The internet is awash in vaccine posts. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion, and wants you to see things from their point of view. Punt “vaccine myths and facts” into Google today and you will see over 700,000 hits. Of course, few of the so called “myths” are actually common myths. ‘Myths’ and the ‘facts’ are specifically chosen, with answers specifically designed to support each author’s position.
Forget myths. What vaccine facts are actually important? What vaccine questions are important? What answers are important?
This post presents some important questions about vaccines – as a test. Can you answer these questions? Check it out, move the cursor over the answer of your choice and see your results. Take note: like many multiple choice tests, exact wording can be very important.
1. What is the purpose of a vaccine?
|To create immunity to a disease ✓ To create immunity to a disease, Website: Wikipedia: “A vaccine is a biological preparation that provides acquired active immunity to a particular disease“|
|To help prevent disease ✓ To help prevent disease, Website: Vaccine manufacturer: “vaccines that may help reduce the risk of getting sick from potentially serious diseases, including whooping cough, hepatitis A and/or hepatitis B, and influenza“|
|To improve immunity to a disease. ✓ To improve immunity to a disease. Website: World Health Organization: “A vaccine is a biological preparation that improves immunity to a particular disease“|
2. How effective are vaccines?
|Very effective ✓ Very effective, Website: World Health Organization: “Vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious diseases. Only clean water, also considered to be a basic human right, performs better“|
|It’s difficult to measure ✓ It’s difficult to measure, Website: Medical Journal: “multiple sources of data and numerous studies are generally needed to establish vaccine effectiveness and population-wide disease burden reduction attributable to a vaccine“|
|Not as effective as better food, clean drinking water and improved sanitation. ✓ Not as effective as better food, clean drinking water and improved sanitation. Website: Child Health Safety: “The main advances in combating disease over 200 years have been better food and clean drinking water. Improved sanitation, less overcrowded and better living conditions also contribute. This is also borne out in published peer reviewed research“|
3. Do vaccines save millions of lives?
|Yes✓ Yes, Website: Government: “Over the years vaccines have prevented countless cases of disease and saved millions of lives.“|
|No✓ No, Website: Opinion: “Measles mortality graphs are enlightening [more below] and contradict the claims of Government health officials that vaccines have saved millions of lives.“|
|Vaccines save lives, but we’re not sure how many. They cause deaths as well.
✓ Vaccines save lives, but we’re not sure how many. They cause deaths as well. Legal Document: “There is established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation
Program to be administered by the Secretary under which
compensation may be paid for a vaccine-related injury or death.”
4. How many deaths were caused by vaccines in the USA, in 2014?
|Over 100✓ Over 100 Website: Government: “The VAERS – Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System shows 108 deaths reported in 2014 as a result of vaccines. “|
|None proven: Correlation is not Causation✓ None proven: Correlation is not Causation Website: Government: “ Note that the inclusion of events in VAERS data does not infer causality.“|
|We don’t know because there is no legal way to prove causation, even if compensation is paid.✓ We don’t know because there is no legal way to prove causation, even if compensation is paid. Governnment Report: “Settlement: The petition is resolved via a negotiated settlement between the parties. This settlement is not an admission by the United States
or the Secretary of Health and Human Services that the vaccine caused the petitioner’s alleged injuries, and, in settled cases, the Court does not
determine that the vaccine caused the injury.“
5. Is the data in the U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) accurate?
|No, it’s too high. ✓ No, it’s too high. Website: News: “In many cases, the side effects reported to VAERS are coincidences.“|
|Yes, it’s good data.
✓ Yes, it’s good and it’s our best source. Website: Government: “ VAERS data contains coincidental events and those truly caused by vaccines.“
|No, it’s too low.|
✓ No, it’s too low. Governnment Report: ““Underreporting” is one of the main limitations of passive surveillance systems, including VAERS. The term, underreporting refers to the fact that VAERS receives reports for only a small fraction of actual adverse events. The degree of underreporting varies widely.”
6. Can vaccines cause autism?
✓ No, Research: Medical Meta-study: “Myth: Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies.”
✓ Yes, at least 22 published research studies, published in multiple medical journals, provide evidence that vaccines cause autism. Website: “22 Medical Studies That Show Vaccines Can Cause Autism“
7. Can you get a disease from the vaccine that’s supposed to prevent it?
✓ Yes. Website: Medical: “Live, attenuated (or weakened) vaccines are theoretically capable of causing illness: because they can still replicate (though not well), mutation is possible, which can result in a virulent form of the pathogen. However, they are designed with this in mind, and attenuated to minimize this possibility. Reversion to virulent form is a problem with some forms of the oral polio vaccine (OPV), which is why only the inactivated form (IPV) is now used in the United States.”
✓ No, Website: Educational: “Myth: Vaccines cause the illnesses they’re supposed to prevent.”
