Tag: cognitive bias

What Are the Greatest Tricks Anti-Vaccine Folks Use to Persuade Parents to Skip Vaccines?

We are hearing a lot about anti-vaccine misinformation these days.

John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.
John Birch (B) and the other anti-vaccine heroes of the day on their way to fight the vaccination monster.

And how the anti-vaccine movement is using social media to persuade parents to skip their child’s vaccines, leaving them unprotected.

So how do they do it?

What Are the Greatest Tricks Anti-Vaccine Folks Use to Persuade Parents to Skip Vaccines?

If you want to understand the anti-vaccine movement, the first thing to know is that they have been around for centuries. That they are using social media is of course new, but their messages are basically the same.

They use scare tactics to try and make you believe that:

  1. vaccines are dangerous and injure people
  2. vaccines aren’t necessary because diseases are mild
  3. vaccines don’t even work

And you need all three elements, after all, even if you thought that vaccines were sometimes dangerous, you might want to vaccinate your kids if you thought that vaccines could stop an even more dangerous vaccine-preventable disease, right?

That’s why they keep all of your fear focused on the vaccines!

It is this fear that allows several cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies to take hold and change your perception of risk into something that is much different from reality.

And that’s maybe the ultimate trick – making you think that the risks of vaccines are greater than the risks of catching a vaccine-preventable disease or even greater than the risks of having a vaccine-preventable disease.

But what about the graphs they have, the autism studies, the vaccine injury stories, Whistleblowers, complaints about saline placebos, the idea that better hygiene and sanitation fixed everything, and all of the claims of toxins and the conspiracy theories about Big Pharma?

Anti-vaccine folks are constantly moving the goalposts

These and every new argument they come up with are easily refuted.

When will you stop listening to them?

“Thank you Chairman Alexander, Senator Murray, and distinguished committee members for the opportunity to speak today. Good morning, everyone. My name is Ethan Lindenberger and I am a senior at Norwalk High School. My mother is an anti-vaccine advocate that believes vaccines cause autism, brain damage, and do not benefit the health and safety of society despite the fact such opinions have been debunked numerous times by the scientific community. I went my entire life without vaccinations against diseases such as measles, chicken pox, or even polio. However, in December of 2018, I began catching up on my missed immunizations despite my mother’s disapproval, eventually leading to an international story centered around my decisions and public disagreement with my mother’s views.”

Testimony of Ethan Lindenberger Student at Norwalk High school Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee March 5th, 2019

Should kids really have to hope that they grow up without getting a vaccine-preventable disease so that they can get themselves vaccinated?

“I have discovered along the way that it is easy for parents to be misinformed. It is a real challenge to be well informed.”

Suzanne Walther on A Parent’s Decision on Immunization: Making the Right Choice

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and necessary.

It might be a challenge, but it is worth the effort to be well informed about vaccines. It is worth knowing that your kids are vaccinated and protected.

More on the Greatest Tricks Anti-Vaccine Folks Use to Persuade Parents to Skip Vaccines


Why Are Anti-Vaccine Folks Panicking over the Measles Outbreaks?

Do you sense something in the air?

No, it’s not measles.

Ever notice that it is folks who don't vaccinate who use words like epidemic and panic whenever we have large measles outbreaks?
Ever notice that it is folks who don’t vaccinate who use words like epidemic and panic whenever we have large measles outbreaks?

It is talk of panic about measles.

Why Are Anti-Vaccine Folks Panicking over the Measles Outbreaks?

I’m not panicking.

I am definitively concerned about these outbreaks, because I understand that they put a lot of folks at unnecessary risk for getting a life-threatening disease. And I understand that these outbreaks are getting harder and harder to control, but ultimately, since more and more people get vaccinated during an outbreak, they will eventually end.

So why are anti-vaccine folks panicking?

Yes, your immune system gets to a whole new level after a natural measles infection - it resets.
Yes, your immune system gets to a whole new level after a natural measles infection – it resets.

It’s easier to be anti-vaccine and leave your kids unvaccinated and unprotected when you don’t think that you are taking much of a risk.

You likely still know it’s wrong, so cognitive dissonance pushes you to believe that vaccines don’t work, vaccine-preventable diseases aren’t that bad, vaccines are full of poison, or that you can just hide in the herd.

It gets much harder during an outbreak, when you realize that it is almost all intentionally unvaccinated kids getting sick. And typically an intentionally unvaccinated child or adult who starts the outbreak.

