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!