Five Anti-Vaccination Myths Exposed


Almost all substances are toxic under the right conditions.
Sola dosis facit venenum (only dose makes the poison).”
-Paracelsus, the father of modern toxicology

As a Medical Officer in the U.S. Army I had the opportunity to oversee the vaccination of thousands of our troops prior to their deployment to Iraq.  Some of the vaccines, like anthrax and smallpox, aren’t commonly given to the general civilian population.  One, anthrax, had never received FDA approval.  As you might imagine, some of the troops were hesitant to receive these vaccines.  They had heard the stories about possible negative side effects.  They also knew, however, that they did not have a choice in the matter.  I had to order more than one reluctant young soldier to be vaccinated.  There is another group of Americans who have no say over whether they will be vaccinated or not:  our children.  Read on to find out the five most common myths anti-vaccination advocates use to coerce parents into leaving their children unprotected.

Myth 1:  Vaccines are not necessary – Only smallpox has been eradicated in the wild.  And even with that terrible disease, virulent samples still remain in government controlled labs.  Immunization programs have led to the elimination of measles and poliomyelitis in some regions of the world along with significant reduction in morbidity and mortality in diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.  The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the lives of millions of children are saved annually because of vaccination programs.

Myth 2:  Children get too many shots, too early – Normal, everyday bacteria in the environment, as well as those already present in the body,  challenge the immune systems of young children on a daily basis.  “Vaccines are a trivial challenge to what children typically encounter and manage every day”, said Paul Offit, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  Immunologists at the University of California, San Diego looked into the number of immunological challenges a person can respond to at one time. After considering the variety of compounds in vaccines, including bacterial proteins, bacterial polysaccharides and viral proteins, Offit explained, they calculated that young children could safely respond to as many as 100,000 vaccines at once.  An exaggeration perhaps, but point taken.

Myth 3:  The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism – This fallacy started in 1998 when Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet stating that in 8 out of 12 cases studied, the MMR vaccine may have had an impact on the behavior of  children.  In addition to numerous other studies of this claim, The New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 published a long term study that followed over a half million children.  The conclusion was that rates of autism were the same among those who had been vaccinated and those who had not.  Following other extensive reviews, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and other major medical authorities have all reached the same conclusion as the New England Journal of Medicine article.

Myth 4:  Vaccines are not 100% safe – This is true, but then again nothing in life is 100% safe.  Each and every thing we do contains some element of risk.  Of course, some activities are much more dangerous than others.  As adults we must employ logic and reason to evaluate risk versus benefit and proceed accordingly.  Our Department of Defense admits to at least one death of a soldier being directly attributable to pre-deployment vaccinations.  Keep in mind that not receiving the recommended vaccines is much more dangerous than the alternative.

Myth 5:  Vaccines don’t work – The truth is that vaccines work so well that diseases that were commonplace just a few decades ago have never been seen by some modern physicians.  As noted earlier, smallpox in the wild has been eliminated and the need for vaccination of the general population against the disease has been eliminated as well.  Before the vaccine became available in 1963, almost all U.S. children had measles before age 15.  The disease killed an average of 450 Americans each year.  Pertussis and diphtheria rates are much, much lower now than before their vaccines were introduced.

What kind of damage can the disinformation spread by the the anti-vaccination campaign do?  Look at pertussis (whooping cough) rates in the U.S. since 1976.  Incidence rates are up an incredible 2300% since fear of vaccination came to take hold and vaccination rates began to plummet over 30 years ago.  Eight children died in a pertussis epidemic last year in the state of California.  As an educated and enlightened people, we owe it to our children to do better.

About Guy McCardle

Guy McCardle is an American science writer and skeptic. He is a certified Infection Prevention Specialist and served proudly as a Captain in the Army Medical Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom. A devoted father and husband, he offers his unique viewpoints regarding science and the public interest.
This entry was posted in Health and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Five Anti-Vaccination Myths Exposed

  1. Jitte says:

    I have seen these claims on other sites as well, but have been unable to dig up any references to the second myth. Anybody know of a link to the studies performed in San Diego?

