Why Do Vaccines Make People Crazy?

Yesterday, The Skeptical Libertarian posted a video showing Bill Maher’s ignorance when it comes to vaccines. Bill Maher is always an interesting example of the intersection of atheists, libertarians, skeptics, and general critical thinkers. Although many peoople in one group will tend to belong in the others, it is not always true, at least in some areas. I don’t expect anyone to be a perfect skeptic, or be able to always critically analyze every piece of information. However, when it comes to vaccines, all of the rules of logic seem to go to the wayside for many people.

For example, in the video, Mr. Maher chides Mr. Frist for using an anecdotal story of a young healthy individual dying of the flu, then uses his own anecdotal evidence to say “Western medicine misses alot.” Mr. Maher continues on by saying evolution is evidence that vaccines are not effective, without acknowledging that vaccines still offer some protection even against evolved viruses. Bill Maher has a vile contempt of modern medicine, and has allowed himself to be duped by alternative hogwash fully. You can read more extensive coverage by David Gorski at the Science-Based Medicine blog.

What is more bothersome is how many people follow this line of illogical thinking. Here are some of the comments on the post:

 I believe in science, but I also believe in the power of greed. The vaccine industry is a 40+ billion a year industry and many of the vaccines pushed have little to no actual short or long term research done. However the companies banking on them say they are safe and morons trust this? There is nothing scientific about that.

…polio was already on a sharp decline before the vaccine was introduced, as far as numbers go there is no evidence proving that vaccines played any role at all in the decline of polio. Big pharm sure profited regardless.

Somehow, making money for creating something that saves millions of lives is proof that it doesn’t work? And thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles are not evidence? Three years before the polio vaccine was introduced in the United States, there was a high outbreak of 21,000 cases. Ten years after the vaccine was introduced, there were 61 cases.

 I don’t trust my government with my health either, and I didn’t buy into the swine flu hype when it was all the rage. I guess that makes me a quack.

What made this flu very scary was how it seemed to have disproportional  effect on healthy young adults. There is plenty of study on the flu vaccine, and we do know the general flu vaccine has a varied effectiveness. This is for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest is because of the lag time to make the flu vaccine, the strains for a given year are picked via a well-educated guess. This means the flu that does make the rounds might not be the one in the vaccine. Even in this case, because most flu viruses all attack the body in similar fashion, even the “wrong” vaccine can provide some protection. Flu viruses also tend to mutate regularly. Again, this means the vaccine might not work as good, but it still offers much more protection than no vaccine. In the case of the swine flu, it was very effective.

I hate Maher but the shit they put in vaccines can be worse then what they are trying to cure. Theres been cancer and yellow fever in quite a few of vaccines.

This is so much nonsense, I think it stands on its own as such.

As I stated above, it is important to understand that not all vaccines and diseases are equal. Influenza is a much more difficult problem than other diseases we vaccinate against, because there are so many strains, because of its ability to mutate, and because of the antiquated manufacturing process of being incubated in chicken eggs. Diseases like polio are a great example of vaccines working. As of 2012, only 4 countries are considered to still have polio. One comment on the post has a great point:

Look at the CURRENT trends in India and Pakistan. India has an excellent vaccination program with high compliance, and they haven’t had a new case of Polio in over a year. Pakistan has difficulty administering their program, has low compliance, and Polio is making a resurgence. Are you going to claim that’s coincidence?

Another example I brought up is the rotavirus. This vaccine has been a great example of being able to monitor a vaccine from its beginning in 2006. The virus causes many hospitalizations of children under 5, but has a low-death rate due to modern medicine being able to rehydrate and treat children affected. From the CDC:

Each year in the United States in the pre-vaccine period, rotavirus was responsible for more than 400,000 doctor visits; more than 200,000 emergency room visits; 55,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations; and 20 to 60 deaths in children younger than 5 years of age.

A study in Belgium, where more than 85% of children receive the vaccine, shows the dramatic decrease in incidents of rotavirus in the first 3 years of being used:

The average percentage of rotavirus positive cases out of all hospitalized gastro-enteritis cases tested (>95% of these cases are younger than 5 years old) at the GUH between 1986 and 2006 was 19.0%. This percentage dropped to 12.4%, 9.6% and 6.4% in the three seasons post vaccine introduction (2006-2009), which is a decline of 34.7%, 49.4% and 66.3% respectively. In addition the rotavirus season was found to be shortened and delayed.

With a similar drop of infections in the United States, that means 14-42 kids are saved every year. Also, millions to billions of dollars in medical costs are saved.

The other logic missing is the risk/reward calculation. When dealing with the population as a whole, this is an important logical step. As pointed out in a 2011 article from Wired:

However, if you want to weigh the risks of severe complications from the disease—1 in 1,000 die from measles—compared to the rate of severe complications from the vaccine—Encephalitis or severe allergic reaction: 1 in 1,000,000. Seizure: 333 in 1,000,000 from MMR—the odds are in favor of the vaccine.

We do much more good than harm with vaccines. Like many other medications, there is usually some side-effect. Many thousands a year are saved by chemotherapy, even though it also does damage, occasionally serious. This is the decision we make, which method reduces the risk of harm or death – and vaccines win every time.

I am not sure why people get so crazy when they hear the word vaccine. Even those who are normally rational, thinking individuals throw out knowledge of chemistry, biology, economics, and critical thinking when the subject comes up. Is this because the anti-vaccine movement is good at selling their garbage information? Or is there some other cause or set of causes that haven’t yet been pinpointed? I only hope the scientists and skeptics who armed with rational thought and evidence can turn the trend towards high vaccine compliance. Good luck to us all!

About Eric Hall

My day job is teaching physics at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
This entry was posted in Alternative Medicine, Conspiracy Theories, Health, Pseudoscience and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Why Do Vaccines Make People Crazy?

  1. jeffwagg says:

    My fiancee the pediatrician suspects it’s due to one simple thing: fear of needles. Parents don’t like seeing their kids terrified and crying. Something is trying to hurt their children, and they lash out. it’s also interesting to note – most doctors make nothing from vaccines.

  2. Web565 says:

    I’ve seen “crazy” on both sides of the debate. It makes people (on the anti side) crazy because they feel they are being forced to take or give their children something they think is bad for them. It makes people (on the pro side) crazy because they think the antis are risking the health of children and everyone else. You tell me, should people be forced or pressured to take or give their children something they believe is unhealthy for them?

    • Eric Hall says:

      While I don’t believe people should be forced to take anything against their will, I do have an issue with 2 components of that. First, what do we do about the kids? How necessary is the “treatment” of the vaccine? There is precedence for courts overriding religious objections of blood transfusions, cancer treatments, etc. I think there is room for debate on vaccines. Second, what is their obligation to society? When I drive a vehicle on a public street, it must meet certain safety requirements such as more than 2mm of tread, a maximum bumper height, maximum width, etc. So, should those people have a similar obligation of keeping society safe once they enter the public? Nurses working with patients, kids in school, etc., increase the chance of spreading deadly diseases, so I would argue not vaccinating those people is a safety issue.

      If as an adult, one chooses not to get a flu shot, I guess that is their choice. But if they are a nurse, teacher, or similar profession where they work with vulnerable populations, it should be a requirement of the job (unless some other health condition prevents one from getting the shot). For childhood vaccinations, we do need to be careful to balance liberty and protecting children. There I would argue for the safety of the kid not vaccinated by choice as well as those kids who cannot be vaccinated, the parents who choose not to vaccinate should have to home school.

    • Jack says:

      I don’t think it’s irrational to believe that vaccination is a public safety issue. I would have my dog vaccinated against rabies because not doing so poses a risk to society that no one seems to debate … I would have my children vaccinated for their health and the health of others. Children can die from the chicken pox, die from the flu… and forcing your child to suffer from the disease when a preventative is readily available strikes me as abusive. The research into autism has led science to believe that it is a disorder that occurs very early in the development of the fetus. There is no statistical evidence that shows vaccinations might cause autism in anyone, but stupidity can cause needless suffering. What’s “crazy” about that?.

      • Eric Hall says:

        It is interesting to note that more people get Guillain–Barré syndrome from contracting as serious case of influenza than from getting the vaccine. That statistic right there should show the benefit of a flu shot outweighs the risk.

