An email from an anti-vaccine activist to their overlords (Or how the internecine war continues)

The kid claims that someone else sent the following email to Age of Autism, the online newspaper of the non-existent autism epidemic. I think it was he himself who did it, and I’ll tell you why once you read this. It’s a little long, and it repeats a lot of the anti-vaccine nuttery, but it’s worth a read for a good laugh. I’ve highlighted in bold the best parts. (By the way, the published this email on his site. I’ll link to it upon request, but I’m not giving him any more clicks than he needs. Props to my friend for telling me about this.): Continue reading

If it’s not normal, it must be broken

There are those people in the world who see everything that is not normal (or expected) as something that is damaged, wrong, or evil. They see a hurricane and, instead of acknowledging that it was caused by a low pressure weather system over warm and moist air in the tropics, they see a conspiracy by the government to control the weather through radio waves. They see a child with a neurodevelopmental delay, and they see a child who is a victim of a vaccine injury, genetics be damned. Even when all the evidence tells us that low levels of folate in the diet of expectant mothers is the main cause of spina bifida (a condition in which the spinal canal doesn’t close as the fetus develops), these people will blame chemical contamination of food or water by a big, multinational corporation.

In essence, they blame the unlikeliest of things for what they see as abnormal.

Along the same lines, we have the people who go overboard with their belief in the supernatural. They blame children born with cleft palates on the mother seeing an eclipse. Or they say that a person with schizophrenia is actually possessed by a demon. Again, they seem to ignore the most common, rational, and possible explanation and go with the most far-fetched idea.

Now, is it possible that the far-fetched is the correct explanation for what they’re observing? Yes, everything is possible, but it is incredibly improbable. We’re talking probabilities of one in a million or less.

There is this website that always seems to take the news of the day and apply the most unlikely of explanations to it. When the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, happened last summer, the author of the site, or his underlings, blamed the shootings on a “false flag” operation by the US Government as an attempt to scare the public into shifting their opinions on gun control. Same thing with the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Yesterday was no different for that site. In case you don’t know, there is a court case being heard right now in Florida. It involves a neighborhood watchman shooting a young man deemed suspicious by the watchman. There was some sort of a fight, and the young man ended shot dead. The only two people that know what happened are the deceased and the watchman. Some say it’s a clear case of self-defense. Others say it’s a clear case of racial profiling and a trigger-happy watchman. We’ll see how it goes.

One of the witnesses on the stand yesterday was a friend of the victim. She is Black, from Florida, overweight, and female. As almost anyone who’s been on the stand in a court of law, and as almost anyone who’s been put in front of the cameras without previous experience in the limelight, she was observably nervous. She mumbled some words, moved around in her seat, and asked for the person questioning her to repeat the question.

What did the “natural” website make of her nervousness, her looks, and her demeanor on the stand? Here:

“Watching defense witness Rachel Jeantel testify in the Trayvon Martin trial was horrifying, shocking… disturbing. Here is a 19-year-old high school senior, raised in America and educated in public schools, who is wildly illiterate (she simply cannot read) and who seems unable to speak in coherent sentences. Almost right out of the movie Idiocracy, she makes odd grunting noises and seems to display wild emotional swings, verbal inconsistencies and irrational behavior.”

Frankly, she wouldn’t be the first high school senior, raised in America, who was not proficient in English. But look at the other things written about her. “Wild emotional swings”? There’s more, and it’s worse:

“On the issue of lead, Rachel’s behavior strongly resembles that of a lead-poisoned individual. This isn’t just a one-time exposure issue, either: it’s a chronic exposure during childhood development issue.

It’s possible she actually ate lead paint as a child, for example, if she was living in a much older house where the paint was flaking off. (Lead was removed from paint in 1978, but many homes still contain that lead-based paint.)”

Yeah, it’s possible, but not really probable since most states, including Florida, have made it a law to not rent/sell houses with lead-based paint. Furthermore, there is a very robust lead poisoning surveillance system in Florida and other states. Just because she’s nervous on the stand, and a teenager prone to distraction like any other teen, it doesn’t mean she’s lead poisoned.

