I don’t read Daily Kos, but one of my readers directed my attention to an article titled “Vaccines are essential for a healthy society” by Mark E Andersen and asked me to write a response. Having now been confronted with Andersen’s astonishing cluelessness and hypocrisy, I can’t help the compulsion to accede to that request. I don’t have time to do a thorough takedown of all of Andersen’s errors, but highlighting just a few will more than suffice to demonstrate that he is the one guilty of his own charge of ignorance.
My title for this post is taken from his description of those who don’t share his beliefs about vaccines as being guilty of “anti-vax stupidity”. Since the examples he provides in a feeble attempt to support this insult actually demonstrates that he’s the one who’s clueless, it seems appropriate to call him out for pro-vax stupidity. Given his insulting condescension, he fully deserves what follows, measured out according to the same measure with which he’s seen fit to judge.
Varicella Vaccination Has Shifted the Risk Burden to Adults
The first major clue that Andersen is clueless is his claim that getting chicken pox during childhood—something he “would not wish . . . on anyone”—means you’ll have “an increased risk for shingles as an adult”.
It’s common knowledge that developing natural immunity to the varicella virus, which causes both chicken pox and shingles, protects against more serious disease later in life. That’s why some parents used to have “chicken pox parties” to deliberately expose their children at an age at which it was generally a benign infection, rather than risking infection during adulthood when it posed a higher risk of serious complications. It was well understood that, as the CDC notes, “For most people, getting chickenpox once provides immunity for life.”
I, for one, would personally not wish chicken pox during adulthood or shingles on anyone and am glad to have had the opportunity to have chickenpox as a child. It’s just too bad that, due to mass vaccination’s interruption of transmission, the immunity I gained from that infection isn’t naturally boosted from frequent reexposures, thus leaving me potentially at risk of shingles as I age rather than protected by the natural herd immunity that existed before the vaccine’s introduction.
The recognized fact that childhood infection protects against more serious disease in adulthood is precisely why it was controversial when the CDC first proposed to add the varicella vaccine to its routine childhood vaccine schedule. As the New York Times pointed out at the time, on March 18, 1995, while chicken pox in childhood was “itchy but only rarely fatal”, there was “a higher risk of serious complications when the disease develops in adolescents and adults.” As the Times also noted, despite the CDC being on the verge of adding the vaccine to the schedule, studies hadn’t been done to determine how long its protective effect would last, and, “If the immunity wanes over time, those vaccinated might get the disease as adults when the illness can be more serious.”
In other words, the CDC was treating the entire US population as subjects of a mass uncontrolled experiment that could potentially increase the societal disease burden from the varicella virus.
In addition to the long-lasting immunity conferred by natural infection, adults were protected against shingles by frequent exogenous boosting, i.e., repeated reexposures that provided a natural boosting of antibodies. Contrary to Andersen’s curious belief, what evidence shows has actually increased the risk of shingles is mass varicella vaccination. Here’s how a former CDC researcher, Gary Goldman, and his coauthor P. G. King explained it in a study published in the prestigious journal Vaccine in 2013 (emphasis added; note that VZV means varicella-zoster virus, and HZ means herpes zoster, or shingles):
Prior to the universal varicella vaccination program, 95% of adults experienced natural chickenpox (usually as pre-school to early elementary school children)—these cases were usually benign. In the prelicensure era, the periodic exogenous boosting that adults received from those shedding VZV resulted in long-term immunity. This high percentage of seropositive individuals and their long-term immunity have been compromised by the universal varicella vaccination of children which provides at best 70-90% protection that is temporary and of unknown duration—shifting chickenpox to a more vulnerable adult population which … carries 20 times more risk of death and 10 – 15 times more risk of hospitalization compared to chickenpox in children. Thus, the proponents for universal varicella vaccination have failed to consider the increased HZ-related morbidity as well as the adverse effects of both the varicella and HZ vaccines which have more than offset the limited benefits associated with reductions in varicella disease. The universal varicella (chickenpox) vaccination program now requires a booster vaccine for children and an HZ vaccine to boost protection in adults. However, these are less effective than the natural immunity that existed in communities prior to licensure of the varicella vaccine. Hence, rather than eliminating varicella in children as promised, routine vaccination against varicella has proven extremely costly and has created continual cycles of treatment and disease.
So the points for stupidity here go to pro-vaxxer Mark Andersen, not those whom he calls “anti-vaxxers”, the usual derogatory label for anyone who dares to challenge official dogma by questioning or dissenting from public vaccine policy.
