Antivaccine nonsense Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking

An antivaccine “Circle of Mamas” has “questions” about vaccines. Orac has answers.

An antivaccine Circle of Mamas has asked a bunch of disingenuous questions about vaccines that have gone viral. Fortunately, Orac has answers.

There’s a technique often used by denialists, pseudoscientists, and cranks to sow doubt, disgust, and fear about the science that they deny, while pretending to be either asking innocent questions, playing Devil’s advocate, or even trying to use the Socratic method to teach. It’s known as “JAQing off,” a play on “Just Asking Questions.” The basic idea behind JAQing off is to keep asking leading (or, arguably more accurately, misleading) questions in order to influence the audience, regardless of the actual answers. When called out on the misleading questions, the denialist’s frequent response is along the lines of, “Hey, I was just asking questions.” It’s a favorite tactic of creationists, 9/11 Truthers, believers in cancer quackery, and, of course, antivaccine activists like those behind the Circle of Mamas website. This brings me to a post on Circle of Mamas that went viral over the last few days, even though it’s nearly three weeks old and apparently drawn from an older source still, entitled Dear Provaxxers, I Have Some Questions…

Well, Circle of Mamas, you have questions, and Orac has the answers! They won’t be answers that this particular circle of clueless antivaccine moms likes, particularly given that some of them will be answers that point out how misleading and disingenuous many of the questions are, but, hey, they’re still answers! (Some of the answers might even be Insolent, either Respectfully or not-so-Respectfully.) Let’s go!

Circle of Mamas question 1:

If vaccines are so amazing, why would mothers go out on a limb to tell their story with nothing to gain and everything to lose?

It’s not too difficult to understand why this might be the case. Parents very often come to believe that their child was injured by a vaccine or vaccines by confusing correlation with causation. If, for example, they first start noticing symptoms of autism sometime soon after a vaccine, human nature is to assume that the vaccine caused it. The same thing is true of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) that happens soon after a vaccine. However, the studies have been done and have failed to find an association between vaccination and autism; between the thimerosal preservative that used to be in vaccines until nearly 20 years ago, and autism; or between vaccination and SIDS. (Indeed, if anything, vaccination appears to decrease the risk of SIDS; at the very least we can say with great confidence that there is no association.)

Here’s the thing, though. Parents love their children with a strength that is arguably greater than any other love. So it’s not surprising that if they have convinced themselves, even erroneously through the very human tendency to confuse correlation with causation, that vaccines were responsible for whatever health condition that their child has, they’re very likely to “go out on a limb” to tell their story, even if doing so causes problems for them. That they would do so is not good evidence that they have correctly interpreted the experiences of their child and themselves to be good evidence that vaccines somehow injured their child. In other words, it’s very possible to be passionate, well-intentioned, and nonetheless very much wrong in believing that vaccines cause autism, SIDS, or whatever other health issue a child has.

Circle of Mamas question #2:

If the science is settled…and vaccines cannot cause autism/autism like symptoms why did Hannah Poling receive 1.5 million due to her regression into autism? ⁣

She didn’t. The way antivaxxers spun the Hannah Poling verdict was an attempt to rebrand mitochondrial disease as autism, as I wrote about over a decade ago, and, ultimately, to spin a conspiracy theory about a coverup. It’s a conspiracy theory that the likes of reporter turned antivaccine conspiracy theorist and propagandist Sharyl Attkisson has been flogging more of late by harping on a statement by a Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a neurologist who’s become a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement.

Circle of Mamas question #3:

Why do you think science is settled when tobacco, asbestos, DDT, etc were once considered settled science and the people who questioned it were considered crazy?

First off, I like how the link to “asbestos” has almost nothing to do with asbestos and the link to DDT is about the wild conspiracy theories antivaxxers Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmstead once promoted linking DDT and other pesticides with polio. Secondly, this is nothing more than a “science was wrong before” argument, which is not a good argument to use, given that it’s simply an appeal to uncertainty that’s based on almost no uncertainty. Seriously, if you’re going to argue that vaccines are harmful, you really do need to bring evidence other than pointing out that there have been mistakes in science. Also, much of the reason that the evidence finding that, for instance, tobacco was harmful was attacked was because of the influence of the tobacco companies, which spent a lot of money to coverup the evidence, mislead about the evidence, and produce evidence of its own of low quality to shed doubt on the emerging scientific consensus that tobacco caused lung cancer, heart disease, and a host of other ailments. As for asbestos, you’ll see that, once the large definitive studies of the link between asbestos and mesothelioma were published in the early 1960s, they were rapidly accepted, and there had been suspicions that asbestos caused mesothelioma dating back to the 1930s.

Basically, this is a disingenuous, misleading question.

Circle of Mamas question #4:

Why were the top 4 vaccine manufacturers sued and found guilty for not running a single safety test on any vaccine offered in the US?⁣

I wasn’t sure what this was about when I first read it, but then realized that it’s probably a misinterpretation of Del Bigtree’s lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services. (If I’m wrong about this, perhaps Circle of Mamas could provide a link to a story about the actual lawsuit.) Even a reading of the press release by Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), Del Bigtree’s antivaccine organization, doesn’t agree with the way this question is framed. Fortunately, Dorit Reiss wrote an excellent summary of Del Bigtree’s legal action against DHSS. All this action showed was that HHS failed to submit did not file certain reports on vaccine safety that it had been required to report. What it most definitely does not mean is that the top four vaccine manufacturers were “found guilty” of “not running a single safety test on any vaccine offered in the US”?

As Reiss observes:

The stipulation does not mean that HHS did not work on vaccine safety, or that there is not abundant research on the topic. Multiple Institute of Medicine reports – now the National Academy of Science – looked at vaccines. These detailed reports summarize a large body of studies and draw conclusions based on this ongoing data. HHS commissions these reports. In July 2014, a large report on vaccine safety commissioned by HHS was also completed.

Also, Melinda Wharton of the CDC responded to Del Bigtree’s claims in detail, refuting them all handily.

Circle of Mamas question #5:

Why do you compare America to third world countries when it comes to illness counts and deaths? We don’t drink from the same water we shit in. You know that right?

We don’t make any such comparisons. I note that the link in the question above is to an antivaccine screed claiming that all the improvements in public health and infectious disease are due to improvements in sanitation. I love to respond to that one with an example from a mere three decades ago, the introduction of the vaccine against Haemophilus influenza type b. It’s a disease that can be quite deadly, causing a wide spectrum of disease ranging from meningitis to pneumonia. I saw cases during my training in the late 1980s; they were horrible. According to the History of Vaccines:

Before Hib vaccination, about 20,000 children younger than five developed severe Hib disease in the United States each year, and about 1,000 died. By 2006, the number of reported Hib cases was down to only 29 for the year. Now, while the majority of fatalities from Hib disease are reported in developing countries where the Hib vaccine is not widely used, fatalities still occur in developed nations when vaccination rates drop. Seven cases of invasive Hib disease were reported in Pennsylvania during a six-month period starting in October 2008. Only one of the children had received a Hib vaccination (and had received only one of the recommended doses). Three of the children died.

Sanitation did not change much between the late 1980s and 2006. The vaccine was responsible for causing the number of cases of Hib to drop from 20,000 to a couple of dozen a year and nearly completely eliminating death from this dread disease, not improvements in sanitation.

Circle of Mamas question #6:

If you cannot die from a vaccine why was Holly’s Law created?

Holly’s law is a New Jersey law that says simply that parents can ask to have a child’s antibody titer checked and, if the titer is high enough, can forego additional MMR vaccination for that child. It is named for Holly Stavola, a five-year-old girl who developed encephalitis after her second dose of the MMR vaccine in 2005, resulting in a vegetative state that ultimately led her to being taken off life support. It’s hard to find out much about the case other than highly biased accounts on antivaccine websites, but there was Vaccine Court settlement for $250,000, because encephalopathy was a table injury, meaning that the Vaccine Court assumes it to have been from the vaccine if it happens within a certain timeframe after vaccination.

This question is a straw man, though. No one, at least no physician or other health professional, says that you can’t die from a vaccine, just that it’s incredibly rare and that the risk of serious complications from vaccines is far lower than that from the diseases vaccinated against.

Circle of Mamas question #7:

Why do you insist that they are safe when the top health officials admitted that they don’t know if vaccines are safe at the World Health Organization Vaccine Safety Summit?

The short version is that “top health officials” at the WHO Vaccine Safety Summit “admitted” no such thing. That claim comes from a viral video by Del Bigtree that cherry picked statements taken out of context. In particular, antivaxxers intentionally misrepresented one official’s statement that vaccine safety monitoring systems in Third World Countries were nowhere near as robust as what we have in wealthy industrialized countries as implying that vaccine safety monitoring systems are inadequate everywhere. They also ignore the fact that the discussion among these WHO officials during which these statements were made was primarily about how to bring vaccine safety monitoring systems in poor countries up to the standards of such systems in wealthy countries. For the long version, read my recent post.

Circle of Mamas question #8:

Why do you trust your doctor when the Chief Scientist of the CDC said that doctors and nurses school curriculum on vaccines is about half a day long and they are not equipped to answer why deaths occurred from a vaccine?⁣

The “chief scientist of the CDC” said no such thing. This particular claim appears to have been misattributed. In reality, it comes from the cherry picked statements circulated by Del Bigtree mentioned in response to Question #7. (If it’s not, perhaps Circle of Mamas could provide…oh, you know…a link showing that the “chief scientist of the CDC” said this.) In brief, Heidi Larson, an anthropologist and Director of the WHO’s Vaccine Confidence Project, said:

When the frontline professionals are starting to question or they don’t feel like they have enough confidence about the safety to stand up to it to the person asking them the questions. I mean, most medical school curriculums, even nursing school curriculums, I mean in medical school, you’re lucky if you have a half day on vaccines, never mind keeping up to date with all this.

I and a lot of other doctors called bullshit on her claim about medical school curricula. For one thing, there’s a lot more that relates to vaccines than just studying the vaccines. We study immunology, pathology, microbiology, and more, and we spend many months doing it. Second, we learn more about how to interpret clinical trials in residency than in medical school.

Larson really, really, really pissed off a lot of doctors with her ignorance in making a statement like this. Indeed, quite a few of us tried to get her attention on Twitter, and I know that several tried to email her. As far as I know, no one has gotten a response. Let’s just say that, far from speaking an “inconvenient truth,” Larson has betrayed the mission of the Vaccine Confidence Project that she leads by speaking of things that she knows little of because she is not actually a health care professional.

In the end, through her thoughtless comment, Heidi Larson has given the antivaccine movement the gift of a quote that they’ll be able to point to for years and years to come, a quote that’s already served as the basis for dozens of antivaccine memes a mere month after Del Bigtree’s video first went viral.

Finally, the statement that health officials are not equipped to answer why a death occurred associated with vaccination was also not made by the “chief scientist of the CDC,” or even the chief scientist for the WHO. Rather, it was made by Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, pediatrician and Deputy Director General for Programs for the WHO, who never said or implied that vaccines aren’t safe but rather actually said that many countries don’t have very good vaccine safety monitoring systems, making it hard to determine if a death associated with vaccination was due to the vaccination or something else. Again, I discussed this before in detail.

Circle of Mamas question #9:

Why are so many other doctors and nurses AGAINST vaccines?⁣

I wish I knew the answer to that one, because every physician, every nurse, every health care professional in any capacity who is antivaccine has profoundly betrayed their calling, profession, and oath to do no harm. I guess that the best explanation I can come up with is that physicians and health care professionals are human too. Despite their education, they are susceptible to confusing correlation with causation, embracing pseudoscience, and worse. Also, it’s only a very small percentage of physicians and nurses who are antivaccine. Antivaxxers like Circle of Mamas love to make it sound as though there are so many physicians and nurses who “question” vaccines, but there aren’t. There really, really aren’t.

Circle of Mamas question #10:

Why did the Supreme Court rule them as “unavoidable unsafe”?⁣

Easy. The Supreme Court didn’t rule vaccines “unavoidably unsafe.” Also, “unavoidably unsafe” doesn’t mean what antivaxxers think it does. It refers to a product that has certain risks that can’t be eliminated because they are inherent to its nature. Indeed, “unavoidably unsafe” does not mean dangerous. Another way of looking at it is first, that this is a legal, not a scientific, term. Second, “unavoidably unsafe” simply means that the product can’t be made safer without compromising its function. I like this analogy:

Let me give you an example of what that means. The term is generally not applied to food, but if it was, peanut butter could be considered unavoidably unsafe, because some people have allergic reactions to peanut butter, and there is nothing that a peanut butter company can do to prevent that. In other words, there is no way to manufacture peanut butter without that risk being present. Thus (assuming that the product was manufactured and labelled correctly), a peanut butter company would not be liable if someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter, because that reaction was not the result of manufacture negligence. Now, does that mean that peanut butter is dangerous? No, obviously not. For the majority of us it is perfectly fine. “Unavoidably unsafe” does not mean that a product is dangerous and should be avoided. Rather, it simply means that are risks that cannot be removed.

I also can’t help but note that in the Supreme Court decision in which “unavoidably unsafe” was discussed, it was was not supported in the main opinion but rather in a dissenting opinion by one Justice. In fact, the Supreme Court explicitly rejected the claim that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.” These inconvenient facts don’t stop antivaxxers from misrepresenting that dissenting opinion as the actual Supreme Court ruling.

Circle of Mamas question #11:

How do you know your child is “fine” if they were vaccinated within minutes of being born? You never had a chance to find out. Would they have had the nonstop earaches, allergies, eczema, ADHD, learning disabilities…the list continues of common side effects listed on the vaccine insert. ⁣

The package insert is a legal, not a scientific document. It is, as I like to say, a CYA document. It lists every adverse event observed in clinical trials of the vaccine, whether they are thought to be related to the vaccine or not. Referring to the vaccine package insert is such a common antivaccine trope that we have a name for it: Argument by package insert. More importantly, we have epidemiological studies that show that vaccination is not associated with any of those things. That’s how we know.

Circle of Mamas question #12:

Why would vaccine manufacturers be free from all liability? The same people who killed over 55 thousand people from Vioxx and created opioid epidemic?⁣

Vaccine manufacturers are not free from all liability. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 simply said that all claims for vaccine injury must first go through a special court, now known as the Vaccine Court. Moreover, the Vaccine Court bends over backwards to make it easy for complainants. It pays legal fees and court costs, win or lose, for complainants, for instance. In addition, there are certain “table injuries” that are assumed to be due to vaccines and for which compensation is automatic. Even for conditions not assumed to be due to vaccines, the court seems to work on a less rigorous standard of evidence, giving wide latitude to experts used by complainants. Finally, vaccine manufacturers pay a tax to support the Vaccine Court and its fund to compensate families.

Circle of Mamas question #13:

Why do you trust vaccine manufacturers when they all have plead guilty to fraud?⁣

Let’s just say that this is a highly biased misrepresentation of a complicated situation.

Circle of Mamas question #14:

Why can’t you get your facts right with Dr. Wakefield? Nothing was wrong with his data, but his funding sources.

No, no, no, no, no. Wakefield was a total fraud. Seriously, Brian Deer documented Wakefield’s fraud so thoroughly that it can’t be denied.

Circle of Mamas question #15:

If Dr. Wakefield was crazy, why are there multiple peer reviewed studies supporting and duplicating the findings of the original work by Wakefield? ⁣

One notes that Circle of Mamas doesn’t actually provide references or links to these “multiple peer-reviewed studies.” I wonder why. This lack of links or citations will become hilarious (to me, at least) at the end of these “questions.” No, there are no such studies other than those by antivaccine cranks.

Circle of Mamas question #16:

If live virus vaccines don’t shed, why can’t a recently vaccinated person visit a cancer unit?⁣

They can. Shedding is not a problem or threat. This particular antivaccine propaganda talking point is based on old recommendations that were promulgated in the distant past due to an overabundance of caution. It is incredibly rare for shedding to transmit disease, even to the immunocompromised.

Circle of Mamas question #17:

And if it’s impossible to catch the measles (and other live viruses) from the vaccine why is it that immune compromised don’t get vaccinated because of that exact reason? Oh, and the insert states that you can as well. ⁣

This is just plain ignorant. In people with intact immune systems live virus vaccines like the measles vaccine in MMR are fine. They’re not fine in people with compromised immune systems because in such a population even a weakened virus strain in a vaccine can cause disease.

Circle of Mamas question #18:

What’s with you guys and herd immunity? If it did exist you would need 95% vaccination rates. But according to your beloved CDC, when you add in the adults vaccination rates we’ve only EVER reached around 60% and the fact that vaccines wane over time, where are all the epidemics?⁣

Nice misdirection there! That 95% vaccine uptake figure works perfectly well for children in schools. As for the epidemics, well, we do have outbreaks. There were a number of measles outbreaks last year, all of them in areas of low vaccine uptake.

Circle of Mamas question #19:

If vaccines are proven to shed, and herd immunity can not be obtained…how exactly are you protecting the immune compromised?⁣

Disease due to shed vaccine strain virus is exceedingly rare, even in the immunocompromised, and herd immunity can be and usually is maintained. See the answer to #16, as this question is repetitive.

Circle of Mamas question #20:

Why can an unvaccinated immune comprised child attend school but an unvaxxed child that isn’t immune compromised can’t? They both spread disease the same. ⁣

Simple. Unvaccinated immune compromised children are not unvaccinated by choice of their parents but as a consequence of their medical condition. Unvaccinated children are unvaccinated by choice of their parents and, if enough parents choose not to vaccinate their children, will be part of a group that undermines herd immunity and endangers not just the tiny number of immunocompromised children who can’t safely be vaccinated but all children at the school.

Circle of Mamas question #21:

How is the CDC an unbiased reliable source when they are funded by the vaccine companies, 50% of the CDC’s budget goes to selling and promoting vaccines, and they own 57 vaccine patents?⁣

Note that the CDC is funded by the federal government. As for the 50% figure devoted to promoting vaccines, I say: Show me the data. Actually, I know the data. It’s the FDA that is funded roughly 55% by federal appropriation and 45% by user fees paid by industry, not the CDC. (How can Circle of Mamas have mixed the two up?) Of course, those fees are not optional; if a company wants the FDA to approve its drug or device, it has to pay the fee. Ditto food producers for inspections. These fees in reality are taxes. The CDC, in contrast, is funded by appropriations passed by Congress.

As for the CDC, it is about so much more than vaccines, the antivaccine obsession with its supposed conflicts of interest goes beyond reason. The CDC budget is roughly $12 billion, of which less than a billion dollars goes to Immunization and Respiratory Disease, although $4.4 billion does go to Vaccines for Children. Here’s a description:

The Vaccines For Children (VFC) program is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay. CDC buys vaccines at a discount and distributes them to grantees—i.e., state health departments and certain local and territorial public health agencies—which in turn distribute them at no charge to those private physicians’ offices and public health clinics registered as VFC providers. Children who are eligible* for VFC vaccines are entitled to receive those vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).

The CDC does not “sell vaccines.” It does buy vaccines at a reduced rate as part of this program to provide them for free to children whose families are poor. Unlike the implication in the question, the CDC is not profiting from selling vaccines.

I also note that the failure to provide links to sources is becoming a theme in these “questions.”

Circle of Mamas question #22:

Why would there be a vaccine court?⁣

Because there are vaccine injuries, some significant although rare, most relatively mild. Also, in the 1980s, when the law that formed the Vaccine Court was passed, there were so many dubious lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers that lawmakers had a legitimate concern that they would stop manufacturing vaccines.

Circle of Mamas question #22:

Why is there a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System?⁣

Because there can be adverse reactions to vaccines, as there can be to all medical interventions, perhaps? And because it’s desirable to track such adverse reactions?

Circle of Mamas question #23:

And if VAERS is “just something crazy moms use and put crazy shit down” Why did our government use 9 million of our tax dollars to pay Harvard to make it easier to navigate?⁣

This is a silly question. First, let’s dismiss the bit about Harvard, citing the Dr. Wharton’s explanation in her letter representing the CDC cited in the answer to Question #4, looking specifically at her response to the following question:

Please explain why HHS failed to cooperate with Harvard to automate VAERS reporting? And detail any steps that HHS has taken since toward automating VAERS reporting?

On June 30, 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA implemented a revised reporting form and a new process for submitting reports to the VAERS for non-manfacturer reports. Persons reporting adverse events are now able to use the VAERS 2.0 online reporting tool to submit reports directly online; alternatively, they may download and complete the writable and savable VAERS 2.0 form and submit it using an electronic document upload feature. Vaccine manufacturers submit VAERS reports electronically through the FDA Electronic Submissions Gateway (ESG). With VAERS 2.0 and the FDA ESG, multiple electronic options exist for VAERS reporting. In addition, CDC is developing the next generation of spontaneous reporting mechanisms for the VAERS. Following its initial work with Harvard, CDC completed a successful proof of concept study with Harvard and other partners that takes advantage of electronic health records (EHR) and computer algorithms to facilitate direct reporting from EHR systems. You can read about that study at CDC continues to explore options to further develop this capability.

As I’ve pointed out before, VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) is only one part of multiple redundant systems. True, VAERS is a passive reporting system, which means that it’s prone to underreporting (but also to overreporting of certain “injuries” such as autism at the behest of trial lawyers). It’s also far from the only reporting system. There are a number of active reporting systems now, systems that do not rely on people reporting adverse events that might be due to vaccines, as I’ve discussed before.

Circle of Mamas question #25:

Why have all of the “safety studies” been funded and completed by the vaccine manufacturers themselves? Why won’t they let a third party touch them? ⁣

This is, of course, simply not true. Circle of Mamas seems to think that the US is the only country in the world. Numerous vaccine safety studies have been carried out by other countries using other funding mechanisms. As for not letting a third party touch them, that might be due to Mark and David Geier having been busted trying to take Vaccine Safety Datalink data and combine databases such that patient privacy might be compromised. Actually, third parties can touch even the particular dataset that Mark and David Geier tried to abuse (the Vaccine Safety Datalink dataset). All that’s needed is a valid scientific protocol for a clinical study that’s been approved by a valid institutional review board (IRB).

Circle of Mamas question #26:

Why haven’t vaccines ever been tested against a true saline placebo?⁣

They have, of course. This “no true saline placebo” is the most brain dead antivaccine propaganda point in existence, one that’s so easy to debunk that I consider it an insult to my intelligence and knowledge when I see it.

Circle of Mamas question #27:

If vaccines cannot have any side effects, why is there a National Vaccine Injury Compensation program and why has 4 billion been paid out so far?⁣

This is not as much of a slam dunk argument as antivaxxers think it is. Many of us have written about this before, and this particular argument is downright innumerate. When compared to the many billions of doses of vaccines given over more than 30 years, as large a number as $4 billion sounds, it’s actually not all that much.

Circle of Mamas question #28:

Why are you so hellbent on polio when it’s been proven time and time again that the vaccine didn’t eradicate anything?⁣

Because no such thing has been “proven.” Not surprisingly, yet again Circle of Mamas didn’t provide a link to evidence to support this claim.

Circle of Mamas question #29:

Why do you think ingestion vs injection is the same thing when one crosses the blood brain barrier and the other is excreted out through odily waste?

This doesn’t even make sense. Circle of Mamas, clarify please. I assume they’re referring to aluminum adjuvants here, and aluminum adjuvants are very safe, dubious antivaccine misinformation notwithstanding.

Circle of Mamas question #30:

Why have all of the outbreaks of chickenpox, measles, mumps all been in 100% vaccinated communities?⁣

Maybe because they haven’t? Quite the opposite, in fact.

Circle of Mamas question #31:

Why are vaccines pushed on pregnant women when the insert clearly states that no studies have ever been done on pregnant women and the effect on the fetus is completely unknown? ⁣

Argument by package insert again. Also, maternal Tdap is safe and doesn’t cause autism in the child. Ditto the flu vaccine in pregnant women.

Circle of Mamas question #32:

You’re so against our “google degree” but did you know that we are in the day of information and it is a search engine…making medical journals, peer reviewed studies, books, everything your doctor uses…available to the public. Oh and your doctor uses it too.

It’s not the information. It’s the misinterpretation of that information by people who do not have the knowledge and understanding to interpret properly those studies in medical journals or to draw inferences from the totality of the scientific literature. It’s antivaxxers who cherry pick studies to support their preexisting beliefs and ignore the studies that don’t. That’s what bugs provaccine science advocates.

Circle of Mamas question #33:

Why do “anti-vaxxers” always have to provide you with links and sources but you never do? Why can’t you provide us with just one studyn their safety?⁣

⁣This is, quite simply, a brain dead claim. We can provide not just one study, but many studies, including long term studies. Antivaxxers simply ignore them or desperately look for reasons to discount them. Always.

Circle of Mamas question #34:

Why do you “vaccinate for the greater good” but at the same time wish death upon our children?⁣

No one “wishes death” upon anyone’s children, least of all the unvaccinated. The same can’t always be said of antivaxxers, unfortunately.

Circle of Mamas question # 35:

Why…when you demand links and sources from us you only accept the CDC as a source but you can throw whatever buzzfeed article at us?⁣ ⁣ For the first time, we want your answer and we want all the god damn links and sources

This one amuses me in light of the assertions made in several of the questions above that do not have links, particularly given that I’ve provided links to support my answers to Circle of Mamas’ questions.

In the end, Circle of Mamas might have a bunch of questions, but the those of us who are familiar with vaccines and antivaccine nonsense recognize those questions as JAQing off. We also recognize that antivaxxers like Circle of Mamas won’t like or accept the answers. Same as it ever was.

ADDENDUM: Thanks to everyone in the comments who pointed out things I missed or expanded on issues I could have discussed better. I’ve made some changes in response to your comments and included some links that you provided me.

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]

111 replies on “An antivaccine “Circle of Mamas” has “questions” about vaccines. Orac has answers.”

Lovely collection of handy and well written responses. I will bookmark for easy access. Thank you.

A. I love that question 19 is simply taking two previous questions with untrue implied claims and drawing a conclusion.

B. I think the claim that 50% of cdc budget goes to selling vaccines has in mind the VFC program, in which cdc gives vaccines for free as a federal benefit.

C. The Supreme Court majority did discuss the unavoidably unsafe claim. And roundly rejected it.

D. As you point out, the intentionally unvaccinated child is that way by choice. The immune compromised child is not. That’s not similar.
And even though, during an outbreak the immune compromised child too is kept out of school for her safety.

What a bad set of questions. Even less accurate than usual antivaccine claims.

I think the claim that 50% of cdc budget goes to selling vaccines has in mind the VFC program, in which cdc gives vaccines for free as a federal benefit.

Unfortunately, the conspiracy-minded will take this to mean that the CDC is trying to sneak poison into their children to support Bill Gates’ whole “depopulate the poor” campaign. Anything that can be twisted around and reinterpreted backward will be…

Thanks for doing this. This one is even less accurate than the usual anti-vaccine stuff – it gets some of its own tropes wrong.

A. I love that #19 simply takes two previous inaccurate questions-claims and mashes them together.
B. I suspect that in part, #21 about selling vaccines refers inaccurately to an RFK jr. misrepresentation of VFC, the Vaccines for Children program, under which the CDC buys vaccines – now to the tune of 4 billion dollars or so – and distributes them to children who need them, as a federal benefit. Which, yes, is completely getting things upside down.

C. The majority of the Supreme Court did take up the unavoidably unsafe claim. And thoroughly rejected it. See:

D. I think the Wakefield replicated claim refers to what Just The Vax addressed here:

How is the CDC an unbiased reliable source when they are funded by the vaccine companies, 50% of the CDC’s budget goes to selling and promoting vaccines, and they own 57 vaccine patents?

Just one small example of how their Google education is a failure. First off, the CDC buys vaccines at a negotiated lower price and then either sells them for cost or gives them away to public health initiatives for VPD prevention you gaggle of shitwits. And yes, bullshit on the “50% of the CDC’s budget”. As for the “vaccine patents”. Not exactly; the CDC’s patents are for bits and pieces of vaccine technology and why not? They conduct research, they make discoveries and patent them and this circle jerk of mamas and others like them don’t give any explanation as to why this is even a problem except in their fevered imaginations that there are vast conspiracies everywhere. As an aside, I was given my moniker to mock these “mamas” and their grandiose internet presence as such, as though being a mommy was some kind of super power never to be questioned.⁣

On Wakefield and “Nothing was wrong with his data”
Seriously, even without knowing the larger context and what was uncovered in investigations, what are we supposed to conclude from TWELVE cases ? Even without fraud, this study was far too weak to deserve so much publicity in the media at the time of publication.

“If Dr. Wakefield was crazy, why are there multiple peer reviewed studies supporting and duplicating the findings of the original work by Wakefield? ⁣”
We can play that game too. Why are multiple peer reviewed studies supporting the contrary ?

“We don’t drink from the same water we shit in.” More antivax racism. Claiming developing countries are full of people too stupid to know the risk. Water sources generally get contaminated by leeching, not because people are using them as a toilet.

Also, in many cases, immunocompromised people lack the immune capacity to respond to a vaccine, so we don’t vaccinate them for the same reason blind people don’t bother to turn on the lights. Waste of resources.

@ Terrie

“More antivax racism. Claiming developing countries are full of people too stupid to know the risk. Water sources generally get contaminated by leeching, not because people are using them as a toilet.”

Not exactly. 2.1 billion are still concerned, to varying degrees, by this situation.

“Of the 2.1 billion people who do not have safely managed water, 844 million do not have even a basic drinking water service. This includes 263 million people who have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home, and 159 million who still drink untreated water from surface water sources, such as streams or lakes. In 90 countries, progress towards basic sanitation is too slow, meaning they will not reach universal coverage by 2030. Of the 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion still do not have basic sanitation services. This includes 600 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households, and 892 million people – mostly in rural areas – who defecate in the open. Due to population growth, open defecation is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania.”

The situation is still not that great, and demographics are not easing the tension…

I’m not sure what your point is. I agree that clean water is a big issue, but not because, as the claim was made, because people are crapping in their local water hole, but because lack of infrastructure means water is contaminated by leeching from sources nearby.

@ Terrie

English is not my native language, so I’m wondering what you mean by “leeching”.

I do not think it is racism to consider, objectively, that, indians for instance, have a weird relationship to their toilets. The japanese do too, but differently…

Having witnessed constructions of infrastructures in really poor countries, they sure have a part to play. But many issues abound. Corruption in striking deals for such investments. People punching holes in pipelines to get water or to steal the metal (taking the risk of breaking the infrastructure, and hurting themselves with highly pressurised jets of water). Stuff like that. Moreover, with public infrastructure, there are pressures from the base to make if cost-free, which tends to be unrealistic in the context of some countries: even if people are poor, you cannot fund everything on taxes or world bank loans… so sometimes you need dual solutions: infrastructure to provide clean and safe water coupled with a private market of local shop owners who distribute it for a fee to their fellow countrymen.

Beware of thinking that Big Planning of Big Infrastructure is The Solution. It’s part of the solution, but not the full story.

As to the antivaxxer’s comments, they’re insensitive for sure, but irritation cannot be claimed on the sole basis of their statements to be directed at poor people in the third-world. It’s more “I-do-not-care”-ism than racism per se. I believe they have more of a grudge against Offit than towards dalits in India.

It’s best defined as unintended drainage. People, for instance, may use a common trench, but it’s not sealed and the contaminants drain into the water supply. And, yes, dismissing the lack of infrastructure in other countries as “people shitting in their water” is racist.

@ Terrie

“And, yes, dismissing the lack of infrastructure in other countries as “people shitting in their water” is racist.”

I do not share that view. I think double-speak is doing severe damage to public discourse. I lived in shitholes countries. I love them. Still can sing the national anthem of the african kingdom of the shithole country I was raised in. Them got back to the “civilised” world, and it’s almost impossible to a have a factual and direct conversation about Reality in these shithole countries.

Bottom line: I have very interesting discussions about real racism, real reality with black immigrants in my country, with a good laugh on top of it. With white middle-class antiracists, almost impossible to have a discussion as we constantly have to tiptoe around sensitive topics… Fed up with this.

I just love District 9. Reminds me of my childhood.

As someone who’s been to Nepal several times, I can tell you that a lot of the rivers DO have shit draining directly into them. I’ve seen the ladies washing clothes in water that I’d hesitate to touch with my feet. I’ve seen food prepared outside the door to the toilet (and spent the next day suffering because of it) or next to a ditch that kids are pissing in.

This is usually because they have no choice, no money for infrastructure. Sometimes because they are excluded from the infrastructure.

@Numberwang, I’m quite aware of the issues with water contamination in developing countries. I never claimed they don’t exist. In fact, I said that, yes, the water is contaminated. But the antivax claim was that people would shit in the water, not that the water had shit in it. Two very different things.

@ Terrie

“But the antivax claim was that people would shit in the water, not that the water had shit in it.”

I get your point about rhetoric, and I apologise for having been a bit too blunt. Nonetheless, from the point of view of semantics, it’s hard to understand how shit can be in the water if people do not shit in it, directly or indirectly. That’s why I reacted to what I believed to be “tone policing” in one way or another.

I’ve seen way too many situations where you need blunt language and blunt rhetoric to get the point across.

AoA posted the Circle of Mamas thing and took it back down within a day. It’s that bad.

“Why do you compare America to third world countries when it comes to illness counts and deaths? We don’t drink from the same water we shit in.”

Apparently the U.S. back in the early to mid 1960s had dreadful Third World conditions, with people pooping in their drinking water, causing 400-500 kids to die every year from measles with many thousands more suffering serious complications. The fact that measles deaths these days are practically unheard of is entirely due to better sanitation, not measles vaccination.


It’s nice to have another handy guide with factual answers to stupid, insincere questions.

Why do you think science is settled when tobacco, asbestos, DDT, etc were once considered settled science and the people who questioned it were considered crazy?
It is hard to pick a favourite out of this collection of dimwittedness but I like this one for it’s hypocrisy. The Circle Mamas seem oblivious to the fact that they are acting like Big Tobacco, etc in sowing FUD here. I mean, even just a small search of the history of tobacco injury denialism would show that it took years for the science to penetrate the fog of deliberate misinformation but the science was pretty clear all the way. Mind-blowingly clueless.


actually in discovery during legal cases and whistleblower it was found that the tobacco industry had done their own studies and found same results as independent scientists. And people are wrong about Rachel Carson and DDT. She NEVER called for banning it or anything else; but emphasized the Precautionary Principle, that is, before pouring mass amounts of anything into the environment, chemicals that have long half life, some safety research is called for. The industry has been trying to tarnish her name ever since. And it was found that the targeted insects mutated to being able to resist DDT within a short time span, but other animals, e.g. birds died, so the natural predators of the targeted insects were killed. So, they started using larger and larger amounts. And it is a lie that DDT was banned in U.S. It was still allowed for targeted problems and in Third World, found that rather than mass spraying, coating walls in huts and nets much more effective. There is even more to the lies about DDT; but this should suffice. As for asbestos, yep, the science was settled; but as you point out, industry tried to undermine it. An industry tactic, first used with tobacco was not to directly attack science; but to claim the science isn’t complete, more complicated, etc. To create doubt. In fact, some claimed “doubt is our business.”

This ‘argument’ is no less than four straw men in one:
– As you implicitly suggest, scientists have always been the first to recognize risks of any kind – including any risks of things they came up with or discovered in the first place (e.g radioactivity).
– And no, any science about tobacco, asbestos, DDT etcetera was most definitely not ‘settled’ – people (including scientists) simply didn’t know about dangers, and, as mentioned in the previous point, scientists were the first to act upon signals that something might have unknown risks.
– There were no organized groups of ‘concerned citizens’ akin our current-day antivaccine groups warning about the risks of tobacco, asbestos or any of the other currently known health hazards.
– Yes, there have been numerous groups of people warning about perceived dangers of something. And history tells us that they were almost invariably wrong.

I’m not expert enough to expound on this, but I’m fairly sure European doctors were advising against tobacco before 1600. Presumably indigenous American doctors had something to say as well. It was lung cancer that was called into question. The negative effects of tobacco are pretty obvious.

@ Christine Rose

“The negative effects of tobacco are pretty obvious.”

Hmmmh… no, not really. As a matter of fact, nicotine on its own could be argued to be a substance with rather positive effects (at normal doses…).

Not that obvious, no.


Not that obvious, no.

I refer you to “Counterblaste to tobacco”, a pamphlet published in 1604 on the orders of King James of England and Scotland. A quote:

A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomelesse.

Over 400 years ago, the health issues caused by smoking were already known.

@ Julian Froste

“Over 400 years ago, the health issues caused by smoking were already known.”

They’re merely saying that they do not like it. It’s poetry of spite, but nothing that could be considered anything remotely rational. It does have some common points with medical ramblings I overhear from time to time, though…

There were no indigenous American doctors. There were shamen and medicine men, which is not the same thing.

Native Americans used tobacco for religious purposes and some medical purposes; earaches and the like. It wasn’t consumed on a daily basis by the population at large so I highly doubt any connection with lung cancer was made.

@ Panacea

“There were shamen and medicine men, which is not the same thing.”

I fail to see the exact difference.

(By the way, glad to see that you’re still on the blog. I worried, likely on unsound grounds, that our small skirmish made you feel not so good. Just hope it was not the case.)

@ Narad

“Well, that takes some balls.”

Yeah. I always thought these watermelons were quite cumbersome.

Yeah. I always thought these watermelons were quite cumbersome.

Uh-huh. Let’s finish reviewing the record:

“By the way, glad to see that you’re still on the blog. I worried, likely on unsound grounds, that our small skirmish made you feel not so good. Just hope it was not the case.”

What the fuck is this supposed to mean? You think some sort of “skirmish” with a haughty moaner such as yourself is going to make an established, knowledgeable, and valued commenter skulk off into the void? Once again.

@ Narad

“You think some sort of “skirmish” with a haughty moaner such as yourself is going to make an established, knowledgeable, and valued commenter skulk off into the void?”

In fact, it seems I stated just the opposite. You should try reading it again. But thanks for your input.

In fact, it seems I stated just the opposite. You should try reading it again.

Right backatcha, dear Sadmar Lite.

@ Narad

Do you want me to more brutal in my response?

Ask and you shall receive. My potential for sadism has limits I’m yet unaware of.

Do you want me to more brutal in my response?

Ask and you shall receive. My potential for sadism has limits I’m yet unaware of.


I used to have a cat with an unusally penis. As I used to tell him, “put away big red.”

@ Narad

We’ll have a talk concerning your cat another day. For the moment, you haven’t asked, so I’m not feeling concerned.


@ Narad

Please state your point. You’re boring me… Come back to me when you’re serious about consensual torture.

Did somebody say something about consensual torture?

“If this is torture, chain me to the wall!”

Yeah, I kept getting lost and turned around in a Catholic hospital yesterday and now I’m thinking about mildly racist cartoon characters. Sue me.

Tobacco is literally sacred to most Native tribes I know of, so that’s an F for cultural knowledge and sensitivity.

Studies do show that only 1% of minor side-effects are reported to VAERS; but other studies have found that close to 30% of serious side-effects are reported. However, what isn’t understood is that dedicated teams monitor VAERS and if even a very small number of serious side-effects are reported they begin an investigation. Intussusception is a perfect example. And, as Orac says there are several other “real-time” databases, e.g., Vaccine Safety Data Link. One can read about all the various approaches to post-marketing vaccine safety by Googling CDC Vaccine Safety.

As for DDT and polio, it was based on one chart that showed DDT spraying in U.S. significantly reduced from around 1955, same time as vaccine. Unfortunately, this was inaccurate. Numerous sources show DDT spraying remained high in U.S. until 1970, e.g., Wayland J. Hayes (1975). Toxicology of Pesticides. Table. 1.6 page 25. In addition, DDT has a long half life, so even if had been abruptly terminated in 1955, it would have remained in soil and water and, of course, food, which is how kids were exposed to it. Antivaccinatinists don’t even understand what a half life is.

As for vaccine eliminating polio, one has just to look at WHO project where one can follow vaccinations country by country and look at cases of polio plummeting. These were developing nations. Nothing else changed, not better nutrition, safer drinking water, better medical care, only vaccinations. In fact, other diseases, e.g. Kala Azar, cutaneous leishmaniasis, malaria, and many others continued.

The $4 billion pay out from Vaccine Court is over more than 30 years, so comes to $100 million per year. Since the payouts are for medical and lifetime care, almost all over $500,000 and many over $1 million, so total number of cases compared to vaccines is minimal, e.g. about 1 per million vaccines. And, the presumption that vaccine cause doesn’t mean was. And one can sue is evidence vaccine improperly produced, etc.

11 of 12 of kids in Wakefields 1998 paper were either involved in lawsuits by firm Wakefield was consulting with or from JABS, an antivaccinationists group supporting the lawsuits. One table was completely fraudulent, showing symptoms noticed within week of vaccinations. Investigation found in actual medical records that some symptoms prior to vaccine and in other cases, many months afterwards. And Wakefield wasn’t against measles vaccine. In press conference, without any basis, he stated he would feel safer with monovalent vaccine and, guess what, his name was on patent, actually two patents for monovalent vaccine, and, just as with Paul Offit, not owning the patent which was owned by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, patent owners share royalties with investigators, so Wakefiled would have made a fortune if Royal Free Hospital’s patent had been approved. But, there is more, Wakefield had established a partnership to actually manufacture the vaccine which, if patent approved, could have made him a fortune. One last thing, where Offit and colleagues devoted 25 years to researching rotavirus vaccine, Wakefield had basically no research underlying his bogus vaccine. Typical hypocrisy of antivaccinationists that they ignore that if patent with Wakefield’s name as investigator had been approved he would have made far more money than Offit on a vaccine, of course.

Antivaccinationist talk about profits; but don’t understand that no company is going to produce anything without profits. Profits don’t say anything about whether a product is beneficial or not. I have friends with diabetes, asthma, etc. so, insulin, albuterol, etc. They sell for a profit. One can criticize the extortionist profits currently made by pharmaceutical industry; but even here, since vaccines for children negotiated with governments, non-profits, etc. profit margin much less than most other pharmaceuticals.

Finally, the research on vaccines has been carried out by researchers around the world, Sweden, Denmark, UK, Canada, etc. Different histories, different cultures, different economic systems, different political systems, various funding mechanisms, different educational systems, yet all find vaccines confer exponentially more benefit than risk and, to the best of my knowledge, they make sure, as I did, that they receive all vaccines and their children and loved ones. It is INSANE to assume that they are all part of some conspiracy to further the profits of pharmaceutical companies

And on and on it goes.

Had to interrupt my reading at this point to respond to ” We don’t drink from the same water we shit in. You know that right?”

Um…I live on the shores of Lake Erie. That is where MY drinking water comes from. It is also where the water goes again, after it has passed through the local sewage treatment plant. Perhaps next time, they could phrase that question a bit differently? Now, back to reading.

32 The Google Degree…

A search engine used by amateurs/ woo-meisters/ anti-vaxxers is profoundly different than it is by someone who has a relevant background like Orac, sceptics or other educated individuals.

I liken the former groups’ activities to a person who searches for her lost keys near the street lamp despite the fact that she probably lost them elsewhere where light is absent. They look for topics they’re familiar with or that fit their preconceived notions about “the answer” whilst they neglect more intrinsically related research. Formal education demands a more well-rounded approach that involves all of the important issues/ data, not just the ones you like.

Examples: anti-vax mothers ( like Rossi and Wright) complain that money is being wasted on research about genetics and early indicators of ASDs like gaze or facial characteristics precisely because these studies show that autism is established prior to any vaccines- that it is largely pre-natal. Most people who studied relevant areas will accept that conclusion but anti-vaxxers cannot because the entire issue is too emotionally charged and part of their identity.

Circle of Mamas links to 15 films that promulgate similar points as those Orac so concisely deconstructs.

The problem with these films is that viewers are bombarded with loads of misinformation that they receive before real world data like Orac’s thus loading the dice towards woo. Memory works that way( prior entry is strong); it takes more to revise error.

@ Denice

Check out Age of Autism, John Stone, UK Editor, is attacking the most complete genetic study to date. Stone has admitted during several blog exchanges with him that he has not even attempted to learn the basics of microbiology, immunology, genetics, epidemiology, history or current status of vaccine-preventable diseases that all he needs is his experience and careful reading. However, I’ve caught his “careful reading” where he takes one or two sentences out-of-context, etc. From what I can gather, prior to engaging in antivaccinationism, his field of “expertise” was Mozart Operas. Definitely all the necessary background needed.?

@ Joel:

Right. Selective inattention is an astonishing cognitive ability but not in a good way.

We see it at RI from scoffers all of the time. Sometimes I wonder if anti-vax is more an emotional than an intellectual problem because the person concerned may have abilities in other areas where they function normally but wild beliefs and concomitant emotions make them veer away from relevant information selection.

There’s a load of stuff about John Stone here. Warning, a bit sweary, but some of it’s very funny. 🙂

There’s a load of stuff about John Stone here. Warning, a bit sweary, but some of it’s very funny. ?

Makes me miss Becky, elburto and Krebiozen. I hope they are all well. Fun fact, John Stone et al. think that Becky is Brian Deer; of course, Matt Carey is Bonnie Offit so there you go.

“his field of “expertise” was Mozart Operas”

Did you know that if you rearrange a bunch of notes from The Magic Flute you get the Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil. Therefore Mozart was a Satanist.

No, he was only a tool of the Masons who killed him after he revealed their secrets in the aforesaid opera.
They left that out of the movie.

@ Rich Scopie

Yep, got that one. He is prolific, posts lots of Rapid Response on BMJ blog. Sends documents, letters to British Parliament, WHO, etc. and writes about on Age of Autism to mass applause as if the recipients of his missives actually took him seriously. Oh well

I think the 50% delusion may come from RFK, Jr. who has repeatedly stated that the FDA gets 45% of its funding from industry as if this is some sort of damning evidence of malfeasance.
What it is is damning evidence of RFK, Jr. dishonest fear mongering.
Here’s one quote by RFK, Jr. trying to use this as a weapon to impugn the FDA:
“The pharmaceutical industry also enforces policy discipline through agency budgets. FDA receives 45% of its annual budget from industry.”
Note that RFK, Jr. explicitly states that the industry is using its control of the FDA budget to “enforce policy” it desires.
RFK, Jr. then links to the FDA site which makes it clear the exact opposite is the truth:
“Program Funding
About 55 percent, or $3.1 billion, of FDA’s budget is provided by federal budget authorization. The remaining 45 percent, or $2.6 billion, is paid for by industry user fees.

This is proof positive that RFK, Jr. is functionally illiterate.
He thinks “industry user fees” are the same as “voluntary industry contributions” which can be given or reserved depending on the actions of the FDA.
He is so ignorant or dishonest (or both) he doesn’t seem to understand that “industry user fees” are essentially – TAXES and are not voluntary and if withheld by industry would bring the wrath of the FDA down upon them and the doors on their factories would be chained and locked until the fees were paid.
The corporations and their officers would also be fined and most likely arrested.
These fees are not voluntary or contributions which can be used to influence the FDA.
They are taxes that must be paid no matter what the FDA does.
Just more evidence that RFK, Jr. isn’t very bright and is a completely dishonest liar.

And here is RFK, Jr. writing under his own name dishonestly using the 50% FDA budget claim in his screed attacking Lena Sun for her expose of Mercola back in December:
“Sun’s latest target, Dr. Joe Mercola earned Sun’s ire by financing Barbara Loe Fisher’s National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) which publishes scrupulously sourced vaccination science. Sun attacks @drmercola for recommending vitamins and other remedies which, Sun complains, are not approved by FDA. FDA receives 50% of its budget from Pharma.
“FDA receives 50% of its budget from Pharma.” — RFK, Jr.
Direct. Quote. From. Junior.
It doesn’t get much more dishonest than this.
This guy lies constantly – even if by childishly “hidden” implication.
I’m completely opposite to RFK, Jr. on this subject: It is not the taxpayer’s responsibility to see (finance) that what they produce and sell is safe and effective. That is the cost of their doing business.
My question is – “Why is the FDA budget being supported by tax dollars and not 100% supported by taxes and fees on the regulated industries?”

#1 is my favorite. Just replaced vaccine injury with aliens as I read it. The motivations of people do not prove the truth of the claim. I don’t get how someone can be so out in the open about such an easily dismissed form of reasoning.

I was thinking much the same, only I would extend that to a blanket fill-in-the-blank. It could be any form of SCAM, conspiracy or general pseudoscience.

Anal Probing Alienz?
aka – Andrew Wakefield who is a resident alien and ordered anal probes of his child patients victims. Yes, Andy Wakefraud is an Anal Probing Alien.

Actually, I think #1 hits an important point we’ve missed.

These mothers do NOT go out on a limb. They’re talking about their kids: who’s going to argue with them? Not their families. Not their friends. Nobody wants to be that person who hurts the mother who’s hurting because she thinks her kid has a “vaccine injury.”

Adults do this too, but the mothers are the worst. They make you feel like shit when they claim (true or not) that their kid/relative was that one in a million who had a bad outcome. Then you look like an asshole when you try to explain people still need to get vaccinated; you look insensitive.

This behavior is self reinforcing. They know their loved ones largely won’t argue with them, so they don’t understand it when strangers do.

I don’t think many of your answers are illuminating to parents who would like honest answers to those questions. The Socratic method can be effective and persuasive because when you fail to answer those questions to the satisfaction of listeners, they remain.

Dismissing the Hannah Poling case as “an attempt to rebrand mitochondrial disease as autism” is not convincing given that the vaccines were found to have triggered “autism like behaviors” and her parents received a multi-million $ settlement to deal with the problems she developed after vaccination. Calling Dr. Zimmerman “a neurologist who’s become a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement.” isn’t convincing given that he was a paid consultant for the CDC and they wanted his testimony in court until he came to the conclusion that vaccines could trigger “autism like behaviors” (as if there is a meaningful difference for the parents of an afflicted child) when the child suffered from mitochondrial disease.

I think a better answer to #2 would be that in some cases, when the child suffers from an underlying mitochondrial disorder, vaccines can trigger autism like symptoms/behaviors. Although this is a rare disorder, if you are concerned about this, you should have your child checked for the disease prior to vaccination.

Your dismissal of #3 is equally unconvincing. Science is never settled. A better response is to admit that and say that all evidence points to vaccines being safer than contracting the disease would be. That the risks are assessed as being worth the benefit. Acknowledge that different people can have different evaluation of both risks and benefits. That science can assess both the probability of the risks and the probability of the benefits but that the value put on either is a subjective ethical evaluation that can differ from person to person. The CDC vaccine committee evaluates those for our society as a whole before they make recommendations.

Your response to #7 was particularly egregious. You could have explained that it was a conference of top vaccine researchers and officials exploring the extent of what we know and don’t know about vaccines, the risks of harm and how they can be minimized. Claiming they “admitted no such thing” when they can see video of those experts asking questions and being told we don’t yet have answers to some of those questions seems like gaslighting and decreases your credibility for those questions you didn’t dismiss out of hand. The conference itself was very illuminating. The hard work and dedication of those vaccine researchers was apparent and encouraging. It’s no sin for scientists and researchers to admit they don’t have all the answers.

Your response to #11 doesn’t even attempt to answer the question. You dismiss it as “argument by package insert”. A better answer would be that you can’t tell when you give a vaccine on day one, but it’s not necessary to vaccinate on the first day of life unless the mother is positive for Hep B. Even the CDC schedule allows for giving that first vaccine at 2 months.

The Socratic method has been used effectively for a couple of thousand years. One reason it’s effective is that when the questions raised are answered the way you have done here, they serve to convince people that the questioner has brought up some good points and that you cannot provide sufficient satisfactory answers or you would have done so. Sure, hard core anti-vaxxers won’t listen no matter what evidence you bring to bear, but their use of the Socratic method can be compelling for those who do listen while your answers in many cases weren’t.

Dismissing the Hannah Poling case as “an attempt to rebrand mitochondrial disease as autism” is not convincing given that the vaccines were found to have triggered “autism like behaviors” and her parents received a multi-million $ settlement to deal with the problems she developed after vaccination. Calling Dr. Zimmerman “a neurologist who’s become a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement.” isn’t convincing given that he was a paid consultant for the CDC and they wanted his testimony in court until he came to the conclusion that vaccines could trigger “autism like behaviors” (as if there is a meaningful difference for the parents of an afflicted child) when the child suffered from mitochondrial disease.

That’s why the links to posts in which I explain my points in detail or to articles or primary sources that support the points I’m making were included, including why using Hannah Poling as evidence that vaccines cause autism is deceptive (for one thing, the court did not rule that vaccines caused autism in her case) and why I consider Dr. Zimmerman a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement. (You also forget that he’s now become an expert witness for families suing for “vaccine injury.”) The same is true for every other question for which my answers were, of necessity, brief if I didn’t want this post to balloon to 20,000 words, which is long even for me with my tendency towards logorrhea. Click on the links!?

Yes, you posted links to other diatribes you’ve written. Doesn’t change that your answers to the questions posed are dismissive both here and in your other posts. Dismissing questions is not the same as answering them. That’s why the Socratic method is effective.

I wasn’t aware the Dr. Zimmerman is serving as an expert witness for familes suing for “vaccine injury”. Why the quotes around vaccine injury? They happen. As an expert, Dr. Zimmerman can testify for either side. Is he changing his opinion based on who pays him or did who pays him change based on which side of a lawsuit would benefit from his expertise? I think it is the latter. If he was willing to change his opinion to better serve the people paying him, I think he would still be getting paid by the CDC.

Why the quotes around vaccine injury? They happen.

Oh please Beth. Why don’t you read some of the NVICP cases that we have and then clutch your damn pearls.

If he was willing to change his opinion to better serve the people paying him, I think he would still be getting paid by the CDC.

Let’s see, you make a guess and convince yourself it must be true but want dozens of double-blind RCTs conducted by polydactyl Nepalese virgins when we make claims based upon decades of experience and solid studies.

You didn’t look at the links, Beth. Sure, Orac sometimes refers back to other posts he’s written . . . he’s a busy man and re-writing the same thing over and over gets tedious. Doesn’t make it any less true.

But he linked to lots of other things in this.

If the parents can’t be arsed to tell the difference between mitochondrial disease and autism then why should they be taken seriously at all? I’m pretty sure the same people would be quite upset if a doctor mistook brain injury for drunkenness because some of the behaviours are similar.

Why, yes, asking questions in a public forum is totally like invading someone’s home and disturbing their breakfast to demand answers. The woman being questioned never bothers to answer the sealion. Maybe if she did, he would stop asking.

Did you forget Autism Omnibus ? Vaccine Court rejected vaccine autism link. Mitochondrial disease is entire different thing,

“I wasn’t sure what this was about when I first read it, but then realized that it’s probably…”

This marks a problem that’s common in critiquing pseudoscience. Not only do you have to look up their refs, if they give any, or look up things to counter their nonsense, often their claims are so vague you actually have to try to tease out just what they’re saying. This is a handy tactic for them since they can claim, accurately, that “I never said that” (just said something exactly equivalent) followed by acting hurt, or you might even not get just what they were(‘nt quite) saying and they can really play up the victim thing.

Indeed. Also, the way one of the questions confused the FDA for the CDC when discussing how 50% of the budget comes from industry. Actually, vagueness is better for cranks than including outright errors of fact in the premise of a question.

What’s with you guys and herd immunity? If it did exist you would need 95% vaccination rates.

Jeezums. Even viewed simplistically, the threshold for herd immunity depends on $ latex R_0 $, viz., what bug you’re talking about. This is just knuckle-dragging foolishness.

You write: ” That science can assess both the probability of the risks and the probability of the benefits but that the value put on either is a subjective ethical evaluation that can differ from person to person. . . Yes, you posted links to other diatribes you’ve written.”

No, the probabiliies of risks and benefits are based on SOLID research, not subjective evaluations. As for “diatribes”, the previous papers written by Orac often refer to peer-reviewed scientific papers and use scientific logic. Your use of “diatribe” gives away your bias.

As for you writing: “Dismissing the Hannah Poling case as “an attempt to rebrand mitochondrial disease as autism” is not convincing given that the vaccines were found to have triggered “autism like behaviors” and her parents received a multi-million $ settlement to deal with the problems she developed after vaccination”

First, “autism like behaviors” doesn’t mean autism or anything close. Behaviors can overlap between many different disorders. For instance, flu-like symptoms can mean actual flu, another viral infection, a bacterial infection, reaction to some toxins, or even radiation poisoning. Second, if you understood what a serious mitochondrial disease is, you would understand that any infection, even a serious common cold would be disastrous, so, at worst, the vaccines hastened by a few months to a bit longer what would have almost certainly occurred. I say “almost” because as a scientist I don’t make absolute statements.

As for the Socratic Method, people either are open to actual science or close minded with minds already made up. Studies show that up to 80% of Americans lack basic understanding of science, critical thinking, and logic. Psychological studies find that the less one knows, the more certain one is. In addition, studies have found that once an opinion is formed, very difficult to change. So, yep, for people who haven’t made up their minds, who are open to actual science, various approaches work with various “personality” types; but, on the whole, it is obvious that you have basically made up your mind and it isn’t pro vaccine.

Robert Kennedy claims, for instance, no studies of flu vaccine and pregnant women; but I have downloaded about 10 peer-reviewed studies. And on and on it goes.

And the rare serious adverse reaction to vaccines, mostly reflects a genetic predisposition, which means that many of these rare cases would have had the same outcome or worse from being exposed to the wild-type microbe. And the vaccine gave them a better chance.

A 1 in 1000 risk is definite. Whether a 1 in 1000 risk is acceptable, to you, is subjective.

“What’s with you guys and herd immunity? If it did exist you would need 95% vaccination rates. But according to your beloved CDC”

Actually, herd immunity varies for different diseases and different setting, The basic reproductive rate says, on average, how many people one person will infect, which, in turn, depends on intensity of exposure, duration of exposure, distance, how long microbe remains viable, e.g., in air (outdoors many killed by sunlight), and other factors. Obviously, in schools, kids in small classroom for hours at a time, so higher herd immunity necessary; but even this depends on microbe.

Also, it isn’t an all or none phenomenon, the way antivaccinationists see the world. If, for instance, in some school herd immunity overall was 95% vaccinated, might be one class has much lower, so disease would spread in one classroom; but with rest of school higher vaccination rates, would be stopped. Though not ideal, better than if entire school had lower rates. And if entire school had lower rates; but surrounding community had higher rates, again the outbreak would be limited. The world isn’t black and white! ! !

While we’re asking questions, I’ve got one for the antivaxxers here. You see, I have an autistic child, and I’d do anything to help it. So – how will my son benefit if I pretend to believe that vaccines cause autism? If I receive a good answer, I’ll go all in, believe me. I’ll send death threats to children, bribe Congressmen, make fun of kids dying of encephalitis, pretend that 1960s America had never heard of sanitation, leading to the epidemic of rubella that blinded tens of thousands of infants; I’ll help out when Andrew Wakefield wants to drain blood from kids at birthday parties and ignore the unvaccinated autistic child of Kim Stagliano — you know, the whole antivax program But throw me a bone first and explain how any of this will help my son – until you do, I’ll just waste my time loving him and supporting job training, assistive care, and education for the autistic.

Hoping Beth or one of the others can answer!

All the Best,


I’m surprised to see that Beth and the others haven’t answered my question – I had thought it was polite enough for them. I suppose it’s possible that they missed it. If any of you happen to see Beth or others of her ilk in other places on the Internet, you have my permission to link to my question or copy it, so that they don’t miss the opportunity to respond.

“Maybe if she did, he would stop asking.”

It’s always about blaming the target of harassment, isn’t it? If only Dr. Offit would admit to being a “Vaccine Industralist.“ If only Orac revealed his true name. If only Stanley Plotkin would admit how much money he’s making from vaccines. If only… If only…

Beth: “Yes, you posted links to other diatribes you’ve written.”

Gee Beth, that’s a rather nasty tone you’re taking. Didn’t you just say tone is important if one wants people to listen?

Also, do you approve of all 35 of the Circle of Mamas’ questions as being factually based and motivated by a genuine desire to learn, as well as demonstrating a respectful tone? If not – with which of them would you take issue?

Question 1 in really nothing more than a transliteration of the old religionists “if god doesn’t exist how do you atheists explain millions of people willingly dying blah blah blah”. Of course they don’t like when you restate it along the lines of “if communism isn’t true….” etc.

@ Dangerous Bacon

Indeed. I failed to pin down his suicide note on the net. But here’s a quote from a news outlet:

“The note didn’t express regret in those beliefs but “regrets in what he did.””

I believe this guy also had lots of questions about himself. Maybe he started realizing that actions he took were more consequential than what he believed. Without the exact wording of the suicide note, it’s hard to grasp what went on in his mind.

I read about him earlier today, and in the comments were the pro disease people insisting that he had not committed suicide, but was murdered by “Big Pharma.” Because no pro disease person ever dies from disease, accident, or suicide. They are all murdered by “Big Pharma.”

I am amazed at your patience. If I had written this, at about Question #10, I would have just devolved into F-bombs.

I was going to play logical fallacy Bingo with these questions, but again, but Question #10, “that’s a Bingo.”

Interesting to compare #18 to #30:
#18: “…according to your beloved CDC, when you add in the adults vaccination rates we’ve only EVER reached around 60%…”
#30: “Why have all of the outbreaks of chickenpox, measles, mumps all been in 100% vaccinated communities?⁣”

So which vaccination rate is correct, 60% or 100%? Oh, the Mamas meant some communities have a 100% vaccination rate? So those would have herd immunity then, wouldn’t they?

@ Leading Zero

For instance, with measles, 99+% of population were infected prior to 1963 vaccine, which means people 57 and over not vaccinated. Then the vaccine was rolled out, so gradually increasing percentage were vaccinated, again, meaning a number of people still got the disease. Finally, guidelines ensure that those with certain genetic conditions, e.g., autoimmunity, don’t get the vaccine; but are protected by herd immunity. So, all in all, 60%.

As for “100% vaccination rates”, highly unlikely, given some, as mentioned above, not vaccinated. In addition, no vaccine is 100% effective. Quite simply, some people’s immune systems just don’t respond strongly enough to vaccine to create immunity. So, two groups vulnerable. However, if you look at the recent outbreaks, vast majority among those not vaccinated, and the outbreaks were quite limited. Prior to the measles vaccines, every year measles reached epidemic proportions, basically 90% or more of a cohort of children got it.

Please give URL to where they got 100% vaccination rates for communities? Would have to be community with no one over 57 and actually no one over 30, since not all even at that age were vaccinated and some would have gotten the natural disease. And no children in community with autoimmune disease or receiving chemotherapy for cancer, etc.


I forgot to mention that highly unlikely any communities have NO kids exempted for religious reasons and some personal exemptions which are being eliminated in certain states. Currently, the CDC:

Percent of children aged 19-35 months vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella: 91.5% (2017)
Percent of adolescents aged 13-17 years vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella (2 doses or more): 92.1% (2017)

There was an outbreak of whooping cough/pertussis in a Texas school where 100% of kids were vaccinated; but, as mentioned above, NO vaccine confers 100% immunity. However, I would be willing to bet that the cases of whooping cough at that school were, on the whole, milder than if they had not been vaccinated and the number who actually developed symptoms was lower than in a non-vaccinated school prior to the vaccine.

Just an anecdote. I had ALL the childhood diseases, growing up during the 1950s, at least I remembered measles, German measles, mumps; but, went to pizza place with woman friend and her 9 year old son. He was not very lively and she phoned me next day to tell me he had chickenpox. Since I remembered most of my 4th grade class had it; but wasn’t sure if I had it, I phoned my mother. She didn’t remember. I was on the faculty of a medical school and arranged to have my blood titered. If negative, would have gotten gamma globulin. Chicken pox is not something an adult wants to get. Happily my titer showed I had sufficient antibodies, so, though most of class had overt symptoms, I did get infected. In any case, I was not required or encouraged to get the vaccines as all of the aforementioned confer lifetime immunity; but, besides suffering and missing school, I didn’t die or develop disabilities, which many others did. Add up all the days I missed school, which I actually liked, and it would probably be a couple of months from the currently vaccine-preventable diseases. And in the 1950s my mother was a housewife, not a two-parent wage earning family, so she was home and took care of me without any income loss, etc.

(That’s a good point, Joel: today most mothers work so VPDs involve more than just suffering)

Thinking over Orac’s response to the Circle of Misinformation, I have concerns of two types:
— I briefly mentioned the fact that those affected by misinformation like anti-vax ( or woo) are generally primed by repeated programmed learning that may be already ingrained in their psyches, reinforced by additional input – “vaccine injury stories”, a feeling of solidarity with other mothers and highly emotional content that captures memory. So “learning” is strong.
— even if we can find some partisans ( or fence sitters) who might accept SB information, we have to teach it to them, countering alties’ arguments as Orac did. There is a lot of material necessary to cut through anti-vax/ woo obfuscation and some of it is not easy. Concepts like herd immunity, adjuvants, and vaccine ingredients are not simple primary school level but require a degree of sophistication and some knowledge of science.**

We know that parents may accept vaccine information more readily from other parents rather than experts. That we can do. Emotional content is relevant: stories about how illness harms children or how our ancestors suffered and even died ( 1918)

What bothers me most is how to present material like that which Orac writes in an easier format: how to hit them with simple facts, data or images. After these people listen to hours of anti-vax docu-dramas like VAXXED, BOUGHT or any of Null’s films, how can we overwhelm pseudoscience and replace it?

One way to start is to illustrate first that their prized educators are not to be trusted.
Another way is concise flashcard-like responses to those signs of “V is for vaccines”
I wish I knew? Anyone else?

** on occasion I had to prepare/ present SBM to people without college level educations.

@ Denise

How does one deal with people who believe an episode of sitcom Brady Bunch where all 6 kids shows a few little rashes on their faces, otherwise, healthy enough to run around, play, and eat all their favorite foods. As I wrote a while back, if one believes sitcom Brady Bunch, how about Hogan’s Heroes. Golly, if being Nazi German prisoner of war was so much fun, why didn’t our soldier surrender en masse. It is so easy to find photos of kids with measles on internet; yet, Age of Autism has numerous times played up the Brady Bunch episode or also a rag doll supposedly with measles.

I’ve also mentioned a great book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, two professors of Social Psychology, title: Mistakes were made (but not by me). Documents and explains why once people form an opinion, regardless of how (though they convince themselves well thought out/researched), the cognitive dissonance caused by trying to change leads to most staying the course despite overwhelming evidence against, etc.

Yesterday while shopping there was a man in the store representing most health insurance plans, the one not on his poster was Kaiser. He asked me about my insurance and I said Kaiser. He shook his head and said did I know that half of Kaiser members love it and half hate it. Well, I did a fairly thorough Google search and found JD Powers satisfaction surveys gave Kaiser number one spot for most of past 20 years and the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a non-profit founded and funded by most of the health insurance companies, which rates health plans years on a number of criteria, gave Kaiser 1st place several years. If he is at store next time I shop, I’ll print out the above. I’ll bet it won’t change his mind. Kaiser is not perfect; but in our present for-profit health care system it is an excellent choice; however, I would love to live in Rochester, Minnesota and have Mayo Clinic.

I did manage to answer every single question on that Circle Mamas dumpster fire of an article. I have a PDF that goes through every single question, answers them, and provides links and citations. I do not know if this posting will go through, but I can share the facebook link to the debunk as well as the PDF to anyone who wants it. Here is the URL to the information on facebook it is the same as the PDF, and, as I said earlier, both do have the research pages provided. These are from accredited sites and most have citations. These are also as up to date as I can get for the information I’ve provided.

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