Debunking Denialism

Fighting pseudoscience and quackery with reason and evidence.

Category Archives: Anti-vaccination

Debunking “The Pro-Vax Argument Lost Me When”

16 anti-vax claims debunked

Credible scientific and medical information about vaccines can be gotten from reading the websites of medical organizations and government public health websites, science and medicine textbooks by mainstream publishers and reading scientific review papers in highly credible scientific journals. The material found therein has very often been fact-checked and subjected to peer-review by other experts. Although certainly not infallible, together they represent the best information currently available.

Anti-vaccine activists, on the other hand, primarily rely on misleading information found on conspiracy blogs, YouTube videos and Facebook groups. These are not credible sources. One such blog post that is circulating in anti-vaccine communities is called The Pro-Vax Argument Lost Me When (with the subtitle “They Couldn’t Answer These Questions”) and feature 16 anti-vaccine claims disguised as superficially innocent questions for which the writer wrongly believes science has no answers.

In reality, this is a common denialist tactic called “just asking questions” (or JAQing off) that is based on making overt pseudoscientific claims, but hiding behind the trope that they are “just asking disturbing questions” in an effort to evade scientific objections. The blog post is written anonymously and contains no references to the scientific literature whatsoever. Despite this, it has achieved considerable spread across social media. So without further ado, here are scientific answers to all “questions” asked, backed up by real scientific references. Read more of this post

Skåne Regional Council Indirectly Finances Anti-Vaccine Campaign

Skåne Regional Council

Did you know that a Swedish county council that is responsible for healthcare in the region also indirectly finances anti-vaccine talks and efforts by the anti-dentist quack organization? In a stunning irony, the very government that is supposed to support healthcare and protect people are giving money to a patient advocacy group that fearmonger about dental implants. Sweden has experienced these issues before because they also fund a patient advocacy group that promotes alleged EMF hypersensitivity and even gotten close to redirect mobile antennas that would have made entire areas loose cell service.

Olle Palm at the Swedish Public Television (SVT) recently wrote a news item that exposed how an anti-dentist quack organization called Tandvårdsskadeförbundet used government money to finance an anti-vaccine talk by Swedish anti-vaccine activist Ann-Charlotte Stewart. Stewart previously appeared in a “false balance”-themed debate on Swedish public television that has been covered in detail previously on this website. They merely regurgitated the nonsense that has been refuted before, such as the toxin gambit, the vaccines did not save us gambit, and portraying measles as a harmless childhood disease.

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Winning The Fight Against Bacterial Meningitis With Immunization

Bacterial meningitis pathogen

Bacterial meningitis is often, but not exclusively, caused by the bacteria Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus). It involves the inflammation of the membranes of the central nervous system (including the brain) and depending on the stage of the disease, the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, confusion and severe pain. If the bacteria invade the bloodstream, it can damage the blood vessels and giving you internal bleeding. This is a potentially life-threatening disease and even if you receive antibiotic treatment, about 10-15% of people will die. According to the WHO, almost 1 million cases have been reported during the past 20 years in the so-called meningitis belt (ranging from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east).

Yet, there are important improvements occurring thanks to large-scale vaccination campaigns against meningococcus serotype A (the other most common serotypes are B, C, Y and W135). The number of cases of meningitis reported annually has been declining since 2010 and in 2014, it was down to 11 500. CNN recently ran a news item on the struggle against meningococcus serotype A in Africa that is worth examining in greater detail. We will also look at the aftermath of a recent meningitis death of a toddler due to anti-vaccine parents using alternative medicine for two and a half weeks before attempting to seek real medical attention.

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Mailbag: Real Vaccine Risks?

mailbag letter

It is time for another entry in the mailbag series where I answer feedback email from readers and others. If you want to send me a question, comment or any other kind of feedback, please do so using the contact form on the about page.

