Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 10 Pro-vaccine Commandments According to Anti-vaccinationists

Ahhh. Taking a few days away from it all to visit with family and friends is always good. Even better is when you get to do all that and return to find a wee bit o' the hilarious sitting in your inbox. Liz Ditz brought to my attention a relatively new group on Facebook: Provax Quacks. This group is described thusly:
Pointing out the duplicity and idiocy of the vaccine enthusiasts since 2012! Content irrelevant to the pages [sic] theme will be removed. [Edited to add: It looks like the ones running the group removed that second sentence sometime June 13, 2012 (curse my lack of foresight to get a screen grab), but looking at the comments on some of their wall posts, they have clearly been deleting comments, as predicted.]
Right off the bat, they conveniently let you know that any fact-based comments that contradict their ideological line will be censored. That saves me a lot of time. I won't waste any effort trying to comment on this new echo chamber of anti-vaccine inanity. I will, however, share with my readers a rather hilarious wall post put up by this group. If you had any doubts that the members of this group have little to no understanding of science or logic, what you are about to see will make it all perfectly, readily clear. In fact, I probably don't even need to offer my own commentary, but I just can't resist.

Without further ado, then, I present Vaccinology 10 Commandments, as seen by anti-vaccinationists:
1. Correlation doth not equal Causation (unless it defends the Sacred and Holy Vaccine).
The phrase "correlation does not equal causation" is frequently used by supporters of vaccines, but not because it is some mantra or dogma. Rather, those opposed to vaccines very frequently confuse correlation and causation. The phrase therefore serves as a reminder, not that they ever actually listen. And even if there is some correlation that supports vaccines, that does not mean that vaccine supporters automatically assume that the vaccine caused the beneficial effect. I could very easily claim that as vaccine use increased, computer literacy synchronously increased, but it would be ridiculous to think that this correlation means that vaccines caused people to become more computer literate. The first of a lovely list of straw man arguments by this Facebook group.
2. It is NEVER the Sacred and Holy Vaccine. Any injuries associated with the Sacred and Holy Vaccine must be coincidence, or a lie.
Supporters of vaccines quite readily acknowledge that injuries do occur after vaccinations, though these injuries are exceedingly rare. And here's the difference between pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine folks: when something bad happens shortly after a vaccine is administered, those who are opposed to vaccines generally (not always, but it's a good rule of thumb) assume that the vaccine is to blame; if contrary evidence is presented, they almost never accept the non-vaccine explanation and instead repeat that "it's always the vaccine" mantra. Those who support vaccines, on the other hand, allow that the vaccine might be to blame, but only accept that such is the case if all of the evidence points to the vaccine. Where evidence is lacking as to the cause of the injury, then the conclusion is "We don't know; there's not enough evidence to make a reasoned conclusion." We know of certain injuries that can happen after immunization (e.g., the common soreness at the injection site to the very rare encephalopathy). Straw man #2.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Holy Vaccine in vain. Thou shalt not question the Holy Writings that defend the Sacred Vaccine.
This one seems to be a variation on #2, basically stating that vaccine proponents aren't allowed to say anything bad about vaccines or vaccine research. Once again, this is silly. In general, those who support vaccines will quite readily criticize a bad vaccine (e.g., RotaShield was quite properly withdrawn because it caused intussuception), as well as point out flaws or shortcomings in papers, even if they support vaccines. You see, pro-vaccine types tend to be pro-science, which includes calling out bad science when it crops up. This is in stark contrast to anti-vaccine folks, for whom any contrary word exonerating vaccines is anathema. Just take a look at how places like Age of Autism regularly censor (sorry, "editorialize") opposing viewpoints, while pro-science sites allow dissenting voices to be heard. It's official, we have a crowd of straw men!
4. Thou shalt not hold any medical procedure above the Sacred and Holy Vaccine. Only the Sacred and Holy Vaccine can perform the miracles claimed.
Yet another statement that does not, at all, describe those who support vaccines. Another variation on #2, this seems to be an assertion that vaccine proponents place vaccines above all other interventions in all situations. Again, this is a really silly statement to make. No vaccine proponent would argue, for example, that a vaccine is better than surgery for the repair of a ruptured artery. Where vaccines are better than other medical procedures is in the prevention of the diseases for which they were designed, which I assume is what "the miracles claimed" refers to. No surgery is going to prevent you from getting measles. In fact, other than sequestering yourself away from all other human beings, vaccines really are the best medical procedures at preventing infection. The straw men go marching four by four; why stop there, let's add some more!
5. Thou must always follow the Vaccine Schedule, for the Sacred Vaccine is a jealous God.
Ah, the ol' "belief in vaccines is religion, not science" canard writ large. This ties into #3 above. Once again, in general, vaccines are pretty darn good. There have been some missteps along the way (Rotashield, smallpox vaccine - though that had more to do with administration procedures than the vaccine itself), but they are relatively safe and effective. If a person is healthy, then yes, they should stick to the schedule as closely as possible. That's not to say that there are not valid reasons to veer from it, though. Situations may arise that make the recommended schedule untenable: medical contraindications to one or more vaccines, having some illness when a vaccine is supposed to be administered, travel preventing a visit to the doctor and so on. Since the schedule is based on an annual scientific evaluation of many factors (e.g., age at which the best immune response is effected, risk of infection, risk of complications from infection, etc.), one can follow it with a good deal of confidence. But, if someone wants to alter the schedule, they should do so in consultation with their physician and with the understanding that doing so can raise the risk of infection. We're halfway to having a section of straw men.
6. Honor thy Offit and thy Salk, for they are the prophets of the Sacred and Holy Vaccine.
