If Vaccines Work…?

I… I can’t even believe I’m writing this.

That image up there showed up in my Facebook feed, posted by a smug JAQer who—I assume—hates the idea of health and not dying of horrible diseases. And who possibly hates children as well. Thankfully, I saw it because a friend of mine who does not pine for the glory days of 16th-century medicine had laid into the JAQer with a will and a vengeance.

Distressingly, this is a trope. It’s a common tactic used by people who hate health and children and science and reason (also known as “antivaxxers,” the term I used is longer but probably more accurate) to sow confusion and spread misinformation about the benefits of vaccines by “just asking questions.” Questions that have answers, mind, but JAQers are often too intellectually dishonest to bother acknowledging those answers. It gets in the way of the soundbite.

If vaccines work?

If vaccines work?

This… this will require more than one article.  Because there’s a couple of questions to address here:  “Do they work?” and “How are unvaccinated children a threat?”.  And answering a JAQoff’s questions takes time and effort.  So, let’s just jump into the first question.

“Do vaccines work?”

Yes they work, you primitive screwhead.

The Center for Disease Control provides the following list of vaccines used in the United States: adenovirus, anthrax, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, Haemophilus influenzae type b, human papilomavirus, seasonal influenza (flu), Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningococcal, mumps, pertussis, pneumococcal, polio, rabies, rotavirus, rubella, shingles, smallpox, tetanus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, varicella, and yellow fever. That’s vaccines for 25 different illnesses. And yes, they work. It’s not just me saying that, either. The Journal of the American Medical Association also says it, along with the Centers for Disease Control. Let’s look at some numbers, shall we?

From 1936 to 1945, there was an average of 21,053 cases of diphtheria reported each year in the United States. An average of 1,822 of those cases resulted in death. The diphtheria vaccine first went into widespread use in the late 1940s. From 1970 through 1979, an average of 196 cases per year were reported, and from 1980 through 2011 a total of 55 cases were reported. Not an average. A total. According to the CDC, “Of 53 reported cases with known patient age since 1980, 34 (64%) were in persons 20 years of age or older; 41% of cases were among persons 40 years of age or older. Most cases have occurred in unimmunized or inadequately immunized persons.”

From 1953 to 1962, there were an average of 530,217 cases of measles reported in the United States, with an average of 440 deaths per year. The measles vaccine was introduced in 1963. By 1982, only 1,497 cases were reported—although there was a “measles resurgence” from 1989 through 1991, in which a total of 55,622 cases were reported that resulted in 123 deaths. “In 2011, CDC reported 16 outbreaks of measles and 220 measles cases, most of which were imported cases in unvaccinated persons. Among the U.S. measles cases in persons 16 months through 19 years reported in 2011, 62% were in persons not vaccinated for a nonmedical reason.”

From 1963 through 1968, there were an average of 162,344 cases of mumps reported in the United States, resulting in an average of 39 deaths per year. The first mumps vaccine went on the market on March 30, 1967 and the number of mumps cases declined dramatically, falling to an annual average of 3,000 in 1983 – 85. There was a resurgence in 1986 – 87, with a total of 12,848 cases reported. The next worst post-vaccine resurgence was 3,502 in 2009, but in 2011 only 404 cases were reported and in 2012 only 229 cases were reported. So, even at its worst, the post-vaccination resurgence was less than 10% as bad as the average in the five years before the vaccine came into use.

Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, averaged 200,752 cases per year from 1934 to 1943, and killed an average of 4,034 people each year. The first pertussis vaccine went into widespread use in the mid-1940s. By 1960, reported cases declined to 15,000, and by 1970 the US was down to less than 5,000 cases per year. From 1980 – 1990, an average of 2,900 cases were reported per year.

Depressingly, the number of pertussis cases has been on the rise recently, for interesting reasons. See, the original pertussis vaccine was a “whole-cell” vaccine, calling for four separate vaccination doses with intact but inactivated Bordetella pertussis cells. These vaccinations were 70% – 90% effective, but the protection degraded with time and left the recipient unprotected after five to 10 years. The average age of pertussis victims has been increasing, indicating that recipients of the older vaccine have not been receiving booster shots (something not required by recipients of the acellular pertussis vaccines that went into use in the 1990s).

So, clearly they do work

Clearly. And I could keep going—JAMA covers polio, rubella, smallpox, and tetanus as well, and the CDC Epidemiology And Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases “pink book” covers literally every disease for which we have a vaccine in use in the United States. Or if you want a simplified view, you can look at Max Roser’s vaccination article on Our World In Data. Regardless of which you look at, though, they all show the same thing: the average number of cases of these diseases have decreased dramatically, sometimes by multiple orders of magnitude, since the introduction and widespread use of vaccinations for the disease. They work. They’re not perfect, but they work.

