group several contributors also responded to these claims with copious scientific references.

Opinion pieces

Are single vaccines safer than the MMR jab? — Sense About Science
Discusses how safe single vaccines are compared to MMR and other issues with single versus combined vaccines.
Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination — Sense About Science
Discussion of the medical and policy arguments around single vaccines rather than combined MMR. Also explains how poor uptake of Rubella (German Measles) vaccination can be worse than no vaccination for the disease.
Selfish anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists putting Australia at risk — Claire Harvey; Daily Telegraph (Australia)
Subtitled "My body's a deadly weapon. So is yours." Claire Harvey explains how she came to realise that being vaccinated against flu helps protect people with cancers, the old and the sick, who are far for vulnerable than herself, and how she will rely on community immunity to protect the baby she is expecting from potentially lethal diseases during the months her new-born is too young to be vaccinated.
Series of articles about flu in Australian/UK online magazine The Conversation


Meet the Families — (from the makers of the documentary Jabbed)
The stories of people who have died or been injured both by vaccines and by vaccine-preventable diseases.
Please Help Me Keep My Children Healthy — Sonia Bychkov Green
The mother of four boys with compromised immune systems who are more vulnerable than most children to diseases and unable to benefit from vaccination explains why her children depend on community immunity for protection from infections.
Highlighting community immunisation — Mid Devon Dvertiser
A mother in Totnes talk of the danger posed by diseases like measles to her 3-year old son who has had a liver transplant and is vulnerable to infections.
Unvaccinated children risked life of young cancer survivor — JANE HANSEN, The Sunday Telegraph (Australia)
Story of how a 14-year-old boy who is currently in remission from cancer is at risk from unvaccinated children.
This is my son Griffin, and he may have measles ...
A mother who had suffered the death of her 5 year old daughter three years previously discovered that her newborn baby had been exposed to measles by another, unknown, visitor to her doctor's office, writes expressing her anguish and her anger at those who she thinks may have endangered her child.
A later story in the Toronto Star reports that her baby escaped the disease.
147 Kids Died From Flu Last Year. My Scarlet Was One of Them.
A mother talks about the death of her 5-year old daughter from flu.
A Parent's Decision on Immunization: Making the Right Choice — Suzanne Walther; Pediatrics
A mother describes her problems obtaining accurate information on the risks of vaccines and diseases, and the effect it had on the health of one of her children.
Before Vaccines — Dorit Reiss
Blog carrying accounts of diseases and their effects on people before vaccines were available.
What CRS really means for families — Measles and Rubella Initiative
Story of a Thai family and their daughter, born disabled by Congenital Rubella Syndrome
Grieving parents speak out against anti-vaccination extremists Jane Hansen — The Telegraph (Australia)
How parents of children killed by vaccine-preventable diseases and who have spoken publicly in favour of vaccination have been subject to abuse by anti-vaccine campaigners.
Switching Sides: From Anti-Vaccine to Pro Nicole, The Immunization Partnership blog, 15 Jan 2015
A mother who was anti-vaccines describes what she learned in training for nursing school about vaccines and childhood diseases and changed her mind.
Facts Are Your Friends — Vaccinate Your Children
Actress Kristen Bell describes the difficulty of deciding whether or not to vaccinate her children and shares what she found out about vaccines.
A Change of Heart
Vancouver's Tyson and Dawn Wozniak tell their story about how, as "natural parents," they decided not vaccinate their first child. Upon having their second child, however they began to do more research and subsequently had "A Change of Heart".
Buckland, Massachusetts and the Psychology of Epidemic Disease — Kate Corbett Pollack; American Pomeroy Historic Genealogical Association
Pollack, drawing on a collection of 144 early 19th century letters written by four generations of women from 1800-1850, describes details of what life was like in an epidemic-disease ravaged western Massachusetts village during a time when death, and the loss of children to disease, was a constant presence.
Why I wish my daughter had been vaccinated — Sophie Heawood, Guardian "Comment is Free"
"I wasn't a completely barefoot do-gooding type by any stretch of the imagination, but I breastfed, and read a lot of alternative health forums online that left me convinced we had become too over-protective. It was good for children to catch diseases naturally and fight them off by themselves. My baby would build up a strong immune system all of her own, not have it interfered with by some paranoid government programme that seemed to involve pumping metals into her blood. That was, until she caught pertussis – which turns out to mean whooping cough. Which turns out to mean months of pain."
MMR and Autism – Our Story
The mother of a toddler who was, she says, Autistic before he had his MMR vaccinations criticises graduate of the "University of Google" who blame Autism on vaccines, and those who subject Autistic children to unproven or even life-threatening procedures such as Chelation.
Chris adds his voice to vaccination debate — Bay Post (NSW, Australia)
The parents of a 21-year-old who has received a bone marrow transplant talk of the dangers he faces from infection and the threat he faces from unvaccinated people.
Meningococcal: Stalker of our young.
A 14 year old who died of Meningitis.


