Tag: cherry picking

This Is the Modern Anti-Vaccine Movement

We often like to think that we know how anti-vaccine folks think.

They are just scared and trying to do the right thing for their kids, right? Just like all of the rest of us?

Maybe some of them…

This Is the Modern Anti-Vaccine Movement

Of course, you can’t group all anti-vaccine folks together, as many vaccine-hesitant or on-the-fence parents are truly just scared about the things they see and read about vaccines.

But they should know what they are getting into when they follow their favorite anti-vaccine hero, celebrity or Facebook group.

The modern anti-vaccine movement goes far deeper than worries about possible vaccine side effects.

Don’t believe me?

Hillary Simpson may not share the anti-Semitic views of one of her admins, but many of her followers do...
Hillary Simpson may not share the anti-Semitic views of one of her admins, but many of her followers do…

It is hopefully clear to everyone by now that the modern anti-vaccine movement:

Don’t believe me?

Why should this family have to come out and give an explanation for how their child died?
Why should this family have to come out and give an explanation for how their child died?

After a 4-month-old died of bacterial meningitis, anti-vaccine folks pushed the idea that it was a vaccine injury instead of an infection.

An anti-vaccine parenting group helping spread misinformation about this baby's death.
An anti-vaccine parenting group helped spread misinformation about this baby’s death.

And they push their views that everything is a vaccine injury on everyone, even though most folks understand that vaccines are not associated with SIDS, shaken baby syndrome, autism, and most other things.

There is no connection between vaccines and acute flaccid myelitis, no matter how hard anti-vaccine folks are trying to make one.
To be clear, there is no connection between vaccines and acute flaccid myelitis, no matter how hard anti-vaccine folks are trying to make one.

Award winning?

Please.

Sure, everyone and everything in anti-vaccine world is the very best, except if they are, then why are they trying so hard to convince you of that… So maybe you will agree with some of their more far-out claims, suggestions, and conspiracy theories?

Learn the risks of following bad advice. Are you really going to say no to chemotherapy if your child has cancer?
Learn the risks of following bad advice.

After all, it’s one thing to consider skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines when you think you can get away with hiding in the herd or to buy some essential oils and supplements, but are you really going to say no to chemotherapy if your child has cancer? Brandy Vaughan seems to think you should.

If there is a RISK, there must be a CHOICE.

Do you think it is okay to put infants who are too young to be vaccinated at risk for measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases because you don’t like the choices you have been given between getting your kids vaccinated and protected or keeping them out of school?

What about the parents of the kid who is being treated for cancer who gets exposed to chicken pox because someone else made the choice to not vaccinate their kid? Do you think that’s fair?

The modern anti-vaccine movement is only about choice when it is about their choices and doesn’t seem to care about the risks their unvaccinated kids pose to others.

Believe it or not, the modern anti-vaccine movement also equates getting vaccinated with rape…

Don’t believe me?

Meryl Dorey has also claimed that vaccination is rape.
Meryl Dorey has also claimed that vaccination is rape.

Do you agree?

What else do most folks in the modern anti-vaccine movement believe?

They believe that:

And of course, they believe that vaccine advocates are behind a big conspiracy, are lying to you, and are trying to force everyone to get vaccinated.

Is that what you believe?

Some nurses and doctors are refusing to get a flu shot and have to wear masks at work.
Some nurses and doctors are refusing to get a flu shot and have to wear masks at work.

Even though these and every other anti-vaccine point you have heard has already been refuted a thousand times already.

The RhoGAM shot helps prevent hemolytic disease of the newborn. It is not a vaccine and is not part of a Big Pharma profit ploy...
The RhoGAM shot helps prevent hemolytic disease of the newborn. It is not a vaccine and is not part of a Big Pharma profit ploy…

Do you believe in chemtrails or that Bill Gates has a plan to depopulate the world using vaccines?

“As a result, multiple breakouts of measles have occurred throughout different parts of the Western world, infecting dozens of patients and even causing deaths.”