Yes, the Varicella Vaccine Is So Made Using Cells from an Aborted Fetus
“Ignoring the science behind vaccines,” Andersen goes on to say, “parents who gain their knowledge from questionable sources are refusing to vaccinate their children.” As a supposed example of an ignorant parent, he cites a news report about a father who refused to vaccinate his son against chickenpox “because he believed it was derived from ‘aborted fetuses.’”
“I should not even have to write this,” Andersen continues, “but the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine is not made of aborted fetuses.” To support this, he quotes from a WebMD page stating that “The vaccine is made from a live but weakened, or attenuated, virus.”
Under the belief that that description from WebMD proved that the varicella vaccine does not contain DNA from an aborted human fetus, Andersen adds, “I wish I could say this was the height of anti-vax stupidity, but sadly it is not.”
Looking to Andersen’s source, we can see that the statement about containing an inactivated viral component is indeed the extent of the pharma-ad-dollar-funded WebMD’s answer to the question “What Is the Chickenpox Vaccine?”
Andersen’s problem is that he was duped by the lazy ass journalism describing the father’s true statement as merely a “belief” and by WebMD’s deception that the viral antigen component of the vaccine is the only thing contained in the vaccine.
Andersen could have learned that the father is correct had he bothered to just look at the manufacturer’s own package insert, available at the website of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which states plainly that the varicella vaccine is manufactured by propagating the virus “in human diploid cell cultures (WI-38)”and “in human diploid cell cultures (MRC-5).” The final product “contains residual components of MRC-5 cells including DNA and protein”.
WI-38 and MRC-5 are both cell cultures derived from aborted human fetuses. As the director of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, Frank Destefano, and his coauthors point out in the textbook Plotkin’s Vaccines:
Vaccines Contain DNA From Aborted Human Fetuses
Two cell lines, MRC-5 and WI-38, both derived from elective abortions performed in Europe in the early 1960s, have been used as cell substrates in vaccine manufacture. Four vaccines continue to require the use of these cell lines: varicella, rubella, hepatitis A, and one of the rabies vaccines.
The CDC also points out that the varicella vaccine is in fact derived from aborted human fetal tissue in this table of vaccine excipients (substances contained in vaccines other than the viral or bacterial antigen components), from its authoritative “Pink Book”.
So once again points for ignoring the science behind vaccines and getting anti-knowledge from questionable sources on the internet go to Mark Andersen. Way to go, ignorant hypocrite!
Vaccines are Not Essential for Good Health, Not All Are Safe, Not All Are Effective, and Science Has NOT Proven They Don’t Cause Autism
Regarding the title of his post, “Vaccines are essential for a healthy society”, I would challenge Andersen to produce even a single study that has compared long-term health outcomes for children vaccinated according to the CDC’s routine schedule and children who remain completely unvaccinated, and which showed that the vaccinated children had overall better health. Here’s a little hint: he won’t be able to. His title makes a claim that he cannot support.
The dogmatism underlying his post’s title is astonishing: as though nature (or God, if you’re a believer) created us without a functioning immune system that we all require a medical intervention starting on the first day of our lives with the Hepatitis B vaccine lest our bodies remain incapable of fighting off viral or bacterial infection. As though the key to strong immunity was not to give the body what it needs to properly function, including getting proper nutrition. His title is an expression not of scientifically proven fact, but of his own ignorant beliefs about vaccines.
As he draws near to the end of his article, he repeats the dogma that he so strongly believes in, that “Vaccines are safe, and effective, and do not cause autism.”
All vaccines are safe? Then why did the US stop using the diphtheria, tetanus, and whole cell pertussis vaccine and replace it with a vaccine using an acellular pertussis component? Well, we can turn to the CDC itself for the answer: “Concerns about safety led to the development of more purified (acellular) pertussis vaccines that are associated with a lower frequency of adverse reactions.” Furthermore, as a study published in the journal EBioMedicine in February 2017 noted, “All currently available evidence suggests that DTP vaccine may kill more children from other causes than it saves from diphtheria, tetanus or pertussis.” I am curious how that meets Andersen’s definition of “safe”. Another example is the oral polio vaccine, which the US no longer uses precisely because, as the CDC has acknowledged, every case of paralytic polio in the US after 1979 was caused by the vaccine.
