Conspiracy Theories and Vaccination

A little while back, I had the chance to go to the San Diego Zoo with my family. Over at the polar bears’ habitat, there was a big exhibit on global warming and how it affects polar bears. I mused over this for a little while. Climate change (formerly known as “global warming”) is still fairly controversial. People who don’t believe climate change is occurring are lumped in with moon landing hoax proponents and those irrational, deluded souls who don’t vaccinate themselves or their children. But here is the reality, if you start talking about climate change hurting the polar bears, you’re bound to start losing some people and could be written off as an extreme tree-hugging environmentalist. (Don’t you just love the way we all label each other?) A better tactic might have been something like this:

People come to see the polar bears. Polar bears are cute and fun. They’re fascinating and majestic. If people come and get to see the polar bears they will probably fall in love with them. Fill the exhibit with cool facts and pictures of polar bears in the wild- including cubs and mothers. (The San Diego Zoo is doing well up to this point.) Then start talking about the threats to polar bears survival, specifically habitat destruction- but don’t mention climate change. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but don’t mention climate change because if you do, people will dismiss threats to polar bears as paranoia. Tell people to reduce pollution, recycle, use eco-friendly products, etc. But don’t actually mention climate change. Because here’s the thing, whether climate change/global warming is occurring or not, whether it will cause polar bears to go extinct, whether human made pollution is responsible for some/all of the warming and what the ultimate outcome of it will be, reducing pollution, recycling and buying eco-friendly products will be beneficial- and most people will agree to that.

Also, these strategies will beneficial to humans as well. (This is a problem that the public health community is facing- the separation of environmental health and public health is actually making it harder to gain support for environmental health policies, even if the policies would benefit people too. Helping people understand that helping the environment actually means helping themselves will be crucial to the advancement of public health.)

I think the same is true with vaccines and theories about possible ulterior motives to vaccination programs. Personally, I think the greatest threat to vaccine choice is probably not pharmaceutical companies and the AMA, but rather people who use conspiracy theories instead of data to back up their stance opposing vaccines. Now part of the reason I think this happens is that people hear that the science behind vaccines is completely settled and there is nothing more to debate about it. So they feel they need to poke holes in vaccination through other means- instead of questioning whether or not the data on vaccines is airtight.

But here’s the thing about conspiracy theories: they’re not relevant to the actual question of whether or not vaccination is effective- and that is the real issue. Yes, it is entirely possible that eugenics was related to the vaccine campaigns of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Eugenics was considered a fact at the time. (However, it’s also possible that in the Industrial Revolution the medical community was simply enamored with idea of the latest technology eliminating disease and ushering us into a brave, new world of amazing health with a huge profit potential.) Could vaccines be related to population control strategies? Maybe. Perhaps, you believe that the moon landing was a hoax, that the Holocaust never happened, that the JFK assassination and September 11 (either one or both) were inside jobs. You are entitled to your beliefs (though I will disagree with you on all counts). But none of those things actually have anything to do with whether or not vaccines are effective and trying to bolster your stance by adding what might be viewed as “conspiracy theories” are only going to hurt you and everyone else. It wouldn’t matter if all of the above were true, because if they were but vaccines were really 99.9% safe and effective, people would choose vaccination. And that is the real problem- people think vaccines are 99.9% safe and effective when they actually aren’t. Thus, it’s important to deal with vaccines on the effectiveness level.

And as for the polar bears, looking at the problem from another perspective outside of global warming/climate change could be very beneficial. Running a scenario where we look for other possibilities outside of climate change could help us see new solutions or new threats to the polar bears that might otherwise be overlooked. From a scientific perspective, I think it pays to be thorough. (For an interesting article on polar bears and the climate change controversy take a look at this article from the BBC.)

Information for Parents About Vaccines- A Study of the Dissemination of Ignorance

“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a very delicate exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone.”– Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

“I trust doctors, not know-it-alls.”- Kristen Bell

“Just because a baby dropped out of you doesn’t mean a PhD did.”- Pro-vaccination Facebook meme

Trusting doctors and scientists is the smart thing to do isn’t it? After all, they have had years, even decades of schooling and the information they learn in medical schools and PhD programs is absolutely proven- otherwise it wouldn’t be a part of the curriculum.

But what if it’s not?

What if the curriculum taught in universities and medical schools about medicine and disease prevention is influenced by politics, economics, and cultural biases?

Oh, that is a very scary place, isn’t it?

It means that the information we get from health officials and doctors may not be completely accurate. (Gasp! We might gain greater scientific knowledge in the future and find out some of our current medical practices are based on faulty assumptions- like bleeding patients and prenatal x-rays were. You mean we don’t everything right now?!)  It means that profit motive could play a role in how medical treatment and procedures are administered and represented to us. It’s so scary that we would rather turn a blind eye and not examine that possibility and continue living in ignorance. And that brings us to agnotology- the study of willful acts to spread confusion or deceit.

Agnotology is a relatively new field of academic study and has yielded a great deal of interesting information about how businesses and even governments have used the deliberate spread of misinformation to keep people from understanding the truth about something. Quoting a LA Times article (where columnist Michael Hiltzik displays his own ignorance by claiming that people who oppose vaccination base their entire position on one discredited study): “The tobacco industry was a pioneer at this. Its goal was to erode public acceptance of the scientifically proven links between smoking and disease: In the words of an internal 1969 memo legal opponents extracted from Brown & Williamson’s files, “Doubt is our product.” Big Tobacco’s method should not be to debunk the evidence, the memo’s author wrote, but to establish a “controversy.” From a BBC article on the tobacco company’s efforts to create confusion: “[Science historian Dr. Robert Proctor of Stanford University] had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking.” Remember, folks, there was a time when smoking was considered very safe- even by doctors- and a big part of that was deliberate efforts of the tobacco companies to discredit research that showed their products caused cancer.