Hussain et al on The Anti-vaccination Movement: A Regression in Modern Medicine

If you do, understand that you have been fooled by the propaganda of the modern anti-vaccine movement. If you don’t, understand that many of the folks in your anti-vaccine groups probably do.

More on the Modern Anti-Vaccine Movement

Is a Crooked Face a Sign of a Vaccine Injury?

Have you heard of the Crooked theory?

Is something really wrong with these Hollywood stars?
Does Zach Braff really have a crooked face?

If you haven’t, when you get done learning about it, the name is going to seem very ironic…

“Why do babies have lopsided smiles? Why are so many people’s eyes misaligned? What started as a simple search to understand this phenomenon turned into a two-year quest that uncovered hidden links between our crooked faces and some of the most puzzling diseases of our time.

From autism to Alzheimer’s and from chronic fatigue syndrome to Crohn’s disease, Crooked methodically goes through the most recent scientific research and connects the dots from the outbreak of metallic medicine in 1800s England to the eruption of neurological and autoimmune disorders so many are suffering from today.

If the theories put forth in this book are true, the convergence of metals, microbes and medicine that started two hundred years ago may have set humanity on a path of suffering that could make the deadliest epidemics in history pale in comparison. Thankfully, for the millions who are afflicted, who may have found nothing to explain the cause of their suffering — these same theories could also illuminate the path to healing and recovery.”

Forrest Maready on Crooked: Man-Made Disease Explained

Spoiler Alert – The “theories” put forth in his book are not true.

Are you crooked?

Forrest Maready might get asked that a lot these days for actually trying to sell a self-published book pushing the idea that he knows what causes everything “from autism to Alzheimer’s and from chronic fatigue syndrome to Crohn’s disease.”

Of course, he thinks that it is vaccines and aluminum.

“And that’s what makes this even worse. Not only is the theory completely false, it’s not even original!.”

Were We Crooked?

It isn’t.

This “theory” of “his” has been well debunked, ironically, by Maready himself!

Doesn't it look like many of these football players from 1899 had crooked faces?
Doesn’t it look like many of these football players from 1899 had crooked faces?

As others have pointed out, Forrest Maready debunked his own book when he posted old photographs of football players, claiming it proved that vaccines caused chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Not only did many of the football players from the late 18th and early 19th century who played without helmets go on to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, if they didn’t die on the field, as you can see, many also had crooked faces!

Crooked faces, brain damage because they didn't wear helmets, and death from now vaccine preventable diseases - life was tough in the old days.
Crooked faces, brain damage because they didn’t wear helmets, and death from now vaccine preventable diseases – life was tough in the old days.

As early as the 1920s, after first being noticed in boxers, it was quickly discovered that CTE could also occur in football players. And again, many of the folks in these pics have crooked faces!

“All people have asymmetric faces. When one looks closely, these differences become more apparent.”

AAP on Children with Facial Asymmetry

It is hopefully obvious that the crooked face theory is all about cherry picking and confirmation bias. And that some folks think that everything and anything is a vaccine injury.

That this appears to be a credible theory by anti-vaccine folks says a lot about the modern anti-vaccine movement and why some folks don’t vaccinate their kids.

Don’t believe it.

Vaccines are safe and necessary and won’t make your child’s face look crooked.

More on the Crooked Face Theory

 

The Myth That Polio Only Went Away Because They Changed the Way It Was Diagnosed

Have you heard this one?

“Before the vaccine was developed, the diagnosis of polio required 24 or more hours of paralysis. After the vaccine release, the diagnosis changed to at least 60 days of paralysis. As you can imagine, cases of polio dropped significantly.”

So that’s why polio went away?

It wasn’t the vaccine?

The Myth That Polio Went Away Because They Changed the Diagnostic Criteria

In 1952, there were 21,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States.

But were there really?

Didn’t they change the way they diagnosed polio a few years later, right after the first polio vaccines came out, making it less likely that folks would be diagnosed with polio?

