50 Anti-Vaccine Myths and Misinformation

Myths That Keep Parents From Vaccinating Their Kids

"I did my research," parents often say when they are ready to delay or skip vaccines.

Because the idea that vaccines are dangerous is easy to disprove, the anti-vaccine movement surrounds that idea with many myths and much misinformation to confuse parents who are trying to "do their research" on vaccines and how best to keep their children safe and healthy.

This guide to the 50 most common anti-vaccine myths and misinformation will help you understand that vaccines are safe, are necessary, and that getting your kids vaccinated and fully protected against each and every vaccine-preventable disease is the right decision to make.


No One Else Is at Risk If I Don't Vaccinate My Kids

Baby getting vaccine

A common idea that folks who are anti-vaccine use to justify their decision to themselves is to think that "if vaccines work so well, then your kids aren't at any risk if I choose to not vaccinate or selectively vaccinate my kids."

Of course, intentionally unvaccinated kids and adults do pose a risk to others, especially those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with immune system problems, who can't be vaccinated.

Unvaccinated children and adults are also responsible for starting most of the outbreaks that we continue to see today, including the measles outbreaks that are costing millions of dollars to contain.


Vaccines Cause Autism

Individuals and autism organizations who are trying to keep the focus on a link between vaccines and autism are actually doing a great harm to autistic children, autistic adults, and their families. How can they get support when these anti-vaccination folks continue to focus on vaccines as a cause for autism?

Vaccines do not cause autism.

The Autism Omnibus Proceedings helped to dismiss most of the autism claims in vaccine court. Dividing the claims into test cases, they found that neither thimerosal nor the MMR vaccine caused autism.

The settlement of the Hannah Polling case, a young girl with a mitochondrial disorder and autism, was not an admission by the vaccine court that vaccines cause autism, as some people claim.

And in their review, "Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses," Dr. Jeffery S. Gerber and Dr. Paul A. Offit concluded that: 

Twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. These studies have been performed in several countries by many different investigators who have employed a multitude of epidemiologic and statistical methods.

The large size of the studied populations has afforded a level of statistical power sufficient to detect even rare associations. These studies, in concert with the biological implausibility that vaccines overwhelm a child's immune system, have effectively dismissed the notion that vaccines cause autism. Further studies on the cause or causes of autism should focus on more-promising leads.

There is also the fact that:

  • over 100 studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
  • multiple Institute of Medicine reports have concluded that there is no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism, and that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines."
  • at least one study has found that "the rates of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis did not differ between immunized and nonimmunized younger sib groups" of children with autism.
  • studies that anti-vax folks use to claim a connection between vaccines and autism either have nothing to do with vaccines, nothing to do with autism, or are easily debunked.

Andrew Wakefield has also not been proven right. There have been no landmark events to prove that Wakefield was right.

There was no government concession in U.S. Vaccine Court. The Ryan Mojabi case was about encephalitis, not autism. So vaccines still don't cause autism.

There was no groundbreaking scientific paper. In fact, the latest study, "Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies," again said that vaccines are not associated with autism.


Shedding After Vaccines Gets People Sick

It is actually true that some vaccines can shed the vaccine virus after it is given to a child, but it is hardly a reason to avoid vaccines. For example, both the rotavirus and oral polio vaccines can shed the vaccine strain of virus. You don't have to actually get a rotavirus or polio infection for that to happen, but it would only be a problem if the person they were in contact with was immunocompromised.

Flumist can shed too (an attenuated strain of flu virus that is only active in the nasal passages), but it is rare for this to actually cause flu symptoms in someone. In fact, even if you are going to be around someone with a weakened immune system (unless they are in a bone marrow unit or something), you can still get Flumist.

Shedding is usually not an issue with other vaccines, including other live vaccines. And the oral polio virus is not even given in the United States anymore.

How worried do anti-vax folks get about vaccine shedding? You can actually read about how some parents who intentionally don't vaccinate their children go out of their way to avoid friends and family members who do vaccinate because they are worried of catching something!

Keep in mind that the Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation warns about "the increased risk of disease in the pediatric population, in part because of increasing rates of vaccine refusal," which can mean that immunodeficient children of a bigger risk of being exposed to vaccine-preventable disease. In most situations, they are not worried about vaccine shedding from vaccinated kids. In fact, to avoid vaccine-preventable diseases, they talk about creating "a 'protective cocoon' of immunized persons surrounding patients with primary immunodeficiency diseases."

In the policy statement, "Recommendations for live viral and bacterial vaccines in immunodeficient patients and their close contacts," they state that except for the oral polio vaccine, close contacts of patients with compromised immunity "can receive other standard vaccines because viral shedding is unlikely and these pose little risk of infection to a subject with compromised immunity."

If vaccine shedding isn't a risk for children with an immunodeficiency, then why should it be a reason for you to avoid vaccines or children who are vaccinated?

The craziest thing is that some anti-vax parents go out of their way to take their kids to chicken pox parties, so that their kids will intentionally catch this disease, but they are worried about them catching a milder form of the disease through shedding from a child who had the chicken pox vaccine...


Most People Who Get Sick During Outbreaks Are Vaccinated

Most people who get sick during outbreaks are not vaccinated when you consider the percentage of vaccinated and unvaccinated in the outbreak.

Although the absolute number of cases in some outbreaks might include many people who have been partially or completely vaccinated, that is simply because so many more people have received all of their vaccines as compared to those who have skipped one or more vaccines. It is much more important to look at the attack rate in vaccinated and unvaccinated people in an outbreak.

Consider a school of 1,000 kids and 44 of them get mumps during an outbreak, 29 are vaccinated, and 15 aren't. If 95 percent of the people in the school are vaccinated, then even though it seems like far more vaccinated than unvaccinated kids got mumps, since there were far fewer unvaccinated kids in the school (50 unvaccinated kids versus 950 vaccinated kids), the attack rate is far higher among those who didn't get a vaccine. In fact, in this example, those who were not vaccinated had a 10 times higher chance of developing mumps than those who were vaccinated, even though more vaccinated kids got sick (remember that only 35 unvaccinated kids didn't get mumps, while 921 vaccinated were protected and didn't get the mumps) and their vaccine was about 90 percent effective at keeping them from catching mumps.

You clearly have to research the numbers on these outbreaks a little before believing that most of the people are vaccinated.


Vaccines Don't Really Work

Vaccines are effective and work very well to prevent vaccine-preventable diseases.

Anti-vax folks often try to convince people that most vaccine-preventable diseases were on their way to be eradicated just before a specific vaccine to prevent them was introduced, typically because of "clean water and a healthy diet." They claim that vaccines didn't save us and that vaccines don't even work. Many anti-vax websites even have graphs to "support" their conspiracy theory—graphs and claims that have been thoroughly debunked.

The big problem with this false idea is that most of these diseases began to be eradicated at different times—smallpox, diphtheria, polio, measles, etc. If hygiene and better nutrition were the reasons, wouldn't they all have been eradicated at the same time?

And why didn't other diseases, like rotavirus and chicken pox, decrease until so much later, when their vaccines were introduced?

Also consider that the daughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Alice and her daughter, Princess Marie, both died of diphtheria in 1878. Did they not have clean water and access to a healthy diet in Windsor Castle at that time?

On the extreme end of these anti-vaccine beliefs are those who think that many vaccine-preventable diseases were never eradicated at all! They simply believe that doctors and public health experts simply changed the name of the diseases in a big conspiracy to just make it seem like the diseases went away.

They believe that these diseases, like polio, are still here—just with different names.

For example, instead of being on the way to being eradicated, polio is really still around—it is just called Guillain-Barré syndrome now. And smallpox? That was never really eradicated in the 1970s. It is now monkeypox.

It doesn't end there either, though. Whooping cough is now croup and diphtheria is epiglotitis.

What's wrong with this conspiracy theory?

  1. Since smallpox, polio, diphtheria, etc. were all so common in the pre-vaccine era, if their names were simply changed, then why don't we see a lot of people with Guillain-Barré syndrome, monkeypox, and epiglotitis today?
  2. These different conditions have quite different symptoms. For example, when kids in California recently developed a polio-like syndrome, doctors actually ruled out their having Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  3. If diphtheria was simply changed to epiglotitis, then what has it been changed to now, as epiglotittis has been mostly eliminated thanks to the Hib vaccine?

Whatever else you want to believe about vaccines, you should at least know that vaccines work.


Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Aren't Really That Serious

This is one of the more dangerous ideas of the anti-vaccine movement.

The only reason that they get away with it is because vaccines have done such a good job! Since vaccines have eliminated and reduced most vaccine-preventable diseases, few people actually remember just how devastating these life-threatening diseases can be.

It is important to remember that in the modern pre-vaccine era (the polio vaccine wasn't developed until 1952):

  • there were regular outbreaks of polio in the United States causing 13,000 to 20,000 cases of paralytic poliomyelitis each year and about 1,000 deaths. In even larger polio epidemics in the 1940s and 1950s, there were up to 3,145 deaths.
  • there were about 500,000 cases of measles in the United States, with at least 500 to 1,000 deaths and 500 cases of measles encephalitis. As late as 1989-1991, there were 55,622 cases and 123 deaths in the US.
  • there were up to 200,000 cases of diphtheria and 15,000 deaths each year.
  • the Haemophilus influenzae type b bacteria caused life-threatening infections, including meningitis, epiglottitis, and pneumonia, in up to 20,000 young children each year. Many were infants, and up to 5 percent died. Among those who survived their Hib infection, up to 30 percent had hearing impairment or neurologic complications.
  • there were about 270,000 cases of pertussis and 10,000 deaths each year in the United States.
  • 20,000 babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome during a severe epidemic of rubella in 1964 (12.5 million cases). An additional 2,100 newborns died and there were at least 11,250 surgical and spontaneous abortions in women with rubella while pregnant. The 1964 rubella epidemic is thought to have affected at least 1 percent of all pregnancies. These severe rubella epidemics were thought to have occurred every six to nine years, with smaller epidemics in two to four-year cycles.

Even today, about 200,000 children die each year from pertussis, and at least 122,000 die from measles around the world.

Vaccine-preventable diseases are clearly serious. We should also not overlook the fact that they would be just as deadly today if we stopped vaccinating our children and allowed them to come back in the United States.


Big Pharma

When faced with evidence that their anti-vaccine talking points are basically lies and propaganda, the fall-back position is often that you are a "shill for Big Pharma" if you actively support following the immunization schedule of the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.

They often go so far as to say that Big Pharma pays people to spend all day posting supportive comments on Facebook and on message boards.

The Pharma Shill Gambit is a popular attack method of many who prefer alternative medicine to more traditional methods of health care, including protecting their kids from vaccine-preventable diseases. Can't defend your position that vaccines are toxic (the toxin gambit) or that they don't work? Then just launch an ad hominem attack on the experts you are "debating."

Not surprisingly, the Big Pharma or Pharma shill argument is also used to try and discredit research studies that anti-vax folks don't like.


Vaccines Contain More Mercury Now Than Ever

Many anti-vaccine folks moved on to worrying about other vaccine ingredients and additives once thimerosal was removed from vaccines back in 1999. There are still some who cling to the idea that many vaccines still contain thimerosal and to the fully debunked idea that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism.

In addition to the fact that thimerosal was removed from almost all vaccines beginning in 1999, many vaccines never contained thimerosal, including:

  • MMR
  • Varivax (chicken pox vaccine)
  • hepatitis A vaccine
  • Flumist
  • rotavirus vaccines (RotaTeq and Rotarix)
  • TdaP
  • IPV (polio vaccine)
  • Menactra and Menveo
  • HPV vaccines (Gardasil and Cervarix)
  • Prevnar (both Prevnar 7 and Prevnar 13)

So, even at the height of the mercury craze, say in 1998, kids routinely only received three vaccines with thimerosal: hepatitis B, DTaP, and Hib. None of the other vaccines that were a part of the 1998 recommended childhood immunization schedule ever contained thimerosal.​

And even then, thimerosal-free versions of DTaP and Hib were available, so not all kids got vaccines with thimerosal or all three vaccines with thimerosal. Some may have gotten just one or two.

It is also important to remember that although it was recommended that thimerosal be removed from vaccines, it was as a precaution and that experts stated that "a risk assessment of thimerosal use in childhood vaccines finds no evidence of harm from the use of thimerosal as a preservative, other than redness and swelling at the injection site."

So, what's left of the thimerosal controversy? There are no remaining vaccines with thimerosal (the last ones expired in January 2003), the CDC isn't hiding data about mercury, vaccines, and autism, and there are plenty of thimerosal-free flu shots available for parents who want them. In fact, over 100 million doses of flu vaccine will be either thimerosal free or preservative free (with only a trace amount of thimerosal) for this year.


A Selective or Alternative Immunization Schedule Is Safer

When parent's think about a selective or alternative immunization schedule, they are usually thinking about Dr. Bob Sears.

He isn't the only self-proclaimed vaccine expert with an alternative vaccine schedule though. He wasn't even the first. His vaccine schedule simply became the most popular.

Dr. Bob's alternative vaccine schedule spaces out vaccines so that infants don't get more than two at a time, but they have to get monthly shots instead, delays hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine until kids are older, and his original schedule recommended individual measles, mumps, and rubella shots instead of the combination MMR vaccine.

If his alternative vaccine schedule is too aggressive for you, Dr. Bob also offers a selective vaccine schedule.

Parents should understand that whether a selective or alternative schedule can reduce vaccine side effects or even safely prevent vaccine-preventable infections (the delay in getting vaccines leaves your child unprotected and at risk for getting vaccine-preventable diseases), is untested and unproven. 


Many People Don't Vaccinate Their Kids

The overwhelming majority of parents vaccinate their kids according to the recommended immunization schedule of the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics.

A 2015 report from the CDC found that more than 90 percent of children aged 19 to 35 months were up to date on the following vaccinations: polio; hepatitis B; measles, mumps, and rubella; and varicella.

Another 2016 report from the CDC, this one looking at vaccination coverage among children in kindergarten, found that almost 95 percent of children entering kindergarten were fully immunized against measles (two doses of MMR) and over 94 percent for diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine among 49 states and DC. The report also found vaccination exemption levels continue to be low.

If it seems like a lot of people you know aren't vaccinating their kids, it is likely because many anti-vax parents cluster together on Facebook groups and parenting message boards to reinforce their beliefs. They may also enroll their kids in the same schools.

And for every anti-vax celebrity you read about, whether it is Jenny McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone, Kristin Cavallari, or Rob Schneider, always remember that there are many more celebrities who not only are vaccine advocates, but who also do so much for kids all around the world, such as:

  • Ewan McGregor - worked with UNICEF to document his Cold Chain Mission to "deliver vaccines and immunise children in some of the world's remotest places"
  • Jennifer Garner - has advocated for flu vaccines and is now on the Board of Trustees of Save the Children
  • Lenny Kravitz - works with Unicef to help them with their goal to "make sure that 100 percent of children are immunized against preventable diseases. Failing to reach every last child is unacceptable, especially when the cost of a vaccine is so little.”
  • David Beckham - In addition to working with Unicef's Sport for Development program, David Beckham has helped children around the world, including those affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and the tsunami in Indonesia.
  • Keri Russell - The star of Felicity and The Americans partnered with Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDs) in the Silence the Sounds of Pertussis public service announcement.
  • Serena Williams - worked with Unicef's health campaigns in Ghana.
  • Salma Hayek - In addition to promoting breastfeeding, she helped women and their babies in Africa and Asia get tetanus shots.
  • Christy Turlington Burns - started the Every Mother Counts campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world, including in part, by giving them access to life-saving vaccines.

Ewan McGregor, in describing the work that he does also offers a nice observation, which I think sums up why the anti-vaccination movement always remains so small:

"You hear about people who don't like to vaccinate their kids in the Western world, which I suppose is a personal choice, but when you're out there, the result of your children not being vaccinated is that they'll likely die, or be horribly maimed. So yes, I saw a real desire to have their children protected, and also a real understanding of it—I didn't seem to come across anybody who went "What is it?" Or "What does it do?" They all seemed to know about it."

Remember, the overwhelming majority of parents don't get vaccine exemptions and instead do vaccinate their kids and protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases.


Vaccines Are Made With Aborted Fetal Tissue

Vaccines are not made with aborted fetal tissue.

A few vaccines are made with cell lines that were originally derived from fibroblast cells from an aborted fetus. This occurred on two separate occasions in the 1960s, creating the MRC-5 and WI-38 cell lines, in which viruses are grown to make some vaccines, including the rubella vaccine.

It is very important to note that these cell lines have been replicated over and over again, are now grown independently, are far removed from the first cell cultures taken in the 1960s, and that no new fetal cells are ever used. Also, these two elective abortions were not done for vaccine research.

It is even more important to note that during the rubella epidemic of 1964, there were:

  • 12.5 million cases of rubella in the United States
  • 2,000 cases of encephalitis associated with rubella
  • 11,250 spontaneous and elective abortions because of mother's infected with the rubella virus during pregnancy
  • 2,100 neonatal deaths caused by rubella infections
  • 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome

It was to prevent these tragic complications that the first rubella vaccine was developed.

Dan Connors at the Catholic Digest sums up the issues very nicely when he says that: "These babies were not aborted to make vaccines; in fact, no child has ever been aborted for vaccine production, and no aborted fetal tissue or even tissue descended from the cell tissue of an aborted child, is in the vaccine itself."

So it should be clear that vaccines are not made with aborted fetal tissue. At best, you could say that very few vaccines have "a distant association with abortion," but it should also "be obvious that vaccine use in these cases does not contribute directly to the practice of abortion since the reasons for having an abortion are not related to vaccine preparation."

When thinking about the issue, concerned parents should also consider the opinion of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, which has stated that:

"One is morally free to use the vaccine regardless of its historical association with abortion. The reason is that the risk to public health, if one chooses not to vaccinate, outweighs the legitimate concern about the origins of the vaccine. This is especially important for parents, who have a moral obligation to protect the life and health of their children and those around them."