Nothing in the world is 100% safe or 100% effective. Everything you do carries some degree of risk: you can get hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing, choke when drinking water, accidentally fall when walking on gravel and so on. The challenge is to figure out if the benefits of something outweigh the risks, and if that is the case, then the product is reasonably safe and effective. It the risks clearly outweigh the benefits, the product is unsafe or ineffective.

These challenges are given substantial attention in the research and development of all medical products and certainly vaccines. This is due to several reasons: a dangerous product would be unlikely to pass the stringent regulatory checks and safeguards, a dangerous vaccine would just be pulled of the market, there is a very small profit margin for vaccines compared with other products (since most vaccines are only given once or a couple of times during life compared with other products that need to be taken every day) etc.

There are real risks with vaccines (as with any medical product), but these are either mild or very, very rare. However, what greatly irritates scientists, medical doctors and scientific skeptics is that anti-vaccine activists make up imaginary risks that are either enormously scientifically implausible (that smallpox vaccines turned people into cows) or have been repeatedly refuted by a massive amount of scientific research (such as most modern anti-vaccine claim). Read more of this post

How Pseudoscientific Quacks Defend Child Abuse

Natural News defend child abusers

Few things are more provoking to a scientific skeptic than when pseudoscientific cranks and quack exploit those who are not in a position to defend themselves. For instance, some HIV/AIDS denialist attempt to convince people with the virus to stop taking their medications or not using protection. Some anti-psychiatry proponents tell people with serious psychological conditions that they caused their own situation by “thinking too negatively” or “eating too much acidic food” and that all they need to do is “think positively”.

It is even more agitating when these quacks are exploiting and harming children. You might be able to argue that adults have personal responsibility and that they therefore should be allowed to do what they want, but this is not true for children. They are innocent and the quackery of the parents should not be imposed on their offspring. This post explores four such examples: chiropractors who perform dangerous spinal manipulations of very young children and even newborns, anti-vaccine activists who defend child abusers by falsely claiming that shaken baby syndrome is somehow a vaccine injury, fake therapists who subject children to coercive “rebirthing therapies” based on wrapping children in blankets and making them fight their way out to establish emotional attachment (that has led to fatalities) and finally autism quacks that force autistic children to drink bleach or take bleach enema.

Chiropractors: dangerous neck manipulations of newborn

Chiropractic is an alternative medicine pseudoscience that posits that most diseases are caused by misalignments in the spine called subluxation. In reality, these supposed misalignments cannot be seen on x-rays and had they been real, the person would be in excruciating constant pain, not have diffuse symptoms such as tiredness.

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When Anti-Vaccine Activists Falsely Dismiss Polio and Measles Harm

Vaccine Outliers

Russell Blaylock is a brain surgeon, but also a proponent of a whole host of misguided pseudoscientific claims about aspartame, MSG, water fluoridation, vaccines, medications for high cholesterol and he also believes in chemtrails. He even goes so far as to argue that modern medicine is not in the business of preventing disease, only treating it with expensive medications, despite the fact that vaccines are the pinnacle of preventative medicine and are very cheap compared with treatments for e. g. chronic diseases.

A long quote attributed to Blaylock is being circulated on social media originating from a website called “Vaccines by the Outliers”. The name refers to a closed Facebook group with over 5000 members. They call themselves “vaccine education and awareness group”, but readily admit that they consider that “much of what is heard about vaccines and vaccination within the mainstream, corporate media, the government, the medical profession, and certainly within the vaccine manufacturing industry is not the whole truth, and in many cases is just plain false.”

In reality, Blaylock borders on germ theory denialism, systematically attempts to dismiss the dangers with measles and polio, ignores the realities of importing vaccine-preventable diseases by travel, makes a common mistake of conflating death rates with incidence data, claims better sanitation got rid of measles and polio, despite the fact that this occurred in different decades, claims polio is a harmless summer flu and that vaccines overwhelm the immune system. More infuriating, he attempts to falsely tie the horrible tragedy of malnourished children dying to vaccines without any evidence whatsoever.

