So I friended some anti-vaccine people on Facebook…

…And, Jesus H. Christ, are they nutty.

Apparently, there are “thousands and thousands” of children being “injured” daily by “toxic chemicals” in vaccines. Of course.

First, we have Christina England, who wants vaccines to be 100% safe and 100% effective. Only then will she stop misinforming people about them:

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.50.35 PMThen we have Tristan Wells, who is a germ theory denialist and thinks that vaccines didn’t save us:

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.50.56 PMAlso, I’m an unhealthy and uneducated person:

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They also don’t understand the Nirvana Fallacy:

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Then they call in the clown car:Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 7.15.17 PM

Then a person hiding behind a computer screen writes this:

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And, of course, they deny they’re anti-vaccine:

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Then there was this conversation with “Thinking Moms Revolution” blogger Zoey O’Toole:

Me:To be honest, I want to know if anti-vaccine people like you really do believe that required vaccination policies are like the Jewish Holocaust that almost killed my great grandparents.

Zoey: You can’t expect people to think you are seriously interested in their thoughts when you use a term like “anti-vaccine people” at the outset, especially when you are using it to refer to people who mostly vaccinated their children just as they were told. In addition, there is no quality or belief that everyone in the group of people you are referring to shares but a desire to improve children’s health. No one can or should speak for everyone else, including me. I’m going to overlook these things, however, and I’m going to answer your question seriously because promoting understanding is important to me and there is the tiniest possibility that by answering your question seriously understanding can result.
I’m not Jewish, but I grew up in two heavily Jewish communities, spent four years with an Israeli that I nearly married, and live in a house owned by Hasidic Jews who consider me, a very “modern” single mother of two children, to be the best tenant they could ever have imagined. In addition, as an empathic person, I have always felt drawn to the huge physical and psychic wound of the Holocaust. I’ve read a number of biographies of people who lived to tell the tale (and I know that only a small percentage did), watched Shoah in its entirety with tears streaming down my face, and even played Anne Frank on stage. As the very Jewish director said at the time, “You’re too old, too tall, and too blonde (I dyed my hair to do the part), but I want you to do it anyway.”
I understand why people feel the way they do about the Holocaust. It was a tremendous injustice perpetrated on innocent people, and it’s one that we should remember and make absolutely certain never happens again. If I had lived in Europe at the time, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that I would have been part of the Resistance because injustice demands resistance.
Now . . . imagine you have a child, a beautiful, healthy baby. You are told that to keep that beautiful, healthy baby safe you must repeatedly inject a slew of toxic chemicals into that child’s body. You do as you are told because, of course, you want to protect that innocent child whose life depends upon your making smart decisions. Only, instead of being “safe,” your child spikes a fever, screams in an unearthly way that you have never heard before, has grand mal seizures and loses all his/her previously acquired skills right before your eyes. Your child comes down with a host of related physical conditions that make life difficult and possibly dangerous for all concerned, resulting in repeated ER visits, stress on the order of combat veterans, and the complete devastation of your finances. Then you find out that the same exact thing has happened to thousands and thousands of other babies.
Can you understand why people might feel very strongly about something they were told would HELP their children but, instead, ended up harming their innocent babies beyond anything they could possibly have imagined? Can you imagine what it’s like when the world doesn’t listen and not only does not acknowledge their losses, but actively DENIES them as well? Denies them to the point of ADDING unnecessary mandates that are going to reap more and more victims on a global scale? I know you don’t believe this is the case, but just IMAGINE for a moment what it would be like for YOU if it WERE the case. (Because it IS the case for many, many people.) FEEL the despair. Feel the anger.
The people who compare what happened to their children to the Holocaust are NOT trying to diminish what happened to people like your great-grandparents in World War II; they are trying to get you to understand the depth and intensity of their feelings about what happened to their own children when they did as they were told. They’re trying to get you to see that “doing as you are told” can get you hurt or killed now, just as it could get you killed as a Jew in Germany in the 1930s. And that’s just not right.
Injustice is injustice, and allowing it to continue hurts us all.