“In addition to being poisoned by fluoride, lead, aspartame and vaccines, Jeantel is obviously eating a diet that is completely lacking in the nutrients needed to protect the brain from oxidative damage.”

I agree that her size is indicative of an imbalanced diet, but I don’t agree that she is necessarily “poisoned” by any of those things. Like any good anti-science and anti-vaccine website, this “natural” site blames chemicals and vaccines. It couldn’t be that her circumstances have allowed for her to gain extra pounds, like so may of us? No, it must be the damned vaccines.

And her speaking with a regional accent or in a regional/cultural dialect (?) doesn’t mean she’s illiterate. I certainly don’t think that people from the Caribbean who speak an different version of English are illiterate or brain, damaged. Same for Black people in the inner city or Latinos in downtown LA, or even White people in Boston. The more I listen to that young lady speaking, the more I understand what she is saying. Brain damaged? Poisoned? Not likely.

But that’s how those people react, people who see monsters under their bed, in the closet, on the side of the road, and everywhere else. It’s all a conspiracy. It’s all the fault of Big Pharma, Big Government, Big Business, and they are the only ones who know the truth, especially when no one is listening.

Finally, if you go to the comments section of that particular blog post, you’ll see the outrage from a lot of readers at the gigantic leap this person tried to make in attacking that young lady.

17 years later

I can’t believe it’s been 17 years since TWA flight 800 crashed off the coast of New York’s Long Island. I know exactly where I was, and I remember thinking that it must have been terrorism almost immediately. Slowly, as the investigation moved forward, it was discovered through the evidence gathered that there was an explosion in the center fuel tank of the plane. Two hundred and thirty people died in that accident.

In the years since, there have been numerous conspiracy theories on what happened. Some say that it really was a terrorist bomb onboard that went off, but, because of the proximity of the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, the authorities kept quiet about it. Other say that there was a missile that took down the plane. Whatever the theory, the evidence gathered by aviation and forensics experts all points to an explosion in the fuel tank. End of story, right? Continue reading

The government doesn’t have a monopoly on reality

One of the cries that I keep hearing from conspiracy nuts is that “The Government” did this and that, or that it’s hiding this or that. Just the other day, I was listening to a podcast by Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist. He was answering questions from his audience when someone asked who is to say that the government is not hiding an asteroid on its way to destroy the planet. He answered the question very simply by saying that an asteroid would be visible to everyone on the planet. A person in their backyard would be able to see such an asteroid. A scientist in any of the many observatories around the world, including Neil, would see it coming. In essence, the government can’t keep a secret that big. Continue reading

Who is in bed with Big Pharma?

One of the first things that anti-vaccine and anti-science people will tell me when I present them with a fact is that I’m in bed/league/association with “Big Pharma.” They have no evidence of this. I’ve told them that I don’t hold any financial stake in any pharmaceutical or healthcare company. But they don’t let facts get in the way. You know how it is.

I was stunned, but not surprised, to find out that a notorious anti-vaccine physician and his son were in league with Big Pharma. Okay, “in league” is a big phrase. They are only slightly separated from Big Pharma. As we know, in the world of the “vaccines cause autism” crowd, close associations mean direct implications.

What am I talking about? There exists a doctor and his son. The doctor and his son think that mercury causes autism because mercury binds with testosterone. It binds with testosterone under lab conditions, which would never be replicated in the human body. Anyway, the doctor and his son are convinced that chemically castrating children with autism (boys, for the most part) will reverse their autism. Block and get rid of testosterone, and the bound mercury will go away, get it?

So the Maryland Board of Physicians got a hold of this unapproved, unproven, probably even dangerous way of “treating” autism and told the father and son to stop it. Well, it went further than that. The board took away the father’s medical license and charged the son with impersonating a physician. Their whole empire is crumbling, hard.