Why wait until an outbreak starts to get your kids vaccinated and protected or to start recommending that your patients be vaccinated and protected?
Why wait until an outbreak starts to get your kids vaccinated and protected or to start recommending that your patients be vaccinated and protected?

Is my child going to start an outbreak?

If measles is so mild, why do so many of these folks go to the ER multiple times and why do some of them get hospitalized. Why do people still die with measles?

Full Stop! Someone did die during the 2015 measles outbreaks in Washington.
Full Stop! Someone did die during the 2015 measles outbreaks in Washington.

That’s when the panic starts to set in.

Are you really doing what’s right for your child?

Who are these people I’m getting advice from and what’s their motivation?

The only "mass hysteria" is in anti-vaccine Facebook groups. Is Larry Cook using it to raise money for himself?
The only “mass hysteria” is in anti-vaccine Facebook groups. Is Larry Cook using it to raise money for himself?

Am I really supposed to skip my kid’s MMR because they did a Brady Bunch episode about all of the Brady kids getting measles?

Will I regret not vaccinating my child?

Why don’t any of the people in my Facebook groups who talk about how marvelous measles used to be in the old days talk about how they called it a “harmless killer?”

Of course, there is an easy way to stop worrying and panicking about measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases – get your kids vaccinated and protected. Vaccines are safe and necessary.

More on Measles Panic

Is a Vaccine Strain Causing The Latest Measles Outbreak?

What’s the first question anti-vaccine folks start asking whenever we see a large outbreak of measles?

No, it’s not how can I get my kids vaccinated and protected so that they don’t get measles…

It is whether or not it a vaccine strain of measles started the outbreak.

That’s not how any of this works…

Where do folks get all of this stuff about genotypes and vaccine strains? I wonder…

Dr. Bob had no facts, but still posted that a vaccine strain of measles could have killed a woman who got caught up in the last measles outbreak in Washington.

Yup.

The usual suspects.

Is a Vaccine Strain Causing The Latest Measles Outbreak?

Why do folks who intentionally don’t vaccinate their kids desperately want these measles outbreaks to be caused by a vaccine strain?

Because then it isn’t their fault that their kids are at risk of getting a life-threatening disease!

It’s never a vaccine strain though.

Remember the Disneyland measles outbreak. A lot of folks were talking about vaccine strains when it first started.

“…California patients were genotyped; all were measles genotype B3, which has caused a large outbreak recently in the Philippines…”

Measles Outbreak — California, Dec 2014–Feb 2015

It wasn’t a vaccine strain.

OutbreaksYearGenotype
Minnesota2017B3
Tennessee2016B3
California2015B3
Florida2013D8
California2014B3, D8
Brooklyn2013D8
North Carolina2013D8
Minnesota2011B3
Washington, Illinois2008D5, D4

For example, during 2011, 222 cases of measles and 17 outbreaks were reported in the United States, with most cases originating from just five countries (France, Italy, Romania, Spain, and Germany). Six different genotypes were identified, including B3, D4, G3, D8, H1, and D9. No vaccine strains…

And no, it doesn’t matter that the vaccine strain of measles, genotype A, differs from all of the wild strains of measles we see in the outbreaks.

“Vaccine induced immunity protects against all virus strains. Measles is considered a monotypic virus despite the genetic variations.”

Factsheet about measles

Unlike the flu, HPV, and pneumococcal bacteria, in which vaccines only protect against different serotypes, in the case of measles, the genotype simply helps us figure out where the measles case came from.

And no, the latest outbreak, wherever it is, wasn’t caused by shedding from a vaccine.

But if it isn’t the vaccine strain, then why do they that is it important to rapidly identify wild strains vs vaccine strains?

“During measles outbreaks, it is important to be able to rapidly distinguish between measles cases and vaccine reactions to avoid unnecessary outbreak response measures such as case isolation and contact investigations.”

Roy et al on Rapid Identification of Measles Virus Vaccine Genotype by Real-Time PCR

That’s easy to answer.

Outbreaks typically trigger a lot of folks to get vaccinated. While that’s great, one possible problem is that some of those folks might develop a fever and/or rash after their MMR vaccine. So it is important to quickly figure out whether they are part of the outbreak and have a wild strain (maybe they were exposed before their vaccine could start to work) or are having a common, mild vaccine reaction.

But couldn’t they have vaccine-associated measles if they have a rash and fever and a vaccine strain? Theoretically, but then they would likely have true measles symptoms. And even in these rare case reports, the children didn’t spread the measles to anyone else.

So why are you waiting to know the genotype of the measles strain causing the outbreak in your area? Hopefully, it isn’t to help you decide whether or not to vaccinate and protect your kids. While it is interesting to know where the outbreak originated, you can bet that it isn’t a vaccine strain.

More on Vaccine Strains Causing Measles Outbreaks

Where Are the Latest Chickenpox Outbreaks?

Breaking News – 32 cases at a school in Northern Kentucky (see below)

Chicken pox is a now vaccine-preventable disease thanks to the chicken pox vaccine that was first licensed in 1995.

Despite being added to the childhood immunization schedule in 1996, and the addition of a booster dose in 2007, we do continue to see occasional outbreaks of chicken pox.

Chicken Pox

Although chicken pox is said to have been a rite of passage for kids, it was never something that any of us looked forward to.

At best, you had five to seven days of fever and an itchy rash that covered your body.

“My life changed forever on June 30, 1988, when I had to stand by helplessly as an infectious disease claimed the life of my oldest child, Christopher Aaron Chinnes, at the age of 12.”

Rebecca Cole on Chickenpox Claimed the Life of My Son Christopher

But of course, some people had much more severe cases of chicken pox and some people died.

Chicken Pox Outbreaks

In the pre-vaccine era, before the mid-1990s, most kids got chicken pox.

And chicken pox parties, while not as common as some folks imagine, were definitely a thing, because you didn’t want your child to become an adult and get chicken pox, when it was more dangerous. But since most kids got chicken pox so easily, most got it when they were kids, even without a chicken pox parties, and tragically, many learned that it wasn’t only dangerous to adults.

Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?
Why are we still seeing clusters of chicken pox in schools when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

These days, most cases and outbreaks of chicken pox are in unvaccinated children and adults.

  • 32 cases at the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky leading to the quarantine of all unvaccinated students (March 2019)
  • 7 new cases in the outbreak associated with the Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina, bringing the case count to 41 in that outbreak, including 4 cases in the community as the outbreak continues to spread (Nov 2018)
  • 6 new cases at the Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina, bringing the case count to 34 in that outbreak (Nov 2018)
  • several students at Hoquiam High School in Hoquiam, Washington (Nov 2018)
  • at least 28 cases at Asheville Waldorf School in West Asheville, North Carolina (Nov 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at Daybreak Primary School in Battle Ground in Clark County, Washington, leading to quarantine of at least 38 unvaccinated students who will be kept out of class for at least 21 days (Oct 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at two schools in Ottawa County, Michigan, including Waukazoo Elementary and Kids First – Early Childhood Center in Jenison, leading to the quarantine of at least 34 children (Oct 2018)
  • a cluster of chicken pox cases in Grant County, Washington at Park Orchard Elementary, North Elementary and Longview Elementary schools (Sept 2018)
  • at least 5 cases at the The Little Red School House Too daycare in Westbrook, Maine (May 2016)

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg though, as there are still about 7,000 to 10,000 chickenpox cases reported in the United States each year. And that’s with some states, like Oregon and Washington, not reporting cases of this Nationally Notifiable Condition to the CDC.

Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn't dangerous.
Cognitive dissonance helps explain how these folks try to explain that chicken pox isn’t dangerous.

Still, since chicken pox caused a few hundred deaths and at least 10,000 hospitalizations each year less than twenty-five years ago, that’s a lot of progress.

Getting Chicken Pox

How do you get chicken pox?

Since it is very contagious, if your child is exposed to someone with chicken pox or shingles, then they might develop chicken pox in about 10 to 21 days (incubation period).

Of course, if they vaccinated and protected, then they probably won’t, although mild, breakthrough chicken pox infections are still possible in vaccinated kids.

Their risk is higher if they:

  • are unvaccinated, either intentionally, because they have a true medical exemption, or because they are too young for the vaccine, which is first given when kids are 12-months-old
  • are partially vaccinated, with only one dose of the chicken pox vaccine
  • have a problem with their immune system, including kids getting chemotherapy

In addition to being at risk for chicken pox, non-immune pregnant women, newborns born to women who develop chicken pox at around the time of delivery, premature babies, and those are immunocompromised can be at risk for severe disease.

Avoiding Chicken Pox

Want to avoid chicken pox and the chance of ending up in a chicken pox quarantine and having to stay out of school for 3 weeks or more?

Get your kids vaccinated.

That’s not an option for some kids with true medical exemptions though, including most kids who are immunocompromised. When they get caught up in one of these outbreaks and get exposed to chicken pox, it becomes a matter of life and death to work to try and prevent their getting chicken pox.

More on Chicken Pox Outbreaks

Updated on March 14, 2019