The original diagnostic criteria for polio came from the World Health Organization and included:

“Signs and symptoms of nonparalytic poliomyelitis with the addition of partial or complete paralysis of one or more muscle groups, detected on two examinations at least 24 hours apart.”

It changed in 1955 to include residual paralysis 10 to 20 days after onset of illness and again 50 to 70 days after onset.

Why?

“In the past children’s paralysis was often not correctly diagnosed as polio. Stool samples need to be analyzed to be able to distinguish paralytic symptoms from Guillain-Barré Syndrome, transverse myelitis, or traumatic neuritis.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But you coulld’t just use stool samples, as many kids might have recently had non-paralytic polio, and could test positive for polio (false positive test), but have another reason to have paralysis.

“Isolation of poliovirus is helpful but not necessary to confirm a case of paralytic poliomyelitis, and isolation of poliovirus itself does not confirm diagnosis.”

Alexander et al. on Vaccine Policy Changes and Epidemiology of Poliomyelitis in the United States

Since polio causes residual paralysis, the new diagnostic criteria helped to make sure that kids were diagnosed correctly.

Did We Overestimate the Number of Kids with Polio?

Some folks think that since we changed the criteria, we overestimated the number of kids with polio in the years before the vaccine came out.

Most of this idea seems to come from a panel discussion in 1960 by critics of the original polio vaccine, The Present Status of Polio Vaccines, including two, Dr. Herald R. Cox and Dr. Herman Kleinman, who were working on a competing live-virus vaccine.

None in the group were arguing against vaccines, or even really, that the Salk polio vaccine didn’t work at all though. They just didn’t think that it was effective as some folks thought.

“I’ve talked long enough. The only other thing I can say is that the live poliovirus vaccine is coming. It takes time. The one thing I am sure of in this life is that the truth always wins out.”

Dr. Herald R. Cox on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

Dr. Cox did talk a lot about the oral polio vaccine. He talked about successful trials in Minneapolis, Nicaragua, Finland, West Germany, France, Spain, Canada, Japan, and Costa Rica, etc.

When anti-vaccine folks cherry pick quotes from The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion panel, they seem to leave out all of the stuff about how well the oral polio vaccine works.

That’s how they work to scare parents and hope that their anti-vaccine myths and misinformation can win out over the truth that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.

“Since nothing is available, there seems to be no alternative but to push the use of it. I don’t think we should do so in ignorance, nor too complacently, believing that as long as we have something partially effective there is no need to have something better.”

Dr. Bernard Greenberg on The Present Status of Polio Vaccines

And of course, they did, fairly soon, switch to something better – the Sabin live-virus oral polio vaccine.

Interestingly, using the idea that we changed the diagnostic criteria to make polio go away in an argument about vaccines is known as the Greenberg Gambit.

It tells you something about anti-vaccine arguments, that these folks are misinterpreting something someone said about vaccines almost 60 years ago.

In pushing the idea that polio hasn’t been eliminated, but rather just redefined, they also miss that:

But isn’t polio still around and just renamed as transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and aseptic meningitis?

Let’s do the math.

Using the adjusted numbers in the The Present Status of Polio Vaccines discussion, there were at about 6,000 cases of paralytic polio in the United States in 1959.

While 3,000 to 6,000 people in the United States develop Guillain-Barré syndrome each year, the risk increases with age, and it is rare in young kids. Remember, paralytic polio mostly affected younger children, typically those under age 5 years.

“Transverse myelitis can affect people of any age, gender, or race. It does not appear to be genetic or run in families. A peak in incidence rates (the number of new cases per year) appears to occur between 10 and 19 years and 30 and 39 years.”

Transverse Myelitis Fact Sheet

Similarly, transverse myelitis is uncommon in younger children, and there are even fewer cases, about 1,400 a year.

What about aseptic meningitis? That doesn’t usually cause paralysis.

So do the math.