|Yes, and you can get other diseases too.|
✓ Yes, and you can get other diseases too. Medical Clinical Practice Guideline: “the increasing prevalence of
H. influenzae among other upper respiratory tract infections
of children, particularly AOM, since the introduction of conjugated pneumococcal vaccines”
8. What is “herd immunity”?
|the proportion of subjects with immunity in a given population ✓ the proportion of subjects with immunity in a given population. Research Paper: Medical: “the proportion of subjects with immunity in a given population“|
|occurs when a significant proportion of the population have been vaccinated ✓ occurs when a significant proportion of the population have been vaccinated, Online Medical Dictionary: “occurs when a significant proportion of the population (or the herd) have been vaccinated“|
|a reduction in the probability of infection that is held to apply when a significant proportion of the individuals are immune ✓ a reduction in the probability of infection that is held to apply when a significant proportion of the individuals are immune. Medical Dictionary “http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/herd%20immunity“|
|The term herd immunity carries a variety of meanings ✓ The term herd immunity carries a variety of meanings Medical Journal Article: “The term herd immunity is widely used but carries a variety of meanings“|
9. If people are vaccinated for influenza, does “herd immunity” protect those who cannot be vaccinated?
|Yes ✓ Yes, Research Paper: Medical: “The objectives of vaccination coverage proposed in the United States — 80% in healthy persons and 90% in high-risk persons — are sufficient to establish herd immunity,“|
|No, not even with everyone vaccinated. ✓ No, not even with everyone vaccinated Website: Government: Influenza Vaccine effectiveness ranges from 10 to 60 percent over the past 10 years.|
|Herd immunity through vaccination is technically impossible in normal populations. ✓ Herd immunity through vaccination is technically impossible in normal populations. Medical Website “Herd immunity is mostly a myth and applies only to natural immunity – that is, contracting the infection itself...”|
So, what’s your score?
If you have chosen an answer to every question, you have a score of 100 percent, because every answer can be supported by evidence. If you chose more than one answer, you get more than 100 percent, because you learn more. The only ways to get less than 100 percent are to not choose, perhaps because you don’t know, or perhaps because you are so certain you don’t need to check.
When multiple answers, opposing answers, to questions, are found to be correct, science does not assume that one answer is correct, it concludes that better questions are needed.
Perhaps the true answer is, it depends. Buthe answer does no depend on the question:
– it depends on what you choose to accept.
– you can choose. You can decide.
– you can change your mind,
– and you can change it again later.
I am in favor of science. Science is about finding interesting questions, searching for and testing answers, and then looking for better questions and better answers. Science does not find ‘truth’. Science is about the search, not about the truth.
I am in favor of choice. I am in favor of the right to decide, or not, and to choose, or not, and the right to change our decisions and our choices. The issues around vaccines are very complex. Some of us want simple choices, and that’s OK. Some of use want to understand the complexities, and make our own decisions on a case by case basis. That’s OK too. That is the nature of freedom.
Health comes from freedom.
Most posts about vaccines are ‘debate’ posts. They are not science, they are debates. Debaters often use ‘science’ in their arguments, but the use of science does not make the debate scientific.
Everyone has an opinion, and many opinions can be supported by more or less reliable sources. There are few, if any, absolute truths.
As a result, you can easily find thousands of people, articles, research papers, websites, etc. using science to convince you of their view about vaccines. They simply do not understand science. And they don’t care – they are not about science.
One side wants to defend vaccines, or even to propose mandatory vaccination, the opposing side either wants the right to choose, or opposes vaccines entirely. There is a spectrum of opinions about vaccines, but that spectrum is one-dimensional, as in this diagram.
The truth about vaccines is very, very complex, and
is different for each vaccine,
sometimes different for each batch. That’s why the government’s VAERS system tracks immunization by batches.
different for each disease, from smallpox and polio, to measles, to influenza, to cancer
different kinds of vaccines even for the same diseases, and sometimes the differences are very extreme.
different often changing vaccine schedules and vaccine combinations
different people, from babies to seniors seniors – from very healthy to very sick, those with allergies, sensitivities, and important personal beliefs, who might be more prone to damage by vaccines,
Many people want to understand the science as best they can, and make the best decision for themselves and their children in a changing environment. One dimensional decisions about vaccines, as if they were ‘one thing’, and as if all people are the same, is simply nonsense. Perhaps unfortunately, this is what we have come to expect from our politicians.
The people we hear, the people in the news, the people blogging, are those with strong beliefs. We are hearing the people at either end of the diagram. When they use ‘science’ to support their views, they show ignorance of science, ignorance of important statements about science. Science, real science, does not find ‘facts’, it tests theories. And we must always be careful of scientific results.
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.” —Marcia Angell, MD, “Drug Companies and Doctors: A story of Corruption.” NY Review of Books, Jan. 15, 2009.”
The majority of people, normal intelligent people, like you and I, are in the middle, believing that knowledge, freedom, and free choice are important. There is no perfect vaccine, and there is no perfect decision with regards to all vaccines and all people.
There are small numbers of people at the ends, working hard to get everyone ‘on their side’. Proselytizing their personal beliefs, using ‘selected science’, to support their faith. Is it propaganda? Religion? It is certainly not science.
When science finds questions that cannot be answered, there are three alternatives: break them down into smaller, answerable questions; find better questions, or step up to a higher perspective, a wider view, in order to understand more. There is, of course the fourth alternative – accept that some questions cannot be answered. What is the purpose of life, after all?
We can take these questions to a higher level, from the level of medicine, to the level of healthicine.
There is one question, a very important question, that has not been asked, much less answered, about vaccines. We need to use science to consider, to study this question:
Do vaccines make us healthier?
Today, we simply do not know. We have no idea. We don’t study health seriously. Our current medical paradigm operates under the simplistic assumption that ‘not sick’ equals healthy.
Healthiness is not binary. Healthiness is a scale, not a YES/NO question, not a YES/NO answer. A scale, ranging from very, very healthy, to very, very unhealthy. Healthicine is many scales, you can have healthy feet, and an unhealthy kidney, healthy hair, and unhealthy lungs. It is possible to be very healthy, and still sick (with a cold, for example). It is also possible to be very unhealthy, but not sick.
When we study healthiness, measure healthiness, the science of vaccines will become more complex, not simpler. As we understand more. We will need better questions.
That will be science. And that will be good.
to your health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two books about healthicine: