How to Respond to Pro-Vaxxers

If public vaccine policy advocates sincerely wanted to understand why many parents choose not to vaccinate their children, they would listen for a change.

A reader who does not share my perspective on the practice of vaccination respectfully sent me a link to a blog post titled “How to Respond to Anti-Vaxxers,” written by David Isaacs, who is a clinical professor in pediatric infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and the University of Sydney and author of the book Defeating the Ministers of Death: Heroes and villains in the history of immunisation.

In his post, Isaacs tells us, “My response to anti-vaxxers is to try to understand their world view.” But he presents no evidence whatsoever that he has made even the slightest effort to understand the perspective of those who meet the criteria for belonging to the category of people he mindlessly labels as “anti-vaxxers”. On the contrary, it is obvious that he has not done so, as demonstrated by the numerous factual and logical errors that his arguments are premised upon.

Let’s start with the label. The term “anti-vaxxers” is routinely used by commentators as a derogatory label for anyone who dares to dissent from, question, or criticize public vaccine policy. In the mainstream media, the use of this derogatory label is virtually obligatory, and for us here in the US, that criterion applies to any parent who isn’t convinced that vaccinating their child strictly according to the CDC’s schedule is in their child’s best interest. This population in turn includes parents who did vaccinate their children and who then witnessed their children suffer from serious vaccine injury.

Given how public policy advocates like Isaacs bandy that label about so thoughtlessly, it seems appropriate to apply the label “pro-vaxxer” to those who both use the term “anti-vaxxer” and advocate parental compliance with existing public vaccine policy. Note the distinction, though, that when I do so, I am not using the term in an offensive, derogatory, or thoughtless manner. Rather, I am simply applying the same criterion logically. Isaacs does in fact advocate public vaccine policy, and he would presumably take no issue with being described as “pro-vaccine”.

In his post, he advises “anti-vaxxers” that they are “ill advised not to immunise their children”. He renders this judgment despite having absolutely no knowledge of the individual children he’s advising be vaccinated, no knowledge of their health status and family medical history, and no knowledge of their environment or other individual circumstances.

See, to acknowledge that the risk-benefit analysis must be done for each vaccine and each child automatically renders one an “anti-vaxxer”. A “pro-vaxxer”, therefore, is someone who maintains the delusion that vaccination is a one-size-fits-all solution to disease prevention.

Anyone who applies the derogatory label “anti-vaxxer” in the way Isaacs does and who also claims to have made an effort to try to understand why many parents have concluded that strictly complying with public vaccine policy is not in their child’s best interest is simply not being honest. Clearly, David Isaacs has made no sincere effort at all to understand the reasoning of people who don’t share his beliefs about the supposed wonders of vaccination.

This is easily demonstrable by identifying basic errors that he makes that would be known to anyone who has seriously studied vaccines with a sincere intent to understand why many parents choose not to comply with public policy.

To support his underlying assumption that vaccination is a one-size-fits-all solution and his conclusion that parents would be making a mistake, therefore, not to comply with public vaccine policy, Isaacs argues that “about one in a thousand children who catch measles naturally” develop encephalitis, or brain inflammation. Measles vaccines, by contrast, “cause encephalitis about once in every million doses”. Given these premises, we can obviously conclude that the risk of harm from measles is far greater than the risk of harm from the vaccine, and therefore it would make sense to vaccinate.

This is the type of thing that passes in the mainstream discourse as presenting “science” to people. But there are three fundamental errors in that simple-minded comparison.

First, parents living in developed countries today like the US and Australia must take into consideration the fact that, due to the vaccine being effective at reducing transmission of the virus, the risk of their child being infected with measles, much less being killed or permanently injured by it, is very small. It is simply not the case that if children are not vaccinated, they face a one per one-thousand risk of suffering brain inflammation from measles. Rather, the risk of this happening to a child in a country like the US is close to zero.

Second, the risk of measles causing encephalitis during the pre-vaccine era was not one per one-thousand cases. It was about one per one-thousand reported cases. But the vast majority of measles cases were benign and not reported. The rate of encephalitis was therefore more like one per ten-thousand cases. Isaacs has therefore erred in his estimate by an order of magnitude.

Third, contrary to Isaacs’ assertion, the rate of vaccine-caused encephalitis is unknown. No clinical trials have been done comparing the rate of death or serious injury from measles with that from the vaccine. In developed countries, measles mortality had already plummeted before the introduction of the vaccine. Deaths occurred in about one per ten thousand cases (again, not the frequently misreported figure of one per one-thousand). So prospective studies would have to be very large to be able to determine which causes more death and injury. Isaacs’ claim of one-in-a-million derives from postmarketing surveillance data, which is not an appropriate substitute for randomized controlled trials. In the US, this surveillance is done under the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). It is known that reports to VAERS represent only a fraction of adverse events. Hence any rate of adverse events associated with vaccines derived from such surveillance data must be understood as underestimated, and potentially greatly underestimated.

So Isaacs’ argument errs fundamentally, and now with a proper understanding, we can now do a valid comparison. And doing so, it is easy to see how parents can reasonably conclude that the risk of serious harm from the vaccine, even if only one-in-a-million, must still be greater than the risk of serious harm from measles. Many parents are perfectly capable of recognizing that, by vaccinating, they guarantee that their child is exposed to the risks from the vaccine, while there is very little chance that their child would be exposed to the measles virus and hence very little chance that the vaccine would confer any benefit.

