Believe it or not, some folks don’t think that coincidences are real.
Is it a coincidence that these folks are the ones who are the most likely to believe that vaccines cause a lot of injuries and vaccine induced diseases?
Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences
Thinking about vaccine side effects and coincidences is not new.
“When I undertook the study with the current vaccine strain on my own two triple-negative children and their three playmates, also triple- negatives, I thought: “I am going to do this very carefully now,” and, like Dr. Gear, I set up certain time schedules. I said: “I am going to start to give the vaccine now.” Every time I said “I am going to start to give it” and did not give it, two to three or four days later they came down with either pharyngitis, vomiting and abdominal pain, or a little fever.
I waited for approximately six weeks for those children to stop having some sort of febrile episode. I finally gave up. It so happened that after they got the vaccine they did not have any such episode.”
Albert Sabin on Recent Studies And Field Tests With A Live Attenuated Poliovirus Vaccine
When Albert Sabin was first researching his oral polio vaccine, he understood the problem. How could he really know if any signs or symptoms that occurred after he gave someone his vaccine were really caused by the vaccine, or just a coincidence?
“However, a report later to be given by Dr. Smorodintsev will deal with approximately 7,500 children who had received the vaccine and were carefully followed, as compared with another group, in similar number, who had not, for various types of illnesses which were occurring during the period.”
Albert Sabin on Recent Studies And Field Tests With A Live Attenuated Poliovirus Vaccine
The solution? They studied kids who had not gotten his vaccine.
But you don’t need an unvaccinated group to uncover coincidences.
You can just look at the background rate of a symptom or condition, and compare the periods before and after you start using a vaccine.
For instance, consider this study from Australia about using the HPV vaccine in boys, in which they made some predictions of what would happen after introducing the HPV vaccine.
Assuming an 80% vaccination rate with three doses per person — which equates to about 480 000 boys vaccinated and a total of 1 440 000 doses administered nationally per year in the first 2 years of the program — about 2.4 episodes of Guillain-Barré syndrome would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination. In addition, about 3.9 seizures and 6.5 acute allergy presentations would be expected to occur within 1 day of vaccination, including 0.3 episodes of anaphylaxis.
Clothier et al. on Human papillomavirus vaccine in boys: background rates of potential adverse events.
Of course not. When the study was done, the kids hadn’t gotten any vaccines yet!
That was the background rate of those conditions.
They happened before the vaccine was given, and you can expect them to continue to happen after these kids start getting vaccinated – at that same rate.
What if they start happening more often after kids get vaccinated?
Then it makes it less likely to be a coincidence and more likely that the vaccine is actually causing an increase in the background rate. And vaccine safety studies look for that, which is how we know that vaccines don’t cause SIDS, transverse myelitis, multiple sclerosis, and many other conditions.
Most of you will have heard the maxim “correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two variables have a statistical relationship with each other does not mean that one is responsible for the other. For instance, ice cream sales and forest fires are correlated because both occur more often in the summer heat. But there is no causation; you don’t light a patch of the Montana brush on fire when you buy a pint of Haagan-Dazs.
Nate Silver on The Signal and the Noise
Of course, when we are talking about coincidences, we are also talking about correlation and causation.
When correlation doesn’t equal causation, then it’s probably a coincidence. Or it’s at least caused by some other factor.
And coincidences happen all of the time.
Is It a Vaccine Injury or a Coincidence?
That something could be a coincidence is not typically want parents want to hear though, especially if their child has gotten sick.
What does it mean that something happens coincidentally?
“Most sudden cardiac deaths that remain unexplained after necropsy are probably caused by primary cardiac arrhythmias.”
Sudden death in children and adolescents
Often it just means that it is unexplained. And that it is chance alone that it occurred as the same time as something else.
“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”
Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children
Again, when folks blame vaccines, it is often because they have nothing else to blame.
“In some fraction of the American population, however, the belief in a link remains. One reason is a coincidence of timing: children are routinely vaccinated just as parents begin to observe signs of autism. Most vaccines are administered during the first years of life, which is also a period of rapid developmental changes. Many developmental conditions, including autism, don’t become apparent until a child misses a milestone or loses an early skill, a change that in some cases can’t help but be coincident with a recent vaccination.”