How about another example of agnotology and medical science? From the late 1800’s to about the middle of the twentieth century so-called “racial hygiene” was considered a public health necessity. It did not originate from the Nazi’s in World War II, it was already being preached and practiced as the best way to maintain a healthy populace in both Europe and America. In fact, America was among the first countries to institute sterilization laws for those considered unfit to reproduce. That was in 1907. It would be a decade more before Germany began instituting such laws. Racial hygiene was taught as a fact in medical and nursing schools in Germany and other countries. It was held up by research from MD’s and PhD’s claiming that people of other races were intellectually inferior. Sterilization laws soon gave way to “mercy killings” of the mentally ill or disabled and soon to mass genocide of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other groups deemed to be a burden on public health. (I highly recommend reading all of the aforementioned link. It’s a summary of Dr. Proctor’s very comprehensive look at the how the Nazis influenced the medical system of Germany.)

So for all of you who loudly proclaim that you trust your doctors and do what they tell you because doctors and PhD’s know best, how about this? What would you do if your doctor told you it was a public health necessity to execute your neighbor because of her ethnicity? Or how about a special needs child? What about someone who was disabled or suffered depression? Would you be the type of person who steps back and says, “Now wait a minute. These people may not be like an artificial ‘ideal’, but their lives have value- many of them can have a very positive impact on our society if we let them. Even if the experts are saying one thing, they could be wrong.” Or would you be turning in your neighbor or handing your disabled family members over for a mercy killing because it is the “scientific” thing to do? If you have ever said that you vaccinate yourself and your child because you trust doctors and scientists, think very carefully about your answer. (Kristen Bell, care to field this one?)

Let’s take a look at vaccine information now. For those of you out there who are vaccine proponents and claim to believe in facts, logic and research, you should have absolutely no problem with comparisons of vaccine information distributed to parents with epidemiological research on the diseases and medical facts about the vaccines.

Let’s start with Hepatitis B.

The CDC’s information page for parents on Hepatitis B claims that “of the more than 1 million people in the United States living with lifelong Hepatitis B, most got the virus as a child” and that “When infants and young children are infected with Hepatitis B, they have 90% chance of developing a life-long, chronic infection”. The CDC says that Hepatitis B can be passed through more every day means such as chewing food to give to a baby, sharing toothbrushes and gum and touching open cuts or sores. Statements like these may give the impression that Hepatitis B is a disease that frequently affects children and that transmission outside of sexual contact, needle sharing and maternal transmission are also frequent phenomena.

However, reports of epidemiology presented at the National Institutes of Health Workshop on the Management of Hepatitis B show a different breakdown. Their statistics show that 45% of all new HBV infections in the United States are sexually transmitted, with injection drug use causing another 21% of cases and the remainder (33%) being cases of mother-to-child transmission occurring at birth or in the first few years of life. (pg. 20) Overall, the CDC statistics show that rate of HBV infection is very low in the United States and Canada, averaging 0.1 to 0.5% for current or chronic infection, however the rate of infection is much higher among native populations and Asian emigres. About 5% of Americans have been infected with the hepatitis B, but 90-95% of the time these cases are cleared by the immune system on its own, especially in adults. (See page 19 under the heading “Canada and the United States”.) Child-to-child transmission of hepatitis B (mostly through contact with open sores) has been well documented in developing countries. In the United States and other developed countries child-to-child transmission incidents have been extraordinarily rare, even in daycare and school. Urine and feces are not vehicles for transmission unless blood is present and oral transmission of hepatitis B is almost non-existent. (pg. 48 under heading “Risk of Hepatitis B Infection in Daycare Centers”.)

So notice that while CDC’s information for parents has some truth in it (that HBV can be spread through sharing personal care items and that children have a greater chance of developing a lifelong HBV infection than adults). However, there are a couple of big, glaring factual omissions here. One is that the overall rate of HBV infection in the United States is very low. This is not a common disease, so the chances of an individual in a low-risk population contracting are extremely low. The other omission is that almost all children who are infected with HBV contract the virus through mother-to-child transmission either at birth or in the first few years of life, so unless the mother is infected at birth or during the child’s first few years of life, the chances of a child contracting HBV are extremely low. The other thing they fail to mention is that incidences of child-to-child transmission of HBV are extraordinarily rare in the United States and other developed countries. This vaccination is becoming required by more and more states for entrance into kindergarten, but ironically enough parents and doctors can vaccinate all the kindergarteners they want, but the small number of children who are most at-risk for HBV infection will probably contract the infection at birth or before they enter kindergarten from their mothers. In other words, vaccinating kindergarteners for HBV is one of those feel-good measures that doesn’t actually accomplish much. The CDC’s information for parents on HBV is deliberately misleading.

Moving on, let’s take a look at pertussis next. The CDC says this about pertussis prevention:

“Pertussis (whooping cough) can lead to serious illness, needing treatment in the hospital, and death — especially in babies who are too young to be well-protected by vaccines. You can help protect your baby from pertussis by:

  • Getting a pertussis vaccine (Tdap) if you are pregnant
  • Encouraging those around your baby be up-to-date with pertussis vaccination
  • Making sure your baby gets his pertussis vaccines on time”

But here is what they are not telling you about pertussis and pertussis vaccination:

I could go on and on with other diseases, but you get the idea. So let’s review here: the information that is distributed to parents from agencies like the Centers for Disease Control leaves out several very important facts and twist others to present an unrealistic picture of the risk for diseases and the benefits of vaccines. The doctors, scientists and public health professionals at the CDC are considered very educated about the spread of disease, so unless the people employed there are in reality extremely ignorant about diseases and their spread (and therefore unqualified for their positions), we can only assume that they are deliberately keeping parents from this information. Sounds like a subject worthy of agnotology.

A Realistic Picture of Cancer Vaccines

What if a local car dealership was advertising the most amazing sale? Something like “Get a BMW for nothing down and as little as $199 a month!” Would you just walk into the dealership, pick out a BMW and sign a contract without looking at the actual terms of the sale? I’m guessing you just scoffed and said “Of course not! That sounds too good to be true there must be a catch. Of course I would want to find out exactly what I am signing!”