Me: Thank you for your lengthy response. Let me begin by defining what I mean by “anti-vaccine.” When I call someone anti-vaccine, I am not denying that they at one time or another vaccinated their children. I am not denying that they themselves may have been vaccinated at one time. However, they are now exaggerating the risks of vaccination while minimizing the benefits. They claim, as you do, that there are “thousands and thousands” of children hurt by vaccines when all the evidence is that there are not.
Now, in your mind, instances of things like autism, cerebral palsy, allergies, and so on are the result of vaccination. Why? Perhaps because those conditions were only recognized after an exposure to a vaccine in utero or once born. Or perhaps because the lies and misinformation posted widely on blogs and websites has convinced them of this. However, people who have been trained extensively on teasing out coincidence from associations have found that the observed associations in “thousands and thousands” of children with different diseases fade away when confounders and effect modifiers are taken into consideration.
But that won’t convince you or your friends because we are paid shills. The men and women, parents themselves, who have worked to make vaccines as safe and effective as possible with the technology we have and in the imperfect world that we live in are called things like “devils,” “pharma shills,” or worse. To people like you, we are not experts even with our myriad of degrees, our work in the field treating and preventing vaccine-preventable diseases, or the papers that we have published in peer-reviewed journals. We are not experts especially if we are not parents, as if I could go have sex right now and be branded an expert in about 40 weeks. Or, if we do have children, we are not experts because our children are neurotypical or otherwise healthy. Or, if we do have children with autism or any other of the conditions you attribute to vaccines, then we are not experts because we do not see the world as warped as you think that it is.
Not only do I disagree with you that you are not anti-vaccine, I disagree with you that anyone in any circumstance is justified in comparing the Holocaust to anything but the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a systematic program to exterminate an entire people. At last count, it killed 12 million (half of whom were Jews). The vaccine program in this country and around the world is not designed to make a people disappear. It is not aimed at putting anyone in slavery so that one day they be killed in cold blood.
And that’s another big error in the narrative of the anti-vaccine groups in California and everywhere. Diseases and conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, allergies, etc. are not death sentences. The children are still there, still alive. They were not stolen. They were not taken. They were not killed in a systematic way in hopes of purifying humanity. To put it simply, there is no Holocaust caused by vaccines, and there is no justification in comparing the perceived association between a child’s health and vaccines to the Holocaust.
Speaking of Freedom and Justice. Freedom goes hand-in-hand with Justice. While we are free to be vaccinated or not, it is unjust for us to not spread out the risks and the benefits of vaccination among all of us. It is unjust for any of us to sit in our position of privilege, with access to some of the best healthcare in the world, and spread ideas that convince people who do not have said access to skip or outright refuse a public health intervention.
I don’t deny that vaccines have caused unfortunate severe reactions in children, but they have done so at a rate orders of magnitude smaller than what or would like us to believe. Likewise, they have saved lives in orders of magnitude larger than what TMR or Lowell Hubbs wants us to believe. Anyone who says that vaccines are 100% safe and/or 100% effective are no better than anti-vaccine people, and I will be among the first to call them out. But you know what I haven’t seen any “pro-vax” person do? I haven’t seen them protest with such vitriol and such hatred as I’ve seen some of your friends do. I haven’t seen a pro-vax person tell an anti-vaccine person that they’re going to hell, or, as has done, engage in anti-semitism such as the blood libel of their “Thanksgiving Dinner” photoshop fiasco.
So we are on opposite poles, Zoey. I’m sitting here in Seoul looking at an enormous outbreak of something very deadly, praying to God that we can control it and come up with a vaccine soon. I bring with me the tools of epidemiology, the knowledge collected by generations of people who saw associations and decided to explain them with science not rhetoric. And I will never, ever stop.
You and I will be long gone form this earth, Zoey, and children the world over will still be vaccinated, diseases will be forgotten. And that right there is worth debating you and your like-minded colleagues… That right there is worth not using caps lock.

Zoey: Right off the bat your definition of my friends and I is completely off. We do not “exaggerate the risks of vaccines while minimizing the benefits.” We tell the truth. There is plenty of evidence that there are thousands and thousands of children who have been badly harmed by vaccines, and many, many others who have been less badly harmed, but you are not willing to see it. We have no motivation to tell anything other than the truth because we are concerned with the safety and health of children, all children, first and foremost. There are some people who do exaggerate surely, but then there are some people on every side, including yours, of every issue who exaggerate.
The only way for you to believe what you’re saying is to discount the evidence of thousands of smart, caring, attentive parents and their doctors, many of them my very good friends. Not just the evidence of what happened to them in the first place, but the evidence on what happens to them when they are treated for the damage that was done. Shockingly enough, many of them get well. Some of them completely. Being a smart, caring, attentive parent myself, I cannot discount that testimony so easily.
NO ONE is an “expert” in MY health or my children, but me. So, no you are not an expert in what has happened to me or my children, nor are you an expert in my friends or their children. And, no, those parents are not going to believe your “expert testimony” over what they saw with their own eyes and what the lab tests told them. When they DID listen to “people like you” (and sorry, but that “people like you” is offensive because you clearly know nothing about me) their children got sick, very sick. There are those who can “tease out” etiologies of issues, but they are rarely considered the “experts” by the mainstream. The “experts” merely shrug their shoulders, throw up their hands and say, “I’m sorry, you’re just unlucky.” Or “It’s genetic.” Only when the parents stopped listening to the so-called “experts,” did they figure out how to get their children well. Which do you think is more motivating to a parent? The road where you arrive at a very sick, supposedly “incurable, genetic” condition? Or the road where that child gets well? Is it any wonder those parents aren’t listening to you? You may not be a parent, but I hope to God that, if and when you ARE, you choose the road with the well child.
I never said “anyone in any circumstance is justified in comparing the Holocaust” to anything. I tried to get you to understand, just for a minute, why someone would do it. I agree that the Holocaust was about systematic extermination. While genocide is not unique in human history, the scale and cold efficiency of the Third Reich was indeed unique, and I hope it stays that way. I do not believe that the vaccine program is INTENDED to harm children. I think that there are a great many people of integrity working within the system trying to do their best to serve humanity. However, the vaccine program as it is currently constructed IS harming children on a large scale (mainstream study determined up to 54% of American children today are living with chronic health conditions when you include obesity. Clearly all that vaccinating is making us the healthiest population on the planet — oh, wait. No, it’s not) and the people in charge of the program either truly don’t believe it (largely because they don’t want to, there is PLENTY of evidence), or because they simply don’t care because the situation as it is feeds their egos, their desire for power, and/or lines their pockets. THAT is not in any way unique in human history, unfortunately.
So . . . you’re not a parent, right? I suspect you don’t have any idea how offensive the parents you’re talking about would find your paragraph about “diseases and conditions like autism, etc.” not being death sentences. Just as they may not understand why you find the Holocaust comparison so offensive. Would it really be “okay” with you if your beautiful, healthy child were rendered permanently ill by something you were told was “perfectly safe” and would “protect” your child? Would you really console yourself with the fact that your (previously healthy) child, who has multiple seizures daily, can’t talk, is still in diapers and beats you frequently because he is in so much pain, is “still there”? “Still alive”? Would you really say to Karen Kain, whose daughter Lorrin spent her short life on many seizure medications, with a breathing tube and a wheelchair, you “didn’t lose her”? And when your child’s sensory processing is so over-the-top that ordinary moments cause the child to “bolt” with no warning from safe places with no awareness of safety, to the point that no less than five children with autism ‘wandered” to their death in the last few weeks, would you say, “Well, hey, that’s fine with me, at least he won’t get measles”?
I happen to be the parent of a child who died, and you know what? I’d take my chances with measles any day, and I’m not alone because existence is not all anyone wants for his or her children. And it’s not all they should want for their children. We are not guaranteed existence. Children are killed by car accidents, drowning accidents, freak illnesses, etc. every day, and that is tragic, yes, but it is simply impossible to escape all risk of death. And if you spend your life trying to avoid death rather than living it to the fullest, you render it meaningless.
You haven’t been paying attention to your “pro-vax” friends if you’re not seeing vitriol. EVERY SINGLE one of us has been told MANY times that we’re “child killers,” “cunts,” and that people hope that our children die of vaccine-preventable diseases. Someone even made a website with a “Jenny McCarthy body count” because Jenny McCarthy DARED to TELL THE TRUTH about what happened to her child. Believe me, you”re getting off easy with “devil.” I have no idea what you’re talking about with the Age of Autism Thanksgiving Dinner photoshop stuff.
*sigh* “Generations of people who saw associations and decided to explain them with science not rhetoric.” You know what I find most ironic here? Your use of the name Edward Jenner. You want to know why? Edward Jenner listened to “anecdotes.” He heard that milkmaids didn’t get smallpox. He thought about what that might mean. Maybe it meant that people who got cowpox were then immune to smallpox. Did he have any scientific data to support that hypothesis? Hell, no! Just a bunch of “anecdotes.” The whole field you’re talking about was BUILT on anecdotes, but now, somehow, “anecdote” is a dirty word. As if by ignoring them, we can pretend they have no bearing on reality. Any scientist with a truly curious mind who wishes to solve problems, one worth their salt in other words, knows that in those “anecdotes” lies scientific gold, clues to questions worth answering, some of which haven’t even been imagined yet. It’s piles of data just begging to be quantified, and yet no one has. So much for “seeing associations” and “explaining them with science.” You may not know this because it is probably of no interest to you, but virtually every scientific study that has any value to the autism community is merely confirming things that those “crazy, anti-vaccine” people knew a long, long time ago and that “experts” — “people like you” told them was categorically untrue. A truly scientific mind would find it curious that these people could be right about everything else, and yet be so “wrong” about something so basic as vaccines.
In addition to not discounting the testimony of thousands of literally thousands of parents, I cannot discount the science I had read that makes it very clear that what is injected can indeed affect the brain, especially if it is injected before the blood/brain barrier is closed. I gather you are an epidemiologist. I don’t know how much you know about immunology, but if you really wanted to “explain associations with science” you would be interested in the fascinating science being done on how autoimmunity can be induced with hypodermic needles and aluminum adjuvants. I suggest you hunt it down, otherwise you will be completely taken by surprise when people actually stop vaccinating — at least wide-scale vaccinating — because they recognize that it has caused a host of unintended consequences that is slowly crippling the population, well maybe not that slowly anymore.
I’m sorry if my use of caps lock annoys you, but in addition to a degree in Physics, I have a background in acting. In my head I emphasize certain words, and I like to convey the sense as I think it. Facebook does not give me the option of italics, so caps lock it is.

