Tag: cognitive bias

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Do you remember having chicken pox?

Oh boy, I sure do!

I was about six or seven years old and it was bad. Still, I’m not sure if I remember because I had such a bad case or because it made me miss Halloween that year.

It was almost certainly both, as I remember being covered in spots from head to toe.

What I don’t recall is having many visitors. Why didn’t my mom throw me a chicken pox party!

I also don’t remember going to a chicken pox party to get sick.

Believe It or Not, Chicken Pox Parties Are Still a Thing

Whether or not chicken pox parties were ever that popular, the approval of the chicken pox vaccine in 1995 should have put an end to the practice.

After all, why intentionally expose your child to a potentially life-threatening disease, when a safe and effective vaccine is readily available?

“Chickenpox (varicella) is generally a much milder illness in children than in adults, with considerably lower rates of severe disease and death. Varicella is also virtually universal in many populations, meaning that very few individuals escape infection over a lifetime. Thus, a sound logic underlies the idea of chickenpox parties, at which susceptible children can acquire the contagious causative pathogen, varicella zoster virus (VZV), from their peers. However, chickenpox is not without risks, even for children of this age; severe, complicated, and occasionally fatal varicella occur in previously healthy children, as well as the immunocompromised (who are at very considerable risk).”

Hambleton et al on Chickenpox Party or Varicella Vaccine?

Most folks understand that. They get their kids vaccinated and have helped get chicken pox under very good control, with outbreaks of chicken pox declining over 95%.

“Each year, more than 3.5 million cases of varicella, 9,000 hospitalizations, and 100 deaths are prevented by varicella vaccination in the United States”

CDC on Monitoring the Impact of Varicella Vaccination

Apparently, not everyone has gotten the message though.

Remember when CPS had to investigate the mom who was having chicken pox parties in Plano, Texas a few years ago?

“On the page, parents post where they live and ask if anyone with a child who has the chicken pox would be willing to send saliva, infected lollipops or clothing through the mail.”

CBS 5 Investigates mail order diseases

Or when anti-vaccine folks were selling and mailing lollipops contaminated with chicken pox to folks so that they could skip the trouble of finding a chicken pox party?

And then there’s that time that a family served chicken pox contaminated punch at their chicken pox party. Oh wait, that was The Simpsons

Chicken pox party - The Simpsons did it.
Chicken pox party – The Simpsons did it in the Milhouse of Sand and Fog episode in Season 17.

So what are they up to now?

Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.
Folks are still advertising chicken pox parties in anti-vaccine Facebook groups.

More of the same…

Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?
Does she know that the chicken pox vaccine likely decreases your risk of getting shingles later in life?

Apparently, there are still plenty of folks looking for chicken pox parties to infect their kids.

Why?

It is easy to see a lot of cognitive biases at play in the decision to host or bring a child to a chicken pox party, including ambiguity aversion (prefer what they think are the known risks of getting the disease), bandwagoning (they think everyone else is doing it, because in their echo chambers of anti-vaccine propaganda, everyone might), and optimism bias, etc.

There is also a very poor perception of risks, as the risks from a natural chicken pox infection are far, far greater than any risk from the vaccine.

Don't forget to tent!!!
Don’t forget to tent and share breath!!!

In bigger news, Facebook has groups who’s mission is “finding pox,” so that parents can get their kids sick!

The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!
The mission of PX Colorado is finding pox!

How many other PoX type groups are there on Facebook?

How many other parents are intentionally not vaccinating their kids and intentionally exposing them to chicken pox?

Do any of them quarantine or isolate their kids for 10 to 21 days after the chicken pox party, so as to not expose anyone who is too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, or has a true medical exemption to getting vaccinated, including those who are immunocompromised?

Do they understand the consequences of having these pox parties?

The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse - at least for now...
The latest chicken pox party hostess is apparently a nurse – at least for now…

Of course, an investigation from CPS, the health department, or a medical board isn’t the most serious consequence that should discourage folks from hosting or attending a chicken pox party.