A doctor recalls working on the Infectious Diseases ward of a children's hospital during a measles epidemic and seeing desperately ill children including one who contracted measles encephalitis and suffered permanent brain damage, and another who died; and others who suffered deafness, brain damage or died from HIB meningitis before a more effective vaccine was available for that.
Measles: A dangerous illness, by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl's account of how his daughter Olivia died of encephalitis caused by measles, in the days before a vaccine was available.

Measles - SSPE

Measles carries risk of a terrifying, always-fatal and rare complication
Account of a child who suffered Measles as a baby and appeared to recover but years later started showing the symptoms of SSPE and died. The mother of another child dying of SSPE writes "My child is dying because someone who chose not to be immunized exposed my vulnerable baby, and nothing can be done to save him".
SSPE - a serious complication of measles
Sarah Walton caught measles when she was 11 months old, and at the time recovered well. Twenty years later, however, she fell ill and was diagnosed with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). SSPE is a persistent viral infection, a rare but devastating complication of measles which leads to a progressive destruction of the central nervous system. It causes dementia, loss of motor control, epilepsy and eventually death. In this video Sarah's mother Jo talks about the impact that SSPE has had on Sarah and the people around her.

Whooping Cough (Pertussis)

Video of the last days of a baby dying of whooping cough
The baby's parents made this public to urge that all pregnant women be offered booster vaccines.
Surviving a nightmare all parents dread — DANIELA ONGARO, The Sunday Telegraph (Australia)
Account of whooping cough's effects on a 2-year old.

Chicken Pox

When the Good Die Young: How Chicken Pox Took Jesse
A 10 year old who died of Chicken Pox in 2001
Not Just a Harmless Childhood Disease
A woman whose younger sister died of chickenpox when she was a child writes of their family's bereavement, and her astonishment to find that there are nowadays parents who want their unimmunised children to get the disease and organise "pox parties" to infect each others' children.


The Flood Twins’ Story — Janice Flood Nichols
Janice describes life in the early 1950s, before many of the vaccines available today, and how her twin brother died of polio whilst she survived the disease.
Twin Voices: A Memoir of Polio, the Forgotten Killer — Janice Flood Nicholls
More on Jan Nichols' book about polio.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind — Jan Nichols
Another account by Jan Nichols of her brother's death and her own grave illness from polio. Also describes how her careful parents ensured she caught rubella (German Measles) as a child rather than as an adult, and the other diseases that were considered rites of passage at the time.
Faces of Polio: 60 years after vaccine, crippling disease and survivors' memories linger
Stories - some harrowing - of children who suffered polio in the years before the vaccines.


True Story: Living History, Vaccines, and a Plea — Dr. Natasha Burgert, a paediatrician in Kansas City
An account by an old woman of the effect the threat of diphtheria had on her family and herself when she was young.

