Vaccination Hubbub

Well, I promised to talk about the whole “vaccination is evil” nonsense so here it is. I have already blogged about how vaccines don’t contain antifreeze. Here I will discuss the some other misconceptions of the anti-vaccination movement and why they are (whether on purpose or out of ignorance) trying to convince people not to get innoculated.

First some more misconceptions
1) Vaccines contain formaldehyde
This is almost the exact same problem as the ethylene/polyethylene glycol business. Once again this belief demonstrates a misunderstanding of chemistry. For most people this is forgivable because, well, why the hell would the average person know that? But for groups promoting a dangerous ideological message, they should probably take 5 minutes to consult an Introduction to Chemistry book and make sure.

There are different kinds of formaldehyde. One kind is found naturally in our bodies. That’s right, our bodies naturally contain some formaldehyde. However, a synthetic formaldehyde is also used in other compounds (like treated wood, for example). So when people think of formaldehyde they automatically think of preserving dead bodies or stinky treated wood, which is the synthetic. Formaldehyde even has the same chemical structure in our bodies as it has when it is in synthetic form (H2CO), adding to the confusion. However, when formaldehyde is used to treat wood or preserve the dead, it appears in a compound with other chemicals. For example in plywood: H2CO+NH2CONH2+CH3OH+HCOOH+H2O.

Because I have already explained the differences in chemical compounds in general with ethylene and polyethylene glycol, I won’t explain again here. Hopefully people can generalize the information. It’s essentially the same sort of misunderstanding.

2) Vaccines cause Alzheimer’s
There is simply no evidence for this. This idea started making the rounds on the basis that vaccines (specifically the flu vaccine) contain mercury and aluminum which would cause a build-up of these compounds in our system and lead to neurological impairments. That’s it. Some guy (Dr. Hugh Fudenburg) said it and now that it’s “out there” and he has the word “doctor” in front of his name we can’t get it back. Not all doctors are experts on everything and sometimes people make irresponsible conjectures to the press that they should not.

The idea that vaccines lead to Alzheimer’s is not based on any available research and is therefore nonsense. This is not to say that vaccines certainly for sure do not lead to higher incidences in Alzheimer’s, but simply that we do not have evidence to say so therefore we shouldn’t be saying so. If we’re basing statements on no evidence whatsoever, then why don’t we just say vaccines cause an addiction to ice cream. “Well you don’t have any evidence that vaccines don’t cause addiction to ice cream and I heard they do, so what do you make of that?” Well, unfortunately the burden of proof is on those making the claim. And there is no evidence to back up this claim. Period.

3) There is mercury (thimerosal) in the current MMR vaccine.
Nope. Not even a little bit true so I won’t even expand on this. Look up “live vaccines” and you’ll see why the MMR can’t possibly contain thimerosal. Also, Merck (the manufacturer) has the ingredients listed on their website.

4) Vaccines are injected into your bloodstream and infect you. You might as well not get it because it’s going to infect you anyway.
Even less true. First of all, vaccines are not administered into the bloodstream. I’ve only ever received a vaccine orally (polio) or intramuscularly (MMR, polio, tetanus, etc) and in my research for this posting I found no evidence that vaccines are administered directly to the bloodstream. My understanding is that they pass through the lymphatic system after being administered to the body to activate antigens.

Also, many vaccines are dead virus and cannot possibly infect you even if they wanted to because the virus is not alive. Live vaccines also cannot infect people. The live virus for a vaccine has been specially bred in a lab to look like the virus so that the body will attack it in a similar manner, but their virulent properties have been removed/disabled.

5) Vaccines cause autism.
Here we go. I’m going to keep this simple because I could do a whole post on this idea alone (and I probably will at some point). Basically a few parents decided that because their child was vaccinated and because they noticed autism symptoms around the same time, one caused the other. Not that autism causes vaccines, but the equally absurd assumption that vaccines cause autism.

There are several flaws with this assumption:
1) The symptoms of autism may be apparent at around the same time as the vaccination schedule by coincidence.
2) Autism rates may be higher in areas that also vaccinate because those places have better health care and bother to diagnose it.
3) Autism rates are “increasing” due to complex factors, such as changes in diagnoses and cannot necessarily be explained by a lone variable, particularly one that is associated by correlation.
4) There are no ingredients in vaccines that have been linked to autism.
5) There may be another variable that is linked to both an increased likelihood of autism and an increased likelihood of getting vaccinated.
6) Millions of people have been vaccinated with no ill effects. If vaccines indeed cause autism, there would still have to be a biological predisposition to explain why the rest of the vaccinated population is not autistic when some unfortunate individuals are.

In short, there is no concrete evidence that vaccines cause autism. When studies that find a link are retried, expanded upon, or improved with proper regression analysis, the results come up negative – that there is no link. Just like ice cream addiction, there is no concrete evidence that vaccines cause autism, therefore we shouldn’t be saying so.

Why are these people saying these things if they’re nonsense?
Good frigging question. Mostly because they are people and people generally need an explanation for everything. Some prefer a scientific explanation and are comfortable with “I don’t know” filling in the gaps. Some are not comfortable with “I don’t know” and prefer God, pseudoscience, or the paranormal to fill in the gaps. Generally people feel better when there is a cause for events, even if that cause is tangential or abstract.

In the case of vaccines, people who have children who are autistic or have parents who have Alzheimer’s are absolutely devastated. There’s no cure, there’s no reasonable explanation for why it happens, and each disorder affects basic socialization and personality. It’s the effects of these disorders that really hits home, because we are a social species. We are awkward and don’t know how to handle when a person can’t communicate, emote, converse, or generally interact in the “normal” way. It can be frustrating and that frustration can lead to blame. This is classic grief.

Once again I feel deeply for these people and I hope one day we can find a solution. But until then I cannot condone the promotion of an unsafe practice that can detrimentally affect millions of people. Taking vaccines is why we enjoy life the way we do without having to worry about constantly getting ill beyond a simple head cold or the flu. I think we have become complacent growing up in an environment where we don’t get sick and we forget that the reason we have this comfortable existence is largely due to vaccines. If more and more people stop vaccinating their children, who don’t even have a choice in the matter of putting their lives in danger of serious and debilitating illnesses, more and more infections and diseases will have a chance to spread.

It’s simply irresponsible to not vaccinate our children based on religious beliefs, false evidence, misguided logic, and the grief of people for their autistic children or Alzheimatic parents. This is a shame and I think the scientific community as a whole needs to take this movement seriously especially now that they’ve got the Hollywood gravy train taking passengers – ahem, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey.

Take home message…
Vaccinate, for crying out loud!! The chances of something seriously life-threatening happening because of getting a vaccine are very low and are typically limited to ordinary allergic reactions. There is no good reason not to get vaccinated.

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