They aren’t perfect?

No, of course not. Nothing is. Which is why, in my next blog post, we’ll look at why an unvaccinated child is still a threat even though vaccines do work.

About Richard Gant

Richard Gant is a husband, a father, and a huge nerd with a deep love of science, science fiction, and fantasy. He works for a brokerage firm he won't name here in order to keep his Compliance department happy, and frequently talks to inanimate objects as if they can understand him. He also has a difficult time writing seriously about himself in the third person.
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34 Responses to If Vaccines Work…?

  1. Richard
    I love this and 101% agree with your points.
    However, could you please point us at some citable sources for your figures?
    Not for evaluating your assertions, but in case I need them for contribution to other sources that very reasonably demand citations.

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Not perfect, but they work?

    Yeahhhh riiiight, cars, jets, computers (like where you read this), ovens, and axes, Oh, and a few other items that I don’t have written down just now, like JAQing off, also work only imperfectly…

    But certain persons, like those objectors, the very ones that fly, drive, and abuse vaccination on the Net, routinely use them.

    So do I mostly, so the JAQers and I have at least that in common…

  3. Monorenalbill says:

    OK so vaccines work. I have known that for very many years. The question is; how are unvaccinated children a danger to vaccinated children?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      This will be covered more in the second part, as noted at the end of the essay, but it’s less about vaccinated kids being at risk and more about unvaccinated people. Kids who don’t receive immunizations are at risk, and there are people with compromised immune systems (such as the elderly or people with cancer or other illnesses, etc.) who benefit from herd immunity. The other thing is that vaccines work and have almost no known serious side effects, so why wouldn’t you use them?

    • Swampwitch says:

      It’s upsetting to children when their friends die of a preventable disease to which they themselves are immunized against?

    • Swampwitch7 says:


      They aren’t.

  4. Alex Krizel says:

    So, vaccines work.
    But let’s not fall into the troll category and let’s try educating.
    No need to call anti-vaxers names.
    Sure, most of them deserve it, but I am sure there are a few that simply don’t have the knowledge and the morons who preach anti-vaxing make it sound so plausible to the uneducated ear.
    So by the name calling, etc. you alienate those folks instead of helping them.

    And truth be told, I have asked that same question.
    Not about kids, but about the Flu vaccine.
    I work in a SNF, where we are not REQUIRED to get the vaccine.
    I have no issue with that (well, I do, but not because of the vaccine, because of the ‘req’ thing).
    But when someone asked “why?”, they were told that if they come in with a Flu, they could endanger all the residents here, even though the residents have all been vaccinated.

    See, I tend to be much harder on my own than others.
    I will call out a scientist, free-thinker, skeptic for saying something dumb way before I call out a bible-thumping anti-vaxer.
    So I asked, “how does that even make sense”?
    I’m still waiting for a reply, and that was last September.
    So I look forward to reading “part 2” of this, but, really, don’t be so hard on the folks.
    Some of them really just don’t know.
    Sure, most of them are pathetic morons who not only hate children and want them to suffer, but have taken their propaganda straight from the Nazis, as even IF (and there isn’t space in the universe for how big that “if” is) what they say is true, they are saying they would rather see a child die than be autistic, even though autism these days equates to being “Sheldon Cooper” in many cases.
    Sound familiar?

    But I digest…

    • Jake says:

      While agree with your comment that we shouldn’t call anti-Vaxxers names, it becomes very difficult not to do so when they have access to the same debates and real information online that the rest of us do, and still choose to ignore their access to these.

      • Noah Dillon says:

        There was a really good episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast about this recently: “Active Information Avoidance.”

  5. Nobody says:

    What do you expect when the man sitting in the White House is also a anti-vaxxer?

  6. DAMON TRIPODI says:

    Brian, I thought you were going to turn off comments? What’s the tiny smiley for, tracking?

  7. Richard in AL says:

    Problem is people always point at the flu vaccine and say “it never works 100% So vaccines don’t work.” Flu vaccines usually a calculated guess of what strain of flu will be prevalent. I used to skip flu vaccine for that reason. Now I get it every year.

  8. walton ferris says:

    Both sides tend to rely on their belief system.

    Read Suzanne Humphries “Dissolving Illusions” if you dare.