Anti- and pro-vaccine organisations

(Listed in this order because most pro-vaccine groups' raisons d'etre is opposing anti-vaccine campaigning.)


The site describes itself as having been started in 2009 by Jeffry John Aufderheide, a former US Navy swimmer, who claims that his son was damaged by vaccines.
Think Twice Global Vaccine Institute
Think Twice seems to be associated with the "New Atlantean Press" which offers books on Clairvoyance, promotes the homebirth services of the troubled Dr. Mayer Eisenstein and the "Vaccine Safety Manual" by Think Twice director Neil Z Miller. Although Think Twice claims to "encourage[] an uncensored exchange of vaccine information" it seems to carry only anti-vaccine opinions — albeit not all as extreme as some anti-vaccine groups.
The Truth About Vaccines
A facebook page (descibed as a "non-profit organisation"; has a link to accept donations via BitCoin). Carries links to articles and memes claiming various conspiracies around vaccines, genetically modified organisms and alternative medicine, with some comments.
Alternative-Doctor.com — Vaccination Pages
The site of Keith Scott-Mumby, a conventionally-trained doctor who seems not to have practiced medicine after qualifying but to have "almost immediately jumped the fence into controversial alternatives" and now publishes books on food allergies and nutrition and is medical advisor to the magazine "What Doctors Don't Tell You".
Site run by Sallie O. Elkordy (also on facebook) who seems to be running for public office in New York on a Ban All Vaccines platform.


The Poxes Blog
An anonymous blog about "what would happen if the anti-vaccine forces in this world were to succeed. Inspired by a colleague of [the author's] who blogged a lot about public health but was told not to do so, [the author] decided to become his voice online and blog about the anti-vaccine and anti-science groups and individuals who are making our world a dangerous place".
Voices for Vaccines
A "parent-driven organization supported by scientists, doctors, and public health officials that provides parents clear, science-based information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease" -- also has a facebook page
Vaccine Information Awareness
This is a facebook group, i.e. a forum to which all members can contribute new posts as well as commenting on existing threads. It describes itself as a being "dedicated to discussing the science and facts behind vaccines" and "[a] place for people to come and have a discussion and get good information about vaccines". It asks contributors to "be sure to back up all your claims with references" and to "Please keep the conversation civil", and the group does seem to generally feature well-referenced information presented in a civil manner.
Informed Parents of Vaccinated Chidren
This is a facebook community (or page) on which only the administrator(s) can make new publicly-visible posts but members can contribute to existing threads. The page carries a number of articles based on reliable scientific sources, with a little discussion.
Respectful Insolence — Orac (Dr David Gorski)
Gorski/Orac frequently comments on the anti-vaccine movement.
Meet the New, Dangerous Fringe of the Anti-Vaccination Movement
Interesting account of pro- and anti-vaccine groups, particularly in California

Understanding Science

“But a Study has Shown …” — Michael Edmonds
Short article about understanding what scientific studies tell us.
The hierarchy of evidence: Is the study’s design robust? — The Logic Of Science blog, 12 Jan 2016
Explains the difference between types of scientific studies, from case studies to randomised controlled trials, and how reliable they are as sources of evidence.
The genetic fallacy: When is it okay to criticize a source? — The Logic Of Science blog, 18 Jan 2016
Explains the difference between whether a particular source of information is relaible and trustworthy, and whether a particular piece of information is accurate and correct.
What Do Scientific Studies Show? — Gary Gutting, The New York Times, 25 April 2013

Communication and Psychology

Anti-Vaccine Tweets Spread Faster Than Pro-Vaccine MessagesSmithsonian Institution's Smart News blog
Discusses a study showing how anti-vaccine sentiments spread faster than pro-vaccine sentiments on twitter.
Just one little jab — Kate Hagan; The Age
Discussion of parents' concerns about vaccines and factors that influence whether or not they choose to vaccinate their children.