Seems not all vaccines are safe, then. And all vaccines are effective? Is that how we should describe how mass varicella vaccination has shifted the risk burden onto those at higher risk of serious complications, resulting in an estimated net increase in societal health care costs? Is the mumps vaccine causing a similar shift in the risk burden what we should consider “effective”? Should we describe as “effective” the pertussis vaccine, which fails to prevent transmission of the bacteria; confers an inferior immunity to natural immunity that wanes after just two to four years; and which has caused a genetic shift in the circulating strains so that today the bacteria lacks a protein called pertactin, one of the antigen components of the vaccine, leading the CDC to acknowledge that vaccinated patients have “significantly higher odds than unvaccinated patients of being infected” with the pertactin-negative strains that now dominate due to the evolutionary pressure put on the bacteria by mass vaccination? And how do we reconcile this belief of Andersen’s with, say, the findings of a Cochrane Collaboration systematic review of the scientific literature on the influenza vaccine that the CDC’s assumptions underlying its universal flu shot recommendation, that the vaccine prevents transmission and reduces hospitalizations and deaths, are unsupported by the available evidence—findings that would “seem to discourage the utilization of vaccination against influenza in healthy adults as a routine public health measure”? How do we reconcile his belief with studies showing that getting a flu shot annually can increase your risk of illness due to the lost opportunity to acquire the superior immunity gained from natural infection, which, unlike the vaccine, confers protection not only against the infecting strain, but other strains as well?
As for his belief that vaccines “do not cause autism”, that is a matter of faith for him, too. Sure, we’ve all heard it a million times. Sure, the government insists on it, and, sure, the mainstream corporate media parrot it mindlessly, but repeating beliefs as though fact does not make them true. Sure, there are lots of studies finding no association, but these are all retrospective observational studies, which by design can neither prove nor disprove a causal relationship between vaccines and autism. The fact is that not one of the studies cited by the CDC to support its claim that “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” was actually designed to test the hypothesis that vaccines can contribute to the development of autism in subpopulations of children who have a genetic or environmental predisposition to vaccine injury manifesting as symptoms of autism. In fact, to support its claim, the CDC cites a 2004 review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that actually acknowledged that, “This hypothesis cannot be excluded by epidemiological data from large population groups that do not show an association between a vaccine and an adverse outcome.” In other words, while the IOM review concluded that the weight of scientific evidence favors the rejection of this hypothesis, none of the studies it examined were actually designed to test it. This, they conceded, could theoretically explain why these studies failed to find an association! Once again, to dispel with Andersen’s false belief that science has proven that vaccines cannot cause autism, we can turn to the CDC’s own director of “Immunization Safety”, Dr. Frank DeStefano, who acknowledged in a 2014 interview that “it’s a possibility” that vaccines could trigger autism in genetically susceptible individuals, but that the problem is that it’s very “hard to predict who those children might be”.
Can you blame parents for objecting to public vaccine policy treating vaccination as a one-size-fits-all solution that plays Russian roulette with our children?
I could go on, but it would be superfluous. The point is sufficiently made that Andersen is the one who is ignorant, accusing others of “stupidity” when the fact is that those whom he’s accusing of stupidity are right, and he is the one who is wrong.
Going further, he writes, “Not vaccinating your child should be considered child abuse.” He concludes, “To not vaccinate is morally, and ethically irresponsible.”
But given Andersen’s own demonstrable ignorance of the science and insistence on mindlessly regurgitating dogmatic talking points, we could apply his own standard to make the opposite case, that what is abusive and morally and ethically irresponsible is vaccinating your child without having done your due diligence and researched the science for yourself in order to be able to do a serious risk-benefit analysis and make an informed choice. What is also abusive is insulting people who actually know what they’re talking about while condescendingly misinforming others about vaccines with a false pretense of knowledge.
I don’t know whether Andersen has any children, but it is obvious he failed to do his own due diligence before writing his Daily Kos post. [Update, April 25: Andersen has pointed out to me on Twitter that he states in his article that he’s a dad. Between the time I’d read it and the time I wrote this, that part had slipped my mind, and I’d glossed over it in reviewing the areas of his article that I’d highlighted to respond to. In fact, he discusses having vaccinated his son.] It is obvious that he is oblivious to the science and simply believes the dogma he regurgitates strictly as a matter of faith. And those of us parents who have done our homework are really sick and tired of arrogant bullies like him spreading their ignorance around the internet and hypocritically accusing us of “stupidity”.
So, dear Mark Andersen, before you write again about the subject of vaccines, I suggest you do some actual research and try thinking for yourself instead of jumping on the bandwagon of saying whatever stupid thing you want because it’s socially acceptable to misinform people so long as you do so in the name of belittling “anti-vaxxers”.
Because those of us parents who’ve done the research are really fed up with all y’all’s recklessly irresponsible stupidity.
[Update, April 25, 2019: As originally published, the section explaining how vaccination has shifted the risk burden from children to adults was poorly written and confusing, such referring to shingles when I meant chicken pox. I have updated it to better communicate the point.]