Are anti-vaxxers terrorists?

By the technical definition, the answer is “No” because they do not specifically use violence in the traditional sense.  However, some of them do utilize propaganda, misinformation, threats (to physicians, educators, etc.) in an effort to instill fear in the population and destabilize society.  Terrorism? not really.  Subversive? Possibly.

As someone who believes very strongly in individual liberties, you may think that my stance on mandatory vaccination runs contrary to that core belief.  It does not.  There is an old saying which I quote quite often: “Your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” Put plainly, you are free to do as you wish as long as it will not negatively impact others.  If you choose to live in society and interact with others, then vaccines are not an option. 

 You aren’t free to drive 150mph swerving in and out of traffic, nor are you permitted to allow your dog to run the neighborhood off leash.  Why, because of the potential for harm to others.  Don’t want to vaccinate? Fine, then live in a secluded enclave away from others and do your thing.

 Let me cut to the chase. Here are the most common arguments I have encountered against vaccines, and why they are wrong.

 1.    “Vaccines are rushed into public use without testing and we just don’t know enough about what harm they might do!”  False: Vaccines undergo rigorous trials before they are used on a large scale. Have there been problems over the last 70 years? Certainly.  But they have been addressed, and there is no denying that more lives have been saved than harm has been done.  As far as data, consider this: The measles vaccine in its various forms has been in use on a national level since 1968, that’s just over 50 years.  3,520,959 children were born that year and vaccinated. Even if that number was constant (It has gone up each year) and only 90% of kids got vaccinated, that would mean 158,443,155 kids have been vaccinated over that time. Not to mention that adults, including those who immigrated from other countries, have also been vaccinated at a rate of just over 90% of the US population, which means the vaccine has been proven on around 293,400,000 people give or take, and that is just in the U.S.A. That is a lot of data!!! So, we actually know a TON about what vaccines do!

 2.    “Vaccines contain mercury and other dangerous chemicals in lethal amounts!” False:  vaccines contain(ed) Thimerosal, which is metabolized into ethyl mercury, which is virtually harmless to us (As opposed to methyl mercury, which some antivaxxers have alleged is in vaccines. It isn’t and never has been.).  Because of concerns and process improvement, it was removed from all vaccines except the flu shot in 2001.  And, the amount is so negligible that you would have to get three flu shots just to equal the amount of ethyl mercury in one can of tuna fish. Formaldehyde is in some vaccines in trace amounts.  It is also naturally occurring in most fruits and vegetables, and we have it circulating harmlessly in our bodies.  Finally, you breath in more aluminum salts in one day than you receive in 20 vaccines. 

 3.    “Vaccines are just a money-making machine for doctors and big pharma.” False: Pediatricians actually lose money when it comes to vaccine visits (The economics aren’t complicated, but more detailed than I care to explain).  Pharmaceutical companies make far more money on psych meds, and the “new” stuff than on vaccines.  If it were about money, it would be far more profitable to let people get sick!  A full course of vaccination for whooping cough costs just under $100, while a patient admitted with whooping cough would cost $10,000 for treatment or more.

 4.    “Vaccines cause autism/SIDS.” False: Multiple studies have completely debunked this myth.  This myth stems from a flawed 1997 study by a discredited former physician (License revoked) named Wakefield, who lied to patients and their parents not only about what he was injecting into them, but also enrolled them in his study without consent.  He has since admitted to his lies and lives in disgrace.  “What about the increase Autism rates?” Oh, you mean the 16% increase that occurred with no relation to any change in vaccination rates or modality?  Quite simply, we are doing a far better job of diagnosing autism, especially in poor, minority, and underserved populations. Simple logic: now that we have better tools to detect and diagnose autism, it is diagnosed more often. As far as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), it has been documented for thousands of years before vaccines were invented. In the Bible it is referred to as “Overlaying” as they thought mothers were accidentally laying on their infant children and smothering them. SIDS has steadily declined in the developed world over the last 30 years, while vaccination use has increased. A negative/inverse correlation. Links to vaccinations for either condition? No evidence, none.

 5.    “If everyone else’s children are vaccinated, mine don’t need to be because that doesn’t pose a threat to vaccinated children.” False (and dangerous): Some children cannot be vaccinated because of autoimmune disorders or severe allergies. Those children depend on “herd immunity” to protect them.  Also, for as good as vaccines are, even if they were 99.9999% effective, some would still contract the disease.  When you vaccinate your child, you aren’t just doing it for their health, but also the health of their classmates and playmates.

Those are the five that I hear most often, and as you can see they are easily debunked.  

 This issue is particularly sticky with me, not only because I am a parent, and because I am old enough to remember seeing people with long term disability because of these diseases, but also because I have travelled to 24 different countries around the world and have seen the grim reality in countries that are not developed to the point that vaccination rates are high.  

 Some say: “But Mike, we have a right to question this and nobody should follow blindly!”.  I agree, you shouldn’t follow the government, the CDC, or your doctor blindly.  But, you also shouldn’t blindly follow someone with an 8th grade education blogging from their parent’s basement about the evils of vaccines and the virtues of yogurt enemas either.  You must question the questioners!!!!  When all you have is conspiracy theories, the whole world looks like a conspiracy.

 To summarize: questioning vaccine safety and efficacy is not a terrorist act.  But, to spread disinformation and strike fear into others to “recruit” to your cause is, at worst, subversive and, at best, irresponsible. 

 A final note on something that really gets under my skin: when someone argues with me on this topic they are telling me one of two things.  Either, “Mike, you are incredibly stupid and naïve and are the worst doctor in the world for not figuring out what I was able to google in five minutes!” or, “Mike, you are an evil extension of the pharmaceutical-industrial complex and you place more value on money than on the lives of babies!”.  I am deeply offended by either.

 I took an oath to “Do no harm” and I live by it.  I am vaccinated, my children are vaccinated, and I know as a scientist and in my heart that it is the right thing to do.