The Vaccine Hoax Is Over

The Vaccine Hoax Is Over

As a facebook user with a number of friends who are into alternative medicine I get to see a range of anti-vaccine material: this "Vaccine Hoax Is Over" infographic is a particularly fine example.

The first sentence presumably refers to a Freedom Of Information Act request, but what was the request? What agency was it addressed to? And what exactly was their response?

On the principle that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence if someone tells me a FOI request elicited an admission that, say, a Pertussis vaccine was only 70% effective we might take that on trust (we know there may be problems with the efficacy of this vaccine). But claiming they got a letter saying "OK we admit it, the vaccines don't work and they cause the diseases they are supposed to prevent and they're endangering children and we've been lying to you about it for 30 years and stopping anybody finding out about it, yours sincerely, the British Government" ... I mean, seriously?!!

What about the rest of the infographic? "Shaken Baby Syndrome, Chronic Ear Infections, Death, SIDS, Seizures, ADD, Allergies, Asthma, Autism, Diabetes, Meningitis and polio are caused by adverse reactions to vaccine poisons". But this extraordinary list of claims is not backed up by even one shred of actual evidence! They can all be checked (and the more plausible ones have been) by comparing rates of the claimed diseases between vaccinated and unvaccinated children but there's one that's glaringly obvious to us all: if polio is caused by the vaccine that is routinely given to most children then where are the children in leg-braces and wheelchairs, and the hospital wards full of children in iron lungs?

This is typical of anti-vaccination posters: others going around assert that vaccines contain anti-freeze, monosodium glutamate, animal DNA, animal blood, animal viruses, phenol and more — presenting absolutely no evidence to back up their claims. The Truth About Vaccines facebook page (where I found this graphic) has hundreds more, of which only around 1 in 20 (of the first few dozen I checked) has references to any actual scientific evidence (although many have links to a DVD from the "Homesteading and Survivalism Store" and a book by a non-medical-scientist anti-vaccination campaigner, and some to Natural News and whale.to).

Practical limits to conspiracies

David Robert Grimes, a scientist who studies conspiracy theories, has published a paper "On the Viability of Conspiratorial Beliefs" describing his mathematical model of how long conspiracies are liable to remain intact given the number of people involved and how trustworthy they are. He bases his estimates of the variable factors on the real-life conspiracies involved in the NSA "PRISM" affair revealed by Edward Snowden, the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment and a scandal involving FBI forensic "experts". Scientist and skeptic Steven Novella has written an accessible commentary on Grimes' paper.

Bad Pharma

Whatever our political leanings, everyone is basically a socialist when it comes to healthcare: we all feel nervous about profit taking any role in the caring professions, but that feeling has nowhere to go. Big pharma is evil: I would agree with that premise. But because people don’t understand exactly how big pharma is evil, their anger and indignation get diverted away from valid criticisms—its role in distorting data, for example, or withholding life-saving AIDS drugs from the developing world—and channelled into infantile fantasies. ‘Big pharma is evil,’ goes the line of reasoning, ‘therefore homeopathy works and the MMR vaccine causes autism.’ This is probably not helpful.

— Ben Goldacre, "Bad Science"

There are people who would not even consider reading Ben Goldacre's "Bad Science" — or, if they did, would not get far through it — because, thanks to the detailed, scathing analysis of the failings of "complementary" or "alternative" medicine with which he starts the book, they have marked him down as an apologist for Big Pharma. They are missing out: Goldacre's critique of CAM is just a warm-up for his equally scathing analysis of Big Pharma. And even that is just a trailer for the thorough takedown of the faults of the industry and all connected with it that is his second book "Bad Pharma". Bad Science is a good introduction to thinking critically — in a scientific way — in general, and especially about health and medicine. Bad Pharma is salutary reading for anyone who has any dealings with "conventional" medicine. A review: Bad Pharma: A Manifesto to Fix the Pharmaceutical Industry by Scott Gavura gives an good overview of Goldacre's book.