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Flawed Swedish Anti-Vaccine Article Rejected and Retracted

Anti-vaccine post

Anti-vaccine activists allegedly failed to get an opinion piece dishonestly titled “Our children should not be forcibly vaccinated” published in a major Swedish newspaper called Dagens Nyheter. The provided reason was supposedly that it did not include sufficient sources for their anti-vaccine claims. They attempted to publish it on the debate section on the website of the newspaper, but it was retracted a short while after. They will likely play the martyr card and claim that the mainstream media is oppressing them, even though the newspaper just declined publication and retracted a pseudoscientific opinion piece that promoted many scientific falsehoods.

The letter to the editor was published (webcite) a day later on the alternative news website Newsvoice that have supported many different conspiracy theories before. Although many of the claims made have been disproved thousands of times before, it is important to provide credible scientific information in a time where dangerous pseudoscientific myths are gaining ground and so this post will serve a point-by-point refutation.

It turns out that the authors of the opinion piece (Boo, Tips, Ahlm, Karlström och Zazzio) based their case on confusing mandatory with compulsory, butchering a quote from the Sweden National Board of Health and Welfare, spreading fear and uncertainty about vaccine safety and efficacy, claimed that knowledge about the prevalence of vaccine side-effects relies only on spontaneous reporting rather than active monitoring. Finally, they are betrayed by their own ignorance on why infants are vaccinated and even go so far as to propose that vaccines constitute “premeditated attempted murder”.

Mandatory vaccination is not the same as compulsory vaccination

At its core, Boo and co-authors confuses mandatory with compulsory in an effort to spread fear and doubt about vaccines. If something is mandatory, you pay a societal cost for not doing it. For instance, if you fail to show up for a mandatory lab session in a university chemistry course, you will not pass the course or you may not be able to send your child to your favorite candidate school if they require children to be vaccinated. If something is compulsory, on the other hand, it means that things something will be carried out under the threat of violence. If you fail to show up to a compulsory police interrogation, the police will come to your home or job and ask you to come with them. If you decline, you will be put in handcuffs and taken to the police station. If you resist, they will use violence against you.

Mandatory vaccination is not the same as compulsory vaccination. Compulsory vaccination was tried in e. g. the 1800s, and it arguably did not work. That is why countries like Sweden and the United States do not have compulsory vaccination.

Serious side-effects are very, very rare

The CDC has a lot of information about possible side-effects. For the MMR and DTaP vaccines, there is a 1 in 1 million risk of a severe allergic reaction. Other reported side-effects are so rare that if they are real, they cannot be reliably measured (risk much less than 1 in 1 million).

The risk from getting the disease is much worse. The risk of death for diphtheria is 5-10% and for tetanus it is about 10%. For measles it is 2%. Other complications of measles disease is brain inflammation, pneumonia, seizures and several others.

If you compare the risk with the vaccine versus the risk of the disease, the disease is much, much worse.

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How SVT Debatt Botched the Vaccine Issue

SVT Debatt

SVT Debatt is a Swedish studio debating program on public television that discuss a couple of current topics each week. Issues range from immigration and feminism to soccer violence and diet trends. Unfortunately, science experts are far and few between and extremists are often given considerably more time to spew their nonsense. This is because the format of the show consists of short back-and-forth exchanges between invited guests and other audience members that are often interrupted by the show host (who serve as a moderator), thus promoting quack one-liners while penalizing careful scientific arguments.

This became abundantly clear during the show aired on 9th April that dealt with childhood vaccines. They had invited several anti-vaccine activists that were given ample time to spread their pseudoscientific misinformation, such as promoting measles parties to intentionally give children measles and the absurd claim that vaccines are supposedly just placebo treatments.

This is a point-by-point refutation of the pseudoscientific claims delivered by anti-vaccine parents on the show.

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