Additionally, there are opportunity costs of vaccination that Isaacs’ simplistic risk-benefit analysis fails to take into consideration. For example, mass vaccination in the US has increased the risk to adults and infants in the event of measles exposure due to the inferiority of vaccine-conferred immunity to that conferred by natural infection. Another opportunity cost of mass vaccination is the loss of exogenous boosting of immunity through repeat reexposures to the wild virus.

Isaacs argues further that the measles vaccine provides “herd immunity” to a population when the vaccination rate is maintained at a “92-94%” level. However, this, too, is known to be false. As leading experts Gregory Poland and Robert Jacobson acknowledged in a 1994 Archives of Internal Medicine paper, “outbreaks can continue to occur unless the vaccine is virtually 100% effective and virtually 100% of the population is immunized”.

Of course, the vaccine is not 100% effective. Even with very high vaccination rates, above 94%, outbreaks can still occur — and have occurred. This is due to the phenomena of vaccine failure, which Isaacs refuses to acknowledge despite it being well described and completely uncontroversial in the scientific literature.

The reason adults are at higher risk in the event of exposure is because of the lost opportunity to have acquired immunity naturally, the lost opportunities for natural boosting of immunity through repeat exposures to the wild virus, and the waning of the inferior vaccine-conferred immunity (or so-called “secondary vaccine failure”; “primary vaccine failure” refers to cases in which individuals do not respond to vaccination by producing a protective level of antibodies).

The reason infants are at higher risk in the event of exposure is because, compared to mothers born into the pre-vaccine era, vaccinated mothers of today are less well able to confer passive immunity to their babies via the transfer of antibodies prenatally through the placenta and postnatally through breastmilk.

I’ve discussed all of the above points in greater detail and with scientific references elsewhere (see further reading below). The point here is simply that David Isaacs, despite his credentials, demonstrates very little knowledge about the subject. (Or should I say this is because of his credentials?) His knowledge seems to extend only to the most basic information, just the rudimentary propaganda talking points that we are all bombarded with incessantly by the government, the medical establishment, and the mainstream media.

As though he was telling parents who choose not to vaccinate strictly according to public policy information that they didn’t already know and hadn’t already heard countless times before! As though these parents had not already taken that knowledge into consideration for the purposes of conducting their own risk-benefit analysis!

It is patently obvious that he has practically no understanding of the reasons why many parents choose not to strictly comply with public vaccine policy. If he did, he would know that parents are doing their own research into what science actually tells us about the matter — (which is not to be confused with what the aforementioned thought-controllers say science says) — and who are aware that the types of arguments he presents are grounded in factual and logical errors.

If Isaacs had truly and honestly made an effort to learn and understand, he would not choose to apply the derogatory label “anti-vaxxers” to anyone who doesn’t share his belief that vaccination is a one-size-fits all solution.

He would not simply repeat standard propaganda talking points because he would recognize that the “anti-vaxxers” are right to point out the factual and logical errors of those talking points.

And he would certainly not so presumptuously and ignorantly condescend to parents by telling them, despite his total lack of knowledge about their children and their individual circumstances, that if they don’t strictly comply with public vaccine policy, that they are making a mistake.

Had he done what he claims to have done, rather, he would have come to the understanding that vaccination is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

He would know that every child is not at the same risk of harm from a given virus or bacteria.

He would also know that every child is not at the same risk of harm from the vaccine intended to prevent the disease of that pathogen.

If he was being honest about having made an effort to understand those of us to whom he applies the standard derogatory label, he would recognize that the risk-benefit analysis must be done for each vaccine and every individual child.

He would understand that the decision not to vaccinate can be made on perfectly reasonable and scientifically valid bases.

He would recognize that government policymakers are not infallible in their decision-making with respect to public vaccine policy.

He would either totally agree with or be able to identify factual or logical errors of his interlocutors rather than himself misinforming his readers by employing reasoning that he would have learned from “anti-vaxxers” was fallacious.

The fact that Isaacs remains so ignorant and deluded with respect to each of these points proves conclusively that when he says he has made the effort to understand the reasoning of parents who don’t share his delusions, he is lying.

Obviously, he has not.

My advice for pro-vaxxers like David Isaacs, therefore, is to stop insulting our intelligence by pretending to have made an effort to understand the reasoning by which “anti-vaxxers” arrive at their conclusions about the benefits and risks of vaccinations and to instead actually do so!

To start, he could learn more about how the public is propagandized, and the fallacies of standard talking points about measles and other vaccines, by reading my fully-referenced article “How to Immunize Yourself Against Vaccine Propaganda.”

Then he could learn “How Public Vaccine Policy Violates Our Right to Informed Consent,” also a fully-referenced article.

For information about how the public is constantly provided false statistics about measles, he could read my article for Children’s Health Defense, “CDC Lies About, and Media Repeats, Risk of Dying from Measles,” which is likewise fully referenced with sources from the scientific literature.

I give Isaac credit at least for acknowledging that the measles vaccine can cause encephalitis. That’s better than a Facebook “Fact-Checker” I encountered that lies to users by denying that this is so. For more on that, see my article “Facebook “Fact-Checker” Misinforms Users about Vaccine Safety.” Once again, I don’t expect my readers to take my word for anything; like the rest, that article is fully referenced, too.

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