Judging Character

Richard M Nixon
John F Kennedy

The classic demonstration of how we are collectively bad at judging the character of public figures was the debates between the candidates for the 1960 US presidential election: John F Kennedy and Richard M Nixon. The debates were broadcast live on radio, and on TV which was still then a novelty which not everybody yet had. The radio audiences judged Nixon favourably but on television the handsome, clean-cut Kennedy was judged more convincing than the sweating, shifty-looking Nixon.

Psychological studies have confirmed that, for example, more attractive defendants in court are less likely to be found guilty.

Even if we close our eyes to appearances we are swayed by the way people speak: their tone of voice, their accent, their fluency or hesitancy.

And even if we avoid that bias we are influenced by their choice of words: rhetoric or what has been dubbed "sleight of mouth". Anyone who has seen Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" will most likely have been entirely persuaded by the case Shylock presents in court appealing to notions of justice, and then just as firmly convinced by Portia's opposing "the quality of mercy is not strained" speech.

Known Side-effects of Vaccines

Many vaccines produce short-term non-life-threatening side effects such as swelling and soreness around the point of an injection, rash, fever or aches. The whole-cell Pertussis vaccine was particularly noted for this: around half of all children got quite unpleasant side-effects from it. (The newer acellular vaccine — used in the DTaP and Tdap combined vaccines — produces much milder and rarer side-effects.)

Another common reaction is fainting, either immediately before or after vaccination. A far less common but much more serious effect is an anaphylactic response — like that of people allergic to nuts or insect bites. These risks are known and prepared for by the medical profession.

According to the data sheet for the MMR vaccine "encephalitis and encephalopathy, occurring within 30 days after vaccination, have been temporally associated with measles vaccine very rarely" but since some cases of encephalitis occur naturally anyway it's not possible to say how many are caused by the vaccine, although some probably are. However these complications occur far more frequently as a result of measles itself so although the vaccine causes a few cases it prevents far more.

The data sheet also notes that subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) has been reported in children who were vaccinated but were not known to have caught actual "wild" measles, and that some of these could have resulted from the vaccination but some might have been due to the child having actually had measles as a baby but it not having been recognised as such. There is about one case of SSPE for every million doses of vaccine distributed. Although, given the number of vaccinations given, this represents a tragic toll of vaccine-injury casualties the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the overall effect of measles vaccination is nevertheless to reduce the number of children injured because the risk of getting SSPE is significantly higher from measles itself.

Another rare but potentially fatal side-effect is measles inclusion body encephalitis (MIBE). A report on the death of a toddler from this disease in Canada in 1999 is here.

Another severe but rare side-effect with the combined MMR vaccine is aseptic meningitis. This was known to be an issue with the "Urabe" strain of mumps vaccine that used to be used, but is not known to happen with the "Jeryl Lynn" version of the vaccine.

Other vaccines also have known side-effects of various severities.


Official figures show "Autism Spectrum Disorders" have been increasing steadily over the years. Surely something serious must be going on to cause that?

The term "Autism" was only coined in its modern meaning in 1943 but there is evidence of people we'd now call Autistic from centuries ago so it doesn't seem that Autism/ASDs have only arisen recently. (The remarkable work of Samuel Howe suggests the condition was prevalent, although un-named, in the mid-19th Century.) It's unknown whether the apparent increase in Autism/ASDs represents an actual increase or changes or improvements in diagnosis e.g. where it is a diagosis given to some people who would in earlier times have been classed as "mentally retarded" or "mentally subnormal". It may also be that some people are being diagnosed "ASD" who would not have been diagnosed as anything before: we certainly seem to be diagnosing disorders such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalcula etc that are probably not new but didn't have any formal diagnostic label before.

If autism — especially severe autism — is not recent, where are all the autistic 60, 70 and 80 year olds? The answer, sadly, horrifically and outrageously is, as autistic disability rights activist Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg reports (based on Fred Pelka’s book "What We Have Done: An Oral History of the Disability Rights Movement"), that the autistic children of former generations were locked away in institutions of such degradation, inhumanity and abuse that few survived into old age.