But why? After all, isn’t the car salesman an expert at selling cars? Doesn’t he know more about car sales than you? If he’s the expert, why do you need to do any further research?

Well obviously because there can be all kinds of limitations to a deal like this. Maybe the BMW is used, maybe it depends on having a stellar credit score, maybe $199 only applies to the cheapest model on the lot, and on and on. Obviously, the salesman has a vested interest in you saying “yes” to the deal. His livelihood depends on people buying cars from him.

OK, so what if your doctor tells you that you can prevent or fight cancer with a simple vaccine injection. It saves lives, it’s simple, it’s extremely safe and extremely effective. Do you bother reading “the fine print”? Do you read the product insert? Do you objectively evaluate the information, looking not just for the benefits, but also the limitations? Chances are, if you are like most Americans you will probably spend more time reading the fine print on a car sales contract than researching what cancer vaccines (or many other medical procedures) realistically can and can not do for you or your loved ones.

We’re accustomed to thinking of any new technological advancement in medicine as effective and positive- regardless of actual results. And it’s hard not to when you hear the enthusiasm of doctors and the media about the latest high-tech treatment to debut. It’s exciting, it’s promising, it’s hugely beneficial, it’s the future and it will make everyone’s lives better. It’s hard not to want to be a part of that sort of excitement! Especially when it means taking some kind of action against a condition that may make you feel otherwise powerless to do anything about. Even if the results aren’t actually very effective, just doing something- anythingcan take away some of those feelings of powerlessness.

Let’s start with a few basic problems for cancer vaccines in general. First, is that the concept of vaccination is built on the idea that the immune system will attack foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses and that vaccines can introduce weakened versions of these infectious agents and stimulate the production of antibodies that bind to specific, targeted microbes and block their ability to cause infection. And of course, this is based on the idea that we can get the immune system to “remember” all kinds of diseases for a long term immune response- similar to natural immunity acquired from measles, chickenpox, smallpox etc.

Now, the first problem with the idea of a cancer vaccine is that cancer does not work like viruses such as measles, chickenpox and smallpox. (This rarely occurs to people when they think about vaccination.) If you become infected with any of the aforementioned diseases, you gain lifelong immunity if you fully recover- which most otherwise healthy people will. We know that if you develop cancer, you can get it again. Cancer does not imprint on the immune system the same way infectious diseases do.

So aside from the fact that many vaccines for infectious diseases can be very ineffective, we are talking about applying a solution that has been developed for infectious diseases and applying it to a non-infectious disease to which you can not develop natural immunity and assuming that it will work because it is claimed to have worked with infectious diseases to which you can develop lifelong immunity. And while I think some researchers may have an understanding of this, most laypeople don’t seem to understand this basic concept. (And neither the researchers nor the news media certainly haven’t wanted to bring it up either.)

In fact, from the summary of research on a preventative cancer vaccine heading into human trials, comes another problem with cancer vaccines in general. The tumor antigens are variations of self proteins that the body makes and would probably cause profound autoimmune complications if used in a preventive vaccine. Nonetheless, the researchers feel that their research on mice has proven highly successful. The news media and proponents have been loudly optimistic. Yahoo! News quotes a breast cancer surgeon who claims that it is “100% effective in animal models”. (In contrast, the MMR II package insert states that “As for any vaccine, vaccination with M-M-R II may not result in protection in 100% of vaccinees.”) Human trials began late last year. We will have to see what further research shows.

Optimism and enthusiasm can be contagious- but also misleading or even dangerous. A new vaccine designed to treat breast cancer that is in human trials has been deemed completely safe- after being tested on fourteen women.  Now, if you start thinking statistically, you will notice a glaring problem here. There are many side effects that have a 1 in 25, 1 in 50, 1 in 100 or 1 in 1,000 chance of occurring. Take, for example, the MMR II vaccine. If you read through the package insert, you will find that the chances of a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine are about 1 in 1,000. The chances of this kind of side effect showing up in a trial of just fourteen people are extremely small. Curiously, the co-author of the study on the breast cancer treatment vaccine has been quoted as saying that he doesn’t “want to oversell this” while going on to say that despite the vaccine’s very small trial “…we can say confidently that the vaccine was safe”. I’d be interested to see what he would call “overselling”…

At this point there are only two preventative cancer vaccine approved in the United States: Cervarix and Gardasil for prevention of human papillomavirus infection and subsequent cancer. One cancer treatment vaccine has been approved, Provenge, for use in men with metastatic prostate cancer. However, Provenge is not a “silver bullet” against prostate cancer. It is approved only for certain types of cancer and what it actually does is increase survival of these patients by four months.

We’re not talking about a cure here, we’re talking about prolonging a dying person’s life by a few months. The decision about whether to prolong a dying person’s life by a few months is a highly personal one in my opinion and isn’t really the issue here. The point here is understanding what exactly it means to treat cancer with a vaccine and the results that can be expected. And Provenge is a reminder of the caution we need to take with the enthusiasm about breast cancer treatment vaccines. So far the results that have been released for the 14 person mammaglobin A trial claim that the vaccine has halted cancer progression in 50% of the patients in that trial (about 7 people) for a year. How this vaccine will work on more than fourteen people or for longer than a year isn’t known.  Considering that half of the patients in this trial still had cancer progression at a year, the result for many women may still be something similar to Provenge where patients with certain types of breast cancer may be able to survive for a few months longer than they would (on average) with other treatments.

And yet another problem with both cancer vaccines and vaccines in general lies in the issue of adjuvants. Immunologists know that the killed and live bacteria and viruses in vaccines are often not enough to elicit a reaction from the immune system. (For a more detailed discussion of adjuvants, see my post here.) The National Cancer Institute  states: “Antigens and other substances are often not strong enough inducers of the immune response to make effective cancer treatment vaccines. Researchers often add extra ingredients, known as adjuvants, to treatment vaccines. These substances serve to boost immune responses that have been set in motion by exposure to antigens or other means.” So again, though the adjuvants are supposed to help “boost immune response”, your immune system is often not reacting to the actual antigens in the vaccine, but rather to the adjuvants. The big question no one really asks is whether the immune system is actually being “trained” to recognize and fight diseases when it’s responding weakly (if at all) to the disease antigens in a vaccine.