I didn’t respond after this. It’s just not worth it. She’s not going to understand that we live in a world where there are easy scientific tools to look into the spurious associations that her and her friends see. We don’t live in the times of Jenner or Pasteur. We don’t need to take coincidences as “scientific gold,” and we don’t need to be parents to understand the science of vaccines.

The only silver lining in all this is something that a friend wrote on his blog: Many years from now, the anti-vaccine people will be remembered en masse for the whacky things they said and wrote. The rest of us will be remembered for standing up to the lies and for promoting a public health intervention that has saved millions of lives.

12 thoughts on “So I friended some anti-vaccine people on Facebook…

  1. Would you give a strong cup of coffee to a 5yr old ?, no, why?, because the caffeine is too strong for a not yet fully developed nervous system of an infant or child , hello!!!, how much more these powerful vaccines which contain mercury a known inhibitor of the nervous system, and there has never been a case of autism were the expectant mother , infant nor child never received even one vaccine , autism was unheard of before the inception of[ multiple] vaccines it’s all about money and the vaccine Co. and who’s tied or affiliated with them 1 Tim 6 : 10 niv bible .
    And none of the viruses like measles are life threatening , this is a fact, it’s very rare for an infant or child to die from measles etc , they are much more likely to comedown with autism from these vaccines which contain horrific ingredients .