    • Holly Knapp says:

      The truth is that the “antis” *are* risking the health of children and of everyone else. I don’t think this stance is crazy.

      • jim says:

        I bear the Libertarian gene….but I don’t think anyone should have the liberty to spread measles, chicken pox, whooping cough or polio to anyone else. If people want to be stupid I really don’t care….until I have to pay for their mistakes.
        BTW Jenny McCarthy’s death toll is >1000 not just 100.

  3. Bryan says:

    I struggle with the issue of compulsory vaccination. On the one hand, if I believe I am harming my child through a specific action, I do not want to be forced into that action. On the other hand, one could argue that evidence-based medicine should trump superstition and bald assertion in the making of health decisions for those unable to make them for themselves. For instance, it seems parents should be required to give their children medical care (e.g., chemotherapy, blood transfusion, heart surgery, asthma inhaler, etc.) regardless if their personal views on such interventions.

    • Eric Hall says:

      I pretty much covered my thoughts on this in a reply above, but yes, I agree compulsory vaccination society wide is a tough issue. However, as you mention, we have a public safety issue – a place where we have many rules to protect us from each other. There is also the issue of are vaccines necessary medical treatment that could be forced by law much like blood transfusions, etc. In the end, these are the issues we should be discussing (necessity, public safety, cost, etc) – not the efficacy or safety of the vaccines themselves or some conspiracy theory about “big pharma.”

  4. jim says:

    I have never found Maher very funny or intelligent. He somehow has convinced people that sardonic self-righteousness is smart humor. If sarcasm is intelligence then I’m a genius.

    I hate the fact that celebrities are given automatic credibility. Jenny McCarthy may be the worst. Her anti-vaccination campaign has cost lives (>100). Please see: http://www.jennymccarthybodycount.com/Anti-Vaccine_Body_Count/Home.html

  5. debbie says:

    I am sorry, but I despise the flat earthers, anti-vaxxers. You wouldn’t believe how many bloggers are dedicated to “educating” us on the evils of vaccines. Jenny McCarthy, “Drs.” Tenpenny and Wakefield, Naturalnews, are their references. Just yesterday I read one that stated the there was a vaccine for H1N1 patent the month before it existed, if it wasn’t for WHO changing the definition, it wouldn’t have been a pandemic, the vaccine causes everything from autism to you name it. One actually said their nephew got acne the year after recieving the flu vaccine. Yeah, these aren’t the smartest people. But, with their blogs they are getting their version out. This blog alone had 21,000 people following her. Almost all of them were mothers refusing to vaccinate their kids. And that is just one blog. They are getting very good at getting people to believe them. It doesn’t help that there are places like the Cochrane Group (which is anti-vaccine and anti-virals) giving them supposedly scientifc proof that vaccines aren’t any good. I say, I don’t care what you do with your body or your families, but when your decisions affect me, and my loved ones, you better believe I am going to say something.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Your comment, along with jeffwagg’s above, made me think more about what is driving these people to deny the science. I am only speculating, but I wonder if part of it has to do with being contrarian as a way of feeling or sounding educated. Certainly there is merit to discussing or even proposing a contrarian point of view as part of a Socratic process to getting to the truth. However, these people might be missing the remaining steps. Along with that, I wonder if there is some guilt in some harm the antivax people have put in their mind – meaning the immediate pain of the shot and some twisted thought process that leads to a naturalistic fallacy. Perhaps these people feel guilty about our real harm to the earth in the the various pollution and development to which they contribute, so by not vaccinating they are “helping” nature.

      Again – just a thought I had sparked by your comments – perhaps something that could actually be studied by those in the field.

      • debbie says:

        What I see, is that they think vaccines are poison. Even though there are mercury-free flu vaccines, nope, mercury is in every one. And all the rest of the ingredients are poison to. I would say it is more paranoia than anything. Plus, there is the correlation vs causation. Something goes wrong 1,3,10 years later- it MUST have been that flu shot. I don’t think they are capable of logical thought in this matter.
        It isn’t feeling guilty about anything. In fact, I would call it quite narcasistic in behavior. Why should I have to do something I don’t want to, for the sake of someone else? The blogger I referred to even denies there is such a thing as herd immunity. They think by simple eating healthy, they can avoid getting sick, (which I know helps, but only to a point), and they don’t really care about anyone else that could be critically harmed by the flu. I was actually told, it wasn’t her problem if her family spreads it, and kills someone. I wasn’t laying that “guilt trip” on her.

