I just can’t quit the anti-vaccine fight

I’ve been trying to stay out of the battles online (and in person) with the anti-vaccine crowd. I really have tried, really hard. But they keep doing one dumb thing after another, and, thus, they drag me back. The latest round of dumb was to take a full page ad in a newspaper misdirecting people on the facts about the flu vaccine. Here’s a picture of the ad, a picture proudly displayed by the anti-vaccine organization that paid for it:

anti vaccine ad

Why, yes, a lot of people get a vaccine and then get sick… But not from the vaccine, only at a later time.

And here is my email to the editor of the newspaper:

I was very, very disappointed to learn that you accepted to run an advertisement for the National Vaccine Information Center, a known anti-vaccine organization. Why? Because I’m an infectious disease epidemiologist who has personally interviewed the families of children who died from influenza. CDC just conducted a study of over 800 confirmed pediatric deaths attributable to influenza. Most of those deaths occurred in unvaccinated children.

The NVIC advertisement, like many of their so-called “educational” materials propagate dangerous myths about vaccination. You accepting their money to post their advertisement is also dangerous. The flu vaccine, like all licensed vaccines, has an excellent safety record and is the most effective intervention against the yearly epidemics that we have. It may not be perfect, but it is certainly not as dangerous as NVIC and other anti-vaccine groups have made it out to be.

Please exercise better judgment in what advertisements you choose print in your newspaper. It is not an exaggeration to say that discouraging parents from vaccinating children at risk for complications of influenza is a matter of life and death. The same goes for pregnant women and other people at an increased risk of death from the complications of influenza.

Thank you for your time.

I’ve often wondered what drives anti-vaccine people and organizations to do things like this, to fight science and reason and reality so hard. Why spend all that money on, say, trips to the Cayman Islands? If vaccines are so dangerous that it requires such an investment, why are there seven plus billion of us and why is life expectancy in countries that vaccinate so much higher than life expectancy in countries that don’t?

Anti-vaccine groups will tell you that it’s hygiene or some other thing that has saved more lives than vaccines. Sure, hygiene does a lot, but diseases like measles, chickenpox, and meningitis are transmitted from person-to-person. You can have someone who washes their hand diligently still contract these ailments from the air. As we know, you can’t “wash” the air.


But you can wash in the open air. (Source)

Then there are those who wonder why I spend my time countering the claims of anti-vaccine groups. I had a boss at the health department who told me to treat them, the “anti-vaxxers,” like I would treat a religious zealot, someone who will not change their minds no matter what. The difference here is that I’m not trying to change the mind of the zealot. I am trying to clarify and even obstruct the message of the zealot to the unsuspecting public because it is a dangerous message. If their message of stopping vaccination succeeds, people will get sick and some of those people will die. Plain and simple.

That people who are not vaccinated (and those around them, from the lack of herd immunity) die or are otherwise injured is just one of those facts about life that I refuse to give up on. Like the fight against the shortcomings of the mental health system, the fight against anti-scientific messages that seek to discourage parents from vaccinating their children is going to be part of what I do for a very, very, very long time. I’m not doing it for fame, fortune, or recognition. I’m doing it because I’ve investigated deaths from influenza in children before, and I don’t wish that on anyone. Whatever little I can do to prevent that is worth pouring myself into it…

Within reason, of course. I still have a doctorate to work on.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

3 thoughts on “I just can’t quit the anti-vaccine fight

  1. Funny thing, last year, my eldest daughter, who is an RN, was vaccinated against influenza. She ended up contracting influenza.
    We had a chuckle over pure, dumb, bad luck. She still gets her vaccinations and will continue to do so.
    Eventually, the influenza vaccine will also be far more effective as well. Until then, the percentages aren’t the greatest, but they’re better than no vaccinating at all.

    As for the rest, I agree, save on one point.
    One *can* clean the air. It’s expensive as hell, but NASA does it onboard spacecraft, the US Navy does it on submarines.
    Of course, the rest of us live on the surface of the Earth, where such cleaning is beyond impractical.
    You know, the real world.
    Someplace foreign to antivaxers.

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    • I thought about that, too. But, like you said, not very practical. Though, I suppose we could have a law that says that physicians who are okay with not vaccinating (or delaying vaccination) must install one of those systems in their waiting rooms, lest their patients start outbreaks of measles and such.

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