It is interesting to see the way information spreads on the internet, especially when it comes to fringe beliefs. I saw the headline about the vaccine court confirming autism come around my social media circles the last couple of days (Warning!! Fringe websites: here, here, and here). As a believer in vaccines, I did have to look to see if there was some new news on vaccines.
It turns out this is recycled news that surfaced back in January. A piece in the Huffington Post written by David Kirby took what the US vaccine court said at the time and twisted it into an unrecognizable state. Luckily, Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and Orac at Science Blogs were all over it at the time. The court did not link the MMR vaccine and autism – but because autism and MMR were both mentioned in the same case, the logic used by the anti-vaccine crowd somehow connected them.
Fringe sites are now “re-reporting” these cases as new news. With headlines and leading paragraphs saying the court “quietly admitted a link between vaccines and autism” and similar statements, they continue to spread their brand of false information. Sometimes, it is hard to even find a legitimate motivation in doing so – meaning I don’t mind someone having a healthy skepticism and asking questions in order to do what’s best for a child – but when it seems there is almost a sinister attitude in denying the science, I get disgusted. Some of the fringe sites even went on tangents about autism and inflammatory bowel disease, even though the cases had no mention of any bowel diseases in them.
So what did the court actually say? As user Rob on the skeptics stackexchange points out from the actual court documents:
Petitioners specifically asserted that Ryan “suffered a Vaccine Table Injury, namely, an encephalopathy” as a result of his receipt of the MMR vaccination on December 19, 2003.
This makes more sense. Vaccines do carry a small risk of various health issues. About 1 in a million cause a serious health issue – and many of those do resolve after some time. The science shows the risk of not vaccinating is much greater than getting vaccinated. A good analogy would be air bags in a car. Airbags are known to cause deaths in rare cases. But a far greater number of people are saved. A 2007 NHTSA report showed that from 1990-2007, 284 people died from injuries caused by airbags, but 24,334 lives were saved. For vaccines, although a small number of people are injured, are far greater number are saved from injury or death. Literally millions of people have been saved from an early death due to vaccinations. We don’t take the airbags out of cars because of a few hundred deaths – because many more are saved. We shouldn’t stop vaccinating because of a small number of injuries because far more people are saved by them.
Steven Novella also wrote about these vaccine court cases resurfacing on social media, referring to Facebook as, “…a graveyard in a zombie movie, where old news items rise from the dead to have a second life.” He referenced the Italian case, where the court there actually did rule in favor of a family who claimed their child became autistic from the MMR. Dr. Novella’s post does a great job explaining how court cases are not the proving grounds for science, and the rulings from any court should not be used as science. The Italian court may have thought the MMR vaccine causes autism, but they also thought seismologists should be able to predict earthquakes precisely. They show a gross misunderstanding of even basic science.
The US vaccine court plays an important role. It gives people a safety net in the rare instance a vaccine does indeed cause an injury. It gives some assurance to the manufacturers as well in reducing their litigation costs over well understood and well-studied vaccines. This keeps the supply of vaccines more secure. While those against vaccines don’t find reassurance in this, I advise them to look at the evidence and really talk to medical experts. Maybe a few would actually change their mind.
No good scientist is going to say that vaccines are 100% safe. They are not without risk. But vaccines provide an excellent risk/reward ratio to which everyone should take advantage. I could not eat because of a small risk of choking – but I prefer to stay nourished. I could disable my airbags in my car because they could kill me in an accident, but I prefer the greater chance it will save my life. I would rather have to face a few dozen families every year who are affected by vaccine injuries, than watch thousands die due to preventable diseases.
To those who want to continue to spread the falsehood that vaccines are harmful: please stop. Being anti-vaccine is truly harmful to the health of all of us – every person on this planet. Please use your advocacy in better ways. *Bill Lundbergh voice* That would be great.