    • Vaccines are not designed to work on body weight or age. That’s not how the immune system works. If a baby gets sick by ten virus particles, it doesn’t take 100 to make an adult sick. Infections and immune responses are not based on the dose of the challenge.
      Childhood vaccines in the United States do not include thimerosal anymore, not since the early 2000s, yet the prevalence of autism increases. Why? Also, thimerosal is no more mercury than table salt is chlorine. You need more chemistry in your googling.
      Finally, autism has been around since time immemorial. It’s just that we as a society have come to accept and count autistics as human beings who deserve to be counted and cared for, unlike you and the rest of the anti-vaccine crowd who seem hell-bent on saying autistics are dead or missing or stolen.
      And what the hell does the bible have to do with any of this? This is a scientific discussion.

    • “..none of the viruses like measles are life threatening” oh, you ignorant tool.

      You might want to google Measles Outbreak France. There is just a faint outside chance that you might learn something.

    • Actually, my cousin was hyperactive and doctor recommended a nice, strong cup of coffee to calm him down. It worked. At age 5.
      Granted, that was nearly 50 years ago, but today, he’s fine.
      There is no mercury in child vaccines today, what trace was present in some vaccines in the past was so low as to be harmless, even if it was biologically available, which it was not.
      Shove your bible back onto the shelf, medicine is a science, not a bunch of mythological stories.
      One in three thousand children infected with measles dies. I believe that being dead is indeed life threatening.
      Finally, vaccines do not cause autism. Period. The only quack that tried to prove that ended up losing his license because he both lied like a rug and performed both unnecessary and painful medical procedures on autistic children.

    • “And none of the viruses like measles are life threatening , this is a fact, it’s very rare for an infant or child to die from measles etc , they are much more likely to comedown with autism from these vaccines which contain horrific ingredients ”

      Citation needed. First define “rare.” You don’t think one in a thousand getting encephalitis or dying to be rare?

      What real evidence do you have that the MMR is associated with autism? Just post the PubMed indexed studies by reputable qualified researchers to prove your claim. Wakefield and friends do not qualify. And since the American MMR vaccine was introduced in 1971, and was the preferred vaccine for the 1978 Measles Elimination Program, provide documentation dated before 1990 that autism increased in the USA during the 1970s and 1980s. If there was a real correlation between MMR and autism rates, it would have been noticed in a country that is both much larger and using the vaccine longer than the UK.

  2. Well thought out post
    I was blown away by Zoey’s assertion that she is the expert when it comes to her and her children’s health. Can she say the same about her auto mechanics, plumbing, dental work, eye exams, etc, etc.? What kind of reality does she live in?
    BTW.. did you see they are charging the homeopathic parents Delozier whose child died of an ear infection.

  3. Full stop. A degree in physics AND she acts?! Dr. Offit, your ball. /sarcasm.


  4. I’ve had rapid and measurable reactions to vaccines. As an infant, smallpox vaccine began an increasing reaction up my arm, thankfully, it didn’t progress into full blown progressive vaccinia. Subsequent military vaccination was uneventful.
    But, when receiving the usual military all-at-once vaccinations, I’d become fatigued, spike a fever and generally suffer from malaise within a couple of hours. I’d be right as rain the following day, when many other men began feeling poorly.
    Later in life, Raynaud’s phenomenon became greater, along with some rheumatoid titers being mildly elevated. That’s for doctor when my health insurance becomes active.
    While I’m a former SF medic, with a lot of experience, that only makes me an informed patient, a physician has had a hell of a lot more training than I, with highly specific experience.
    The same is true for things related to engineering and law, I have some knowledge in specific areas, I have to defer to those who are decreed, board certified professionals.
    That is where the antivaxers fail, they consider themselves the professional and the true professionals are disregarded.

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