Thinking about this "moral obligation" to protect people from vaccine-preventable diseases will hopefully motivate more parents to get their kids vaccinated.


Too Many Too Soon—Overloading the Immune System

"Too many too soon" was the rallying cry for Jenny McCarthy at her "Green Our Vaccines" anti-vaccine rally in 2008. 

Of course, the idea that following the routine childhood immunization could somehow overwhelm a child's immune system has been thoroughly debunked.

In fact, even though they get more vaccines now and are protected against more vaccine-preventable diseases, kids actually get far fewer antigens with each vaccine than ever before.

Why does that matter? It is these antigens that stimulate the immune system. If you are worried about overstimulating your immune system, then that is what you would look at, not the total number of vaccines.

For example, children used to get both the smallpox vaccine, which had about 200 proteins or antigens per vaccine and the DTP vaccine, with 3000 antigens. That is far higher than the total amount of antigens in ALL of the vaccines that children and teens get today, from hepatitis B to HPV—about 137 to 152 antigens.

Dr. Offit first addressed this question more than 10 years ago in the article, "Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System?" He discussed how:

  • When children are born, they emerge from the relatively sterile environment of the uterus into a world teeming with bacteria and other microorganisms.
  • The neonate is capable of mounting a protective immune response to vaccines within hours of birth.
  • The young infant is fully capable of generating protective humoral and cellular immune responses to multiple vaccines simultaneously.

In this article, Dr. Offit also explains how an infant's "immune system has the capacity to respond to extremely large numbers of antigens," going so far as to say that "each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time." 

Did he say that infants should get 10,000 vaccines at one time? Nope. It was just another way of explaining that our kids aren't going to overwhelm their immune system when they get their vaccines.

Dr. Offit actually explained it another way, saying that "if 11 vaccines were given to infants at one time, then about 0.1 percent of the immune system would be 'used up.'"

Or to put it even more plainly, our kids do not get too many vaccines too soon and we do not overwhelm their immune system when we immunize them according to the latest childhood immunization schedule from the CDC and AAP.

And if anything, kids are getting exposed to far fewer antigens from vaccines than ever before—from 3,000 in just one DTP shot they used to get, to just 315 in all of the vaccines that they get by age 2 today.


Natural Immunity Is Better Than Immunity From Vaccination

Natural immunity after getting an infectious disease is a great thing, as it typically keeps you from getting the same infection twice.

Natural immunity comes at a high price, though. And I'm not talking about the high cost of those supplements many of the anti-vaccination sites sell to boost your natural immunity.

Not to mention the fact that your child could be sick for days, or weeks, or months, as we once saw in the pre-vaccine era, and still see today, vaccine-preventable diseases can be life-threatening and can have terrible complications, including that:

  • diphtheria can cause myocarditis, neuritis, and diaphragmatic paralysis, and death in 5 to 20 percent of people
  • Hib can cause hearing impairment, neurologic sequelae, and death in 2 to 5 percent of cases
  • measles can cause pneumonia, seizures, encephalitis, and death in 0.2 percent of cases
  • mumps can cause orchitis (testicular inflammation), oophoritis (ovarian inflammation), pancreatitis, meningitis, encephalitis, deafness, and sometimes death.
  • polio can cause meningitis, flaccid paralysis, and death in 2 to 5 percent of children.
  • rotavirus can cause severe diarrhea and dehydration and used to cause 20 to 60 deaths a year.
  • rubella can cause arthritis, thrombocytopenic purpura, and encephalitis, but the bigger concern is pregnant women who get rubella, which can lead to spontaneous abortions, neonatal deaths, and congenital rubella syndrome.
  • tetanus can cause generalized muscle spasms and death in 11 percent of cases. Neonatal tetanus is also a concern.
  • chicken pox can be associated with meningitis, encephalitis, secondary pneumonia, skin infections, and sometimes death.
  • pertussis can cause pneumonia, seizures, encephalopathy, and death in 0.2 percent of cases.

And natural immunity is far from perfect. For example, it is possible to get chicken pox more than once after a natural infection and natural immunity after pertussis isn't lifelong, lasting only about four to 20 years.

There are also some late complications that can occur when you have a natural infection, including:

  • Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE) - a fatal, late complication of natural measles infections and which might occur in as many as 1:1700 people who have had measles. It is not caused by the measles vaccine itself.
  • Post-Polio Syndrome - new symptoms of pain, fatigue, and weakness that develop in 25 to 40 percent of people who have survived ​polio infections
  • Shingles - a late complication of a natural chicken pox infection that is less common after having the chicken pox vaccine
  • Liver Cancer - about 50 percent of children (and 90 percent of infants) develop chronic hepatitis B infections and can later develop scarring of the liver (cirrhosis), liver failure, and liver cancer.

Dr. Paul A Offit answers the natural immunity question nicely, when he states that "the high price of natural immunity, that is, occasionally severe and fatal disease, is a risk not worth taking."


Vaccines Are Not Vigorously Tested Before Being Approved by the FDA

Vaccines that are licensed by the FDA must meet "stringent criteria for safety, efficacy, and potency."

Like a new drug, vaccines go through preclinical studies and at least three phases of clinic trials before a company can even submit an application to the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), including CBER's Office of Vaccines Research and Review, Office of Compliance and Biologics Quality, and Office of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.

By the end of Phase 3 trials, studies have been done to show that the vaccine is safe and non-toxic, immunogenic (it produces an immune response), and is efficacious (it works).

In addition to reviewing all of this information, when an application for a new vaccine is submitted, the FDA also:

  • does pre-licensure lot-release testing on the vaccine
  • reviews and inspects the manufacturing facilities and the manufacturing process
  • reviews the vaccine label

A non-FDA expert committee made up of scientists, physicians, consumer representatives, and a member of the industry (non-voting), the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC), then reviews and evaluates the application. The committee is made up of experts in immunology, molecular biology, rDNA, virology, bacteriology, epidemiology or biostatistics, allergy, preventive medicine, infectious diseases, pediatrics, microbiology, and biochemistry. They vote and provide advice to CBER.

If approved, the vaccine continues to be monitored for safety concerns through Phase 4 studies, lot release testing, inspections, review of reports to VAERS, and studies using data from the Vaccine Safety Datalink.

How long does the vaccine development process take? It varies for each vaccine, but it is certainly a thorough process, with the average vaccine going through over 10 years of development. In fact, the FDA sometimes gets criticized for not approving vaccines quickly enough, such as the MenB vaccine (Bexerso), which is already approved by the European Union.

The original Prevnar, for example, was approved by the FDA after an eight and a half month review. Of course, this followed a three-year Phase III trial that began four years before the vaccine was approved and previous preclinical trials and Phase I and Phase II human clinical trials.


Herd Immunity Isn't Real

Chart demonstrating how herd immunity works

Photo courtesy of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Herd immunity is the well-accepted idea that if most people around you are immune to an infection and can't get sick, then there is no one around to infect you, and you won't get sick, even if you aren't immune to the infection.

Although many who intentionally don't vaccinate their children or themselves claim they aren't part of the herd or don't believe in herd immunity, they still are. They are simply an unprotected member of the herd who relies on the rest of us for protection.

In Dr. Bob's book about vaccines, he even seems to advocate parents who intentionally don't vaccinate their kids try protecting them by hiding in the herd.

So why do we still have outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases if herd immunity is real? In the case of measles, it is very easy to see why. Although the endemic spread of measles was eliminated in the United States in 1990, measles is still common in many other parts of the world. In fact, measles killed 122,000 people worldwide in 2012.  Outbreaks in the US are typically started when unvaccinated people travel to these areas, get sick, and return home. They are leaving the herd, exposing themselves to the disease, and then contaminating the herd.

Rather than proving that herd immunity isn't real, the simple fact that these outbreaks aren't any larger is a good testament to the fact that herd immunity works.


I Use PubMed to Do My Vaccine Research

PubMed includes over 22 million citations and abstracts from MEDLINE, the "U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) premiere bibliographic database that contains over 20 million references to journal articles in life sciences with a concentration on biomedicine."

While it might seem like a good way to do research on vaccines and many other things, the main problem is that PubMed does not offer access to the full-text of these journal articles. That leaves the vast majority of people jumping to conclusions about articles after reading a short summary or article title. This is not research.

In fact, when you actually read many of the articles that anti-vaccine folks cite to support their reasoning, you find that they clearly don't, including:

Can you search PubMed for keywords, and as one parent puts it, "read until your eyes are bleary?" Sure.

But people who do real research using PubMed simply use it as a resource to find relevant journal articles. They then read the complete article and use their critical thinking skills before making a decision to see if the article supports or rejects their original idea. That is research.

Unfortunately, most people who are anti-vaccination simply use PubMed to plug in keywords and find titles or abstracts that sound good. If they actually ever read the full articles, which aren't usually available on PubMed, they would find that they are weak studies, are usually fatally flawed, are often labeled as junk science, sometimes don't have anything to do with vaccines and are misused, and have been widely debunked.