What Does It Mean When A Disease Is Declared Eliminated/Eradicated?

“This announcement might be premature in view of the unreliability of statistics in underdeveloped countries.”Noted medical historian Erwin H. Ackerknecht on the announcement of the eradication of smallpox (See page 507 of cited document.)

We’ve heard the claim before: “Vaccines have eradicated smallpox from the whole world and diseases like polio and measles from many developed nations.” But do you know what eradication or elimination of a disease really entails?

Most people think that when a disease is declared eliminated or eradicated that the virus or bacteria has become extinct in that area or the entire world- like the dodo bird or quagga. What it usually means is simply that the disease has been declared eradicated or eliminated. Allow me to explain in further detail…

The concept of disease elimination is rooted in the theory of community (herd) immunity- that a disease won’t be able to take hold in a population with high immunity- especially highly vaccinated populations. This sounds like a great idea “on paper”, but real world applications pose numerous problems. Efficacy is often far less than health organizations would like to admit. I’ve listed these well-documented cases from medical and scientific literature before, so if you would like to see them, read this post here for a good collection of cases of vaccine failure. Generally, the assumption that is made with elimination of a disease is that almost all individuals who have received the vaccine are immune to the disease and that immunity will last for very long periods of time. However, the reality of vaccine efficacy is much different.

A great example is the flu vaccine. The CDC has released a statement saying that the 2014 flu vaccine was only about 14% effective. They say it is usually more like 50-60% effective. Since herd immunity generally requires anywhere from 75-95% of a population to be immune, there is simply no way herd immunity could ever be achieved through the current influenza vaccination. Even if 100% of  eligible population were to be vaccinated, the maximum immunity would only be about 60%.

Yet another example is pertussis. A survey of nine counties in California showed that between 44 and 83 percent of individuals with pertussis had been immunized. Again, at those rates of failure even a fully vaccinated population will not result in herd immunity- especially when the threshold for community immunity for pertussis has been set at 92-95%.

And yet another example lies in measles. The Huffington Post reported on this here. Renowned vaccinologist Dr. Gregory Poland states that the MMR shot is not effective at preventing measles. He says that it is both far less effective than anticipated and that immunity from it quickly wanes. Despite all this, he also condemns in no uncertain terms those who refuse vaccination. (So you’ve told me that your solution doesn’t work, but I must still get it or I will be hurting others by not getting the ineffective solution? And yet I am dismissed as the emotional, unscientific one?) In a situation where immunity is conferred but quickly wanes, even if you had that “community-immunity-dream-come-true” where 100% of the eligible population has been vaccinated, because immunity is very brief, widespread immunity will be achieved only for short periods of time if at all.

(Penn and Teller, would you care to do a video where you explain how the above examples factor into community immunity?)

Moving on to the next issue with elimination and eradication, let’s talk about vaccines spreading disease. Yes, I can see the eye rolls now. Most dismiss this as fear mongering from people who where foil hats on their heads to prevent the government or the Illuminati or aliens from reading their minds. However, it is actually medically documented and is one of the prime reasons that we no longer vaccinate for smallpox. Page 501 of an article in the 1983 Microbiolocial Review details several cases of individuals who were vaccinated for smallpox after the disease was declared eradicated and subsequently became reservoirs for the vaccinia virus and passed it to others. Many of these cases came from military personnel who were vaccinated for smallpox and then passed the virus to other military personnel or family members such as children who then passed it to others.

And herein lies yet another problem with campaigns for eradication of a disease. The chances of any one person becoming a reservoir for pathogen is probably relatively small. But when you start having mass vaccination campaigns where many vaccines are being administered, the chances increase that someone is going to become a reservoir and start passing the disease. If there is a relatively high failure rate of the vaccine, the potential exists for several individuals to become infected even in a highly vaccinated population. This probably explains why during the smallpox eradication campaign areas that had very high levels of vaccination were still seeing cases of smallpox. (See page 491.)

But even with all these problems with eradication, smallpox was still declared eradicated. How did they do it? Well let’s take a look at the criteria for declaring smallpox eradicated. Going back to the 1983 Microbiological Review, the criteria for declaring eradication of smallpox required that no cases of smallpox had been reported within the last two years and that the country’s epidemiological surveillance system be evaluated and declared adequate by the World Health Organization (pg. 498).

Now surveillance and reporting bring up a number of interesting problems. The United States has a great surveillance system for diseases and yet not every disease is reported. (I never let the authorities know when my kids had chickenpox. There’s absolutely no incentive for me to do so since I would be met with persecution.) I know of other people who have “flown under the wire” with pertussis, chickenpox, the flu and even measles.

We have also seen that even in countries whose reporting and surveillance systems are adequate that breakdowns- or abuses can occur. Initially, rewards were offered for reporting cases of smallpox, but there came a point when a country’s health authorities didn’t want to report smallpox cases because it would interfere with gaining eradication status. Health officials in Somalia suppressed information about smallpox cases in the final months of that eradication campaign, not wanting their country to bear the stigma of being the last to harbor the virus. In a more recent occurrence, China kept information about its SARS outbreak secret.

The other problem with surveillance is that especially in vaccinated populations, diseases can frequently be asymptomatic. Modified measles is a medically documented phenomenon in which individuals who have been vaccinated for measles still contract the virus but because of the vaccine don’t display the typical the symptoms of the disease. The characteristic spots associated with measles are very frequently absent in modified measles. Most doctors aren’t very familiar with this so they won’t consider it a possibility in vaccinated individuals or test for it. A similar phenomenon called atypical measles was noted when the killed strain measles vaccine was in use. Pertussis is notorious for this. It is a medically documented fact that individuals who have been vaccinated for pertussis and contract the disease often don’t display any symptoms.