Emily Willingham on The Autism-Vaccine Myth
Think that it is too big of a coincidence that some infants develop spasms shortly after their four month vaccines?
Dr. William James West first described these types of infantile spasms in the 1840s!
And the “Fifth Day Fits,” seizures that began when a newborn was five days old, was described in the 1970s, well before we began giving newborns the hepatitis B vaccine.
But SIDS was only discovered after we began vaccinating kids, right?
“But, with millions upon millions of doses given each year to infants in the first 6 months of life across industrialized countries and with sudden infant death syndrome being the most common cause of infant death among infants 1 month or older, the coincidence of SIDS following DTP vaccination just by chance will be relatively frequent. When the two events occur, with SIDS following vaccination, well-meaning and intelligent people will blame the vaccine. They seek order out of randomly occurring events.”
Jacobson et al. on A taxonomy of reasoning flaws in the anti-vaccine movement
Of course not.
Cases of SIDS have been described throughout recorded history and have been well studied to prove that they are not associated with vaccines.
“Some events after immunisation are clearly caused by the vaccine (for example, a sore arm at the injection site). However, others may happen by coincidence around the time of vaccination. It can therefore be difficult to separate those which are clearly caused by a vaccine and those that were going to happen anyway… Scientific method is then used to determine if these events are a coincidence or a result of the vaccine.
Vaccine side effects and adverse reactions
It is easy to blame a vaccine when something happens and a child was recently vaccinated. That is especially true now that anti-vaccine folks turn every story of a child’s death or disability into a vaccine injury story.
“Autism was known well before MMR vaccine became available.”
Chen et al. on Vaccine adverse events: causal or coincidental?
Blaming vaccines when it is clear that vaccines aren’t the cause doesn’t help anyone though. It scares other parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids. And it doesn’t help parents who need support caring for a sick child or help coping with the loss of a child.
What to Know About Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences
While all possible adverse events after getting a vaccine should be reported to VAERS and your pediatrician, remember that just because something happened after getting vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that it was caused by the vaccine.
More on Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences
- Coincidences: Remarkable or Random?
- The Power of Coincidence
- Vaccine side effects and adverse reactions
- Vaccine adverse events: causal or coincidental?
- Study – Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children.
- Solar Eclipse and Coincidence
- Study – A taxonomy of reasoning flaws in the anti-vaccine movement
- Study – Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm–an overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement.
- Study – Mechanisms Underlying Adverse Reactions to Vaccines
- Vaccine safety evaluation: Practical aspects in assessing benefits and risks
- Why are there so many reports of autism following vaccination? A mathematical assessment
- The baby died at homebirth but that was just a coincidence
- Known Unknowns ‘The Signal and the Noise,’ by Nate Silver
- Review: ‘The Book of Why’ Examines the Science of Cause and Effect
- Coincidence, correlation and chance
- Explainer: Correlation, causation, coincidence and more
- How Coincidences Shape Views of Vaccines–and Shouldn’t
- The Autism-Vaccine Myth
- Study – Human papillomavirus vaccine in boys: background rates of potential adverse events.
- Study – Use of population based background rates of disease to assess vaccine safety in childhood and mass immunisation in Denmark: nationwide population based cohort study
- Study – Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines
- Study – Consequence or coincidence? The occurrence, pathogenesis and significance of autoimmune manifestations after viral vaccines.
- Study – Safety and perception: What are the greatest enemies of HPV vaccination programmes?
- Alfie Evans’ parents needed help. The vultures came instead
- Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism, But That’s Not The Point. Stop Being Ableist.
- Truth and Consequences – The Anti-Vaccination Movement Exacts a Price
- Coincidences, convergences and opportunities
- When can correlation equal causation?
- Spurious Correlations
- Correlation does not imply causation
- Statistics for Skeptics Part 2 – Correlation vs. Causation
- Correlation does not imply causation . Except when it does.
- Evidence in Medicine: Correlation and Causation
- Clearing up confusion between correlation and causation
- A lesson about correlation and causation
- Correlation and Causation
- Repeat after me: “Correlation does not imply causation”
- The Top Five Most Annoying Statistical Fallacies
- A Historical Perspective on SIDS Research
- A Fresh Look at the History of SIDS
- Was SIDS the cause of infant deaths even 150 years ago?
- A moral obligation to vaccinate
- AAP – Supporting the Grieving Child and Family