You aren’t going to find that many kids (remember, the incidence was 5-7 per 1,000) under age 5 years who really have “polio,” but instead, because of a worldwide conspiracy about vaccines, are getting diagnosed with transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), or aseptic meningitis instead.

Anyway, kids with acute flaccid paralysis are thoroughly tested to make sure they don’t have polio. And both transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome have different signs and symptoms from paralytic polio. Unlike polio, which as asymmetric muscle atrophy, the atrophy in transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome is symmetrical. Also, unlike those other conditions that cause AFP, with polio, nerve conduction velocity tests and electromyography testing will be abnormal. Plus, polio typically starts with a fever. The other conditions don’t.  So while these conditions might all be included in a differential diagnosis for someone with AFP, they are not usually that hard to distinguish.

“Each case of AFP should be followed by a diagnosis to find its cause. Within 14 days of the onset of AFP two stool samples should be collected 24 to 48 hours apart and need to be sent to a GPEI accredited laboratory to be tested for the poliovirus.”

Polio – Data Quality and Measurement

But why be so strict on following up on every case of AFP?

It’s very simple.

If you miss a case of polio, then it could lead to many more cases of polio. And that would tmake it very hard to eradicate polio in an area.

If anything, until the establishment of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) in 1988, it is thought that cases of polio and paralytic polio were greatly underestimated in many parts of the world!

And now polio is almost eradicated.

“DR. SABIN: Let us agree, at least, that things are not being brushed aside. Let us say that we might disagree on the extent to which certain things have received study. But I hope that Dr. Bodian realizes that nobody is brushing things aside. I would not have taken the trouble of spending several months studying viremia with different strains in chimpanzees and human volunteers, and viremia produced by certain low temperature mutants to correlate it with their invasive capacity, if I were merely brushing it aside.”

Live Polio Vaccines – Papers Presented and Discussions Held at the First International Conference on Live Poliovirus Vaccines

There is no conspiracy.

Think about it.

If they redefined how paralytic polio was diagnosed in 1955 as part of a conspiracy to make it look like the polio vaccines were working, then why did the number of cases continue to drop into the 1960s?

Shouldn’t they have just dropped in 1955 and then stayed at the same lower level?

After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States.
After the switch to the Sabin vaccine, polio was on its way to being eliminated in the United States, although there was an uptick in 1959, before we made the switch.

And why don’t any of the folks with other conditions that cause paralysis, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) ever have polio virus in their system when they are tested?

Also, if the renaming theory explains why the polio vaccine didn’t work, then why do anti-vaccine folks also need to push misinformation about DDT and polio?

What to Know About Polio Myths and Conspiracies

The near eradication of polio from the world is one of the big success stories of the modern era, just as those who push the idea that has all been faked is a snapshot of society at one of our low points.

More on Polio Myths and Conspiracies

Can Vaccinated Children Be Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis?

Why do anti-vaccine folks like to talk about baboons so much?

“Did you know that a study showed that baboons injected with whooping cough vaccine became infected with whooping cough anyway – and silently spread the disease to other baboons for 35 days?”

Anti-vaccine Meme

Is it because baboons are used in the study of vaccines?

That’s part of it, at least when they can find a study where they can cherry pick the results to suit their needs.

The Baboon Study

Like most anti-vaccine talking points, this one about baboons, has some truth to it.

An adult male baboon.
An adult male baboon. Photo by Elizabeth Miller

There was a baboon study with the pertussis vaccine and it found that previously vaccinated baboons could develop asymptomatic carriage of the pertussis bacteria after they were intentionally infected.

Here is where it is important to note that an infection is different than a disease.

The example that many people are familiar with is tuberculosis. It is common to have a TB infection without any signs or symptoms and to not feel sick. The only reason we know that they have TB is because they had a positive TB test.

Unfortunately, about 5 to 10% of these people with TB infections can eventually develop TB disease, with coughing, weight loss, night sweats, fever, and chest pain, etc.

