Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: anti-vaccine

Swedish Anti-Vaccine Cranks Start Encroachment on Africa

Your worst nightmare just came true.

As you know, I have been keeping an eye on Swedish anti-vaccine cranks during the last few months, detailing their spread and debunking their claims in detail. They basically repeat the same old canards as their British and American counterparts, often not even bothering to translate it to Swedish, but just copy/paste intellectual defecation from places like Natural News. I generally considered them to have low potential impact on society at large. Their editor Linda Karlström had only given a few talks under the umbrella of marginalized conspiracy organizations and had not gotten any particular coverage in the news.

This was until I noticed a new press release on their website It just goes on and on, so I only wrote its central message below (my translation). want to each out to 115 million french-speaking Africans wants to reach out to larger groups that is suspected to lack knowledge about the risks an ineffectiveness of vaccines. Therefore, we want to reach as many as possible within french-speaking Africa to increase knowledge about risks and to stimulate an open debate.

This could, in a worst case scenario, dwarf the deaths of over 330000 people with HIV/AIDS under the regime of AIDS denialist Thabo Mbeki.

Now, the group behind is probably not well-funded or organized. Realistically speaking, their impact will probably be minor. However, they may help to mount an increased resistance against vaccination and contribute to thwarting efforts at eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases such as polio and measles.

If they join forces with other anti-vaccine organizations, we may be looking at major outbreaks that could have been prevented. They will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to wash their hands of the blood of innocent African children that died due to their anti-vaccine actions.

A Few Anti-Vaccine Archetypes

Steven Novella recently published What is an Antivaxer? over at the Science-Based Medicine blog. It is a useful overview of different classic types of anti-vaccine advocates. He admits up front that it is really a continuum, but offers a couple of typical cases.

I will discuss them in turn and add my personal interpretation and evaluate how likely it is to persuade the individuals in these categories that they are mistaken. To emphasize again, these are stereotypical categories and all individuals should be treated as individuals.

1. The Misinformed Parent

This is the person who has heard anecdotes from their friends and started to believe, with no good evidence, in the general harmfulness of vaccines. Novella explains:

The first sub-category is not truly anti-vaccine, but can be made to feel as if they are being lumped in with extremists – and that is well-meaning parents who are simply misinformed or confused.

He goes on to point out that scientific skeptics are not critical of this group, as they are merely the unfortunate victims of anti-vaccine propaganda. Maybe they have heard that vaccines contain mercury, but not gotten the full story:

However, mercury was removed from the routine childhood vaccine schedule in the US by 2002. Tiny doses of mercury (in thimerosal) is still present in some, but not all, flu vaccines. You can get all the vaccines you need without any mercury (except for insignificant trace amounts). I should also mention that the doses of mercury in vaccines prior to 2002 was tiny, that it is in the form of ethylmercury, which is much less toxic than methylmercury (the form that is more likely to be encountered in the environment), and that the evidence does not show any link between mercury in vaccines and any adverse outcome.

I think that these group should be treated with kindness because they may be the easiest archetype to persuade of the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Not quite an unbiased fence-sitter, but basically as close to one as you get when it comes to anti-vaxers.

2. The Mercury Militant

If one is heavily invested in the idea that mercury that is suppose to be found in vaccines (which really isn’t; see above) is causing pretty much most or all of modern day diseases, one may be placed in the mercury militant archetype. Novella suggests that: Read more of this post

Three Great Ironies of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Let us not forget that the vast majority of the claims put forward by the anti-vaccine movement have gone down in flames, but there are a couple of interesting ironies in the situation that is worth taking a closer look at.

Irony #1: Claiming that MMR vaccine causes autism, when it actually can prevent certain cases of autism

One of the most common claims from the anti-vaccine cranks are that vaccines, often specifically the trivalent vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella, causes autism. This claim has been contradicted by a dozen or so large-scale epidemiological studies and detailed reviews of the literature, but the problem goes even deeper than that. A pregnant female infected with rubella can give birth to a child that has the condition known as congenital rubella syndrome (CRS), with includes deafness, abnormal eyes, congenital heart diseases and, surprisingly, developmental disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder (Offit and Moser, 2011). Getting vaccinated with the MMR vaccine strongly reduces the risk for women who later get pregnant to get infected with rubella and therefore prevents the child from getting the congenital rubella syndrome (which is a risk factor for developing autism spectrum disorder). Read more of this post

The Anti-Vaccine Battleship is Still Sinking

The Institute of Medicine, an independent organization under National Academy of Sciences designed to provide advice on issues of health, recently published yet another report on vaccine safety a few days ago. Earlier reports, focusing on the supposed association between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism, thimerosal and autism, the hepatitis B vaccine and demyelinating disorders like multiple sclerosis. The reports reviewing the research on these issues found that the postulated associations where not supported by the evidence or that the evidence favors a rejection of a causal relationship.

This, of course, did not even put a dent in the conspiracy theories about large pharmaceutical companies and vaccines. The funny thing about conspiracy theories is as more and more evidence piles up against it, the proponents usually claim, in a puff of cognitive dissonance, that the researchers are part of the conspiracy, bought by the pharmaceutical companies. Never mind the fact that the reviewers where independent and has never been involved in vaccine safety or anything like that before. Soon, the supposed conspiracy grows to such an absurd size that it would not have been manageable without leaks.

This new report, entitled Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality, is a result of a detailed review of the scientific literature spanning over 1000 articles and, while finding evidence of extremely rare adverse events like seizures and inflammation of the brain, they did not find any evidence for associations such as autism and type-I diabetes. The report brief concluded that Read more of this post


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