  9. Den Von says:

    My daughter concern is not about whether they protect from diseases but her problem is the preservatives being used to protect the vaccine while in storage. Namely it is mercury based ones that worry here the most.
    Can they come up with something better for protecting the vaccine while it’s being stored ?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      It actually has been replaced by other preservatives in all vaccines except for a few rare ones that are not administered to children. That preservative has never been shown to be dangerous and is not a concern. The mercury compound is not toxic in the amounts consumed, and people routinely ingest greater amounts of mercury from regular, everyday environmental exposure than they do from those vaccines that still contain thiomersal. And preservatives are really important for vaccines to be safe and effective.

      • Jake says:

        Although Thiomersal, as Noah Dillon points out, is not toxic,it is used exclusively in multi-dose vaccines, anyway. Most of us get our vaccines in single-use form. If you’re worried about it, you can always ask your doctor to make sure you and your child get the single-dose form.

    • Richard Gant says:

      If you’ll refer to one of my previous articles (https://skeptoid.com/blog/2017/01/20/first-anti-vaxxer-troll/#comments), you’ll see a pretty detailed examination of the mercury-based preservatives and their actual risk. But here’s the short form:

      It’s hardly used, and the few that do clearly disclose it. So, if you’re specifically concerned about that (despite the evidence of safety), you can work with your physician for alternatives.

  10. Andrew says:

    I think You totally missed the important misunderstanding that this meme is based on. Nobody ever claimed that unvaccinated people pose a threat to vaccinated people. Vaccines do protect us. The issue that people often misunderstand is that the people at risk from uncaccinated people, are the ones who are not get vaccinated due to health issues.

    • Jake says:

      Actually that’s incorrect. There are instances where unvaccinated children are brought into contact with children of vaxxers who are TOO YOUNG to be vaccinated. These unvaccinated children ARE a danger to the children of parents who will eventually vaccinate their children when they’re old enough.

  11. walton ferris says:

    Those who can’t be given vaccines can get some measure of protection by creating high blood levels of vitamin C (3 grams 3 times a day) and D (10,000 IU/day) for an adult.

    • ScepticalScotty says:

      Says who??? AFAIK theres no good evidence of that. Although if you are a salty sea dog living on a square rigger eating 10 year old salt pork and hard tack…..it could help with scurvy.

    • richard1941 says:

      How do you know this?

      • walton ferris says:

        Re vit C enhancing immunity, in the book Primal Panacea by Levy, pg 153-156 lists 20 ways, and pg 301-305 lists 69 references. Fig. 2 at annals.org/aim/article/717329/vitamin-c-pharmacokinetics-implications – oral-intravenous-use shows that 2.5 grams 4 times/day gives the maximum blood level.
        Re vit D see www1.grassrootshealth.net/media/download/chart_booklet_may2016.pdf. The 10K IU dose gives an average blood level of 75 ng/ml which is safe and yet promises a lot of disease prevention.
        C and D together should be pretty good. Sorry I don’t have direct studies. I’m suggesting them.

  12. Jane Delbrook says:

    I was going to try and read this with an open mind, but if you can’t post information without infantile name calling, then you have lost all credibility, and your opinion is worth nothing. You are just another troll and probably one of those CDC paid bloggers.

  13. Bill Morgan says:

    Suggest you keep an open mind and watch the Truth About Vaccines. There are 7 Episodes.


    And you loose credibility when you say: Yes they work, you primitive screwhead.

    And you fail to mention that all Pharmaceutical companies combined make over $1 Trillion in sales each year. They own our Congress with Billions in campaign contributions. Money talks!! It can even create cover-ups of the truth.


    • Noah Dillon says:

      Pharmaceutical companies make money off of antidepressants, cholesterol medications, and pain meds, that kind of stuff—things that you have to take at least once daily. They typically lose money on vaccines, which are taken once and are really expensive to develop. If vaccines don’t work then what happened to polio, smallpox, pertussis, diphtheria, etc?

      • Bill Morgan says:

        You obviously have not watched the video series, The Truth About Vaccines. The answer to your question is in the video series.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          I skimmed it. It’s junk. And like I said, it looks like it’s big on political theory and light on science.

          • Bill Morgan says:

            You have expressed a biased opinion. You did not watch the videos where you will learn new things you know nothing about. It is not junk. It is well researched.

            The pharmaceutical companies make Billion in Profits off of vaccines. They have a well funded propaganda machine. I have had no vaccines or shots of any kind for 35 years and I have been disease free for 35 years.

            I do daily excise, eat organic food, and weigh 165 lbs. at 6′ 1″. If more people would follow this life style, they would not need any shots.

  14. Kenny Smith says:

    Why does this site even exist ?

    • Noah Dillon says:

      Because scientific skepticism is a great tool for finding out true stuff about the world using data and reason rather than suspicion and rumor and rhetorical fallacies.

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