It is kind of the same with the baboons in the study. Twenty-four hours after two previously vaccinated baboons were inoculated with pertussis bacteria in the back of their nose and trachea, an unvaccinated baboon was put in each of their cages.

The vaccinated baboons continued to have pertussis bacteria in their noses, which the researchers had put there, for up to 35 days. And they were able to eventually pass the pertussis bacteria to the unvaccinated baboons in their cages. Vaccinated baboons also became infected or colonized after they were put in a cage with an intentionally infected unvaccinated baboon.

“…animals did not cough and showed no reduction of activity, loss of appetite, or other outward signs of disease.”

Warfel et al on Acellular pertussis vaccines protect against disease but fail to prevent infection and transmission in a nonhuman primate model

The vaccinated baboons were infected, but they never did develop symptoms of pertussis.

What Does The Baboon Study Mean?

One thing that is for sure – the baboon study found that the pertussis vaccines work. Only unvaccinated baboons got sick with pertussis.

But does this study explain our current outbreaks of pertussis?

Are vaccinated people becoming colonized and then getting others sick?

I guess it is possible, but we are not baboons in a cage with other baboons. How would we spread a respiratory disease, even if we did become colonized with the bacteria, if we don’t have symptoms?

It may explain part of our outbreaks though.

If vaccinated people do commonly become colonized with pertussis bacteria, then they might very well test positive for pertussis even though they don’t have symptomatic pertussis disease. So when they develop a cold or bronchitis and are found to have a positive pertussis test, then couldn’t that test just indicate that they have a pertussis infection and not disease, even though something else is actually causing their symptoms?

That’s what we think happens with strep carriers, right?

That’s kind of what the baboon study found. All of the baboons tested positive, but only the unvaccinated baboons had symptomatic pertussis disease.

“Baboons vaccinated with wP vaccines exhibit a level of protection that is intermediate between convalescent animals and aP-vaccinated animals. They exhibit no outwards signs of disease and are initially colonized to the same high level as aP-vaccinated animals but clear the infection more rapidly.”

Pinto et al on Pertussis disease and transmission and host responses: insights from the baboon model of pertussis.

It is interesting to note that the baboon study also found that baboons who had received whole cell pertussis vaccines also became carriers. They just didn’t stay carriers for as long as the baboons who got the newer acellular pertussis vaccine. But since they were still carriers, if asymptomatic transmission is such a big problem, wouldn’t it have been a big problem back in the day when everyone got whole cell pertussis vaccines?

The Debate Over Asymptomatic Carriage

Most vaccines prevent the spread of disease.

Do the pertussis vaccines?

Most folks still think so.

“The baboon model pioneered by Warfel et al. is without question a game-changer, shedding light on the impact of vaccination on disease and infection. However, the view it affords is clearer with respect to immunity and pathology than with respect to transmission. We point out that the extrapolation of the possibility of transmission from vaccinated baboons in the laboratory to the probability of transmission from vaccinated humans in the population is unwarranted. More work is needed to elucidate the relative transmissibility of infections in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated hosts. The evidence adduced above suggests, however, that vaccination with aP must have a strong effect on transmission as well as disease.”

Matthieu Domenech de Cellès et al on Epidemiological evidence for herd immunity induced by acellular pertussis vaccines

Even the author of the baboon study has said that “We agree that these data should not be directly extrapolated to pertussis transmission in humans. Although baboons are >96% genetically similar to humans, there are likely differences in how the species respond to vaccination and infection. We also agree that aP-vaccinated infected people are likely less efficient at transmitting pertussis compared with unvaccinated infected people, although it is not clear to what extent.”

Others think that asymptomatic carriage of pertussis might behind a lot of our recent outbreaks. Or at least what helps them grow so large.

Still, it is important to remember that unvaccinated folks do play a role in these outbreaks too. In a pertussis outbreak at a Florida preschool, in which most kids were vaccinated, the outbreak was started by a vaccine-exempt toddler.

And we have seen this in many other areas and it has been confirmed by many studies. Whatever else is contributing to pertussis outbreaks, like waning immunity, they are also associated with vaccine refusal.