The anti-vaccine forces are all angry and worked-up over the board of physicians protecting the public telling them to stop and charging them with several offenses. The anti-vaccine forces also think that anyone slightly associated with Big Pharma is not to be trusted and is possibly eating babies at Thanksgiving (I’m not joking). Well, guess what…

The father and son have an association with a third person, a person named Trigg. (Yes, the no-names rule will have to be bent a little bit.) Check this out:

“Young” is a whole other story for some other day

Who is this Trigg fellow? He’s likely this executive medical director at a pharmaceutical company. Of course, I could be mistaken. If I am, I’ll correct this. (And any reader is invited to offer evidence of any mistake I’ve made.) But this Dr. Trigg has the same exact name and approximate location of the Dr. Trigg who is suing his partners, the father and son.

Again, I could be wrong. These could be two doctors who share the same name and approximate location.

However, if I’m not wrong, and he is both a partner of the father and son and an executive at a pharmaceutical company, then the question begs to be asked…

Who is in bed with Big Pharma?

But I’m not the conspiracy theory type. I’ll just wait and see what happens.

For it is written so

I thought I’d take the opportunity that it is Sunday (I wrote this on a Sunday) to write something a little bit related to religion, namely Christianity. I know, I know! This blog is all about science, and it will always be. I’m not going to try to convert you to anything. Relax.

I’d like to write today about the conspiracy theory (Snopes.com artilcle) that RFID (Radio Frequency ID) chips will be implanted in humans as part of “Obamacare” starting sometime soon. Of course, it’s all bunk. The Snopes article does a really good job of explaining why this rumor is false.

But why do people believe that rumor?

There are quite a number of Christians who take what is written in the Bible literally. To them, the Earth is a few thousand years old, all of humanity descends from the survivors of the Great Flood, and there will be an “End Times” where a totalitarian government will rise to rule over the earth. My hope in Christians is that there is a good number of them that understand that the Bible was written in times when detailed explanations were not possible, so the book of Revelation was written in code and for the people living under control of the Romans. For all intents and purposes back in that time, Rome was the “One World Government” that everyone feared. Nero (or one of his contemporaries) was the “Antichrist” because the Roman emperors of that time were all about persecuting and killing Christians.

The Christians who believe in a literal meaning of the books of the Bible do something interesting when they want to spread their conspiracies. They take a literal approach to the Bible and then add a non-literal element to it. In the case of the RFID chip conspiracy, they take the literal meaning of “Mark of the Beast” in the Bible and then say, “Well, it’s not quite a mark but an RFID chip.” Anything to sell the idea, I guess.

But this idea of the RFID chip is not exclusive to the Obama era. They’re rehashing an old conspiracy and adapting it to the here and now. The “Bible Answer Man”, Hank Hanegraaff, answered a question about RFID and mentioned how the conspiracy, at least with RFID chips approved by the FDA, go back to 2004, when that approval took place. He wrote:

“In October 2004 the Food and Drug Administration approved the marketing of a microchip implantable under the skin of humans for medical identification. Paranoid prophecy pundits immediately began touting Verichip technology as the mark of the Beast spoken of in Revelation 13. Contrary to such newspaper eschatology, there is no biblical basis for believing that the mark of the Beast is a silicon microchip.”

Why is this conspiracy theory wrong from a theological point of view, let alone a scientific one? Because:

“Furthermore, the forehead and the hands are Old Testament symbols of a person’s beliefs and behavior (cf. Exodus 13:9; Deuteronomy 6:8; 11:18; Ezekiel 9). In other words, what you believe and how you behave mark you as either belonging to God or belonging to Satan. As such, John’s reference to the mark of the Beast in Revelation is securely tethered to Scripture. Conversely, the notion that the mark of the Beast is Sunday worship, a social security card number, or a silicon microchip has no biblical basis whatsoever.”

See, the person who wrote the book of Revelation, which is really a letter to the early Christians who were being persecuted by the Romans, wrote it in code so that the readers could carry it around and the message within could not be easily read by others. He used symbols to describe people and places. In short, the letter was written to them and then compiled in the Bible for us.

Now, I know a lot of atheistically-inclined folks will read that some conspiracy is based on the Bible and discredit it on that alone. And that’s fine if that’s what works for you. But what if you’re trying to explain to a “believer” that their belief is unfounded? Do you just just try to convert them away from their belief? Or do you go to a source — like I did with the Bible Answer Man — in order to explain to them that the conspiracy doesn’t even stand up to their own belief system?