Furthermore, declaring measles eliminated is in many ways like a “self-graded” test. The WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WPRO) has a set of criteria for the definition of elimination of  measles. However, their definitions have changed over the years. Originally the definition for measles elimination required zero incidence of infection within a defined geographic area. Now, measles elimination is defined as “the absence of endemic measles transmission and the lack of sustained transmission following an importation of measles virus in a large and well populated geographical area.”

Now here is where things get interesting. A report from the World Health Organization on the elimination of measles in Australia states: “Australia, like many other countries that have declared elimination, would have difficulty meeting the WPRO elimination criteria based on currently available reporting of the investigation of presumptive measles cases (Table 2, available at: However we believe multiple lines of evidence conclusively demonstrate the elimination of endemic measles transmission from Australia since 2005 at the latest.” OK, so Australia and most other countries that have declared measles eliminated haven’t actually met the WPRO’s definition of elimination, but these countries feel they have done a good job, so they can declare measles eliminated? This is the scientific basis for the elimination of measles? In fact, there is a nice little chart on the WHO’s site showing all the ways that countries that have declared elimination of measles have met and not met the WPRO’s definition for measles elimination. If you take a look at this chart, it shows that Australia has neither a low incidence of measles nor a high quality surveillance system, however, they can still declare measles eliminated within their borders.

And on top of all this are disease associated side effects with vaccination. Provocative polio is a well-documented example of this. In 1998, Drs. Matthias Gromeier and  Eckard Wimmer found that injury to tissue to during certain types of injections allowed the polio virus easy access to nerve channels, thereby increasing the likelihood of paralysis. The more recent HV Wyatt study from 2003 found that three-quarters of children with paralytic polio receive injections just before the onset of paralysis. Then there is Vaccine Acquired Paralytic Polio. According to the CDC, between 1980 and 1999 162 cases of paralytic polio were confirmed in the United States,  154 of which were VAPP.

The other major assumption with the WHO’s eradication criteria is that if no new cases are reported after two years that the disease must be gone. A similar assumption has been made with polio eradication, and yet has proved faulty.  For example, in 2004 a case of wild type 3 poliovirus in Sudan was discovered when the last case in Sudan was detected in 1999. The criterion for certification of eradication is the failure to discover wild poliovirus for at least three years in countries with certification-quality surveillance- very similar to that of smallpox eradication. Genetic sequencing of the wild virus found in 2004 showed that it may have been circulating undetected in Sudan for more than three years—a time when surveillance in Sudan was thought to be satisfactory. Barrett points out that while surveillance probably was satisfactory at the national level, it must also be of an acceptable standard within every local district. As Sudan has been a high conflict zone, it is very possible that local surveillance may not have been adequate.

And to be realistic, during the smallpox eradication effort there were a number of countries embroiled in conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, the Cambodian civi war and subsequent “Killing Fields”, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Even the practice of apartheid in South Africa, for example, could have led to inequalities in surveillance and reporting. Not to mention the number of localized areas that were poverty stricken or remote that could lead to inadequate surveillance and reporting on a local or regional level.

Furthermore, another big weakness with the system is that once eradication status was granted to a country, surveillance for smallpox was not quite as careful. In fact, in 1987 it was recommended that smallpox be removed from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. However, surveillance began again after the September 11 attacks in 2001 because of the possibility of a bioterrorism attacks.

When assessed from a realistic perspective, the WHO’s criteria for eradication is based on the assumption that all components of a country’s reporting and surveillance for diseases are working perfectly- not well or adequately- but perfectly. That’s a pretty big assumption. (It brings to mind something I heard in a podcast interview with General Stanley McChrystal where Gen. McChrystal talked about the importance of a “red team” to do an outside assessment of a plan. He said that something can sound like the most brilliant plan when it’s your own head, but when you get other people to look at it, they can bring out the weak points and pretty soon you see that you aren’t dealing with a strategy, but rather a set of miracles based on everything working perfectly.)

But even with all of these very significant challenges in disease eradication/elimination, let’s for the moment assume that a disease in particular can or has been eliminated. When we talk about eliminating/eradicating a disease, it is because we believe it has very detrimental effects and that if eliminated/eradicated, that people will no longer suffer those effects. But are we really free from the detrimental effects of a disease just because it has been declared eliminated or eradicated? Let’s take a look at the data…

Smallpox: We’ve already established that cases of smallpox have been documented to spread from vaccinated individuals. However, even if smallpox is no longer a threat to humans, there are a number of other animal pox viruses that can cause similar symptoms and even death. Monkeypox is one of the more well studied examples of this as detailed in pages 503-506 of the Microbiological Review. However, there are a variety of other possible pox viruses that could take hold in humans including cowpox, camel pox, tanapox, rat pox, gerbil pox and raccoon pox.

Polio: Because of polio, no one has to worry about their child coming home sick and being paralyzed, right? Wrong. One interesting newspaper article from India asserts that while polio has been eliminated in India, Acute Flaccid Paralysis (AFP) is on the rise.  According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, AFP encompasses all cases of poliomyelitis. And guess what? AFP can get you here in the United States too. Several cases of paralysis from non-polio enteroviruses have been reported in the United States.

Measles: Sure, it is possible to get encephalitis from measles. But guess what else can cause encephalitis? According to the Mayo Clinic, encephalitis can occur as a result of vaccination with a live virus vaccine– like MMR.

I think at this point we should be asking ourselves if it is really realistic or prudent to eliminate a disease causing pathogen. We talk a lot about the importance of the ecosystem and that if a species like a plant or insect goes extinct, it could upset the entire ecological balance of an area. Yet, our scientists feel that these laws do not apply to bacteria and viruses. Instead of trying to eliminate viruses and bacteria, perhaps it would be more practical and lifesaving to focus on efforts to help people avoid them through clean water and fight them off through better nutrition and healthcare.

Things That Are More Likely To Kill You Than Measles…

Ah, measles. Lately, this has been a pet source of hysteria for doctors, health departments and the media. And the more hysterical one is about measles, the more logical he or she is perceived as being. States like California are now requiring the MMR shot not only for school children, but any adults working with children. People are running around terrified that if we stop vaccinating for measles that a death toll like that of the 1800’s will return. Massive death and disability will follow they say. However, I think it would do everyone well to take a look at the facts of what it would mean to return to the pre-vaccine measles era.