“Counties with higher exemption rates had higher rates of reported pertussis among exempted and vaccinated children when compared with the low-exemption counties.”

Imdad et al. on Religious exemptions for immunization and risk of pertussis in New York State, 2000-2011.

But what if the DTaP and Tdap vaccines do cause folks to be asymptomatic carriers?

Even if that is true, understand that these vaccines don’t actually infect you, making you a carrier. They just might not prevent you from becoming a carrier if you are exposed to someone else with pertussis. While that might be a good reason to develop a new and better pertussis vaccine, it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines now.

Remember that even with our current outbreaks, rates of pertussis were much higher in the pre-vaccine era.

What to Know About Vaccines and Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis

The role of asymptomatic carriers and pertussis is controversial, but it certainly isn’t a reason to skip or delay your child’s vaccines.

More on the Vaccines and Asymptomatic Carriers of Pertussis

Hierarchy of Evidence and Vaccine Papers

Evidence is evidence, right?

Nope.

There is a hierarchy of evidence, from weakest to strongest, that help folks make decisions about science and medicine.

That’s why you can’t just search Google or PubMed, read abstracts, and say that you have done your research.

Hierarchy of Evidence

For any study, you have to review and judge the quality of the evidence it provides.

A meta-analysis with over 1.2 million kids found that vaccines were not associated with autism, while Wakefield's retracted case series included only 12 children.
A meta-analysis with over 1.2 million kids found that vaccines were not associated with autism, while Wakefield’s retracted case series included only 12 children.

Is it a case report (a glorified anecdote), case series, or animal study (lowest quality evidence)?

Or a systemic review or meta-analyses (highest quality evidence)?

“The first and earliest principle of evidence-based medicine indicated that a hierarchy of evidence exists. Not all evidence is the same. This principle became well known in the early 1990s as practising physicians learnt basic clinical epidemiology skills and started to appraise and apply evidence to their practice. Since evidence was described as a hierarchy, a compelling rationale for a pyramid was made.”

Murad et al. on the New Evidence Pyramid

What about case control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials?

They lie somewhere in between on the hierarchy of evidence scale or pyramid.

And there are other factors to consider when judging the reliability of a study.

“Ultimately, the interpretation of the medical literature requires not only the understanding of the strengths and limitations of different study designs but also an appreciation for the circumstances in which the traditional hierarchy does not apply and integration of complementary information derived from various study designs is needed.”

Ho et al. on Evaluating the Evidence

For example, you might also have to take into account the sample size of the study.

A study can be underpowered if it doesn’t have enough subjects. Unfortunately, even an underpowered study will give you results. They likely won’t be statistically significant results, but folks don’t always realize that.

Even a meta-analysis, usually considered to be at the top of the hierarchy of evidence pyramid, can have problems that make their results less useful, such as not using appropriate inclusion criteria when selecting studies and leaving out important studies.

All in all, there are many factors to look at when reading a medical paper and considering if the results are valid and should influence what you do and how you think. This is especially true when looking at low quality vaccine papers, many of which the anti-vaccine movement uses to scare people, even though they are often poorly designed, and several of which have been retracted.

What to Know About the Hierarchy of Evidence

Learning about the hierarchy of evidence can help you better evaluate medical studies and vaccine papers and understand that there is more to doing your research about vaccines than searching PubMed and reading abstracts.

More on the Hierarchy of Evidence

 

Recommendations for Reporting About Vaccines

Historically, the media has played a huge role in pushing vaccine misinformation and scaring parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

“The media created the MMR hoax, and they maintained it diligently for 10 years.”

Dr. Ben Goldacre Bad Science

Even before Andy Wakefield and his MMR hoax, the media helped fuel pertussis outbreaks by pushing the flawed research of John Wilson, which led to lawsuits against DPT vaccines and a big drop in vaccination rates.

None of it was true and the lawsuits failed, but the consequence was still that many unvaccinated kids died.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appearing on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?” is a great example of false balance.