  6. Stephen Propatier says:

    In my opinion part of the reason that Anti-vax is so pervasive is that vaccines are effective. In the 1940’s and 1950’s. Everyone knew someone who had polio, there are people that I see now from that generation that have permanent partial paralysis. If people had personal contact with the disease itself polio, pertussis rubella, smallpox, they would again lineup without question to get the vaccine. Because most of them have never seen a real case and don’t know anyone who ever had it. The danger lacks reality for them. Most people have lived through the trauma of an injection that is very real to them. Add in sci-ency sounding plausibility to deny the need and you can easily take a pass on the shot for your little one.

    Polio was on a sharp decline before the vaccine was introduced? Wrong! Polio in the US peaked at epidemic levels in 1952 56728 cases(A record) the next summer the injectable vaccine was introduced. Within 2 years polio had dropped 90%. That is quite an evolutionary feat for human beings, and quite a coincidence. Maher is so off on this, saying he is wrong is giving him too much credit. Maybe Maher thinks that huge numbers of the great whales died of natural causes rather than human hunting. Ask FDR if polio was going away on it’s own.

    • debbie says:

      You would not believe the amount of times I have read that the anti-vaxxers believe polio was already in decline by itself, the vaccine did nothing. But, that is what people like Tenpenny do. They take a small,tiny kernal of truth, and wrap their lies around it. Forget the fact that he is a snakeoil salesman. All of what he says is truth, to the anti-vaxxers. Repeating falsehoods over and over again, does not make something true.

  7. Web565 says:

    Where I see the pro vaccine crowd being “crazy” is their failure to understand at least some of the antis. Sure, some are ignorant about the subject and just believe and repeat anything that’s thrown out there. But most are not lying. And they’re not compensating for feeling guilty about something else. Some have advanced degrees in medicine. They are worried by the idea of injecting genetic virus or bacteria materials directly into the bloodstream. Material that might have been cultured from things like rabbit brain tissue, monkey kidney tissue, chicken or duck egg protein, chick embryo, calf serum, pig or horse blood, and cowpox pus. These are foreign proteins that the liver doesn’t get a chance to filter because they were directly injected into the bloodstream. How much get into a vaccine? How much is perfectly safe? Undigested proteins in the blood are one of the causes of allergies and the triggering of autoimmune phenomena later on, like lupus or multiple sclerosis. Antis don’t trust the filtering process. They are worried that secondary viruses or prions can get into the final product. It’s public record that vaccines have been contaminated by other dangerous viruses in the past. They don’t trust the companies making them. These companies are paying fines for all kinds of abuses and lies. Vaccines also contain stabilizers and preservatives. Chemicals we know are harmful in certain amounts. How much of a toxin is not toxic to some degree?

    Do these concerns sound “crazy” to you? Do they sound scientifically uninformed? Yes, obviously most of these vaccines help prevent the conditions they were made for, but do scientists know exactly what happens to this stuff on every level in the body, or are they just making assumptions and if they see no obvious reactions, it’s harmless for the rest of one’s life? Shouldn’t everyone be concerned about these things? Antis are just those concerned who believe the choice is “no” when it comes to vaccines until these issues are addressed and resolved, if that is at all possible. That choice might seem irrational giving the risk of these diseases, but it seems like the pro crowd isn’t even concerned about the things that concern the antis. They feel the benefits outweigh any possible bad and so have to take a stance and dismiss the concerns totally. Unless they have a vested interest, they aren’t lying. But because they’ve taken a stance, they’ve dismissed the concerns even in their own minds. And because the antis have taken a stance, they’ve dismissed the good outweighing the bad in their own minds. The problem seems in taking a stance. Whenever I hear one side say the other side is or seems crazy or is lying, I know I’m hearing someone who has taken a stance, whatever the issue is.