There’s no good answer because it will depend on how comfortable you are discussing these things with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. If you’re an anti-theist, you might be encouraged to tell people that they’re crazy for believing and continue the debate from that angle. (It puts people off, by the way. They pretty much stop listening once you tell them they’re crazy.) If you’re more moderate in your views, you might want to find evidence with the history and study of the Bible — or some other holy book — in order to explain things away. It’s up to you.

I recommend a balance.

There are monsters under your bed, in your closet, and just about everywhere else

There’s this kid who is studying epidemiology. He means well by trying to learn a discipline where you get to learn how event B coming after event A doesn’t mean that A caused B. But that’s not how his brain seems to work. In his mind, there are monsters everywhere. There is nothing that happens by chance in his world. Everyone is connected, and everyone is against him.

When he wasn’t allowed in to harass his target of choice, he claimed that it was because Big Pharma considers an enormous threat. Here’s his explanation of why he was not allowed in (CFI is the “Center for Inquiry”, a skeptic group based in Washington, DC, where the kid goes to school:

“CFI’s pharmaceutical ties run deep. Dr. Jonathan Tobert – retired Merck scientist who developed the first statin drug – sits on CFI’s board of directors. Prior to his appointment to the board, he had already supported the organization for 30 years according to CFI’s website. For 24 of those 30 years, he was employed by Merck until retiring from the company in 2004 to join an FDA panel through that ever-revolving door between government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry. CFI president, bio“ethicist” Ronald Lindsay, headlined a recent conference with bio“ethicist” Arthur Caplan, director of the Penn Center for Bio“ethics.” Caplan chaired GlaxoSmithKline’s bio“ethics” advisory panel for three years and is vehemently opposed to vaccine choice.”

That’s right. Merck and GSK tremble at the thought of this kid. It doesn’t stop there, however. The conspiracy goes all the way to the White House.

When a PhD who is the father of a child with autism and has done research on autism was named to a federal committee on autism, the kid went off on a rant about it. Aside from all the ad hominem attacks, his rant included a conspiracy theory that the White House named the person on some twisted logic of ties and associations.

Perhaps not everyone is a monster in the mind of this kid. He absolutely worships the man whose fraudulent study brought about the fear of the Measles Mumps Rubella vaccine. He worships this fraudulent man so much that the kid now sees an elaborate conspiracy behind a recent legal finding against his deity:

“Amy Clark Meachum, the judge who threw Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s case out of district court by essentially saying that BMJ, Fiona Godlee and Brian Deer can libel him all they want since they are from the UK, is married to a lobbyist named Kurt Meachum of Philips & Meachum Public Affairs.

According to Texas Tribune Lobbyist’s directory, Kurt Meachum’s client, the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, earned him $10,000-$25,000 in 2011 alone. What is the significance of this? Family physicians give many vaccinations as a considerable part of their practice. But that’s hardly the beginning of the story.

In 2010, the Texas Academy of Physicians sponsored a talk given by none other than Pharma Front Group President and Founder Alison Singer at a vaccine industry conference no less. Her group, “Autism Science Foundation,” was founded for the expressed purpose of discouraging vaccine-autism research. Despite telling parents to vaccinate recklessly at the 2010 Texas Immunization Summit, Singer split the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine in three separate shots for her second daughter, who does not have autism, unlike her first who received the combined shot.”

See that? The judge’s husband works for a PR firm that had the Texas Academy of Family Physicians as his client. The Texas Academy of Family Physicians had Alison Singer of the Autism Science Foundation as a speaker in 2010. And, because the Autism Science Foundation is a “Pharma Front Group” in this kid’s mind, then the judge ruled against the deity because…

Because…

Well, I really don’t know. How do that many degrees of separation represent a conflict of interest? Did Big Pharma pay money to Alison Singer in 2010 to speak to the Academy to influence their PR person to tell his wife to rule against the deity, when the [expletive deleted] deity didn’t file the suit until 2012?

Is that how it works?

It must be tough to live in that fearful little mind.

But that is the modus operandi of this silly little boy. He sees conspiracies and conflicts of interest and associations everywhere. They’re probably under his bed and in his closet.

When the disgraced son of a former politician wrote an anti-vaccine article and then the article was retracted (as it was full of misinformation), the kid saw a conspiracy.

When a reported at TIME magazine rightfully called his deity a fraud, the conspiracy behind that article went all the way to the United Kingdom.

And when CBS and the Huffington Post began publishing stories about the irresponsibility of anti-vaccine writers, the conspiracy there was that Big Pharma is making editorial decisions at those outfits.

And the motivation behind THIS blog post? I’m sure he’ll find out that Big Pharma paid the daughter of the wife of an immigration lawyer who represented my groundskeeper who did a hell of a job with my lawn… And that’s why I’m writing this. 😉

IACC public comments were a disgrace

I had the misfortune of sitting through the IACC (Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee) yesterday, July 10, in Washington, DC. I write “misfortune” because it was a meeting in which some things got done, but a lot of others didn’t. I get it. It’s politics. But the really bad part, in my opinion, was the parade of anti-vaccine and anti-science nonsense that was allowed in the public comments section of the meeting.

It is my policy not to write names of people because some, in their delusions of self-grandeur, have Google alerts of their names and will come hunt me for writing anything about them, especially the truth parts. They really don’t like to see themselves in the mirror, from what I gather. However, because the comments were public, and because I took good notes while sitting there, and because some of their statements were all too idiotic, I am going to name them. I apologize if I get their names misspelled.



First up was Ms. Pam Rockwell. She was a treat. She touted some theory that there are “autism-producing antibodies” that are either given to mothers through the use of Rhogam, or were created by mothers of autistic children through immunization. Her reasoning was simple: Children who are born underweight or premature are more likely to receive blood transfusions, or be born to mothers who received Rhogam or blood transfusions, and are also more likely to have a form of autism. (Do I really need to write that correlation does not equal causation?) Ms. Rockwell didn’t have much time for comments, and neither did the rest of the members of the public that showed up, so I guess she didn’t get a chance to give us the “meat” of her argument. By “meat”, I mean evidence.

Next was Ms. Nicole Simon, who got up to speak with some sort of a banner. She spoke about how the hepatitis B vaccine, when given at birth, enters the blood circulation and can damage the brain, causing autism. She also spoke about the clamping of the umbilical cord at birth and how that causes hypoxia (low blood oxygen) at birth, also leading to damage of the blood-brain barrier, allowing toxins to enter the brain and cause autism. She said she had been doing her own research on this, and she charged the committee with investigating the use of umbilical cord clamping at birth, asking that it be stopped.

I wish I was high on acid when I was listening to this. That way, I would have had a good reason to have heard what I heard. But, oh, it got better.

Marc Blaxill, of “Age of Autism” fame, got up and delivered a scathing critique of the committee’s work. He said that the committee had not in the past, and probably wouldn’t now, achieve anything. (I’d like to editorialize and mention that it probably isn’t achieving anything that Mr. Blaxill wants, not necessarily not achieving anything at all.) He said that the committee as it is composed now is worse than previous committees and that he felt like there was an “Orwellian Time Warp” where fantasy was becoming science. He threw out a lot of big words, a lot of destructive criticism.

Next was Jake Crosby, also of “Age of Autism” fame, and someone who has tried to get people he disagrees with (or people who agree with science) in serious trouble at work. He tried to get  friend of this blog Ren Najera fired through a multi-page diatribe of accusations sent to Ren’s employer. So I was sure his public comment would be fact-based and void of innuendo. Right? Well, not quite. Mr. Crosby sounded very angry, raising his tone of voice at times, and he started off by whining about not being on the committee though he had been nominated. He mentioned how, disgustingly in my opinion, he was a student of public health at a university. And then he dove into conspiracy theories. He launched a lot of accusations at members of the committee and members’ friends and colleagues, and I didn’t have time to take down notes on it all. But the gist of his statement was that the committee and its members were corrupt, that nothing was being done to “cure” autism, and that one or two of the members accepted autism instead of combating it.

I wish this all had stopped there. It didn’t.