Many others in the media have done a great job in promoting myths and fake controversies about vaccines and have used false balance in their interviews and articles to scare parents.

Fortunately, things have gotten better over the years.

Important Points for Reporting About Vaccines

Still, despite what some folks might think, health journalists aren’t going to get in trouble for reporting about vaccines.

They are going to hear about it if they do a bad job though.

“…it is important to recognise that the balance of media reporting does not necessarily reflect the balance of the argument among the involved professionals – by this is meant that equal weighting might be given by the media (and thus the lay community) to those for and against the vaccine although opponents of vaccination might be a very small number, as for example happened with both pertussis and MMR.”

David Baxter on Opposition to Vaccination and Immunisation the UK Experience – from Smallpox to MMR

Remember, the way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

So be careful when reporting about vaccines, as it gives you the opportunity to correct many of myths that scare people, while educating folks about the topic you are covering.

You should also:

Are you ready to cover your next story about vaccines or the next measles outbreak?

What to Know About Reporting on Vaccines

The way that health journalists cover vaccines and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks can influence the behavior of people, either helping them understand that vaccines are safe and necessary, putting them on-the-fence about vaccines, or scarring them away from getting vaccinated and protected.

More on Reporting about Vaccines

Anecdotes as Evidence

Evidence is evidence, right?

Not really.

There is a hierarchy of evidence, from weakest to strongest, that help folks make decisions about science and medicine.

In an age when everything is evidence of something, remember that anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

That’s why you can’t just search PubMed, read abstracts, and say that you have done your research. For any study, you have to review and judge the quality of the evidence it provides.

Is it a case report (a glorified anecdote), case series, or animal study (lowest quality evidence) or a systemic review or meta analyses (highest quality evidence)?

What about case control studies, cohort studies, and randomized controlled trials? They lie somewhere in between on the hierarchy of evidence scale.

Anecdotes as Evidence

And where do anecdotes fit in?

“Anecdotes are uncontrolled subjective observations. I have often criticized reliance on anecdotes, which is especially problematic in medicine. The problem with anecdotes is that they are subject to a host of biases, such as confirmation bias. They are easily cherry picked, even unintentionally, and therefore can be used to support just about any position. For every anecdote, there is an equal and opposite anecdote.”

Steven Novella on The Context of Anecdotes and Anomalies

Anecdotes are not scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, some people use anecdotal evidence to make some very serious decisions, including skipping or delaying their children’s vaccines, leaving them unvaccinated and unprotected.

“An anecdote is a story – in the context of medicine it often relates to an individual’s experience with their disease or symptoms and their efforts to treat it. People generally find anecdotes highly compelling, while scientists are deeply suspicious of anecdotes. We are fond of saying that the plural of anecdote is anecdotes, not data.”

Steven Novella on The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine

Believing that anecdotes are important scientific evidence is also what often drives some pediatricians to pander to fears that parents may have about vaccines, helping them create non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedules.

What else do you need to know about anecdotal evidence?

Anecdotes are basically the fuel of the anti-vaccine movement.

“With little or no evidence-based information to back up claims of vaccine danger, anti-vaccine activists have relied on the power of storytelling to infect an entire generation of parents with fear of and doubt about vaccines. These parent accounts of perceived vaccine injury, coupled with Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent research study linking the MMR vaccine to autism, created a substantial amount of vaccine hesitancy in new parents, which manifests in both vaccine refusal and the adoption of delayed vaccine schedules.”

Shelby et al on Story and science

Well, anecdotes and fear – often combined in vaccine scare videos.

If you have been making your vaccine decisions based on anecdotes, it is time to do a little more research and get better educated about vaccines.

What to Know About Anecdotes as Evidence

Anecdotes, although they are easy to believe, are not scientific evidence, and certainly shouldn’t persuade you that vaccines aren’t safe, that vaccines aren’t necessary, or that vaccines are associated with autism.

More on Anecdotes as Evidence