Talking to Anti-Vaxxers

With the sudden resurgence of a disease thought eradicated in the US, vaccines have come, once again, to the forefront of the news in general and the parenting world in particular.  Specifically, the measles vaccine is one of the (if not *the*) most successful vaccines in the history of, well, vaccines.  And yet, there have been 102 cases in 14 states in January of 2015 alone.  For reference, in the eleven years from 2002 to 2012, nine years saw fewer than 100 cases.

Recently, parenting website The Stir published an article outlining the “22 Things Never to Say to Moms Who Don’t Vaccinate.”  Needless to say, I take exception with a number of them.

Now, let’s get a couple of things out of the way: the “link” between vaccines never existed, has been thoroughly trounced as made-up hokum, and the “doctor” who published the original “study” has been barred from practicing medicine and was found guilty of, among other charges, 12 counts involving the abuse of developmentally challenged children.  The journal which originally published his paper, The Lancet, fully retracted the paper and its editor-in-chief described it as “utterly false.”

So what about these things you shouldn’t say to anti-vaxxers?

“Oh sorry, I need to cancel that play date.” Why? Are you worried your child’s vaccine is ineffective?

No, but I understand how vaccines work.  I also might have been born prior to the vaccine becoming available (in 1963).  Or I, or one of my kids, or someone else in the house, might have a compromised immune system.  Or I might know someone who, for legitimate reasons, was never vaccinated.  So, yeah.

Also, while I might have been hit by cars in the past and survived with nary a scratch, I don’t cross busy streets against the light.  I also don’t eat raw chicken just because not all chicken carries salmonella.  And I don’t have unprotected sex if I don’t want another kid, even though most of the time it won’t result in pregnancy.

Likewise, while my kids are vaccinated, I don’t want to take any more chances than necessary.  And that includes letting them play with your kid.

I’m also concerned that the stupid might rub off on them.

“Vaccines don’t cause autism, you know.” Yeah, I know, and shame on that doctor for manipulating data. Autism has nothing to do with why I don’t vaccinate though.

Really?  So you have some other, scientifically valid reason?  There’s some other study, backed up by other researchers duplicating its results, that you’ve researched and that your pediatrician (and the one you got a second opinion from, since the first was clearly an idiot) support?

Or does it come down to “it doesn’t feel right for my kid?”  That’s fine for picking clothes or when you take the training wheels off their bike, but not for issues of public health.

If you want to live as part of a society, then you have to consider the whole rather than just yourself.  Want to do anything you want?  Go find a patch of land miles from a road and live in a shack away from everyone else.

“You should be more grateful for modern medicine.” Modern medicine is a miracle. But then there’s Larium.

You mean the extinct genus of brachiopod?  Or did you mean Lariam, a brand name of the malaria drug mefloquine?  It has some side effects, but so do most medicines.  As with any drug, one must weigh the benefits against its risks.  That’s why we generally recommend against taking drugs for purely recreational reasons.  But in this case, the benefits (kids not dying) of the MMR (and other) vaccines far outweigh any risks someone might have conjured up.

“Isn’t it illegal to not vaccinate your kids?” I think you’re thinking of bank robbery?

No, it isn’t illegal, and it probably shouldn’t be.  But I don’t think I’d protest too hard if it were.  What *should* be prevented by law is enrolling a kid in a public school who hasn’t been vaccinated.  Fortunately, in California, lawmakers are working on exactly that.

“Aren’t you worried your kids might die?” Is there a mom who would actually answer no to this?  My kid’s health and safety come first — that’s where bike helmets, car seats, and toddler-proofing come in.

Okay, so you recognize the danger of a kid hitting their head when falling off a bicycle and understand what can happen to a kid who’s not buckled in during an automobile accident, but you don’t get the dangers of measles and polio and all the other deadly diseases we got rid of?  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “in 1980, before widespread vaccination, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year.”  On the other hand, “During 2000-2013, measles vaccination prevented an estimated 15.6 million deaths making measles vaccine one of the best buys in public health.”

A paper in the Journal of Infectious Medicines notes that, in the US from 1912 to 1916, there were an average of 5300 measles-related deaths each year — 26 per thousand cases reported.  By the late 50s, that number had dropped to 450 deaths per year (about 1 per thousand cases reported), likely due to better health care and nutrition.  Still, prior to the vaccine’s introduction, an average of 150,000 measles patients suffered from respiratory complications while another 4000 patients had encephalitis.  It is estimated that about 48,000 people were hospitalized each year due to measles and its complications.  Compare that to the early part of the 21st century when the total number of cases — not just ones requiring hospitalization or resulting in death, but *all* of them — were less than 100.

Even with widespread, global use of the vaccine, “measles is the greatest vaccine-preventable killer of children in the world today and the eighth leading cause of death among persons of all ages worldwide.”  So, if you’re not going to vaccinate your kid, you might as well save the money you’d spend on bike helmets, car seats, and so on.

“So do you home school too?” Sorry, WHAT?

Maybe not, but if you’re not going to vaccinate your kid, you should.  And stay out of public parks too.

“Ah, so you’re behind this recent measles outbreak!” Yes, I am the all-powerful one.

I wonder if the person who *is* responsible for the recent outbreak is so flippant about it.

“Why are you so willing to put others at risk?” How is my perfectly healthy child putting anyone at risk?

Because your kid could be a carrier.  Your kid could get measles and start another outbreak.  It’s not rocket science; it’s actually pretty simple.

We used to have a very tall pine tree in our back yard.  Our next door neighbor had one too.  Someone (probably not a qualified arborist) trimmed his tree such that it was the trunk with a few stumps of limbs.  Naturally, the tree died.  Not long after, our beautiful, healthy tree began turning brown and it quickly became obvious that something was very wrong.  We called an arborist who told us that the tree was dead.  There are always little bugs that try to eat trees; their natural defenses generally fight them off.  But when the neighbor’s tree died, the bug population flourished, feeding off that tree.  Soon, those bugs migrated to our tree and the massive onslaught was simply too much for our tree to handle; it succumbed.

Measles works the same way, except that we don’t really have a natural immunity.  So we get the vaccine which helps us, as a group, fight off the measles virus.  When someone doesn’t get vaccinated, they’re acting like that tree next door and, yes, they can overwhelm even the boosted immune system of someone who had been vaccinated.

“Never seen a real case of measles, have you? Keep it up and you will!” Actually, had measles as a kid — and here I am, alive and kicking. With a great immune system, to boot. Go figure.

Y’know, I didn’t wear a bike helmet when I was a kid and I don’t remember my parents ever buying a car seat either.  None of their five kids died in bicycle or car accidents.  Doesn’t mean kids didn’t.  You got lucky.  Not everyone did.

The thing that selfish pricks like you don’t get is that it’s not just about you.  It’s about all of us.  My kids all seem to have really strong immune systems too; that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the kids who don’t.

“You know Jenny McCarthy is just a Playboy Bunny and not a doctor, right?” Jenny who?

Some bimbo who isn’t any brighter than you.

“So how many times have your kids had measles?” None. Yours?


“I think people who don’t vaccinate are so irresponsible.” If you think spending hours doing research, reading books, and questioning doctors on vaccines is irresponsible, then I guess you’re right.

You have a medical degree?  Did you actually listen to those doctors or did you just challenge them and then do what you wanted despite their answers?  And did you read real medical journals or pseudo-science bullshit?

“Isn’t not vaccinating like child abuse?” Refusing to assault my child with needle after needle and pump her full of toxins? Yes, it’s exactly like that.

Again, you don’t understand vaccines and you’re a crappy parent.  Being a parent does not mean you make the world all sweetness and light for your kid.  Your job is to make sure they are safe and to provide the support they need to live happy, healthy, successful lives.  If your kid doesn’t like vegetables, you don’t say they never have to eat them.  If they want cake for dinner every night, you don’t let them.  If they want to stay up until midnight on a school night watching scary movies when they’re 5 years old, you tell them no.  You don’t buy them every toy they lust after.  You don’t let them skip school or not do their homework just because it isn’t fun.