What Constitutes a Public Health Crisis?

The CDC’s official statement on measles reads: “In the United States, measles caused 450 reported deaths and 4,000 cases of encephalitis annually before measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s.” So by the CDC’s standard, 450 deaths and 4,000 cases of an illness is cause for grave concern. As another point of comparison, the National Meningitis Association reports that approximately 800- 1,200 people contract meningococcal meningitis every year and that of those around 10%-15% die and of those who survive about 1 in 5  have permanent disabilities. So taking some averages (10% death rate and 20% disability rate of 1,000 meningococcal cases), we have approximately 300 deaths or serious injuries from meningococcal disease every year. And the CDC says that before the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995 that 100-150 people died every year from varicella. 

The Following Conditions Are All More Prevalent Than Death or Disability From Measles in the Pre-Measles Vaccine Era:

And you’re freaking out over a return to pre-vaccine era measles statistics? Before you start raging at vaccine refusers, consider the amount of junk food you are eating that could be clogging up your arteries, the sanitation of restaurants you eat at, your own driving habits, the massive prescription of antibiotics and how you store toxic chemicals in your home. Because those things are all more likely to kill than measles.

Hate Mail I Have Received

Friends, today is a milestone for me. I received my first hate mail. I really feel it is important for people to have all the facts and see opposing viewpoints. And I believe that is true of me and my work. As such, I am happy to share with you my first hate mail. This was sent to an individual with a blog on Mormon history and who had written a post on vaccination. Here was what I wrote in my first contact:

“Hi! I read your post from February on vaccination and I am impressed with your willingness to consider open discussion and your tolerance towards your reader whose children had negative vaccine reactions. If you are interested in this topic further, I invite you to come read my blog.  I have also left a comment on your  blog post as well.

The vast majority of information in my writing actually comes from pro-vaccine sources. I do not use or cite Andrew Wakefield in any of my writings. (His research is largely unnecessary in formulating a logical argument against vaccination.) I do not use or cite information from cites like and for the record, I do not ascribe to conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, moon landing or September 11. (There is an abundance of evidence which point to the Holocaust and the moon landing having taken place and the September 11 attacks being perpetrated by the Taliban.) Most of my sources are books on epidemiology, immunology or vaccinology, reputable news media articles, records from the Office of Vital Statistics, web pages from the Centers for Disease Control and science and medical journals. 

Of particular interest to you might be my post on smallpox and my series of posts especially for Latter Day Saints about vaccination, the first of the series of four is here. You also might find my post on tetanus interesting. You mentioned vaccine resistance in 1901. That was the year that several cases of fatal tetanus cases broke out because of contaminated diphtheria antitoxin and smallpox vaccines. I am also sending you a download of my ebook on vaccination and Latter Day Saints. I do have a storefront where I sell downloads of it and my other writings, but I will give one away for free to anyone who asks. It is my sincerest belief that people need to have accurate information to make an informed decision and I want to help anyone who is interested. Please do not reproduce any part of this ebook without my permission.
I don’t expect to change your position on vaccination, but I do hope to change your perception of people who refuse to vaccinate and give you a broader view of some of the issues associated with vaccination and disease.”
This individual responded with the following:
“Thanks for sending your material … but it is not going to happen. You have even less excuse in 2015 for your blind, unreasoning, superstitious and deliberately delusional thinking than did the people in 1901.  Your active promotion of delusion kills.”
To which I responded:
“Have you read anything I have written? Have you examined any of my sources? If you have not taken the time to examine my point of view, then you can not legitimately say that I am blind, unreasoning, superstitious, deliberately delusional and a killer.  You ask for people to be tolerant of your views, you should be willing to return the favor. If your stance on vaccination is as sounds as you believe than you certainly have nothing to fear from reading opposing views. All the same I wish you well. “
To which this individual responded:

“I don’t ask for toleration for my views — as someone who writes Mormon history from a faithful perspective, there is no shortage of people who disagree with me. I don’t care whether they tolerate my views or not.

Neither do I grant use of my blog as a public platform for a superstitious ideological position that kills. The position of anti-vaxxers, whether they are Jenny McCarthyites or have their own particular delusions — is a position that kills.

You may find my response to be offensive. Opposition to vaccination is not merely an opinion or a preference. It is a call to action that demonstrably causes harm, not only to the most innocent of victims but to civilized society as a whole. I find that too offensive to require tip-toeing around hurt feelings.”

  I wrote:
“I didn’t ask you to tip-toe around feelings, merely to examine another viewpoint and to respond respectfully. As for your blog, it is your online space and you are free to accept or delete comments as you see fit. And as such you are free to promote your particular views. Again I wish you well.”
And subsequently received:
“Golly gee whiz. I’m glad I have your permission to use my space as I see fit, and not to turn it over to Flat Earthers, birthers, truthers, anti-vaxxers, and other willfully delusional people.”
And replied:
“Sir, you don’t need my permission for anything. My warmest regards to you.”
As Dale Carnegie said, “No one kicks a dead dog.” If I’m getting kicked, it means I’m actually having an effect!



Special Note: I have entered the 21st century and am now on Twitter @epidemicfacts1. Got a question? Looking for data? Tweet me and I can get back to you there. You can also email me epidemic facts (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Diphtheria is one of those diseases that doesn’t get much press- unlike measles and pertussis. So why do we vaccinate for diphtheria? Well, this is one of those diseases that many people actually did die from 100+ years ago.

The bacteria Cornybacterium diphtheriae causes diphtheria. It primarily infects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat. Breathing problems and heart and nerve damage can all complicate diphtheria and cause death.  The Mayo Clinic explains that diphteria used to be lethal in about 3% of cases. The Office of Vital Statisitcs from 1953 shows a death rate of approximately 30 per 100,000 from diphtheria in 1900– most of which were children under 15. (It’s worth noting that this report shows typhoid to have actually been deadlier than diphtheria- and the decrease in typhoid deaths has not been attributed to a mass vaccination program. Another example from history of how vaccines may be one way, but not the only or best way to control infectious diseases.)