Andrew Wakefield

Andrew Wakefield was a researcher in gastroenterology at the London Free Hospital when, in February 1998, he published a paper in The Lancet describing the cases of 12 children said to have "chronic enterocolitis and regressive developmental disorder". In 8 of the 12 cases the children's parents said the onset of their child's developmental problems coincided with MMR vaccinations, in one other case with Measles itself and in another case with a middle-ear infection. Wakefield seems to have previously conceived the idea of a link between MMR and Crohn's Disease and extended that to a connection with Autism, and to have been encouraging the referral of children with both developmental disorders and intestinal problems (the speciality of his group at the Royal Free) to him for study. Wakefield's study involved a very small number of children and — even at face value — provided only the most tenous link to MMR (the reports by 8 of the 12 children's parents that onset of developmental symptoms co-incided with MMR vaccinations) with no clinical evidence being offered for links.

Despite the extreme limitations of the initial study, and with no new evidence to support his idea, Wakefield went on in 2001 to question the vaccination programme and again claim a connection between measles (implicating the MMR vaccine), bowel disorders and Autism. The media took up Wakefield's claims and — ignoring the dearth of evidence for them — blew it up into a sky-falling-in scare story.

Some years later investigative journalist Brian Deer reported that at the time of the 1998 Lancet paper Wakefield was being paid by solicitor Richard Barr, a director of the Society of Homeopaths who was acting for the "support group for vaccine damaged children" JABS and was organising children to be referred to Wakefield in order to obtain evidence to enable parents to sue vaccine manufacturers. A Freedom Of Information request revealed that Wakefield received over £400,000 from the Legal Aid board for this. Deer also claimed that Wakefield had filed a patent for an alternative vaccine to MMR and that he was starting a company to exploit the commercial possibilities which he predicted would make several million pounds a year.

It also transpired that Wakefield had callously and unethically exploited the sick, disabled children in his study in medical experiments conducted, not for the purposes of their care but in pursuit of his "research", subjecting them to anaesthesia, lumbar puncture tubes inserted into their spines, exposure to radiation, and anal endoscopy probes — a procedure that permanently injured and nearly killed one child.

In an interview with Dr Joe Mercola Wakefield justifies his own position and rejects Deer's work on the grounds that Deer has no medical training. However there seems no reason one needs medical training to discover, as Deer did, Wakefield's patent application or his relationship with Barr or many of Deer's other revelations. Wakefield also suggets that the General Medical Council's investigations and findings against him were the result of a shadowy plot by Big Pharma to discredit his work, and that the Lancet's retraction of his paper was engineered by drug company GSK through connections with the Lancet's publisher Elsevier. He alleges conflicts of interest and profit motivation in others whilst not addressing his obvious interest in the financial possibilities of his own vaccine. He also refers to the civil servant whistle blower (who entrusted him with information on the safety of the Urabe-strain MMR vaccine initially used in the UK) without mentioning that he later threatened to, and then actually did betray the identity of his source.

The Wakefield affair does seems to have involved an Establishment Cover-Up: when Deer presented his findings to The Lancet they invited Wakefield and his colleagues to investigate themselves. Unsurprisingly they found themselves blameless of any wrongdoing. It was not until the General Medical Council eventually stepped in to investigate that Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine, and the Lancet retracted the discredited article.

Autism rates as MMR vaccine withdrawn

Autism rates as MMR vaccine withdrawn

To the present day there are people (including Wakefield himself) who claim that he was right and that the UK government and the medical establishment conspired to cover up the "truth" about MMR causing Autism. Meanwhile many researchers around the world have examined the evidence for an MMR-Autism link (or links between Autism and the preservative Thimerosal which was once used in vaccines in the US and other countries) and report that they find no connection. For example in Japan the MMR vaccine was withdrawn but Autism and ASDs continued to rise.

