The research is not out on this one. In fact, it never was.
Vaccination is pretty much the atomic bomb of hot-button issues when it comes to parenting. Trying to sway parents with an opposing viewpoint is like trying to talk a drunk mate out of eating a kebab – likely to end poorly.
It’s a topic that can cost parents friends, and even some family members, if they come down on the wrong side of the argument.
And just so we’re all clear from the get-go about this issue: we are pro-vaccination. There is no excuse not to get your kids vaccinated – because 99.9% of the arguments you see in the media, or memes you see on Facebook about the potential risks and links with everything from epilepsy to autism, are nonsense.
Getting your kid vaccinated is not dangerous, listening to Pauline Hanson is. That being the case, if you’re still unsure, here’s 5 reasons that should settle it once and for all.
1. That ‘research’ was bullshit
So let’s go back to the beginning of the hysteria surrounding this issue, for which we can thank one man: Dr Andrew Wakefield.
In 1998, Wakefield (along with a dozen colleagues) published a paper in the medical journal Lancet, which claimed that there was a link between the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, and autism.
It was a frightening revelation – until other doctors started to raise some concerns about the quality of the research. Two very important things about the paper emerged:
- Wakefield falsified the results of the research, so that it would appear that there was a link between MMR vaccines and autism.
- Wakefield’s research was paid for by a law firm that was looking to sue a vaccine manufacturer.
Let that sink in for a moment … before the despair of what he unleashed upon the world turns an ethically and morally bankrupt decision into an international, unmitigated disaster.
He lied. The research was a lie. And not a little ‘I was working late’ when you were really at the pub kind of lie. This is an ‘I totally didn’t pay someone whose gender was difficult to discern for a lap dance and a wristy last time I was in Thailand, despite any of the videos you’ve seen on the internet’ kind of lie.
Wakefield’s lie gave birth to the anti-vaxxer movement as we know it, and MMR vaccination rates plummeted.
Even when, in 2004, Wakefield’s colleagues withdrew their names from the report, and Lancet retracted the article, telling the scientific community of the fraud, it was too late.
And that’s despite the fact that Wakefield was stripped of his medical licence. Study after study, subsequently, found zero evidence to support any causal link between vaccines and autism.
But the proverbial genie was out of the bottle – and it all went to shit from there.
Theory after theory was put forward by anti-vaxxers – and theory after theory was disproven by existing or newly completed research. But that cycle of debunked theory after debunked theory has become a hallmark of the anti-vaccine mob.
2. Anti-vaxxers are making it up as they go
Time after time after time, the arguments that were put forward by the anti-vaccine campaigners have been shot down. However – instead of doing the rational thing when confronted with overwhelming evidence contrary to their beliefs, they simply shift the goalposts and start shouting again.
I’m probably missing a few of the steps here (because really, most of the time I’d rather put my face in a blender than keep up with these crazies), but over the years the argument has moved from a direct link between the MMR vaccine and autism, to the use of deactivated virus material in vaccines, to the presence of mercury in vaccines, to the presence of Thimerosal in vaccines, to yada yada yada…
In a way, the folks in the anti-vaccination movement are a lot like hardcore, fundamentalist religious nuts – they present some crackpot theory, such as “the Earth is only 6000 years old, so it’s possible Jesus killed the dinosaurs”, and even when shown irrefutable proof to the contrary, they ignore it and change their argument, claiming Satan planted the fossils there to trick us.
A few years back, I interviewed a guy called Seth Mnookin, an American journalist and author who set out to debunk the anti-vaccine myths. From my numerous conversations with him, I can tell you Seth is a smart guy – and, more importantly, a very good journalist.
He wrote a book called The Panic Virus – and it’s a brilliant piece of long-form journalism that bit-by-bit destroyed the prevailing arguments from the anti-vaxxer movement.
When I interviewed him (around the time when my wife and I were due to have our first-born vaccinated for the first time) I gave Seth the opportunity to respond to the fresh round of claims being made by the founder and leader of what was then known as the Australian Vaccination Network, Meryl Dorey.
Seth refused – simply on the basis that he’d already spent hours on the phone with Meryl, patiently debunking her arguments with actual, provable science. Every time he disproved one theory, the goal posts would move – and Meryl would simply make her argument about something entirely different.
For a number of years, Meryl was the go-to person to present the anti-vaccination message to the Australian media. Today Tonight and A Current Affair loved her.
As a guest on the show, she was ratings gold. Love her or hate her, she was a very loud voice.
But then things began to unravel. Her claims didn’t stack up (stay with me here, I’ll get to how they fell apart) – and the Australian media stopped calling. Meryl lost her status as a media darling, and took a step back – allowing a more moderate approach to prevail.
So the messaging from the Australian anti-vaxxer movement has softened over the past few years. A lot of the militancy has gone – replaced by a move in message from “vaccines are killing our kids” to “we’re all about providing information, because we’re pro-choice”.
(The irony of declaring themselves “pro-choice” in order to “stop killing children” has apparently been lost somewhere along the line.)
And the rhetoric has shifted from direct links between vaccines and specific diseases, to a more generic catch-all phrase, “vaccine injuries” – which we’ll also get back to in a little while.
Anyhow… claiming to be about arming parents with knowledge so they can make “informed choice” is dangerous at best, when the vast majority of the arguments they make are based on bad medical advice, bad science, and outright lies – something the anti-vaxxer movement has a long association with.
3. Vaccines aren’t dangerous – but anti-vaxxers are
Here’s where it all gets a very, very murky – but this is a very clear example of the kind of things the anti-vaccination believers were prepared to do in order to get their version of events into the minds of impressionable people, after their “scientific claims” turned out to be nonsense.
Get comfy – this is going to take some explaining, but it’s worth doing here so you can see how these people operate.