Dr. Paul Offit and Dr. Jonas Salk are prominent figures in the field of vaccines, Dr. Offit because he is an outspoken proponent of vaccines, as well as someone who helped develop a vaccine against rotavirus, and Dr. Salk because he developed the first effective vaccine against polio, once a scourge around the world and now, thanks to vaccines, nearly eliminated. However, they are not the only figures who are important in the field. There are hundreds of thousands of people who have helped to advance the science of vaccines, most working in obscurity to try to prevent illness. My guess is that the person(s) running the Provax Quacks Facebook group included this because of their own hero worship of St. Andy (the surgeon who committed research fraud in his effort to smear the combined MMR vaccine used in the U.K.), coupled with the fame of Drs. Offit and Salk. Although they have made significant contributions to immunology, they are still just men and capable of mistakes (well, not Dr. Salk anymore, since he's deceased). And, where mistakes are made, they should be held accountable for them. Chalk up another straw man.
7. Thou must always trust all studies that are done by the makers of the Sacred and Holy Vaccine. They have no interest in profit, only in the health and livelihood of their congregation.
This is just a variation on #3. All studies, regardless of source, should stand or fall on the merits of the design and results. While the author and their connections should be considered in evaluating the legitimacy of a study, what really matters is the data. Yes, vaccine manufacturers have a financial interest in their products being shown to be safe and effective. As such, one should take studies funded by them with a grain of salt, paying closer attention to how the study was designed, what the results really were and how the data compares to what the researchers concluded. No matter the source of the study, it's vitally important to look at the data to see what's really going on. And this is exactly what other supporters of vaccines suggest. That said, it's a good thing that vaccine proponents also have a lot of independent studies upon which to base their support of vaccines. Of course, this doesn't stop anti-vaccinationists from proclaiming any pro-vaccine study to be hopelessly corrupt and beholden to industry, even when there are absolutely no such ties. Like #6 above, this reeks of projection: to the anti-vaccinationist, any study purporting to show some flaw in vaccines is generally swallowed whole, with little, if any, critical thought actually applied (take for example the breathless flogging of Laura Hewitson's execrable monkey study). We have enough straw men for a water polo team, now, though, like the Facebook group's arguments, they may get a bit soggy.
8. Thou must always take the holy sacrament of Vaccination. Any who does not Vaccinate, or who question the holy sacrament, must be called heretic.
This is just a variation on #5, above. This one assumes that vaccine proponents allow for absolutely no exceptions for immunization. In reality, there are legitimate reasons to avoid a vaccine, such as when the recipient is allergic to an ingredient or otherwise at high risk for an adverse reaction. Other reasons may be related to the efficacy of the vaccine itself or the disease prevented (e.g., I wouldn't recommend that people living in the U.S. get the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis, since it's not particularly effective and carries other risks associated with its use). As far as the recommended schedule goes, I would strongly urge everyone to get vaccinated, if possible, or be willing to bear responsibility should they skip a vaccine they could otherwise have received. Should any valid science come along that suggests otherwise, I would happily change my position, as would the majority of pro-vaccine types, I imagine. Only two more straw men and we can go bowling!
9. Diseases that were once benign must become deadly once a Sacred Vaccine is made for them.
Of the entire list, this one, perhaps, displays just how lacking in any understanding of science and virology these folks are. The diseases prevented by vaccines didn't "become" deadly simply because a vaccine was created to prevent them; the diseases prevented by vaccines have always been deadly, to varying degrees. In fact, the whole reason that the vaccines were developed to begin with is because these diseases are deadly (or, at the very least, because they cause significant health problems even when they do not kill). Now, the vaccine-preventable diseases do vary in just how deadly they are (e.g., 16.9 deaths per 100,000 for influenza vs. 2 per 1,000 for measles). But death is not the only reason to worry about these diseases; many have very serious complications, such as hearing or vision loss. And, even when they do not leave lasting damage, they can have a significant economic impact due to treatment and lost productivity. Once again, the position presented is not held by supporters of vaccines, not to mention it displays a gross misunderstanding of these diseases.
10. The Sacred and Holy Vaccine is always safe and effective.
As I already mentioned in #2 (feeling a sense of déjà vu here), those who support vaccines readily acknowledge the limitations of vaccines, both in terms of safety and efficacy. This "commandment" stems from the anti-vaccine tendency to engage in the Nirvana fallacy. They think that "safe and effective" means "100% safe and 100% effective". If it is not 100% in either, then it is 0% safe and 0% effective. This sort of black-and-white thinking seems to be pretty common among those who deny or don't understand science or medicine. When pro-vaccine people say that vaccines are "safe and effective", they mean that the risks of the vaccines are generally less than the risks of the diseases prevented and that their use results in protection from the disease more often than not. Again, any supporter of vaccines will readily acknowledge that there are times when it may not be safe to give a vaccine to someone or that in some cases it may be less effective. And so, we now have the complete collection of 10 straw men put forth by the Provax Quacks Facebook group.

Although, perhaps it isn't fair to say that there are 10 straw men, since quite a few of the items in the list are just saying the same thing in a different way. At any rate, if this is the level of scholarship we can expect from these folks in the future, we're in for a lot of chuckles. Nothing says intellectual integrity like making up a bunch of positions that your opponent doesn't hold and then arguing against those. Here's a tip to the folks behind this group: be very careful with open flames. I just hope they can at least make an effort to improve their faux-Elizabethan grammar.

Also, check out Orac's Antivaccine Ten Commandments.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent work, ToddW. I think your article and Orac's compliment each other.

    "Soggy straw men" ... love it.


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