Saying that you have done your research using PubMed has now become almost synonymous with someone who has actually not done any real research, believes whatever vaccine misinformation they read, and has simply relied on antivax websites for their "research."​


10 Vaccines in the 1980s Ballooned Into 36 in 2008 and Into 49 Now

This is the kind of propaganda that anti-vaccine folks use to try and link vaccines to autism.

In 1983, the immunization schedule protected kids against seven vaccine-preventable diseases by getting 10 doses of three vaccines before starting kindergarten—five doses of DTP, four doses of OPV, and a dose of MMR. And teens got a tetanus shot.

By 2008, kids were protected against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases by getting up to 36 doses of 10 vaccines before starting kindergarten—three doses of HepB, three doses of Rotavirus, five doses of DTaP, three or four doses of Hib, four doses of Prevnar 7, four doses of IPV, two doses of MMR, two doses of chicken pox, two doses of hepatitis A, and six to seven doses of the flu vaccine.

Not much has changed in 2014, except that kids get the Prevnar 13 (in place of Prevnar 7) vaccine and they can get either two or three doses of Rotavirus vaccine, depending on which brand their health care provider is using.

It is only by using special anti-vaccine math that you can go from 36 vaccines in 2008 to 49 vaccines in 2014. They might do this by counting the DTaP and MMR vaccines as three separate vaccines each, but then you have to do it in 1983 and 2008, don't you? There is no good explanation for changing the counting style between years except to fool people into thinking that the immunization schedule is growing more than it has.

And why start with 1983? Kids were getting vaccines for decades before that. In 1963, for example, they got vaccines to protect them against smallpox, diphtheria, polio, pertussis, and tetanus.

The latest counts? Although no new vaccines or vaccine doses have been added to the immunization schedule since 2006, the vaccine count seems to be rising almost exponentially every few months.

In a recent OpEd in USAToday, we 'learned' that "U.S. health officials now recommend 69 doses of 16 vaccines for every child."

And just a few days later, I read that the vaccine count had already ballooned to "81 vaccines by 6 years of age."

So how does one anti-vax organization think that kids get 49 vaccines, while others think it is 69 or 81? The better question is why is their count so much higher than the official vaccine count:

  • 36 doses of 10 vaccines before starting kindergarten that protect infants and children against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases
  • as few as 22 shots if you are using combination vaccines, like Pediarix, Pentacel, Kinrix, Proquad, and Flumist

It should be clear that they inflate the vaccine counts to make parents afraid of vaccines.


Package Inserts

Vaccines are dangerous—just read the package insert!

Anti-vaccine folks like to quote things from the package inserts of vaccines. The package insert is included with each vaccine (and other medications) and is widely available online.

As a part of their "summary of the essential scientific information needed for the safe and effective use of the drug," the package insert contains a list of adverse reactions. Unfortunately, this can range from adverse reactions discovered in clinical trials to less common, low-frequency adverse reactions for which there is less reason to suspect causality and then adverse reactions from postmarketing spontaneous reports.

That last group of spontaneous reports of adverse reactions is typically the one that anti-vaccine folks turn to when they want to say that a vaccine has been proven to be dangerous or is proven to cause autism. Per FDA rules, though, these types of adverse reactions are reported voluntarily and are included in the package insert without any way to "establish a causal relationship to drug exposure."

In other words, vaccine package inserts are not the smoking gun of "vaccines are dangerous" evidence that anti-vaccine folks believe.


More Vaccines Are Linked to Higher Infant Mortality Rates

Infant mortality rates have been dropping in the US.
Infant mortality rates, which anti-vaccine folks try to tie to vaccines, have decreased at least 12% in the United States since 2005. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Maryland Governor.

Anti-vaccine folks often try to link infant mortality rates (the number of deaths per 1,000 live births) together with the number of vaccines that a country gives its children.

If vaccines weren't dangerous, they claim, then why would the infant mortality rate in the United States be higher than the infant mortality rate in some countries that don't protect their children from as many vaccine-preventable diseases?

Not surprisingly, infant mortality rates and vaccines are things that you can't really link together. For one thing, many experts have pointed out that simply comparing infant mortality rates between different countries isn't reliable because they don't all count live births the same.

And most experts have found that one factor, premature births, is behind the higher infant mortality rates in the United States. They believe that preterm-related causes of death are more important for our higher infant mortality rates than other possible causes, such as birth defects, SIDS, maternal health complications, or unintentional accidents.

And why, you might ask, have infant mortality rates decreased by at least 12 percent in the United States since 2005 if kids continue to get more vaccines?


Most Adults Aren't Up to Date on Boosters

A favorite anti-vaccine argument of mine is: "How can herd immunity be real if most adults aren't up to date on their boosters and so aren't immune to anything?"

Looking at the Adult Immunization Schedule, historically, there haven't been many boosters that adults have had to routinely get besides a tetanus shot. And although tetanus is an infectious disease, it is not contagious, so herd immunity doesn't have anything to do with it.

Most adults are immune to most vaccine-preventable diseases because they were either vaccinated or had the disease when they were children. They don't need to get boosters of the MMR, chicken pox vaccine, or polio vaccine, etc.

Adults should get a Tdap vaccine to protect them against pertussis, but that is a relatively new recommendation, so it isn't surprising that many adults haven't had it yet.

It is also important to remember that herd immunity is not a one-size-fits-all concept. You can have a breakdown in herd immunity for pertussis, for example, while herd immunity still protects everyone from polio. That's because the necessary vaccination rates to maintain herd immunity is different for each disease.


Sick People Should Just Stay Home

For many childhood infections, including many vaccine-preventable diseases, you are most contagious before you even start to show symptoms. Following a strategy of just staying home when you get sick won't prevent any outbreaks from occurring.

People with measles, for example, are contagious for up to four days before they even develop a rash, which is when they usually first know that they have measles.

Similarly, people with pertussis, or whooping cough, are typically contagious during the first two weeks of being sick. During this stage, they often still have just a mild, occasional cough with a runny nose, sneezing, and a low-grade fever. It isn't for another few weeks that they develop coughing attacks that they might think they have pertussis, all the while exposing everyone around them.

What about other vaccine-preventable diseases?

It is much the same story, which is why a strategy of just staying home when you are sick with measles or pertussis won't keep other people from getting sick:

  • mumps - You are contagious for up to three days before you have active disease.
  • hepatitis A - Infected people can shed the hepatitis A virus up to one to two weeks before they develop jaundice and other symptoms.
  • rotavirus - You are highly contagious up to two days before you start having diarrhea.
  • chicken pox - You are contagious up to one to two days before you start to develop the classic chicken pox rash.
  • influenza - You are usually contagious the day before you develop flu symptoms.
  • polio - People with polio are contagious up to seven to 10 days before they develop symptoms.

It should be clear that you are typically contagious and can get others sick well before you know that you or your child has a vaccine-preventable disease, including those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with immune system problems. Choosing to intentionally not get vaccines, with the idea that you will simply quarantine your family at home if they get sick to avoid exposing others doesn't actually keep outbreaks from happening.

The flip side of this is that it is hard to avoid vaccine-preventable diseases by simply trying to avoid people who appear to be sick.


The Media Is Just Scaring People About Measles and Whooping Cough

Measles is a scary, vaccine-preventable disease.

Before 1963, in the pre-vaccine era, there were about 500,000 cases of measles in the United States and 500 deaths each year, with many more cases and deaths during epidemic cycles every two to three years.

As late as 1989 to 1991, there were 55,622 cases and 123 deaths in the United States, which led to the recommendation for all kids to get an MMR booster.

Even today, measles kills about 122,000 people each year around the world. And even in industrial countries, measles is still deadly:

  • During the large measles outbreaks in Europe in 2011, there were over 30,000 cases, which led to eight deaths, 27 cases of measles encephalitis, and 1,482 cases of pneumonia. Not surprisingly, most cases were in unvaccinated (82 percent) or incompletely vaccinated (13 percent) people.
  • In 2013, there were at least 2,499 cases in the Dutch "Bible belt" with at least one case of measles encephalitis and one death, a 17-year-old girl. Almost all of the measles cases in this outbreak are unvaccinated and the majority are children.
  • With just 10,271 cases of measles in Europe in 2013, with most of the cases being found in Germany, Italy, Romania, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, there were still eight cases of acute measles encephalitis and there have been three deaths.

What happens after these large measles outbreaks? More people start getting vaccinated and the cases go down. People can see first-hand just how bad measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases can be.


You Cannot Sue If Your Child Is Injured by a Vaccine

It is not true that you cannot sue if your child is injured by a vaccine.

Before someone can try to sue a vaccine manufacturer directly, they must first file a claim through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (Vaccine Court). A claimant can file a civil lawsuit against a vaccine manufacturer if their claim is denied or if they reject the compensation offered after their claim is approved. In fact, this is what happened recently in the Bruesewitz v. Wyeth case, which went all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was created by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 as a no-fault compensation program for those who want to make a claim that they were harmed or injured by a vaccine, including all of the vaccines in the childhood immunization schedule.