Chicken pox can be a serious, even life-threatening infection. Sure, many kids just get a mild case, but others get more serious cases and have bad complications, including skin infections, encephalitis, sepsis, or stroke.

And some people do still die from chicken pox, which is supposed to be a mild, childhood illness.

“This report describes a varicella death in an unvaccinated, previously healthy adolescent aged 15 years.”

Varicella Death of an Unvaccinated, Previously Healthy Adolescent — Ohio, 2009

Fortunately, these deaths have been nearly eliminated thanks to the chicken pox vaccine.

And that’s why parents who are on a mission for “finding pox” should rethink things and switch to a mission to get their kids vaccinated and protected.

More on Chicken Pox Parties

Vaccine Analogies and Metaphors

Analogies and metaphors are a good way to explain things, including that vaccines are safe and necessary.

We are sunk if we stop vaccinating.
As the CDC explains, we are sunk if we stop vaccinating.

Here are some of my favorite vaccine analogies and metaphors.

Getting vaccinated is like:

  • applying sunscreen before going to the beach
  • applying insect repellent before going camping in the woods
  • making sure that your kids are wearing a seat belt or sitting in an age-appropriate car seat or booster seat when you get in the car
  • installing anti-virus software on your new computer

When do you put on your seat belt? When you get in the car, before you get in an accident. Just like a vaccine. You get it before you get sick. Yes, some vaccines do work after you have been exposed to an illness, but they don’t work after you are already sick.

There is a problem with these metaphors though; they don’t include the risks to other people.

These do:

  • taking driver’s ed and getting your license before driving
  • taking swimming lessons before going in the water without a life jacket
  • putting your gun in a locked safe
  • putting a fence around your backyard so that no one in your neighborhood can drown in your pool
  • making sure folks don’t text and drive

That’s right.

Vaccination equals protection.

And not just protection for the person getting vaccinated. Being unvaccinated puts others at risk too, as you might start an outbreak.

Getting your kids vaccinated is like taking them to swimming lessons instead of just throwing them in the lake. Either way they can learn to swim and have protection/immunity from drowning. But one method (throwing them in the lake) is much more dangerous than the other.

Analogies can also help explain how vaccines work.

“Vaccines are a like a wanted poster, they just show your body what the bad guys look like, so when faced with them for real you are ready, prepared, and able to stop them before they cause harm.”

Can vaccines overwhelm the immune system?

Are there analogies that explain the idea of free-riders – folks who intentionally don’t vaccinate their kids and attempt to hide in the herd?

“If all my child’s friends are vaccinated, won’t he be protected by herd immunity? Why should I put my child at risk for vaccine reactions if all the other children around him are already immune?

This is like riding in a carpool where everyone contributes each month to pay for gas, repairs and parking. One morning, a new neighbor shows up and says, “I think I’ll ride along with you. But I’m not going to pay, since you’re going downtown anyway and you have an empty seat.” If enough people choose to take a free ride on other children’s immunity, herd immunity will soon disappear.”

Why is herd immunity so important?

And to explain the idea of what some folks consider vaccine injuries.

“I have found that it sometimes helps to give parents an analogy. I ask them the following: If they were to put gas in their car and then later got a flat tire, would that mean putting gas in the car had caused the flat tire? No. The two events were just a coincidence.”

Karen Lewis on What Vaccine Safety Means

What are some good analogies to describe how some anti-vax folks think?

Since that bridge isn’t 100% safe (I Googled that some bridges have collapsed), I’m going to let my kids swim across this river with fast moving water.

Have you heard the bridge analogy?

There are also versions with crocodiles in the water…

In case it’s not clear, in this analogy, walking across the bridge is like getting vaccinated. Swimming across the river is like intentionally not vaccinating your kids.

There are plenty of other good analogies that help to explain the importance of vaccines.

“Clusters of unvaccinated people are like patches of dry grass that, with a single match, can start a wildfire that will burn not only dry material, but sometimes wet as well. The match could be a student who returns from a trip abroad with measles or a train commuter with whooping cough.”

Saad Omer

It’s also important to remember that anyone, even those who are well prepared, can get burned in a wildfire. That’s why the analogy works so well.

