Vaccine apologetics?

I don’t usually associate apologetics with scientific concepts. I associate them with religious things. Often, you have people on the radio or on television, defending their faith. I don’t blame them nor find any fault with this. For things that are untestable, apologetics is a good way to defend beliefs. For science, we have evidence. You either believe the evidence or you don’t. If you don’t believe in something that is tangible, testable, and objective, then you’re a denialist.

Denialists are scarier to me than apologists because these are people who are presented with actual, verifiable evidence of scientific claims, and they still find it in themselves to deny the evidence and continue to live in their own world. One such denialist showed up on “The Poxes” and commented on the “Measles” chapter. Here is what the denialist wrote:

Click to enlarge, of course.
The denialist was responding to this passage in that chapter:

“It wouldn’t be until the 1960s that a highly effective vaccine was developed and launched all over the world. The number of cases dropped precipitously to almost nothing in many parts of the world. While deaths had been avoided through better medical care once someone was infected, outbreaks still occurred in great numbers right up until the time when the vaccination level reached 90%, then outbreaks were halted because of herd immunity.”

That part of that chapter was not fiction. It is true that the advent of the measles vaccine in the 1960’s brought about the decline of measles cases and measles outbreaks in the United States. There were no huge leaps in food preparation, food hygiene, sewer systems, or hand washing in the 1960’s. Those things were well in place before the 1960’s, and they did squat to stop the spread of measles. Here’s the number of cases per year of measles:

Here is a graph with more information:

Can you see when measles cases dropped precipitously? When did we start having sewers or washing our hands in the United States? Sometime around the 1960’s? Nope.

The reason why improvements in hygiene and food preparation don’t do anything against infections like measles, rubella (German measles), or chickenpox, is that these infections are transmitted through droplets suspended in the air. You can scrub down a room until you can eat off the floor and still have measles suspended in the air if a person infectious with measles had been there a few hours earlier. You can hermetically seal all food, water, and waste, and these viruses would still linger in the air.

The best infection prevention against measles is to cycle the air in a room through a filter or let the room stand unoccupied for several hours and then scrub it down once the droplets settle onto surfaces. The thing is, you wouldn’t know that these droplets were there because they’re microscopic. Furthermore, someone with measles is infectious a few days before they get any symptoms. So you could very well have a healthy person walk into a room and contaminate the hell out of it.

I’m willing to give the denialist the benefit of the doubt and say that they have not “done their research” on measles, hence the misunderstanding. But this is another comment this person left for me on a blog post about the flu vaccine:

Click to enlarge, won’t you?

This person is not dumb. They’ve done “research”. They just refuse to see the evidence. (Of course, that Cochrane Collaboration did not find anything like that. The denialist is reading into it what the denialist wants to see.)

So, no, I’m not apologizing for vaccines. I don’t need to. The evidence is there. It is clear. It is testable. It is objective. Let whoever has ears (and eyes and intelligence) to understand the evidence listen and learn and help us move forward as a species.


One thought on “Vaccine apologetics?

  1. Aha, the old "Vaccines Didn't Save Us" gambit.Where I grew up (Brooklyn New York), we had wonderfully pure water…from a tap, no less. We did not share primitive community privies, yet we still had outbreaks of polio. My childhood chum died from polio and my older cousin was left with permanent neurological sequelae due to measles encephalitis.One of my earliest memories was going to the local firehouse for a smallpox vaccination, because of three cases of the disease. daughter born in 1970, received smallpox vaccine in 1971…just before routine pediatric smallpox vaccine was discontinued.I'm beginning to fear for the survival of our species…when people (mis)use the internet to spread their ignorance.

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