  2. Guy McCardle says:

    Hi Jitte,

    Please see my extended article on this topic (and my podcast) at my site for a list of sources.

    The Inconvenient Truth

  3. Stu says:

    Hi Guy,

    Thanks for the summary.

    I am interested in the full article in the link you provide in comment December 22, 2011 at 11:03, but the page is not found.
    Are you able to re-post, or perhaps send?



  4. Guy McCardle says:

    Hi Stu,

    Sorry for the broken link. I had to change servers and something must have fallen through the cracks. Here is the active link

    The Inconvenient Truth

  5. Mike says:

    Using Paul Offit as some kind of objective authority is laughable.

  6. Stephen Propatier says:

    Great post keep up the good work. Vaccines in my opinion are the single most effective medical treatment bar none. It is the only infectious disease treatment that is still just as effective 60 years later. As far as risk goes we all know there is some. I often say to patients “if it is risk free then it is probably useless as a treatment”.

  7. Have you read Dissolving Illusions by Suzanne Humphries, MD and Roman Bystrianyk?

    • Nicole it is meant to be confusing. Ignore all the window dressing. Simplify what that link/article is saying. Namely from 40 years ago is that polio was disappearing on its own before polio vaccines were invented. That sanitation fixed the problem.
      There are so many bad things here it isn’t worth your time. Vaccine preventable diseases killed millions until vaccines were invented. Trying to deny vaccine their due credit by say that vaccines just came in at the right time and took advantage of public sanitation.
      Which of these two possibilities is more plausible?
      1. Vaccines just happened to come around exactly when sanitation and evolution was self fixing a multi-millennial problem. Also that generations of microbiologists, doctors, epidemiologists are either being fooled or worse that they are co-conspirators in keeping this truth from you. Never mind changing democratic governments all over the world continue to hide the lie, failing to take advantage of the political capitol for exposing the lying. All so that big business is protected from losing a product that is not profitable for them. That sanitation stopped the 13 million people died annually from smallpox and completely eradicated the disease from the world.
      2. Vaccines work….
      Easy answer in my book

      • Eric Hall says:

        I think my favorite counter-argument to the sanitation one is that of Rinderpest. Rinderpest is a viral disease of cattle which, once an animal showed signs, was almost always fatal. In 1999, a vaccine was introduced. 2 years later was the last known case. in 2011, it was considered eradicated. So, if the sanitation argument were true, I guess the cows got really good at using toilets and washing themselves in the year 2000.

        HiB is another example – why did the rate wait until the 1980s to drop so dramatically if sanitation in the 1950s and 1960s is why disease incidence has gone down?

        Sanitation helps, but it isn’t the largest contribution.

  8. Pingback: Boulder County Vaccinations: Facts, Thoughts, and Statistics | Your Boulder

  9. choose says:

    the dtap vaccine has autism as one of the adverse events on page 11 of the vaccine booklet. Could someone please explain why this would be written on there?

    Adverse events reported during post-approval use of Tripedia vaccine include idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, SIDS, anaphylactic reaction, cellulitis, autism, convulsion/grand mal convulsion, encephalopathy, hypotonia, neuropathy, somnolence and apnea. Events were included in this list because of the seriousness or frequency of reporting.

    • Eric Hall says:

      “Adverse reactions–this sections lists all side effects observed in all studies of the drug (including post-marketing studies), whether or not it has been scientifically established there correlation between the drug and the side effect. Almost all of these side effects are coincidental observations and are rarely of much concern. This section is the favorite of the vaccine denier, but they do not appreciate the utter lack of statistical evidence of correlation between these reactions and the vaccine. These are simply observations.” — via Skeptical Raptor

      • Choice says:

        I’m not a vaccine denier . My child is up to date with her dtap. However the statements made on the vaccine itself are quite concerning as you could imagine right? If it’s been scientifically proven then why put it on the label? If it is an observation then I don’t like those observations. Probably made by the parents of deceased and damaged children. Luck has it I am not one of those unlucky “observers”