We then heard from Dawn Laughboro and Katie Wiseman talking up the toxins gambit. Everything in the environment, including mercury, of course, causes autism. It’s a “complex system”, according to one of them, where viruses, bacteria, parasites, and toxins cause autism. Dental amalgams, fish, and some sort of exposure to a mercury-containing drug generations ago are causing autism today. Ms. Laughboro went as far as to request a study in which the viruses and bacteria living in autistic children be studied as causes.

Right.

In my humble opinion, the commenter that took the prize for the “WTF?” category was Ms. Carolyn Rogers. She has, of course, been doing her own research and published something. I forget if it was an ebook or a pamphlet printed in Philadelphia during the British occupation. Anyway, her theory is that children born to women who had fevers during pregnancy are more likely to be autistic. These women also had ultrasounds. So Ms. Rogers theorizes that ultrasounds somehow cause autism. Does it do it by raising the temperature of the unborn fetus? I didn’t follow the line of reasoning from ultrasounds to fever.

The closing commenter was Ms. Mary Holland. She predicted a rise of autism prevalence from 1 in 88 today to 1 in 44 by 2018 if the committee didn’t do what the anti-vaccine, anti-science groups wanted. She mentioned that the nation will be ashamed to hear what the committee does, or doesn’t do, and it will be reminiscent of the bad job FEMA director “Brownie” did during the response to Hurricane Katrina.

I wanted to walk over to Ms. Holland and explain to her that a rise in prevalence is expected even if the “epidemic” is contained because autism is not by itself deadly, and more autistics are living with the diagnosis than ever before. She and her colleagues claim to understand autism, but how can they say that if they don’t understand prevalence? Heck, you’d think the young MPH student would understand prevalence, but he’s a lost cause.

My only comment to the committee is that they make sure they dot all their I’s and cross all their T’s when it comes to the kind of research they will listen to and recommend. They better be on the ball about science and evidence and not give in to any pressures, political or public, that attempt to counter said science and evidence. Because nothing, nothing, nothing will hurt autistic children and adults alike more than going with a “solution” or “cure” that is not based on science and evidence, like so many scams out there. Sadly, I heard no one demand this of the committee during the public comments.

Sure, do your own research, but…

You’ve probably heard this one:

“PLEASE do your own research! Vaccines are poison. There’s so much misinformation here. Look at the package inserts provided by the CDC. They list autism and SIDS as possible side effects. All this talk about Dr. Wakefield being a fraud and the pro vaxers never even bothered to read the package inserts for themselves. My daughter regressed into autism after a vaccine. Kids all over are dying of SIDS, which is the convenient title that doctors give to babies who die from vaccines. Not to mention allergies, asthma, ADHD, and all other illnesses brought on by vaccines. When America realizes that vaccines don’t make sense, we’ll be healthier for it!”

You’ve probably heard the “do your own research!” part, that is. The rest you’ve probably heard as well, but that’s not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is the “own research” that these people want you to do. Yes, you can do research on your own, but…

But you need a solid scientific base on which to base that research. Without knowing what you are reading, you are very likely to be deceived. You’re likely to believe the lies of the anti-science forces out there. You need to know what is scientifically plausible and what isn’t.

For example, if you read a paper from an obscure source, claiming that homeopathy works, you will tend to believe it if: A) You desperately want to believe, and/or B) you don’t know how basic math and chemistry rules-out the possibility that homeopathy works.

Likewise, if you don’t know how the light spectrum works, and how prisms are used to visualize the spectrum, and that water droplets work as prisms… Oh, forget the science. If you don’t know how rainbows work, you might be this lady:

See, she thinks that rainbows are a sign that the water is contaminated. I bet it’s because she’s seen the sheen on water surfaces after oil or oil-derived compounds are spilled onto them.

If you don’t have a solid base of biology, immunology, and chemistry, you may be inclined to believe that vaccines cause all sorts of evils. If you’re not an epidemiologist who understand causality, you might think that vaccines do cause autism because autism diagnoses are made after vaccination. (Diagnoses are also made after car rides, eating cereal, getting a scrape, teeth coming out, but that doesn’t make any of that be the cause to the effect.)