When the time comes, you hug them tightly while the doctor gives them a shot.  It’s what you do.

“You don’t vaccinate? Keep your kids away from mine! I don’t want them to get pneumonia!” Er, you do know that unvaccinated doesn’t equal ‘sick with some disease right this minute,’ right?

Perhaps not, but the likelihood skyrockets.  Just as the likelihood of getting shot by a toddler is far higher in a household where the parents don’t unload and lock up their guns.

“Not vaccinating is just as bad as being racist.” And those two things are related … how?

In all fairness, the comment is not relating racism and not vaccinating kids, except in the level of “badness”.  Not vaccinating your kids is not as bad as killing someone but it is worse than letting your kid ride a bike without a helmet.

That said, I will note that this is a rather silly thing to say.

“Don’t be so paranoid! The government isn’t out to get you or your kids.” Nice talking to you, I’ve got to go adjust my tinfoil hat.

Except that there are those who do believe that the whole vaccine thing is some sort of conspiracy: “In conclusion, the vaccination process has provided the government with a convenient way not only to plant beacon devices within the entire citizenry, but also to test experimental warfare and mind-control techniques.”

“Seriously, have you done your research?” Nah, I read some tea leaves and consulted with my spirit animal.

No, really, have you done your research?  Like, have you read the medical journals?  Do you understand them?  Or are they too hard, so you read something on the internet?  Have you talked with doctors, virologists, and other scientists?  Really talked and, better yet, listened, instead of spouting nonsense you read on the internet and expecting them to counter something that makes no sense and has no basis in reality?

Because, if you actually had done your research and you understood it, you would have gotten your kids vaccinated.

“Please credibly cite which ‘harmful things’ are in vaccines and what makes them harmful.” Please credibly cite what’s in a vaccine.

Those who rely on the advice of qualified professionals don’t actually need to know the details; that’s a big part of why we require doctors to be trained and certified and why everything a scientist says is checked and verified by others (and if it doesn’t check out, like Wakefield’s study, then that research is published and checked and so on.  That’s why science works, bitches.)

On the other hand, where does your spirit animal get its information?  Who validated it?  Did you check with a second spirit animal?  And a third and fourth and possibly even a fifth, if the first two disagreed?

“If the government finds out, won’t your children be taken away from you?” That’s what we’re hoping. Have a nice day!

In a custody case, it could be a factor, I would imagine.  But generally speaking, yes, there are ignorant people who support vaccinations.

“People who don’t vaccinate their kids are selfish.” How so? We’re generously leaving more vaccines for you! Enjoy!

You’re being selfish because you’re not considering the effects on others.  Sure my kids are likely to be fine; they’re fully vaccinated.  But my 80-year-old mother-in-law, who still works with kids, probably isn’t vaccinated.  Sure, she’s my mother-in-law, but I would like to keep her around as long as possible for my kids.

You’re not thinking of infants like the five kids under a year old near Chicago who were infected at their daycare — with more cases likely to emerge.

“What? Your child didn’t get a flu shot? Now mine’s going to get meningitis.” Uh, riiiiight — and your obvious knowledge explains why you do vaccinate.

There will always be those who are uneducated.  Which is why it all the more important to follow the recommendations of those who are.  I don’t tell my mechanic what’s wrong with my car, I don’t correct my CPA when he does my taxes, and, because I don’t have a medical degree or detail knowledge of biology and the human body and viruses, so I listen to what my doctor says.  If he can’t explain things in a way that I can understand what he’s saying and why he’s saying it, I’ll go to another doctor, until I find one, not who disagrees, but who can explain things in a way I can understand them.

“Your kids deserve to die.” And you are a lovely person.

No one should ever have to hear this, whether its because of misguided views on vaccines, being a member of the LGBT community, or any other reason.  I offer my sympathies to anyone who has ever been told this for whatever reason and shame on anyone who would say this.

Long story short, there are very few valid reasons not to have your kid vaccinated.  Whatever reasons you might think you have, double check them, if not for your kids’ sake then for the sake of everyone else.

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