Autism occurring immediately after vaccination by chance

In the US about 10 children in every 1,000 (or 1 in 100) are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. This includes relatively mild, "high functioning" types such as Aspergers so let's assume just 1 in 100 of those children has an ASD severe enough that it would show up dramatically and rapidly within a day or so. (So that's 1 in 100 of Autistic/ASD children, who are 1 in 100 of all children, so our dramatic, rapidly-showing-up Autistic kids are 1 in 10,000 of all children.) Most severe Autism shows up in the first few years of a child's life: let's consider the first 6 years, which is just over 2,000 days. If there's no connection between vaccination and autism then the chance of any given child turning out to be Autistic and having symptoms that show up dramatically and rapidly within a day of vaccination is 1 in 10,000 times 1 in 2,000 which is 1 in 20 million.

That seems like such a vanishingly small chance that if a child shows symptoms of autism within 24 hours of a vaccination they must be connected!

But there are over 300 million people in the US. Over 70 million are children, most of whom have been vaccinated. So even if there's no connection between autism and vaccination that one in 20 million odds will result in 3 or 4 children showing the first sign of profound autism in the 24 hours after they were vaccinated, purely by chance. In the UK and US children may have 5 or 6 vaccinations by the time they're 6, so we'd expect — purely by chance — around 20 children whose autism shows up dramatically and rapidly in the day after they were vaccinated. If that happened to your child it would be hard not to suspect that the two must be connected. Supposing one in ten such parents are convinced there's a connection and talk about it online or on radio or TV shows etc: we then have 2 publicised instances of a vaccination-autism connection even though the connection is pure coincidence. There will also be around 200 children whose autism shows up in the 10 days after a vaccination. Some parents will think there's a connection there, too. Probably not as many as those whose children showed autism in the 24 hours after vaccination: let's say maybe only 1 in 100. That leads to another 20 parents going public on a supposed link. Some parents whose children's autism shows up weeks or months later will think it's connected to vaccination: that could add another 20 or so bringing the number of US parents who are convinced their children's autism was caused by a recent vaccination to getting on for 60. If we add in the UK, Australia and other parts of the English-speaking world, and many more from other countries (the internet is no respecter of national boundaries) we could have hundreds of cases that we can hear of via the internet where parents assert that their child's autism was caused by vaccination even though in reality it was just coincidence. And there may be children whose Autism shows up more slowly and less dramatically some weeks or months after a vaccination whose parents think there's a link, especially as publicity spreads the idea of such a link: parents who, in past years, might not have thought of associating their child's autism with a vaccination some days, weeks or months previously nowadays may be much more likely to think they are connected and talk about it.

Mercury: Thimerosal/Thiomersol

Mercury is quite poisonous and the amounts found in fish like Tuna and other seafood (including that used in Sushi) can be toxic if one eats too much of them; pregnant women are advised to be particularly careful how much they eat. The amount of mercury in the Thimerosal (also known as Thiomersal) preservative sometimes used in vaccines is minute and is in the form of ethylmercury. Ethylmercury is much less toxic than methylmercury (which was responsible for Mercury poisoning at Minamata Bay in Japan in the 1950s and 60s, and in Iraq in the 1970s). It seems that if the ethyl version used in vaccines were as toxic as the methyl type then the amount given to babies in their first 6 months could be a cause for concern and, although there was no evidence of harm actually occurring, health authorities had this preservative removed from most vaccines in the US in 2001 on the precautionary principle. Since then it has been possible to compare the rate of autism and other illnesses with rates for children who received the earlier vaccines, which has established that the Thimerosal did not cause autism or other problems.