The introduction of diphtheria antitoxin in 1900 is credited with drastically reducing deaths from diphtheria- when it wasn’t causing them. In 1901, diphtheria antitoxin made from a horse infected with tetanus was given to children who subsequently developed tetanus and died.

The DTP vaccine came into usage in 1920, but death rates from diphtheria had already dropped dramatically. In 1900 the death rate from diphtheria was about 30 per 100,000, but by 1920 it had dropped to about 8 per 100,000. Between 1920 and 1930, the death rate from diphtheria dropped slightly from about 8 per 100,000 to about 5 per 100,000 and the slowly declined to <1 per 100,000 in 1950. Also of interest from the CDC on diphtheria: “Circulation appears to continue in some settings even in populations with more than 80% childhood immunization rates. An asymptomatic carrier state can exist even among immune individuals.” In other words, diphtheria is still circulating and you may have it and not even know it.

Getting The Facts Straight on Rubella

“Lots of people used to die from rubella!”

I have heard this statement from many very learned people- people who have earned bachelor or advanced degrees. These people sincerely consider themselves very educated about vaccination. The irony is that, frankly, they don’t know what they are talking about.

To quote Medscape: ” Rubella is generally a benign communicable exanthematous disease. It is caused by rubella virus, which is a member of the Rubivirus genus of the family Togaviridae. Nearly one half of individuals infected with this virus are asymptomatic. ” In other words, rubella is a very mild illness and in half of all cases people who have been infected won’t even display any symptoms. Going on, the article states that in children and infants the disease generally manifests with a rash and mild cold/flu symptoms when any symptoms are present. Adults and teens may develop arthritis and more advanced infections. And while cases of rubella encephalitis were not unheard of, they were rare. Risk of death from rubella is extraordinarily low especially if you or your chid are otherwise healthy and not immunocompromised in any way. (Medscape’s chart shows the number of rubella deaths at a total of 29 in 1969- the year the vaccine was introduced.)

So why the vaccination campaign for rubella (a.k.a. German measles)?

From the Merck Manual, Professional Version: Women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy who develop a rubella infection can pass the virus on to their own unborn child causing birth defects like deafness, blindness, intellectual impairments, seizures, microcephaly (excessively small head) and motor impairments. Congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) can also cause a stillbirth or miscarriage. Or it there may be no effect on the baby at all.

The mother may have some upper respiratory symptoms from the rubella infection, or she may have no symptoms at all. Pregnancies of less than 16 weeks gestation are most susceptible to CRS, though 8-10 weeks is the time when the baby is most vulnerable. (Actress Gene Tierney contracted rubella during a WWII USO tour while she was pregnant with her first child. Her daughter was born with intellectual impairments. Reportedly, her friend eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes helped with the medical expenses related to the girl’s care.)

So there is a real reason to be concerned about rubella in pregnancy. And the vaccine is credited with eliminating rubella in the United States. The CDC declared endemic transmission of rubella to have been eliminated in the United States in 2004. This assessment was based on a review of data by an international panel of experts who agreed that rubella had been eliminated.

There are, however, a few issues still left with rubella:

1) The declaration that rubella has been eliminated was based not any widespread and ongoing testing for rubella immunity, but rather on a review of data- which probably means records of doses of the vaccine that were distributed and maybe upon some data regarding actual numbers of rubella vaccines that were administered. So elimination may be more theoretical than practical in nature.

2) If a substantial portion of rubella cases are asymptomatic it would be extremely difficult to detect cases of both vaccine failure and rubella infection without massive and ongoing testing.

3) Why does the United States persist in vaccinating people who are not at risk for CRS like infants, kindergartners and men? Well the idea here was to prevent these people from transmitting the disease to pregnant women, and to achieve “elimination” of the disease. However, going to back to point number 2 above, there are significant number of asymptomatic cases which would make it extremely difficult to detect vaccine failure and therefore truly say that anyone is immune without a massive and constant testing campaign. Anyway, a far more efficient method for vaccination is simply to perform a blood titers test on adolescent girls or women planning to become pregnant and vaccinate only those who lack immunity.


The Prostitute and Vaccines

You don’t have to put on the red light
Those days are over
You don’t have to sell your body to the night

You don’t have to wear that dress tonight
Walk the streets for money
You don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right

-Sting and The Police

Have you ever known someone who considers themselves devoutly pro-life but viciously condemns anyone who refuses vaccination? (Despite the fact that most vaccines are cultured in the tissue of electively aborted fetuses?)

Have you ever heard someone condemn people who eat meat or people who wear leather as abusing animals but then go out and get a full round of vaccines cultured in animal tissues?

Or how about those PSA’s about the dangers of chemicals in cigarette smoke? Yet, they neglect to warn you that vaccines contain many similar chemicals. Apparently formaldehyde, ammonia and insecticides are harmful when smoked, but formaldehyde, ammonia compounds and insecticides injected into the bloodstream are harmless.

What is it that makes people embrace vaccination when it presents challenges to their ethical or moral beliefs? Well, most of the time they will say that the good done by vaccines in saving lives far outweighs the moral implications of abortion, animal testing, and the usage of harmful chemicals. Of course, they conveniently discount or ignore data that shows that vaccines are much less effective than anticipated. And herein lies the prostitute archetype at work.

The prostitute archetype is about selling parts of ourselves- physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, artistically etc. in exchange for some kind of survival. When we feel that we can not survive something and that our only choice is to “sell out”, the prostitute archetype starts emerging. ( BTW, this post is on the prostitute archetype and vaccination, not the sex trade. If you want tor read about my thoughts on why fighting the sex trade is more helpful than humanitarian vaccination programs, read here.)

Most people are terrified of two things: 1) contracting a deadly disease and 2) that vaccines may not actually protect them from deadly diseases. Infectious diseases seem mysterious and scary. The average person doesn’t understand how he or she could possibly survive something like pertussis or tetanus or measles.

