Queer Health: The Anti-Vaccination Movement
Around March of last year I was having some neck and back pain. I sat at work whining and complaining, as I’m wont to do, until my girlfriend suggested seeing an upper cervical chiropractor that she and her family had been seeing for a few years. I took her recommendation seriously as she claimed that chiropractic cured her of chronic ear infections that had plagued her since childhood, and I’ve always subscribed to the idea of trying something at least once. Also, I will admit I was drawn to the idea of a chiropractor that didn’t twist your neck into weird positions, since upper cervical chiropractors adjust only the top vertebrae of your spine, thinking that this will then force the rest of your spine into “alignment”; how this process actually works was never fully explained to me, but I naively took this chiropractor at her word and plowed ahead with the so-called treatments.
One day, a few months into seeing this chiropractor, I was occupying my time while waiting for her to finish with a client. I was scanning the various posters in the room, many of which either claimed medical science to be destructive or that a spiritual connectedness with a higher being was necessary to achieve full “wellness”, which I happened upon a pamphlet titled “10 Reasons to Say No to Vaccines”. I couldn’t believe my eyes; I had no idea at the time that this was a common idea among the pseudo-scientific quacks of the chiropractic community, and just thought this lady had some extreme views. Instead of listening to my gut, however, I continued seeing her until March of this year, when I finally decided I had had enough.
This anti-vaccination movement is apparently an actual thing; spearheaded by many in the alternative medicine field and taken up by misinformed parents more afraid of the big, bad doctor than the tiny, harmless bacteria (after all, how can something so tiny be bad? </sarcasm>), the anti-vaccine movement is something that threatens everyone. So what exactly are these people saying? Here’s a list of some of the most common anti-vaccine arguments:
- Vaccines don’t protect against diseases
- Vaccines can cause Autism Spectrum Disorder (or at least contribute to it)
- Vaccines can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Vaccinations can kill just as easily as the disease itself
- Vaccines contain Arsenic, which is a deadly poison
Here are links to some more of these pages. The reasons these people give vary wildly and are often completely unsupported with evidence, so read at your own risk. I take no blame if your head explodes from pure “what-the-fuckery”. As for these common arguments, they really don’t stand up to evidence, or even logic for that matter. Let’s have some fun using science and actual critical thinking to evaluate these claims, shall we?
1. Vaccines don’t protect against diseases
In doing my research for this piece, I came across many variations of this theme. The most common interpretation was that many vaccines don’t protect every individual from the actual disease, and so are completely useless. First off, not every person takes to the vaccine. If you’re vaccinated, you might not be individually protected against the disease. What vaccines really rely on is what’s called “herd immunity”, which is the idea that those who are immune to a disease act as a buffer for those who are not, as long as there are enough immune people in a community. Harvard University has a great demonstration of this idea, you should check it out.
Regardless of your personal beliefs on vaccination, if you choose not to get vaccinated, you increase the number of people in your community who are not immune; in other words, by making a selfish and uninformed choice to not be vaccinated, you are literally putting your community at risk. This is a real thing folks; over the past few years we have seen outbreaks of Whooping Cough in the U.S., and Measles in other countries around the world.
2. Vaccines can cause Autism Spectrum Disorder (or at least contribute to it)
As someone who has worked with Autistic children, this one is particularly close to my heart, and I can see how this would effectively persuade somebody against vaccinations. However, this claim has been thoroughly debunked. I’m not even going to get into it, as the CDC has already argued against it, and they’re a lot more smarter than me.
3. Vaccines can cause Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
First off, there isn’t really one singular cause of SIDS, and is generally linked to events that happen within the household. However, since this seems to come up again and again, the CDC has also provided a nice explanation of why this is utter bullshit. Again, their debunking is a lot more thorough than anything I could come up with here, so follow the links above for your answers.
4. Vaccines can kill just as easily as the disease itself
This claim likely stems from a misunderstanding of what actually goes into a vaccine; most people know that vaccines are made of the virus that you’re trying to eradicate, which can lead people to think they’re actually getting the disease that could kill you in the first place. The virus in most (not all) vaccines is dead, meaning you will never get truly sick. While it is true that you may show some symptoms, those are usually bodily reactions that come from your immune system ramping up (which is the entire idea behind vaccines), rather than symptoms coming from the disease itself.
Most deaths that people attribute to being caused by vaccinations are potentially random coincidences (an understanding of the law of large numbers could probably help most people in this case). As the World Health Organization states,
As for vaccines causing death, again so few deaths can plausibly be attributed to vaccines that it is hard to assess the risk statistically. Each death reported to ministries of health is generally thoroughly examined to assess whether it is really related to administration of vaccine, and if so, what exactly is the cause. When, after careful investigation, an event is felt to be a genuine vaccine-related event, it is most frequently found to be a programmatic error, not related to vaccine manufacture.
5. Vaccines contain Arsenic, which is a deadly poison
I love this one, as it is actually quite scary without knowing all the facts.
First off, as an aside, there are two types of Arsenic, inorganic and organic. Only the inorganic type is actually toxic to humans. This was the cause of the Dr. Oz apple juice controversy that made random headlines a few months ago in the U.S. Arsenic actually occurs naturally in many foods, however not in large enough quantities to be poisonous.
As for arsenic being in vaccines, this is totally true, but not for the reasons people think. Vaccine manufacturers put non-toxic amounts of arsenic in vaccines to cause the body’s immune system to attack the virus, thereby making the body immune to that specific disease. As far as I know and have been able to research, no deaths have been caused by arsenic poisoning from vaccinations. If anyone who reads this has evidence to the contrary, please let me know.
The list above is not exhaustive; there are many other arguments proposed by the alternative medicine community that are just as silly as the ones above. The best advice I can offer here is to do your research, and look at who is making certain claims. To date there has not been a really convincing argument against vaccinations, and all the evidence in the world that speaks to their effectiveness. By not getting yourself or your children vaccinated, you are opening the door to diseases more dangerous than anything your doctor could ever do to you. Keep yourself informed, and always remember to think critically about a claim being made, it’s your best defense against misinformation.
Queer Health is a bi-monthly feature that shares information about important health issues. Look for Queer Health every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month.