    • Stephen Propatier says:

      I am not sure about your point. You did introduce several logical fallacies. I see no one using the term Crazy(Straw man argument). To answer your direct question they are scientifically uniformed. There is absolutely no evidence that proteins injected for any reason circulate around the body for a lifetime. No Vaccine advocate is saying that any medical treatment is 100% effective and Safe. No such animal. The science simple says that that 50 years of evidence, tons of research, billions of injections, and generations of vaccine recipients show a extremely low chance that any of the things you propose are likely to be a problem. Not Zero. In addition the centuries of epidemic disease and death prior to the vaccine era demonstrates how very bad things can get without them.

      • gymgoki says:

        I think your description of “scientifically uninformed” should rather read: “willfully ignorant”.

        • Stephen Propatier says:

          To be clear I think that Eric is using the colloquial meaning of Crazy. Meaning agitated and upset, not mentally ill. I could be wrong but your comment seemed to imply that the post suggests that to be anti-vax is to be mentally ill.

      • Web565 says:

        Yes, I was imitating Eric and using the colloquial meaning of crazy. But I think he also meant by it that they don’t listen to reason. I wasn’t saying proteins might circulate around the body a lifetime, but that they might have a lasting effect on the immune system. Foreign DNA from viruses has been known to become integrated into that of its animal host cells. Some viruses, like that which causes chickenpox, remain latent in nerve cells one’s entire life until an opportune weakening of the immune system. Prions are even worse and hard to detect or filter out of vaccines. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be concerned that the introduction of antigenic material into the bloodstream could trigger autoimmune responses, esp in those genetically susceptible. If no study has been done, or even can be done, to determine the effects of this foreign material over a lifetime, then saying there’s no evidence of this or that is not saying anything. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

        • Stephen Propatier says:

          There is zero evidence that injecting random DNA into the human blood stream results in integration into human DNA. Virus and Prions have a very specific mechanisms that integrate them into the human DNA and protein replication resulting in disease and malfunction. It is not random or due to exposure to the human immune system. It is an evolved response to replicate despite the protections our immune system provides. You body immune system identifies and destroys foreign protein and DNA all the time. This is not conjecture or absence of evidence. This is a well understood function of the immune system. Asking the question and not knowing the answer does not validate the question. You are exposed through microscopic injury, GI exposure, trauma and inhalation we are constantly exposed to foreign DNA and proteins internally. To assume that this is an “unknown” is ignoring the total body of knowledge that we have about the immune system. Add specifically the complete lack of any evidence that administering vaccines produces unknown long term response. There is no evidence for a negative it is just not there. It is an implausible suggestion that goes against 80 years of genomics and immune research to worry people about a response that has not been observed in 70 years of vaccine administration. At best a fringe unsupported hypothesis that could be quantified as fear mongering. I am not saying that you are fear mongering, just that origin in these postulates are to generate fear. There are known problems with vaccines anti-vax proponents don’t use them because they are not a scary “unknown long term effect” which allows people to imagine the worst.

          • Web565 says:

            Thanks for your reply, Stephen. I stand in the middle trying to find the truth. Until then, I do recommend that children get most, if not all, recommended immunizations.

  8. Tom Hodgson says:

    The selfishness of not having your child vaccinated goes far beyond the risk to your own child.
    It is unfortunate but well established that not everyone can be vaccinated; some of the children who receive a vaccination will not acquire adequate immunity.
    Herd immunity requires that a significant proportion of the group be immunised, to protect those who are not. In this way, those who choose not to immunise their kids benefit from those who do. However, by not immunising a child who can be immunised, you increase the risk to those who want to be immunised but cannot be.
    If your non-immunised child, carrying an infection, goes to school and infects my child who was immunised but for whom it did not work, your ‘choice’ infects my child.
    This is one of the reasons that you can’t leave an unvaccinated dog at a dog-minding service, or an unvaccinated child at many child care facilities. Schools don’t take it that far, but they probably should, for the safety of the herd.

    I’d hate to think what I’d do if your crazy anti-vaccination ideas lead to the death of my vaccinated child.

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