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).
Irony #2: Opposing pharmaceutical companies while embracing profitable quack medicine
Pharmaceutical companies have a bad reputation and in certain situations they deserve it. They have occasionally acted unethically and made use of aggressive marketing, so they are by no means a testament to moral perfection. However, most medications have been tested by science and shown to work beyond the placebo effect, which is rarely true for so called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which heavily relies on anecdotes, tradition and human intellectual frailty. It is also interesting to note that, according to Dr. Paul Offit in his book Autism’s False Prophets, over 60 million Americans use CAM-related products and that it has become an industry that makes over 40 billion dollars per year for stuff that, for most of the time, have been shown to not work beyond placebo (Offit, 2008). Pharmaceutical companies are not perfect, but at least most of their products actually do what they claim, which cannot be said for most CAM-products (Singh & Ernst, 2008).
Irony #3: Rejecting safe vaccines while uncritically accepting untested and dangerous treatments
This is a corollary to the previous point: vaccines are among the safest pharmaceutical products that exists, while many of the products peddled by proponents of CAM are directly harmful, such as traditional Indian products called Ayurveda, some of which have been found in many different studies to contain harmful levels of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic (Saper et. al. 2004, Saper et. al. 2008), whether they where bought from local grocery stores or online.
Offit, P. A. & Moser, C. A. (2011). Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction. New York: Columbia University Press.
Offit, P. A. (2008). Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure. New York: Columbia University Press.
Singh, S. & Ernst, E. (2008). Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial. London: Corgi Books.
Saper et. al. (2004). Heavy metal content of ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA. 292(23):2868-73.
Saper et. al. (2008). Lead, Mercury, and Arsenic in US- and Indian-Manufactured Ayurvedic Medicines Sold via the Internet. JAMA. 300(8):915-23.