So, sure, do your own research, but make sure that you are educated in the things you are researching. Most scientific concepts are not easy to understand with a quick view via Google. You need to know what you are looking at, if it is plausible, and the science behind what you are observing.

I’ll tackle the rest of that comment later, if I feel like it.

Everything But The Cursed Vaccine

One of the big arguments that many anti-vaccine people will give you to downplay the importance of immunization is that “vaccines didn’t save us”. They will present as evidence the fact that deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases have been on the decline in the United States in modern times, particularly since potable water and sewer systems were installed in major population centers. They ask, then, that we do away with the US vaccine program and instead encourage good hygienic practices… LIKE WE DON’T DO THAT ALREADY.

If you were to read a public health message from any public health agency in October and November, that message would probably be about influenza, which peaks in the winter here in North America. In those messages, you will never read that the flu vaccine is the only way to prevent influenza. Better yet, you will even read from many public health professionals that frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent influenza, even better than the vaccine.

That’s right, anti-vaxers, the “Pharma Shills” are placing the interests of soap companies above those of Big Pharma. Shocking!

This is because public health professionals, for the most part, see public health problems as multi-faceted, multi-dimensional problems. No one problem is unique. Public health is not monolithic. Every single issue of public health concern has many sides to it, many causes, so it has many ways to approach it. When it comes to respiratory infections – like the flu – that are transmitted from person to person via respiratory droplets, we recommend to the public that they wash their hands, keep their distance if they’re sick and from sick people, and, if one is available, get vaccinated.

Let me explain it this way. What [expletive] general would ever send their troops to war without telling them all the ways they can defeat the enemy and equipping them with the best tools for the job? (Answer: One that doesn’t want to win.) So we tell the public all the evidence-based ways that they can prevent or control disease. It really isn’t all about vaccines.

But that is not what people in the anti-vaccine camp think. In their minds, we’re out there vaccinating at gunpoint. In their version of reality, we want everyone to develop autism from an imaginary conspiracy in their heads where vaccines cause autism while giving those of us who promote them some major profits. It’s almost like we’re not even on the same planet some times.

So you hear all of these talking heads – so-called experts – claiming that there are other ways, better ways to combat disease, so much so that vaccines are unnecessary and – in the minds of some of them – a dangerous proposition. There’s a pediatrician whose answer to childhood diseases is breastfeeding. There is a whacky lady down under whose answer to horrible things like whooping cough is everything BUT vaccines. (She has even denied that such a thing as whooping cough exists.) There are celebrities who trust homeopathy. And there are the poor parents who’ve believed these things and then lost – truly lost, as in dead – a child to a vaccine-preventable disease.

I’m not going to deny that potable water and sanitation have prevented a lot of death and disease in developed countries, nor am I going to deny that those systems are needed in developing countries to improve their standards of living. I’d be out of a job if I did. (Talk about conflicts of interest.) Potable water eliminates cholera. Draining swamps and installing nets eliminates malaria. Sewer systems take care of other waterborne infections.

But what about things like measles? It’s not waterborne. It’s not in the food. It’s in the air around an infected person, and it’s very infectious. What’s worse, the person is infectious to others before they have any symptoms. At least with diarrheal diseases – with the exception of asymptomatic carriers like Typhoid Mary – you have to get the diarrhea before you give it to others. That’s one good control measure we could instal: Diarrhea? Stay away! Yet that is not the case with measles or chickenpox. Even people with influenza are infectious about 24 hours before they are symptomatic.

The other thing about infectious like measles is that humans are the only reservoirs of the contagion. If we all got vaccinated, or at least the overwhelming majority (about 95%), we could eradicated – as was the case with smallpox. Then there wouldn’t be a need for any more vaccination. But no! Anti-vaccine advocates have done enough damage to the point that measles is making a comeback. I mean, those [expletive] will even go as far as to mail the [expletive] virus to other people!

So, yes, let’s have potable water. Let’s have sewer systems. Let’s give antibiotics/antivirals and continue research into their development and improvement. Let’s wash our hands, cook our food, and refrigerate the leftovers. AND let’s vaccinate, a safe and effective way to give these diseases the stab in the heart they deserve.