In 1999, a guy from Florida called Alan Yurko was convicted of killing his girlfriend’s 10-week-old son, by shaking him and beating him.
Yurko’s legal defence claimed that the injuries to the child were a result of vaccines he’d received in the weeks before his death – injuries which included subdural hematoma (bleeding inside his head) and four broken ribs.
Those are injuries entirely consistent with shaken baby syndrome.
Yurko was found guilty of murder, and given a life sentence plus ten years – with no chance of parole.
That didn’t stop the anti-vaccination folks from taking up his cause – including people here in Australia, who latched onto the case and made Yurko into an anti-vaccine martyr.
Think this through: the anti-vaccine campaigners somehow managed to build a link in their minds between severe, life-ending head trauma, four broken ribs, and being vaccinated.
Eventually, Yurko copped to a manslaughter charge. As of the time of writing this, he’s still in jail.
So there’s the backstory to this – but the kicker is how far the anti-vaccination campaigners went to paint a violent criminal as a martyr for their cause.
The timeline here is important. Wakefield’s corrupt and now-discredited research was released in 1998. Yurko was found guilty a year later – several years before the defence he relied upon was debunked.
But that didn’t stop the anti-vaxxers from linking Yurko’s killing of a 10-week-old child to vaccines.
That is the sort of thing they will stoop to. The kind of mental gymnastics required to take the murder of an infant and twist it to fit your own warped narrative is genuinely frightening.
Dead baby? Awesome! We’ll blame a bleeding brain and broken ribs on an injection! And because of the hysteria surrounding the topic, even that got traction.
It is f__king madness – but it still leads a lot of people to put pressure on those around them to stop vaccinating their kids.
4. Herd immunity saves the lives of unvaccinated kids
Peer pressure is known to cause all sorts of issues – from teenage drinking through to starting smoking and taking drugs.
That sort of pressure extends well beyond your teenage years – and in terms of parenting, peer pressure becomes a major factor on a whole host of issues. Add social media to the mix, it’s like turning the volume up to 11.
The internet is a wonderful thing – don’t get me wrong – but the one issue I have with it is that it allows crazy people to connect with each other far better than ever before.
When it comes to vaccinations, however, that sort of peer pressure not to vaccinate your kids tends to happen in regional clusters – and that’s when the wheels come off, based on the very core of how vaccination works.
In a perfect world, everyone would be vaccinated and a whole host of preventable diseases would be wiped out – simply because there would be no one susceptible to being infected.
In the non-perfect world we live in, where fewer than 100% of people are vaccinated, we rely on what’s known as “herd immunity” – where enough people are vaccinated that the risk of an outbreak is reduced to an absolute minimum.
For a disease like measles, herd immunity needs to be running at about a 95% community vaccination rate. Anything less than that, and the risk of your child getting measles goes up.
And here’s the thing about measles: According to the World Health Organisation, in 2015, 134,200 people died of the measles – most of them children who never got the chance to blow out five candles on a birthday cake.
In developed countries like Australia, 0.1-0.2% of cases result in death. Out of every 1000 people with measles, one or two will die. Remember this statistic – it becomes important later.
5. Life-threatening illness is the alternative
Here’s a video that every new parent should watch. It’s only two and a bit minutes long.
This is a child struggling to breathe because of a completely preventable disease. Doctors call it pertussis, because they like complicated names for stuff.
The rest of us know it as whooping cough – and it is a torturous experience for children.
Like measles, the mortality rate in Australia is quite low – but if you’re prepared to put your child through 4-8 weeks of what you’ve just watched, with the chance it’ll kill them because you’re afraid that a vaccine could harm them in some other way, then I urge you to watch the video again.
Full disclosure: the anti-vaxxers are correct when they say that there is a possibility that your child could end up with what they call a “vaccine injury” – which varies between “my child cried for a bit and got a fever” (a very common outcome) through to “that injection killed my child” (an extremely rare outcome).
The likelihood of your child dying if they contract measles is one in a thousand.
The likelihood of a vaccination harming your child in any way is, literally, one in a million.
To put that in perspective, statistically speaking, there’s a better chance you could convince your missus it’s okay for you to bang her sister than there is that a vaccine is going to harm your child.
And that’s talking about harming your child – not killing them. If we’re talking about vaccines killing kids, then statistically that’s about as likely as you winning a State of Origin match, by yourself, with a golf club wedged up your arse.
Having said that, even if the autism crap was true (and it is definitely not), being the father of a child who is on the autism spectrum, I know I would rather listen to my son prattle endlessly about Minecraft, or fidget spinners, than have to visit his grave because a misguided fear of vaccines meant he died of the measles.
Or that he, like 33% of boys who get the mumps, end up with shrunken balls.
Or that he ended up with a swollen brain, called encephalitis, which killed him because he got rubella.
We use vaccines to stop preventable diseases… and I will bet you dollars to donuts that the day someone invents a vaccine against cancer, a huge percentage of anti-vaxxers would be lined up around the block to get it.
And that brings me to my (almost) final point on this: It’s hugely important to remember that the adults in this situation aren’t taking risks with their own lives.
They’re putting their kids in harm’s way to make a point, which is based on lies and bad science, and fuelled by social media misinformation.
And that, gentlemen, is peak stupidity.
Extra special bonus: 95 more reasons to consider
I know this article is called “Five reasons vaccines aren’t dangerous” – but if I wasn’t convincing enough, here are 95 more reasons why you shouldn’t buy into the anti-vaxxer bullshit.
It was last updated in 2015 – but the person behind it (who wants to remain anonymous, “because of the vitriol and ad hominem assaults that tend to get hurled at people who take a public stand on these issues”) is using science, philosophy, rational thought and rational argument to fight a twisted agenda based on corrupt research, conspiracy theories and the madness of social media.