“Vaccinating one’s children is like paying taxes. We all have a moral and a legal duty to pay taxes because we have a moral and a legal duty to contribute to the upkeep of our society and to its public goods (e.g., a good public health system, national defence, etc.).”

Vaccine Refusal Is Like Tax Evasion

Why are we concerned about those who are unvaccinated if our own children are fully vaccinated?

“Think of camping as an analogy. If everyone at a campground properly stores their food, bears won’t be enticed to come around. If even one person leaves their food unprotected, it invites bears in to investigate all the campsites for opportunities to eat.”

How does choosing not to immunize affect the community?

These analogies help explain how unvaccinated folks put others at risk.

“Being intentionally unvaccinated against highly contagious diseases is, to carry Holmes’ analogy a bit further, like walking down a street randomly swinging your fists without warning. You may not hit an innocent bystander, but you’ve substantially increased the chances that you will.

One might usefully analogize the risk of disease to a crapshoot. A person’s chance of being infected is, as Dr. Singer acknowledges, a matter of luck. But is it really OK for the unvaccinated to load the dice to increase the odds against other people? If so, by how much?”

Ronald Bailey on Vaccines and the Responsibility To Not Put Others at Risk

Of course, there are plenty of bad vaccine analogies and metaphors that anti-vaccine folks push:

  • getting vaccinated is like rape
  • getting vaccinated is like the Holocaust
  • “genes load the gun but the vaccines pull the trigger”
  • vaccine manufacturers are like tobacco manufacturers
  • I won’t set my child on fire to keep yours warm (this doesn’t work as a vaccine analogy, mostly because there is no benefit to setting your child on fire. Would an anti-vaxxer let their child start a campfire to keep their friends from dying in the cold?)
  • getting a vaccine is like eating a handful of M&Ms out of a big bowl when you know that a few have been poisoned
  • getting a child  vaccinated is like giving 1,000 kids 1,000 cupcakes, telling them to pick one and eat it, knowing that one of the cupcakes is poisoned (it’s maybe like letting a child with a severe peanut allergy choose a cupcake, knowing that there is a one in a million chance that the cupcake he chooses has been made with peanuts…)
  • I want safer cars, but that doesn’t make me anti-car

You understand why the anti-car one is a bad analogy, right? Folks who want safer cars generally still drive and ride in cars!

Have you heard any good or bad analogies or mataphors about vaccines?

More on Vaccine Analogies and Metaphors

How Do Anti-Vaccine Folks Think?

Does it sometimes seem like anti-vaccine folks are speaking a foreign language?

It definitely seems like they misunderstand and misuse a lot of scientific terms, like evidence, research, and toxin, doesn’t it?

Anti-Vaccine Glossary

The first step to understanding someone who is truly anti-vaccine and unnecessarily puts their kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, might be to understand how they misunderstand most things about vaccines…

Measles is highly contagious, which is likely why all of the Brady kids got sick.
Anti-vax folks get the message of the Brady Bunch measles episode all wrong…

For example, many of them believe that anecdotes and case studies are strong evidence and on par with the preponderance of evidence that has shown that vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.

What other terms do they get wrong?