Aluminium salts are used in some vaccines. Concerns are sometimes expressed that this could involve a risk of causing Alzheimer's disease or other damage. It seems there isn't a proven link between Alzheimer's and aluminium but in any case the quantities of aluminium in vaccines are so small (much lower than found in infant formula milk for example) that no harm from it is probable. A systematic review of aluminium salts in vaccines showed "no evidence that aluminium salts in vaccines cause any serious or long-lasting adverse events".(Systematic reviews aggregate together the best research in a field and are regarded by medical researchers as the 'gold standard' for reliable understanding of a subject.)


With formaldehyde it's similar. The amounts found in vaccines are minute and less than those occurring naturally in the body as a result of normal metabolic processes. Red blood cells (erythrocytes) break down formaldehyde in blood in a matter of minutes, halving the amount of formaldehyde present in about 90 seconds, and the human body makes more than 50,000 mg of formaldehyde per day of which the liver can metabolises 22 mg per minute!

There is more on the ingredients of vaccines here, and biologist Iida Ruishalme has written a series of articles discussing Mercury, Aluminum and Formaldehyde and their use in vaccines.

Polio and Measles

Polio still exists in Pakistan due to opposition to vaccination from the Taliban (which was not helped by the US using a local doctor carrying out vaccinations to infiltrate Osaba bin Laden's home in order to assassinate him). In Nigeria there was until recently opposition from Islamic groups who claimed the vaccine was a US plot to spread AIDS and/or infertility to the Islamic world; the Nigerian strain of Polio subsequently spread to the Yemen and Indonesia.

Measles is kept alive in the developed world largely by non-vaccination due to the MMR-Autism scare and other anti-vaccination fears.

Alternative Medicine

I'm not knocking "alt med" people personally: I know homeopaths, chiropractors, herbalists, acupuncturists and others who are lovely people and I'm sure honestly and sincerely believe that what they do works and that they are helping people. But I'm pretty sure the know-it-all doctors of my youth were equally honest and sincere, regardless of whether they were right or wrong. Many of us, especially those in positions of authority or expertise, tend to over-estimate our abilities: old-school doctors were a classic example of this. But whilst the attitude of doctors seems to be becoming generally less arrogant than their forebears — I've several times had my doctors express uncertainty about the treatments they're offering, or even whether there's anything they can do for me — ironically it seems to be the alt-med practitioners who are more afflicted with the God Complex these days, refusing to entertain any doubt about what they are doing — like the homeopath who claimed to be able to cure vaccine-preventable diseases if our child should catch them (which even the homeopaths' professional bodies acknowledge they can't do), others who claim to cure cancers, diabetes, epilepsy, heart diseases and multiple sclerosis and to protect against malaria and provide an alternative to vaccines and even protect against polio, tetanus and diphtheria, and chiropractors claiming to treat "everything from haemorrhoids to hair loss, chlamydia to cancer"

Picking Apart Science

Ben Goldacre, in the introduction to his book “I think you'll find it is a bit more complicated than that”, describes the scientific process thus:

you present your idea, you present your evidence, and we all take turns to try and pull them both apart. This process of close critical appraisal isn’t something we tolerate reluctantly, in science, with a grudge: far from it. Criticism and close examination of evidence is actively welcomed – it is the absolute core of the process – because ideas only exist to be pulled apart, and this is how we spiral in on the truth.

Conspiracy Theories

Natural News also embraces many other conspiracy theories (not to mention right-wing pro-gun 'libertarianism') and seems to live in a world where people never die of cancer but only of the treatment they were receiving for it. Which has a strange internal logic of its own (since most people who do die of cancer were receiving treatment for it) as long as one ignores the huge and increasing number of people whose treatment results in their surviving their cancers and going on to live healthy normal lives!

whale.to is the British Eccentric (it is apparently run by a Herefordshire pig farmer) to Natural News' American survivalist/truther. It embraces a comprehensive compendium of conspiracy theories from mind control through covert genocide to our reptilian overlords, taking in the notorious anti-semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion forgery.

Mercola by comparison seems to be more business-orinted, selling a range of supplements and products for the worried well at eye-watering prices.

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