But vaccines promise that you’ll never have to worry about it. Of course, the price is that you inject yourself and your children with aborted fetal and animal cell cultures and toxic chemicals that can cause encephalitis and frequently don’t prevent disease. But you tell yourself that it’s OK, because at lease you will be alive. The fear that you won’t survive a “vaccine preventable” disease becomes so overwhelming that you fail to take a step back and acknowledge the weaknesses of vaccination, even when they are right in front of you. You also fail to acknowledge an abundance of evidence that sanitation, hygiene and a diet rich in nutrients will help your body to fight off many diseases and serious complications.

And most people have a very skewed view of the true risk of “vaccine preventable” diseases. Despite the fact that 400-500 people died from measles annually in the decade before the vaccine was introduced compared to 1,250 children expected to die from cancer in 2015, or 50,310 colon cancer deaths in 2014, or 40,290 breast cancer deaths in America by the end of 2015, or 610,000 deaths from heart disease in the US every year, and 23,000 deaths from antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria annually, the public is going to pieces over measles while consuming massive amounts of artery and colon clogging junk food and eagerly taking antibiotics. The fantasy of vaccines is so alluring that most will cling to it at all costs- even sacrificing their health and the health of their children to keep buying into the dream.

But here’s the good news: when understood, our prostitute archetype can be a guardian of faith. Faith that we don’t need to sell ourselves for survival. Faith that evolutionary biology and God have equipped us with the tools for survival as long as we take care of our bodies. Faith that other options are available beyond animal and fetal cell cultures and toxic chemicals. Our inner prostitute can alert us to situations where we are in danger of being bought or sold. So listen to your inner prostitute when it tells you that you don’t need aborted fetal and animal cell cultures and toxic chemicals to be healthy. If you believe that abortion, animal testing or toxic chemicals are bad things, you should be interested in other alternatives for disease prevention. Truly, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.


Pinning On My Scarlet “A”- Let’s Talk Autism

Mentioning any kind of association between autism and vaccines is the equivalent of an intellectual scarlet letter- you will be forever branded as an unscientific conspiracy theorist who seeks to obliterate public health for some kind of monetary or status gain. This is why I have avoided even mentioning the “A” word on this blog in the past. However, I had a request for a post on autism and I know it’s a subject people are curious about so, here goes.

From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders:

What is autism?

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”

What are the signs of autism?

“The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction.  As early as infancy, a baby with ASD may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time.  A child with ASD may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

“Children with an ASD may fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people.  They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior.  They may lack empathy.

“Many children with an ASD engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging.  They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.”  Children with an ASD don’t know how to play interactively with other children.  Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.

“Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:

  • no babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • loss of language or social skills
  • poor eye contact
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.”

What causes autism?

“Scientists aren’t certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.  Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.”

OK, so that’s autism in a nutshell. And the information about causes of autism is pretty vague. But remember thimerosal and mercury? How about we take a look at that.

Mercury poisoning?

There has been a lot of discussion about mercury/ thimerosal and autism. Some have posed the idea that autism is the result of mercury poisoning from vaccines, especially MMR. Mercury poisoning does have symptoms like psychiatric disturbances, mental deterioration and memory loss. These could look very similar to autism. However, thimerosal has been removed from MMR and yet autism rates have continued to climb. So let’s consider another possible explanation…


According to the Mayo Clinic, live virus vaccines are known to cause encephalitis, though they say this is very rare. Of course, MMR is a live virus vaccine so that risk is there. How rare is rare? Well a fascinating report from 1980 written by the Office of Technology Assessment for the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee on the subject of a vaccine injury compensation program describes several vaccines as causing severe mental regression.

The authors of the report assure us that vaccine injuries like these are extremely rare, but also admit that an accurate picture of how many severe reactions take place and the chances of them happening is very difficult to quantify. They point out that their numbers are based on the number of doses of vaccines that are distributed, not the ones that are actually administered. Many vaccine doses may go unused and it is extremely difficult to track how many are actually administered, which means the ratios from the CDC are already inaccurate.

The other problem with these numbers is that they are based on reports of vaccine injury, not actual occurrence. A great many vaccine injuries probably do go unreported because physicians and parents are unaware of the effects of encephalitis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other vaccine associated conditions. Some parents may not know that they have an option of reporting an injury or see the point in doing so since merely reporting won’t make the individual reaction they are dealing with any better.

Encephalitis can have a wide range of effects from no symptoms to coma and death. In moderate to severe cases encephalitis can result in the following conditions, which may become permanent:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Weakness or lack of muscle coordination
  • Personality changes
  • Memory problems
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing or vision defects
  • Speech impairments

From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “In more serious cases, [meningitis and encephalitis] can cause hearing and/or speech loss, blindness, permanent brain and nerve damage, behavioral changes, cognitive disabilities, lack of muscle control, seizures, and memory loss. These patients may need long-term therapy, medication, and supportive care. ”

Now speech impairments, personality changes and cognitive issues are all associated with autism. It is entirely possible that someone could be vaccinated with a live vaccine, develop a severe case of encephalitis and then be diagnosed with autism, and then nothing is ever reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.

So while there may be a number of studies and research which state that autism is in no way connected to vaccines, encephalitis is known to be caused by live virus vaccines and can cause symptoms such as personality changes, mental regression, and speech loss seen in autism.

What are the rates of autism in unvaccinated populations? There is a 1 in 10,000 statistic that has circulated, supposedly coming from Dr. Max Wiznitzer. I have found a lot of people saying he said it, but I haven’t found any concrete proof that he did. For those who are interested, this is Dan Olmsted’s piece on his research into low autism rates among the Amish where he talks about the 1 in 10,000 stat. While there are some interesting ideas in it, it lacks the kind of proof I prefer to have before I recommend it to others. But a 1999 article from the LA Times stated that studies showed the worldwide incidence of autism was 4 in 10,000 during 1975-1985. Between 1985 and 1995, the numbers tripled to 12 in 10,000.