Science Resources

The Vaccine War

Vaccines are one of the greatest lifesavers in medicine. They have saved hundreds of million of people from disease complications and death. Vaccines are among the safest medical products in existence and undergo strict testing and surveillance after release. They now can protect against well over a dozen diseases like polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis and many more and severe side effects are exceedingly rare (on the order of 1 in 1 million) or largely theoretical.

Yet there are anti-scientific forces at play. They threaten to overturn the advances in public health that have been accomplished during the 1900s and early 2000s. They promote pseudoscientific nonsense about vaccines and even go so far as to claim that they want their children to become infected with dangerous diseases. They are no longer just anti-vaccine activists, but have developed into pro-disease activists. They even quote Bill Gates out of context to back up their harmful and untrue narratives and subject autistic children to dangerous quackery.

Thankfully, many scientists, doctors and science advocates have risen to the challenge and answered the false claims made by anti-vaccine activists. This includes everything from disproving their nonsense with references to the scientific literature to detailed discussions of how we know vaccines do not cause conditions or side effects that anti-vaccine activists think they do. The scientific community has also responded by carrying out careful scientific research that has shown again and again that anti-vaccine activists are wrong on the facts. Hundreds and hundreds of scientific papers have been published that demonstrate the safety of vaccines.

In 2015, PBS Frontline released an updated version of the vaccine documentary The Vaccine War that explored the flaws in the arguments put forward by anti-vaccine cranks and showed that some diseases are now coming back because people have stopped vaccinated in many areas of the United States. They put special focus on recent measles outbreaks related to Disneyland or international travel as well as the struggle over personal belief exemptions.

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Vaccines have to a large degree been the victims of their own success. Very few young parents today have experienced measles or polio when they were young and certainly do not see yearly outbreaks where millions of people get infected. Thus, many people have been complacent and are now more likely to believe some random YouTube clip over credible information provided by the CDC or the larger scientific literature.

Anti-vaccine activists also target doctors and scientists, harass them and spreading falsehoods about them on the Internet. With the recent measles outbreaks in the United States in mind, there is a need to boost efforts to communicate scientific evidence to the public and counter anti-vaccine misinformation online.

The Vaccine War documentary can be found in full on the PBS Frontline website here and the video is also available on their YouTube channel here. If you get a 404 not found for the video on the PBS Frontline website, try temporarily disabling add-ons such as HTTPS Everywhere or using a secondary browser that does not have this installed.


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