As part of this Vaccine Program, an Office of Special Masters within the U.S. Court of Federal Claims oversees and makes decisions on these vaccine injury cases, which includes anaphylaxis, thrombocytopenic purpura (MMR), or paralytic polio (oral polio vaccine), etc.

Since 1989, 3,540 claims have been paid, typically by settlement, while at least 9,734 claims were dismissed.

Keep in mind that according to the HRSA, "Conclusions regarding the safety of the vaccines should not be drawn based upon the fact that cases were settled.  Settlements are one way of quickly resolving a petition or claim." It is much more rare for one of these cases to actually go all the way to a court decision.


Vaccines Go Against Some or Most Religions

There are actually very few religions that have an absolute objection to vaccines, including some small Christian churches that believe in faith healing over medical care and Christian Scientists, who believe in healing through prayer and think that vaccines aren't necessary.

There are many more groups within other religions who are opposed to getting their kids and themselves vaccinated, which helps explain some outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. These include some Amish, some Dutch reformed churches, and some Muslim fundamentalists. There is no absolute objection to vaccines within these groups. Even among the Dutch reformed churches, there is a subset who describe vaccines "as a gift from God to be used with gratitude" and vaccination rates in these communities have been on the rise.

For example, a large outbreak of measles in Ohio recently was linked to an Amish group that had traveled to the Philippines. They weren't necessarily against getting vaccinated, but simply didn't know that they needed an MMR vaccine when traveling out of the country. Many quickly got their shots to help contain the outbreak.

More often than a true religious objection, even though they are clustered in a church or religious group, it is simply a fear over vaccine safety that drives some people to avoid vaccines.


Most Vaccine Side Effects Aren't Reported by Doctors

Vaccine side effects can be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) by anyone, including healthcare providers and parents themselves. VAERS, which "collects and analyzes information from reports of adverse events (possible side effects) following vaccination" are not just for doctors.

It was by analyzing VAERS reports that a problem with the RotaShield vaccine was first detected (increased risk of intussusception), and helped lead to that vaccines removal from the market.

VAERS is hardly the only post-marketing surveillance program that is helping to make sure vaccines are safe, though. In addition to the voluntary reports to VAERS, the Vaccine Safety Datalink has been looking for links between adverse reactions and immunizations since 1990 by looking at de-identified health records from nine large managed care organizations. The Vaccine Safety Datalink database includes combined doses of vaccines that a child might have gotten at one visit, lot numbers, and any potential adverse events.

The Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project or CISA is yet another tool to review possible adverse events that could be linked to vaccines.


Many Experts Are Against Vaccines

Very few medical experts are actually against vaccines.

When you find one, it is typically someone who is very far outside of their medical specialty (if they studied medicine...), such as:

  • Dr. Russel Blaylock - a retired neurosurgeon who thinks that he is an expert on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases among other things that are not related to neurosurgery. In addition to believing that vaccines are dangerous and don't work, Dr. Blaylock also thinks that mercury in dental fillings and fluoride in water are dangerous, among many other conspiracy theories. 
  • Bob Sears, MD, FAAP - a pediatrician, Dr. Bob wrote The Vaccine Book, which includes his own selective and alternative immunization schedules, but which many parents use as justification to simply not vaccinate their kids at all. He also consistently downplays the risks of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in his own community.
  • Mark Geier, M.D. - a geneticist, he had worked as a professional witness in nearly 100 vaccine injury cases and created a series of clinics to treat autism with dangerous regimens. Dr. Geier's medical license has since been revoked in most states, judges have ruled that he has "no training, expertise, and experience" in these areas and have stated that his testimony is "wholly unqualified," and papers he has published have been criticized for flaws and inaccuracies and one was even retracted.
  • Susanne Humphries, MD - a nephrologist who "left the conventional system," Dr. Humphries has become a homeopath and has written an anti-vaccine book. She is also quite obsessed with Dr. Paul Offit (a real vaccine expert).
  • Dr. Boyd E. Haley - a retired chemistry professor, Boyd Haley is a strong believer that mercury in vaccines causes autism and Gulf War Syndrome, warns about the dangers of mercury in dental amalgams (fillings), and Dr. Haley once sold an industrial chelator as a dietary supplement to treat autism until he was shut down by the FDA.
  • Dr. Viera Scheibner - with a PhD in micropaleontology (she studied tiny fossils), Dr. Scheibner became a leader of the anti-vaccination movement in Australia, linking vaccines to SIDS. She has since moved on to the idea that vaccines cause autism and shaken baby syndrome.
  • J.B. Handley - the founder of Generation Rescue, Jenny McCarthy's autism organization, J.B. Handley, not surprisingly, believes that vaccines cause autism.
  • Jenny McCarthy - although she now claims that she is not anti-vaccine, many people credit Jenny McCarthy with reviving the modern anti-vaccine movement, using "Google University" to do her research on the links between vaccines and autism.

These are just a few of the so-called experts in the anti-vaccination community. It is their conspiracy theories that you buy into when you believe that vaccines aren't safe for your children.


Vaccinated Kids Are the Cause of Most Outbreaks

Vaccinated kids are not the cause of most outbreaks.

In fact, when a fully vaccinated person in New York City got measles in 2011 and got four other people sick, it made big news because it so rarely happens.

The great majority of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are caused by those who are unvaccinated or who are not fully vaccinated.

The latest argument of anti-vax folks is that people who are vaccinated with the pertussis vaccine can become carriers for the pertussis bacteria and that they cause pertussis outbreaks. While there is some truth to this, it isn't the vaccine that makes them a carrier. An FDA study in baboons who were vaccinated with a pertussis vaccine (aP), while protected against pertussis, could become colonized when exposed to the pertussis bacteria. They could then get unvaccinated baboons sick with pertussis.

It is important to note that the pertussis vaccine didn't turn them into carriers or make them shed the pertussis bacteria. Instead, the vaccinated baboons in the study got infected with pertussis when exposed to the bacteria, even though they didn't develop symptoms, they became carriers who could get others sick (if they weren't immune).


Vaccines Cause Shaken Baby Syndrome

This has to be the most misguided claim made by anti-vaccine folk—that vaccines are the cause of shaken baby syndrome.

A few anti-vaccine websites and people seem to have made this issue their specialty, claiming that "not only are vaccinations harming our children, but that harm is being covered up by blaming innocent parents of abuse."

Instead of helping "innocent parents," these sites are actually providing a road map for a defense after they harm and often kill their babies.

They have even made up new diseases, like vaccine-induced tissue scurvy. And have even tried to bring back the idea that vaccines cause SIDS, despite the fact that rates of SIDS are way down.

This is not a new tactic.

Lawyers once tried to defend their clients accused of shaken baby syndrome by saying it was instead caused by the DTP vaccine. According to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome, "prosecutors of shaken baby cases should be aware of this untrue defense and be prepared to exclude this irresponsible medical testimony."


The Chicken Pox Vaccine Is Creating a Surge in Shingles Cases

The chicken pox vaccine is not causing a surge in shingle cases or a shingles epidemic.

While there has been a rise in cases of shingles, it has been shown that:

  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults began before we started giving kids the chicken pox vaccine in the United States
  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults did not increase after we started giving kids the chicken pox vaccine in the United States
  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults exists in other countries that do not routinely give kids the chicken pox vaccine

In fact, in addition to protecting kids against chicken pox, it appears that the chicken pox vaccine actually lowers their risk of later developing shingles.


The US Gives More Vaccines Than Other Developed Countries

The latest vaccine schedule in Germany.
The latest vaccine schedule in Germany is very similar the one that is recommended by the CDC and AAP in the United States. Photo by the German Standing Committee on Vaccination

Do we give more vaccines in the United States than in other countries?

In the United States, kids get:

  • 36 doses of 10 vaccines before starting kindergarten that protect infants and children against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases
  • a few more vaccines as a preteen: HPV, MCV4, Tdap

What do some other industrial countries do for their kids?

Some, like Iceland, give fewer, still not offering vaccines for rotavirus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or chicken pox infections. It is important to note that Iceland is a unique island country with just over 300,000 people, though, making it smaller than most major American cities. And they do vaccinate their children and teens with Pentavac (DTaP-Hib-Polio), Synflorix (PCV), MenC, MMR, dTaP, HPV, and a dTaP-Polio combination shot. So Iceland isn't anti-vaccine or more vaccine-hesitant than the United States; they have just determined that their citizens aren't at risk for some of the vaccine-preventable diseases that are more common in the United States and other larger countries.

Many others, like Australia, Canada, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Finland, etc., now have similar immunization schedules as the United States.

Many more countries are catching up, protecting children from more vaccine-preventable diseases, for example, adding the rotavirus and HPV vaccines. If a vaccine is missing from a schedule, it is usually the hepatitis A or chicken pox vaccine, although those countries continue to monitor rates of those diseases to see if the vaccine should be added.

In fact, in some countries, infants get even more vaccine doses by the time they are 4 months old, as they get their vaccines at four-week intervals, when they are 2 months, 3 months, and 4 months of age, vs. the two-month interval that is used in the United States.

And in some other countries, like Germany, toddlers might get even more vaccine doses than we give in the United States. For example, by 15 months, kids in Germany get:

  • 4 doses of DTaP
  • 3-4 doses of IPV
  • 3-4 doses of HepB
  • 3-4 doses of Hib
  • 4 does of Prevnar
  • 3 doses of Rotavirus vaccine
  • the Meningococcal C vaccine (not given in the US)
  • 2 doses of the MMR vaccine (vs. just 1 dose in the US at this age)
  • 2 doses of the chicken pox vaccine (vs. just 1 dose in the US at this age)

In Taiwan, while kids don't get vaccines for Hib, rotavirus, or HPV, they do get all of our other vaccines, plus the BCG vaccine and a vaccine to protect them against Japanese encephalitis.​

In South Korea, in addition to all of the routine vaccines given in the United States, including the flu vaccine, by 24 months, children also get the BCG and the Japanese encephalitis vaccine.

Japan has a bit of a complex immunization schedule, in that it is split into routine vaccinations (Hib, Prevnar13, DTaP-IPV, DT, BCG, MR, JapE, and the HPV vaccine) and voluntary vaccinations (flu, chicken pox, mumps, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, and the rotavirus vaccine). What's the difference between routine and voluntary vaccinations? The routine shots are given free of charge. Not surprisingly, the vaccination rates for the voluntary vaccinations are much less than the free, routine vaccinations. For example, only about 30 percent of children get vaccinated against chicken pox in Japan.

Overall, we do routinely give more vaccines in the United States than in some other countries. This is only anti-vax argument that has some truth to it. Of course, they are stretching that truth when they compare the latest immunization schedule from the U.S. to schedules that were used five to 10 years ago in other countries. As you can see in the links above, most countries have added most of the same vaccines that we are routinely using today and many give additional vaccines that we don't give.

Globally, more children than ever before are receiving vaccines that are on the Basic Immunization schedule recommended for all children by the WHO Expanded Programme on Immunization, including BCG, HepB, Polio, DTP, Hib, Prevnar, Rotavirus, Measles, Rubella, and HPV.


The Anti-Vax Movement Is Growing

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey at their Green Our Vaccines march.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey at their Green Our Vaccines march which tried to link vaccines to autism. Photo by Getty Images

The anti-vax movement is not growing.

Many people think that the anti-vaccine movement started in 2007 when Jenny McCarthy, using a degree from "The University of Google," and her son as her "science," appeared on "Oprah" and moved from thinking that he was an indigo child to knowing that he was injured by vaccines.

Others think the anti-vax movement began when Dr. Bob published his "Vaccine Book," which many people refer to as the "Anti-Vaccine Book."

Of course, this wasn't the start of the anti-vaccine movement. It wasn't even the start of the modern anti-vaccine movement, which Dr. Offit, in his book, "Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All," describes as beginning with the airing of the discredited report "DPT: Vaccine Roulette" by Lea Thompson in 1982.

Not surprisingly, the original anti-vaccine movement grew up around the first small pox vaccine. How could people be against the small pox vaccine, when small pox was such a devastating disease? Would you believe that although some of the details have changed, many of the arguments of anti-vax folks back in the 1700s are basically the same as the ones that people use now, including that:

  • the vaccine won't provide life-long immunity
  • the vaccine will give you syphilis
  • it is against their religion
  • small pox isn't that bad

Fortunately, most people did get vaccinated and since smallpox isn't as contagious as many other vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles, pertussis, or the flu, it was eventually eradicated, despite the interference of the anti-vaccine groups.

The anti-vax movement never really grows. It goes up and down all of the time, but as it hits a peak as a vaccine-preventable disease hits a low, outbreaks begin to pop up, and more people get vaccinated.

People who support having kids protected from vaccine-preventable diseases want the cycle to stop, so that we don't have to wait for more kids to get sick in outbreaks of measles, mumps, and pertussis, etc., before parents get scared enough to start vaccinating again.


Vaccines Aren't Tested Together

Vaccines are actually tested together.

Consider the vaccine Pediarix, which combines DTaP, hepatitis B, and IPV (polio) into a single shot. In use since 2002, it was tested with Hib and Prevnar at the same time at two, four, and six months. At these visits, infants either got the combination shot or separate DTaP, hepatitis B, and IPV shots, in addition to their Hib and Prevnar shots.

Most other combinations of vaccines have also been tested together, including:

  • MMR, Varivax (chicken pox), and Hib with Prevnar
  • DTaP, hepatitis B, IPV, and Hib with RotaTeq
  • hepatitis A with DTaP, IPV, Hib, and hepatitis B

And remember that in addition to the clinical trials that are done before a vaccine is approved by the FDA, which often includes testing in combination with other vaccines, post-marketing surveillance programs continue to look for potential problems all of the time.


I'm Pro-Safe Vaccine, Not Anti-Vaccine

For some reason, anti-vax folks don't like be called out as being anti-vaccine. Their preferred term for what they are is "pro-safe vaccine."

Jenny McCarthy is the latest anti-vax person to come out as claiming that she is not really anti-vaccination.

They even like to use the analogy that if you called for a plane or car to be recalled for a defect, then no one would call you anti-plane or anti-car, right?

Of course, that's a false analogy, because we all want safer planes and cars, and while we would certainly want an unsafe plane or car to be fixed, we wouldn't then find 100 different things wrong with every plane or car that has ever existed and make our kids walk everywhere they go.

If you don't want to be called anti-vaccine, then don't use propaganda, anti-vaccination talking points, and over-the-top rhetoric to further your anti-vax agenda.


It Is Safer to Wait Until Your Kids Are Older Before Getting Them Vaccinated

By age two years, vaccines protect kids from 14 deadly diseases.
By the time your kids are just two year old, their vaccines will have protected them from 14 deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo courtesy of Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes

It is certainly not safer to wait until your kids are older before getting them vaccinated.

Consider that you are most at risk from some vaccine-preventable diseases when you are an infant and toddler. This is especially true for rotavirus, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and pneumococcal disease (Prevnar).

The peak age for these infections is:

  • 6-11 months for Hib
  • 3-35 months for rotavirus
  • 3-18 months for pneumococcal disease (3-5 months for pneumococcal meningitis)

And unlike some others, like polio and diphtheria, these vaccine-preventable diseases are still very much around.

What about other vaccine-preventable diseases, like pertussis, influenza, and measles, etc? In addition to being at risk from these diseases when they are young, children continue to be at risk when they get older. Still, they will be most at risk for serious complications from these vaccine-preventable diseases if they get them at a younger age. Why delay their vaccine and put them at more risk?

Of course, the general idea seems to be that delaying a vaccine until a child is older will make them less prone to side effects from the vaccine—an anti-vaccination myth that isn't true. Unfortunately, it is only going to leave them unprotected for a longer period of time, putting them at risk for catching a potentially life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease.

There is no risk/reward benefit for delaying vaccines. Just added risk.


Vaccine Court Has Paid Out Billions to Vaccine-Injured Children

While it is true that since it began in 1989, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (or Vaccine Program) has awarded $2,671,223,269.97 (as of March 2014), it is important to keep in mind that:

  • most cases are settled and not based on a court decision
  • many cases are dismissed

And most importantly, keep in mind that almost 2 billion doses of vaccines were given between 2006 and 2012, as compared to only 1,328 payments made by the Vaccine Program.


Vaccines Are Creating Resistance in Viruses and Bacteria

Are vaccines creating resistance in viruses and bacteria?

We actually see this a lot when we talk about resistant bacteria and the overuse of antibiotics. Is the same true for vaccines?​

Are we seeing more outbreaks of measles because the measles virus has mutated and become immune to the MMR vaccine? Fortunately, the MMR vaccine still works great and the measles virus has not mutated or developed resistance.

There has been some research to suggest that the Bordetella pertussis bacteria has changed, which has led some people to believe that this vaccine-driven adaptation could be contributing to outbreaks of pertussis. These new pertactin-negative strains of B. pertussis could have evolved through vaccine selection pressure.

Fortunately, pertactin is just one component of B. pertussis that is used to make current pertussis vaccines. The CDC states that "current evidence suggests pertussis vaccines continue to prevent disease caused by both pertactin-positive and pertactin-negative pertussis strains, since other components of the vaccines provide protection." In other words, it does not seem like this change in the B. pertussis bacteria is making the pertussis vaccine less effective or that it is responsible for the current outbreaks of whooping cough.

There is no evidence for this type of evolution or vaccine-driven adaptation in other viruses or bacteria. That the flu virus changes each year is a well-known phenomenon and was happening well before the development of the first flu vaccine.

And it is important to keep in mind that the use of certain vaccines can help prevent infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a decrease in antibiotic use, and might even lead to a decrease in some antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


Unvaccinated Kids Are Healthier Than Vaccinated Kids

The headlines sound convincing:

  • Studies Prove Without Doubt That Unvaccinated Children Are Far Healthier Than Their Vaccinated Peers
  • New Survey Shows Unvaccinated Children Vastly Healthier – Far Lower Rates of Chronic Conditions and Autism
  • Large Scale Study Concludes: Unvaccinated Children Healthier Than Vaccinated Generation
  • Vaccinated Children Have Up to 500% More Disease Than Unvaccinated Children

Not surprisingly, there is little else about these studies or surveys besides their title that will convince you that unvaccinated kids are healthier than vaccinated kids.

Firstly, they are all talking about the same study, which really wasn't a study, but was instead an online survey in which a homeopathic doctor in Germany, Andreas Bachmair, asked parents of entirely unvaccinated children to fill out an anonymous form. He then compared the rates of illnesses from these forms to those that are published for all children (the German Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents or Kinderund Jugendgesundheitssurvey, KiGGS). 

In contrast, a real study in Germany, "Vaccination Status and Health in Children and Adolescents," looked at medical records from KiGGS to see "whether unvaccinated children and adolescents differ from those vaccinated in terms of health."

The diseases they looked at included allergies, eczema, obstructive bronchitis, pneumonia and otitis media, heart disease, anemia, epilepsy, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Not surprisingly, this second study did find that unvaccinated children were more likely to get vaccine-preventable diseases. However, it also concluded that "the prevalence of allergic diseases and non-specific infections in children and adolescents was not found to depend on vaccination status."

So, since these unvaccinated and vaccinated children had the same incidence of allergies, pneumonia, and other conditions, etc., plus unvaccinated children were also more likely to have vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and mumps, that hardly sounds like unvaxed kids are healthier.


People Didn't Use to Worry About Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Not true. Most people worried quite a bit about vaccine-preventable diseases in the pre-vaccine era.

During polio outbreaks in the 1940s to mid-1950s, for example, just before the first polio vaccine was invented, it was not uncommon for:

  • pools to close
  • summer camps to shut down
  • churches and schools to close
  • entire cities to become quarantined

Parents literally lived in fear that their children might get polio, the "summer terror."

In 1952, an article in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, "Those Childhood Diseases," stated that "One of the most trying features of being a parent is worry and uncertainty over scarlet fever, mumps, chicken pox and all the other communicable diseases that come with childhood."

Whether or not you or someone in your family was affected by a vaccine-preventable disease (my own uncle had polio) or you have a family member who remembers the "worry and uncertainty" of the pre-vaccine era, it is very easy to dismiss the idea that people weren't always concerned about vaccine-preventable diseases.

It is especially easy to understand how concerned parents were about these diseases when you see how readily they lined up to get their kids vaccinated once a vaccine was introduced.


One More Study

No matter how many studies are done to prove that vaccines are safe, effective, and don't cause autism, anti-vaccination folks are always after just one more study.

Their "One Study" would ideally include a control group of unvaccinated children who would just get a placebo instead of a real vaccine. That way, they could compare vaccinated children to unvaccinated children.

It would also not involve any researcher who has ever gotten a grant from a vaccine manufacturer, federal agency, or foreign government to help avoid creating a study that would be "rife with conflicts."

As most people would guess, such a study between vaccinated versus unvaccinated children would be unethical. Instead of simply observing children whose parents already chose to intentionally not vaccinate them, in the vaccinated versus unvaccinated study, you wouldn't know and couldn't choose if your child got a real vaccine or a shot of salt water that left him vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases.


The One-Size Fits All Immunization Schedule

Why do all children have to get their vaccines on the same, one-size-fits-all immunization schedule?

Think your child is so unique that a selective or alternative immunization schedule would be better or safer?

Your child may be unique in many ways, but his immune system is almost certainly going to respond to vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases just like mine.

And there are rules and flexibility built-in to the standard immunization schedule to help account for those who do have immune system problems or other true contraindications to getting vaccinated.

According to the American Academy or Pediatrics, "The schedule is considered the ideal schedule for healthy children, but there may be exceptions. For example, your child might not receive certain vaccines if she has allergies to an ingredient in the vaccine, or if she has a weakened immune system due to illness, a chronic condition, or another medical treatment. Sometimes a shot needs to be delayed for a short time and sometimes not given at all."

It is important to keep in mind that the immunization schedule is created so that vaccines are given at the "age when the body’s immune system will work the best" and "the need to provide protection to infants and children at the earliest possible age." Those are not unique factors for different children.

By creating a "unique" immunization schedule for your child or simply following Dr. Bob's alternative immunization schedule, you are simply gambling that your child won't be exposed to one of the vaccine-preventable diseases that you haven't protected your child against yet.


Doctors Don't Learn Anything About Vaccines

After four years in college, the average allopathic doctor (M.D.) or osteopathic doctor (O.D.) then spends another four years in medical school and does an internship and residency that lasts at least three years.

During that time, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases. From cell biology and immunology to pediatrics and family medicine, medical students and doctors learn a lot about vaccine-preventable diseases and immunizations.

Why do anti-vax sites and anti-vaccine parents in message boards claim that doctors don't know anything about vaccines?

Why do many parents feel that they know more than their pediatrician when he or she doesn't know which vaccines are made with peanut oil (Adjuvant 65) or the latest on squalene?

It is not because your doctor isn't very knowledgeable about vaccines.

Instead, it is likely because your doctor just doesn't know about the latest anti-vaccine conspiracy theories you might have heard of that have gotten you scared of vaccinating your kids.

How much time does the average chiropractor or homeopath spend learning about vaccines?


Parents Are Not Legally Obligated to Vaccinate Their Kids

I think that some anti-vaccine folks are a bit confused about the differences between forced vaccinations, mandatory vaccinations, vaccine exemptions, and legal obligations, etc.

The state legal obligations for getting your kids vaccinated only have to do with going to school or daycare.

It is important to keep in mind that even when talking about mandatory or mandated vaccines, they are vaccines that are required to attend school or daycare.

There are no laws or plans for laws that will force parents to vaccinate their kids. Even in states that don't have easy-to-get vaccine exemptions, no one is going to hold your child down and force him or her to get vaccinated.

That being said, there is no Constitutional right for parents to intentionally not vaccinate their kids and put them at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

And keep in mind that even with a vaccine exemption, schools have the right to keep your unvaccinated kids out of school when there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.


Aren't Vaccines Made for Adults?

Don't all kids get the same dosage of vaccines as adults?

Not always.

There are different formulations based on a child's age for some  vaccines, including:

  • hepatitis B vaccine (pediatric and adult formulations)
  • hepatitis A (pediatric and adult formulations)
  • Fluzone Pediatric Dose (6 months to 35 months) vs Fluzone
  • DTaP (pediatric) vs Tdap (10 and over)

Vaccines aren't usually dosed based on a child's weight or age, except in these few instances, it doesn't matter that infants receive the same dose as a teen or adult.

The small amounts of antigens in the vaccine don't actually travel throughout your body to work like an antibiotic or other drug does. They just stimulate the immune cells near where the vaccine was given.


The HPV Vaccine Just Encourages Kids to Have Sex

Does getting a vaccine that protects you from the human papillomavirus (HPV) mean that your teens will be more sexually active?

Will they be more likely to have sex for the first time or have unprotected sex?

Although they sound like silly questions, some parents still use them as excuses to not vaccinate their teens.

Fortunately, those questions have already been answered and those parents should now feel comfortable getting their kids vaccinated with either Gardasil or Cervarix, the HPV vaccines. The study, "Risk Perceptions and Subsequent Sexual Behaviors After HPV Vaccination in Adolescents," concluded that "risk perceptions after HPV vaccination were not associated with riskier sexual behaviors over the subsequent six months."


Doctors Don't Vaccinate Their Own Kids

"If so many doctors are refusing to give it to their children, what is that telling you?"

Of course, some doctors don't vaccinate their kids. The above quote is from an anti-vaccine chiropractor, and I'm guessing he doesn't vaccinate his kids.

I wouldn't even be surprised if there are some pediatricians who don't vaccinate their kids or grandkids. If Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. Jay Gordon, and Dr. Larry Palevsky push selective and alternative vaccine schedules for their patients, then why should we expect them to do anything different for their own families.

Most pediatricians and most other medical doctors do in fact vaccinate their kids. Studies have shown that almost all pediatricians vaccinate their own kids following the routine immunization schedule and gave their kids all of their vaccines.

And all of the doctors I know vaccinate their kids.


Why Are We Still Injecting Toxins Into Our Kids?

Well, we're not. And we weren't before.

So now that thimerosal is out of vaccines, why are anti-vax folks still worried about toxins in vaccines?

Of course, they simply moved on to other so-called toxins—the toxin gambit.

They are now worried about:

  • aluminum - an adjuvant that is added to most vaccines to make them more effective. It is also found naturally in many other things, including drinking water, breast milk, and infant formula. Aluminum didn't replace thimerosal in vaccines. Aluminum is not a preservative. Aluminum has been "used and studied in vaccines for 75 years and is safe."
  • formaldehyde - a residual ingredient (most of it is removed) that is used to inactivate toxins and kill viruses and bacteria the might contaminate the vaccine while it is being made. Keep in mind that formaldehyde is a naturally occurring chemical. Our bodies actually make formaldehyde, so it is not as scary as it sounds, even though formaldehyde can certainly be toxic. Remember: The dose makes the poison.
  • thimerosal - a preservative that WAS used to prevent contamination and which is still used in multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine, although most kids now get thimerosal-free flu shots from single-dose vials or the thimerosal-free nasal spray flu vaccine.
  • MSG - like sorbitol (a sugar) and gelatin, MSG is added to some vaccines as a stabilizer.
  • egg proteins - residual cell culture materials, such as egg proteins, are present in some vaccines (flu and yellow fever). To make a vaccine, the vaccine virus or bacteria is typically grown in a cell culture that is derived from chicken eggs, yeast, bovine extract, or monkey kidney cells, etc. Most of these are then removed.
  • neomycin - an antibiotic that is used prevent bacterial contamination while the vaccine is being made. These antibiotics, which might also include polymyxin B and gentamicin sulfate are eventually removed from the vaccine and only remain in residual amounts.
  • antifreeze - except, of course, ethylene glycol (antifreeze) is not an ingredient in any vaccine, which might instead contain polyethylene glycol, a totally different chemical.
  • fetal tissue - vaccines do not contain any fetal tissue from aborted fetuses. A few vaccines are made with cell lines that were originally derived from fibroblast cells from an aborted fetus. It is very important to note that these cell lines have been replicated over and over again, are now grown independently, are far removed from the first cell cultures taken in the 1960s, and that no new fetal cells are ever used.

So while you might see a long list of "toxic" ingredients on an anti-vax website, it is important to remember that the average vaccine will likely just contain:

  • the vaccine antigens - made up of either attenuated live viruses, killed viruses, partial viruses, or partial bacteria
  • an adjuvant - usually aluminum. Squalene, adjuvant 65 (peanut oil), and other adjuvants you might read about aren't used in vaccines in the United States.
  • a stabilizer - including gelatin, albumin, sucrose, lactose, MSG, or glycine
  • tiny amounts of residual cell culture materials
  • tiny amounts of residual inactivating ingredients
  • tiny amounts of residual antibiotics

So, should you be worried about these ingredients?

In a special article in Pediatrics, "Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Vaccines Contain Harmful Preservatives, Adjuvants, Additives, or Residuals?" the authors concluded that except for very rare chance of allergic reactions from gelatin and egg proteins, the other ingredients "have not been found to be harmful in humans or experimental animals."


Babies Don't Need an STD Vaccine

Anti-vax folks are, of course, talking about the hepatitis B vaccine when they give this argument.

In the United States, hepatitis B is most commonly transmitted by sexual contact with someone who is infected with the hepatitis B virus. You can also get hepatitis B by exposure to a contaminated needle, typically drug use, and more rarely tattooing, piercing, or acupuncture, etc.

Newborns are also at risk if their mother has an acute or chronic hepatitis B infection. Before the first hepatitis B vaccine was licensed, about 18,000 children developed hepatitis B infections by the time they were 10 years old.

Couldn't the vaccine just be given to high-risk babies?

That actually was tried when the vaccine first came out. For the first 10 years, it was only recommended that people in high-risk groups got vaccinated with the hepatitis B vaccine. Unfortunately, a lot of people, including babies, still got hepatitis B.

It wasn't until we changed to a universal vaccinated strategy in 1991 that rates of hepatitis B infections really started to drop. In fact, hepatitis B infection rates in kids decreased 89 percent as hepatitis B vaccination rates increased from 16 percent to 90 percent in the next 10 years.

The problem with the targeted strategy is that not everyone knows that they are at risk or that they have a chronic hepatitis B infection. And even when trying to test all mothers before they deliver their baby, some babies will get missed and will develop hepatitis B. That is what happened during the years of targeted hepatitis B vaccination.

The other problem is most people think that hepatitis B can only be transmitted through high-risk behaviors, such as having sex with someone who has hepatitis B. Unfortunately, you can also get hepatitis B through more casual contact, including sharing a toothbrush, washcloth, or razor that is contaminated with a small amount of blood. And remember that not all needle sticks are intentional.

What happens if you get hepatitis B? It depends on the age that you get it, because:

  • 90 percent of newborns become chronically infected
  • 30 to 50 percent of children less than age 5 years become chronically infected
  • 5 percent of adults become chronically infected

Unfortunately, a chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.


Correlation Equals Causation

Why do so many people think that vaccines cause autism?

Because it is easy to think that just because two things happened at about the same time, then one must have caused the other.

The usual term is "correlation implies causation," but for anti-vax folks, there is no "implies" in their thinking. They believe that the correlation or relationship between vaccines and autism proves that vaccines cause autism.

And it is not just because their child seemed to regress after they got their shots, but also the correlation that is as more vaccines were added to the immunization schedule over the years, more kids were diagnosed with autism.

Again, for some people, correlation implies causation.

Of course, that kind of thinking is a logical fallacy. The real scientific phrase is "correlation does not imply causation."

Just because two things seem to be related, it does not automatically mean that one caused the other. You still have to do some research to prove or disprove your idea, which is exactly why we know that vaccines do not cause autism.​

If we simply went with the correlation implies causation way of proving things, we would also think that:

Eating ice cream didn't cause polio, as people once believed. It was just a coincidence that polio outbreaks occurred in the summer when people eat more ice cream.

Correlation does not imply causation.


Vaccinations Are Not Immunizations

Many people who are against vaccines say that they are actually all for immunizations. The problem for them is that vaccination is not immunization.

Confused? Since most people think that the two words mean the same thing, I'm not surprised if you are.

Let's look at the Merriam-Webster medical definitions of the two terms and see why saying that vaccination is not immunization doesn't really make sense:

  • vaccination - the introduction into humans or domestic animals of microorganisms that have previously been treated to make them harmless for the purpose of inducing the development of immunity
  • immunization - the creation of immunity usually against a particular disease; especially treatment (as by vaccination) of an organism for the purpose of making it immune to a particular pathogen

So, vaccination induces vaccine-induced immunity. As there are other types of immunity, including natural immunity (you get the actual disease and develop antibodies so that you don't get it again) and passive immunity (like the temporary antibodies babies get through the placenta), I guess technically, you could say that immunization is not always vaccination.

But you can't say vaccinations are not immunizations. It is a favorite argument among some anti-vaccine "experts," including many chiropractors, but it is plain silly.

When anti-vax folks say this, what they are really saying is that vaccines don't work, don't create immunity, didn't eliminate small pox and haven't helped to decrease or eliminate many other vaccine-preventable diseases.

To believe that vaccinations are not immunizations, you have to buy into a lot of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. Tim O'Shea (Dr. T), a chiropractor actually wrote a book called Vaccination is not Immunization. He also warns everyone about the multi-billion dollar drug and vaccine cartels that are lying to you and are creating a new Shaken Baby industry and ongoing Peanut Allergy and Autism epidemics.

Vaccination is immunization.


I Did My Research

Anti-vaccination folks who say that they have done their research typically have done it all on anti-vaccination websites.

If you really want to do your research and make the best decision for your family, in addition to spending that time on anti-vax sites, you should also talk to your pediatrician and:

  1. Read the book Deadly Choices: How The Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All by Paul Offit, MD
  2. Read the books Your Baby's Best Shot and Do Vaccines Cause That?!
  3. Read the book The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin
  4. Ask the 10 Questions To Distinguish Real From Fake Science
  5. Read the article Cashing In On Fear: The Danger of Dr. Sears
  6. Review why vaccines really aren't linked to autism
  7. Learn about some of the myths - and facts - about vaccination
  8. Review these top 20 Questions about Vaccination
  9. Understand Why my child is fully vaccinated
  10. Learn Five things you never knew about child immunization
  11. See how Dear parents, you are being lied to
  12. Wonder why Parents Fake Religion to Avoid Vaccines
  13. Learn why the Too Many Too Soon Anti-Vaccine Argument doesn't Hold Water.
  14. Understand how to Evaluate Reliable Vaccine Resources
  15. Question When Did “Attachment Parenting” Come to Mean Vaccine Refusal?
  16. Understand the Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement
  17. Learn What Happens When We Don't Vaccinate?
  18. Read Leaving the Anti-Vaccine Movement
  19. Don't Follow the Herd
  20. Read Nine Questions. Nine Answers.

And spend some time on websites that offer sound advice about vaccines:

If you still have questions or concerns, your pediatrician is a great resource to help you sort through the myths and misconceptions that still surround vaccines and vaccine safety.

Get Educated. Get Vaccinated. Stop the Outbreaks.

The vaccine "debate" continues for some people, despite the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and don't cause autism, that vaccine-preventable diseases are terrible, and that outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are becoming more common.

Make sure that you have really done your research about vaccines before believing what you read on anti-vaccination websites, what you hear from a celebrity on TV, or someone you have never met in a parenting forum.

If you are going to make a decision to not vaccinate your child, especially in this day with rising cases of pertussis, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases, be sure to read these stories from parents who lost a child to one of these vaccine-preventable diseases so that you don't later regret that decision.

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