vaccination boulderdash

Reason.com just announced 45 enemies of freedom. Making the list at number 28 is Jenny McCarthy:

28. Jenny McCarthy

A second-string actress who has managed to stay in the limelight by promoting the bogus theory that vaccines cause autism, McCarthy traffics in pseudoscience and fear. Partly as a result of her widely publicized yet scientifically ignorant pronouncements, hundreds of thousands of fearful parents have needlessly endangered the health and lives of their children.

So, assuming she has caused hundreds of thousands (really?) of fearful parents to not vaccinate their children, how much has she endangered the health of children? We could determine the risk of vaccination at a superficial level by figuring out the percentage of children that are unvaccinated, determining the nominal number living in the US, figuring out how many die of diseases that vaccines cover, converting that to a percentage number, and then comparing that to the percent of vaccinated children who die of that disease. My prediction has always been the risk is trivial to zero.

This does not mean that vaccines are not useful. No serious person doubts that vaccines have eradicated various diseases:

But the question is not “what have vaccines done in the past?” but “is giving my children a vaccination worth the risk today, right now?”. It could be the case that because most other people in the US are vaccinated that the likelihood of getting infected by an outbreak is slim, in turn, decreasing the harms of not being vaccinated. To quote Malcolm in the Middle on car insurance: “If everyone else has car insurance, why do I need it?”. Because vaccines can be given at any point in life, maybe it is worth waiting until a child is 5 years old or 20 years old or about to embark on an international trip before giving them a vaccination. This could be the case. So, does the potential harms of not vaccinating outweigh the risks of vaccination today?

For these statistics, you will not find good sources. Try to find good numbers on the number of unvaccinated children in the US. When sporadic websites point to stories of unvaccinated children dying, it would be helpful to know the relative number. Is it 1 out of 100? Is it 1 out of 10,000? Is it 1 out of 1,000,000? The numbers matter. After all, vaccinated children die too. The NNii points out vaccines have an effective rate of about 98% (measles). Without relative harms, the pro-vaccine advocates are just banking on emotional appeal. It would be like someone trying to convince you not to drive because one of their friends died in a car accident (something much more likely than dying of diseases for which there are vaccines).

Here is another sample of the dishonesty of the pro-vaccine crowd:

Last year, California had more than 2,100 whooping cough cases, and 10 infants died. Only one had received a first dose of vaccine.

Only one of the 10 or only one of the 2,100? The statement is ambiguous. Trying to find more information it turns out the 9 who died were regular babies but just too young to have the vaccine:

Nine were younger than 8 weeks old, which means they were too young to have been vaccinated against this highly contagious bacterial disease.

Note that the Richard Dawkins webpage is quoting 2013 and the previous link is quoting 2010. But the evidence is clear (also note that this is another case where Richard Dawkins does not know what he is talking about):

So this is not a case of “the anti-vaccine crowd causes death” story, but a “normal vaccinating parents have their newborns die before they get vaccines” story. And this is panned by the pro-vaccine crowd as a reason to vaccinate? Is the dishonesty more blatant? This is not to say that the anti-vaccine crowd does not use the same statistical fallacies, it is just that the side who calls the other side “unscientific” should be called out more harshly.

My wife asked me my opinion on the vaccine controversy. I think the vaccine advocates vastly overestimate the harms of not being vaccinated and the anti-vaccine advocates vastly overestimate the harms of being vaccinated. With that being said: if you are traveling out of the country, my advice is to vaccinate.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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One Response to vaccination boulderdash

  1. Pingback: reason.com wars against reason | reality is not optional

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