        • Luck has nothing to do with it you are drawing the false conclusion that vaccines are incontrovertible origin of these issues and working backwards. What that medical reporting does is say that we record every reaction that everyone gets to every medicine not just vaccines. If the statistics fail to rise above what is naturally observed in all cases even unvaccinated. we call that background noise. That is because if you pick a pop. big enough there will be a multitude of problems that appear just because you selected a lot of people. For due diligence we record that data, because maybe just maybe we might catch an unknown or rare complication. If the data rises above background noise we begin to suspect and then require monitoring. If direct monitoring does begin to show a pattern then we research it, and then it is rechecked.(that is exactly what happen after wakefields fabricated study came out) Then an answer is developed.
          This data doesn’t even qualify to get you to step 2 it is background noise.
          Vaccines benefits are very clear- the preventable disease is dangerous to you and others around you- the vaccine is safe and much safer than getting in your car, riding an elevator or swimming in a pool. Trying to say that all of incidents recorded as adverse reactions in people who get vaccines, are from vaccines, is like saying 90% of people who have car accidents have had a glass of water in the 24 hours prior to driving. Therefore water causes car accidents and you shouldn’t have water before you drive. Ridiculous.
          the people who point out that data and present it in that way are betting that your not smart enough to figure it out. They are trying to introduce doubt in non-experts and make you worry. Worry= emotions and emotions are easily manipulated. The facts are clear you are doing the right thing vaccinating your kids.

        • Eric Hall says:

          Vaccine labels are legal documents, not scientific ones. They have to report ALL reported incidents on the insert, even if they happen at the same rate as the background rate. For example, children can often have febrile seizures due to a fever. The most common cause of these seizures is getting sick. But because they happen to occur within several weeks of a vaccine, they have to be disclosed – even if they are unrelated. Say my child gets a vaccine for the flu. 2 days later, she comes down with the flu because the vaccine has not yet provided full immunity (it takes a couple weeks). She gets a fever and has a seizure. That gets reported. The manufacturer is required to disclose that, even if, with a high degree of certainty, we know it was the flu and not the vaccine which caused it.

          The same thing happens with GBS – the 2 most common causes of GBS? Food poisoning and influenza infection. But, because the vaccine and the GBS have correlated, it must be disclosed. Even though getting the vaccine actually reduces your chance of getting GBS due to flu, it is still on the insert as a possible side effect.

          The inserts are there as a political and legal matter – not a scientific one.

  10. Curious says:

    I would like a list of your references as I am doing a paper on the subject. I have received many detailed studies but not one has been double blind and not one has successfully been able to do any amount of true study on vaccinated vs non vaccinated as it is not plausible. I would also like to know where you heard that Measles were irradiated. I too was in the military so I understand the amount of knowledge that any one of the Medical officers I worked for had at any given moment.

  11. diego says:

    I just finished reading “Dissolving Illusions”. First thing I did was to search “Dissolving Illusions debunked”. This site showed second in the google search, I know now, due to a comment in the comments section about the book. I was too quick to click on the link to read Dr. Humphries and Bystrianyk being debunked five fold. My bad. Your site’s SEO manager is an ace. I will keep on looking elsewhere. Gotta go do that. Cheers.

  12. Herman says:

    You can not state: I have found someone or an organisation that disagrees with a claim, therefor it is not true and debunked. That is not a scientific approach.
    Why does pharma do double blind research? Because it will show vaccines don’t work as they claim. It would be very easy to really debunk these socalled ‘ myths’ so why not do it?
    I had measles, mumps, rubella, what have you as a hild because there was no vaccination program yet. And all the kids in school got them Did anybody die from it? Of course not! It’ s nature’ s way of making sure you stay healthy for the rest of your life. The younger generation is not protected, because they got short term quick fixes. And they will need boostershots for the rest of their lives. We are weakening our children!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *