Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

What was that about not being “antivaccine” again?

I’ve written time and time again about how antivaccinationists go out of their way to try to reassure us that they really, truly are not “antivaccine” or even that they support vaccination. Of course, such disclaimers are often nothing more than a prelude to a tirade of blatantly antivaccination rhetoric and misinformation about “toxins” in vaccines and the like, and if you try to pin an antivaccinationist down and ask her if there was any evidence that would ever change her mind or persuade her that it’s safe to vaccinate, you’ll either get a lot of hemming and hawing of the “Green Our Vaccines” variety or, if the antivaccinationist is Jenny McCarthy, you’ll get a response along the line that if she had another child she “wouldn’t vaccinate at all, never, ever.”

The same is true, of course, of the merry band of ignorant antivaccinationists making up the know-nothing crew at Age of Autism. However, occasionally the mask slips and the lie that they aren’t antivaccine is made obvious. Here’s one such occasion, in which Dan Olmsted attacks Bill Gates for the work his foundation is doing in promoting vaccination.

The stupid, it burns as agonizingly as the flames in the illustration of the Gates of Hell that graces his post would if they were real. Fortunately, the flames are not real, but unfortunately the rampant stupidity is all too painfully real. Get a load of this:

One of those efforts is to create and promulgate vaccinations. This post is not about whether vaccinations are a good idea, the best way to fight diseases like malaria, the practicality of continuing to pour millions into the search for an AIDS vaccine – it’s not about any of that. The issue is: Given that the foundation sees mass vaccination as a direct route to better health outcomes for the world’s poor, the foundation (which now means Bill Gates himself) has an affirmative duty – a moral imperative – to make sure those vaccines are as safe as humanly possible.

Note the misdirection. He’s not asking whether vaccinations are a good idea or whether we should be trying to produce an AIDS vaccine. Oh, no. He’s just “questioning.” He’s just askin’, ya know? ‘Cause, ya see, it’s a moral imperative.

Of course, mass vaccination is major part of the route to better health outcomes for millions of the world’s poor. Mr. Olmsted and the pseudoscience boosters at AoA, in their comfortable middle class existence in the comfortable and rich United States, their children sheltered from the consequences of their antivaccinationist views by their taking advantage of the herd immunity due to the vast majority who do vaccinate, have no clue whatsoever the toll due to vaccine-preventable diseases is in underdeveloped parts of the world. Remember, in poor parts of the world, 1.5 million children a year die of diarrheal diseases, because interventions such as oral rehydration using something like Pedialyte are difficult to come by there. A quarter of a million children a year still die of the measles, the vast majority in regions where the yearly per capita income is less than $1,000. The number would be much higher, but mass vaccination programs reduced the death toll by 68% between 2000 and 2006, with the greatest benefit being in Africa, where measles deaths fell by 91%

Mass vaccination has saved millions of lives, just from death by measles, in a mere six years. Not that that sways Mr. Olmsted from making an argument from ignorance:

I don’t need to know what kinds of vaccines they’re talking about – and how many will come in multi-dose vials preserved with thimerosal — to know where the moral imperative is here: There are now so many questions about the safety of some vaccine and vaccine ingredients – particularly thimerosal, the fancy name for a big dollop of poisonous ethyl mercury – that a group with the power and reach of the Gates Foundation needs to make sure it’s doing no harm in its laudable effort to do good.

This is, of course, disingenuous in the extreme. Mr. Olmsted fails to note that these “questions about the safety of some vaccine and vaccine ingredients” do not come from scientists, but rather from passionate antivaccine activists, are not supported by science, and sometimes descend to the level of incredibly rank stupidity about science, as best exemplified by the complaints that “oh my God, there’s sucrose and hydrochloric acid in vaccines!” (Formaldehyde and aluminum and fetuses, oh my!)

Olmsted goes on:

As recently as three or four months ago, the foundation might have gotten away with simply reciting the mantra that all available studies show no connection between vaccines and autism, vaccines and asthma, vaccines and … whatever. But along came Hannah Poling and the government’s concession that vaccines triggered autistic regression; then came Bernadine Healy, the former head of the NIH, to state that the science simply hasn’t been done to exonerate vaccines; and just last week, David Kirby wrote about the CDC’s Julie Gerberding and her multiple concurrences with the complaint that the CDC’s central vaccine safety study is, well, worthless.

Of course, EpiWonk demonstrated conclusively that David Kirby was utterly clueless in his claim that Julie Gerberding ever said that the CDC’s central vaccine study was worthless, while Bernardine Healy has increasingly demonstrated that she, too, is pretty clueless about a great many things, including vaccines. As for poor Hannah Poling, has any child ever been used so blatantly to advance an agenda, in this case the rebranding of autism as a mitochondrial disorder exacerbated by vaccines?

None of the above, of course, stops the intrepidly obtuse Mr. Olmsted:

At the moment there is NO good science, in other words, to reassure the Gates Foundation that its quest to save the world via vaccination is as safe as it might have thought. Now comes Bill Gates, at an opportune moment indeed, to devote full time to the foundation that bears his name and (along with the PC) will be his legacy. He ought to order a comprehensive look at the risks as well as the benefits of vaccines, and it ought to be his first order of business.

No, Mr. Gates’ first order of business should be to ignore ignorant, fear-mongering twits like Mr. Olmsted and to listen to his medical advisors. They have the information he needs to demonstrate that the risk-benefit ratio of a mass vaccination program in poor countries falls so far on the side of vaccines that only a brain-dead antivaccinationist like Mr. Olmsted would question the balance. Whatever his faults when he ran Microsoft, Mr. Gates has now seized the opportunity to use his vast wealth to become a powerful force for good, and he is using that power to prevent disease, death, and suffering among the poorest children in the world. Any part of any rational plan to improve health outcomes among such children must included mass vaccination. Once again, Mr. Olmsted, comfortably ensconced in his American, middle class bubble, isolated from the suffering and death vaccine-preventable illness causes in the world, is telling Mr. Gates that he ought to listen to ideologues who base their fears of vaccines on pseudoscience and fantasy rather than act based on known science.

If you really want to understand how unhinged, how divorced from reality, Mr. Olmsted and his readers are, check out this comment by Diane:

While I agree with Dan’s point in writing this piece, I (sadly) doubt it will happen. And it has nothing to do with Bill Gates’s money, intentions or rumored spectrum disorder.

It has to do with something much, much bigger.

It has to do with people in the US, and probably most of the world, knowing little to nothing about vaccines and their relationship to neurodevelopmental issues. If it is not their child, or the child of someone VERY close to them – I’m talking sister, brother, best friend since 2nd grade kinda thing – then its just another blurb here and there on the news or in a magazine or paper.

To which I would respond: Antivaccinationism on the pseudoscientific level shown by Mr. Olmsted and Diane has to do with their knowing little to nothing about (or intentionally denying) the magnitude of suffering and death caused by vaccine-preventable diseases in Third World countries and how much mass vaccination can greatly alleviate the problem. No one who actually looks at the issue would think that dubious “risks” based on fairy dust outweigh the potential good that a mass vaccination program on the level of what Mr. Gates is funding could achieve.

If you want any further evidence of the true beliefs of the AoA crowd, check out this disturbing yet hilarious comment by flipper008:

Sorry, but these guys don’t give a damn about poor people’s health. They want them vaccinated with as poisonous a vaccine they can get to make them sick and quick so that they die soon, because in these people’s head, we are just too many on earth. Head management is not going to resolve the issues we are facing globally. Heart and spirit will.

So it is completely repulsive to see the wealthiest ones declare the vaccine war against the world by perpetuating the lies of Big Pharma.
There is nothing like a safe vaccine. Vaccination is a fraud, like private banks. Until both business contunue to ”run” this planet, we are at great risk. Talk about risk management…

Yes, it’s “vaccines as population control” conspiracy craziness in about as naked a form as can be imagined.

Of course, Mr. Olmsted’s rant is nothing more than the ever popular “perfect solution” or “Nirvana” fallacy. It is an excuse for not doing something to fix or prevent a problem based on the assertion that the solution isn’t perfect. By any measure, vaccines are incredibly safe interventions, with a very low risk of complications. The risk, however, is not and never will be zero. Nothing is absolutely, positively 100% safe, including vaccines. However, they are certainly far safer than allowing children to be vulnerable to the diseases they prevent. This is true even here in the United States, where vaccine-preventable diseases have been largely conquered through the use of mass vaccination programs. It’s orders of magnitude more true in impoverished Third World countries, where vaccine-preventable diseases leave mothers crying over the corpses of their babies each and every day. Yet Mr. Olmsted, who is arguing for doing in essence nothing until he’s satisfied that his fantastical “concerns” about vaccines have been 100% addressed (in other words, never), has the utter gall to lecture Mr. Gates about his “moral obligations.”

What was that that Olmsted and crew over at AoA say about not being “antivaccine” again? I didn’t hear it.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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