When you say…Anti-Vaccine folks think…
researchI googled it and found something on an anti-vaccine website that confirms what I already thought
peer reviewI had my anti-vaccine friends, some of whom are actually in charge of the journal, take a look at it
personal storiescan only be anecdotal vaccine injury scare stories, but never about regretting a skipped vaccine or personal stories about vaccine-preventable diseases
aluminummercury
consensusmy anti-vaccine friends on Facebook
shillsanyone who supports vaccines
pediatriciana vaccine pusher
sciencepseudoscience
learn the risklearn the exaggerated risks of vaccines that I’m going to scare you about
expertanyone who agrees with me
unavoidably unsafevaccines can’t ever be safe to anyone in any circumstance ever
toxinanything and everything that sounds sciency
placebopure saline
chemicalanything that isn’t natural, not understanding that everything is a chemical
scientistanyone who took a science class in high school or college
doctortypically a chiropractor
medicinenon-evidence based therapies that don’t involve Big Pharma, aren’t covered by insurance, and are likely very expensive
riskcan only come from a vaccine, never from skipping or delaying a vaccine or from a vaccine-preventable disease
sheddingwhat happens when someone gets a vaccine
vaccine injuryanything and everything bad that happens to you in the days, weeks, months, and years after you get vaccinated or in the days, weeks, months, and years before you were born because of the vaccines your parents or grandparents received
religious vaccine exemptionI just don’t want to vaccinate and protect my kids, so will lie and say it is about religion
vaccine preventable diseasesince many anti-vaccine folks don’t really think that vaccines work, they might act more confused if you use this term
informed consentwhen I tell you all of the bad stuff about vaccines, most of which isn’t true, and leave out any talk of benefits
leaky gutexplains every major problem kids have after getting vaccinated
MAPS doctorsthe new DAN doctors
VAERSa list of vaccine-injuries
herd immunitydoesn’t exist, but can only happen from natural immunity
hiding in the herdwhat used to protect unvaccinated kids, until more and more folks started listening to us to our anti-vaccine propaganda
package insertscan be used to scare parents about SIDS and autism
do your researchgo to an anti-vaccine forum or website
cherry pickingwhat does picking cherries have to do with vaccines???
natural immunityeasy life-long immunity without any consequences
vaccine choiceI want to do it my way, no matter how many choices I have
germ theorygerms don’t cause disease and if they did, vaccines didn’t stop them, it was better nutrition and sanitation
homeopathyvaccines don’t work, weekly chiropractic adjustments can keep you healthy, and natural immunity is best, but buy some homeopathic vaccines anyway
essential oilsdefinitely not being sold as part of a multi-level marketing scheme
monkey poxjust smallpox renamed
Guillain-Barré Syndromejust polio renamed
roseolajust measles renamed
SIDSa vaccine injury
vitamin Ka vaccine to be avoided
cognitive dissonancehow we sleep at night after skipping or delaying vaccines and leave our kids unnecessarily unprotected from life-threatening diseases
Andrew Wakefield“…Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.”

Get it?

It’s why many people have a hard time talking to friends and family members who are anti-vaccine. And even visits to the pediatrician to talk about vaccines don’t always go so well.

More on the Anti-Vaccine to Science Translator

Making the Right Choice About Vaccines

Most parents vaccinate their kids.

For them, it is an easy choice. They know that vaccines work, that vaccines are safe, and that vaccines are necessary.

Making the Right Choice About Vaccines

Some folks aren’t so sure though. They may either be against vaccines or might still be on the fence, not knowing for sure what to do.

“When my third child was born, I had more questions than answers and a huge reluctance to choose immunizations without certainty that the benefits outweigh the risks.”

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

Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo when he took his daughter to their pediatrician for vaccines.
Mark Zuckerberg posted a photo when he took his daughter to their pediatrician for her vaccines.

Parents can be confident that all of the evidence points to the facts that:

  1. Vaccines are effective at preventing disease. Vaccines work.
  2. Our kids do not get too many vaccines and do not get them at too early an age. The current immunization schedule helps protect young children from life-threatening diseases. Vaccines are necessary.
  3. Vaccines are safe and are extensively tested before they are approved.
  4. After they are approved, there are ongoing clinical trials and safety systems in place to rule out the possibility that vaccines could cause diseases later in life.
  5. Claims of adverse reactions are well investigated and easily disproved. Vaccines are not associated with SIDS, ADHD, eczema, autism, peanut allergies, or any other so-called vaccine induced diseases.
  6. There are plenty of places to go to get truthful, clear answers to questions about vaccines.
  7. Everything you hear that scares you about vaccines is likely not true, especially things about toxins, shedding, herd immunity, and package inserts, etc.

With all of the anti-vaccine information that is regularly posted on Facebook and anti-vaccine books listed on Amazon, it is no surprise that some parents would be scared though.

“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

Make the effort to be well informed about vaccines.

More on Making the Right Choice About Vaccines