Tag: fear

Why Do We Only Fear Vaccine Preventable Diseases?

How many diseases can be prevented with vaccines?

Would you believe that there are about 29 vaccine-preventable diseases, from adenovirus and anthrax to typhoid fever and yellow fever?

That’s a lot more than the 16 that kids today routinely get vaccinated against

Diseases That Are Not Vaccine Preventable

Whether you think about 16 or 29 vaccine-preventable diseases, they are a drop in the pocket when you think about all of the diseases that can’t be prevented with a vaccine.

Just consider all of the viruses and bacteria that can get you sick during cold and flu season:

  • group A Streptococci – strep throat and scarlet fever
  • Human metapneumovirus (HMPV) – bronchiolitis, colds, and viral pneumonia
  • Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs) – bronchiolitis, bronchitis, colds, croup, or viral pneumonia
  • norovirus – diarrhea and vomiting
  • respiratory adenovirus – bronchitis, colds, croup, viral pneumonia, pink eye, and diarrhea
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – wheezing and bronchiolitis in younger children, but colds in older kids and adults
  • rhinovirus – the classic common cold
  • rotavirus – diarrhea and vomiting, was much more common in the pre-vaccine era
  • seasonal coronavirus – colds, bronchitis, and viral pneumonia
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae – ear infections, meningitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia

In addition to the flu, only rotavirus and Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcal vaccines) are vaccine preventable.

And there are still thousands of other diseases that aren’t vaccine preventable, including African trypanosomiasis, Chagas disease, Chikungunya, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Dengue fever, Ebola, Herpes Zoster, HIV, Hookworm disease, Leishmaniasis, Malaria, Schistosomiasis, and Zika, some of the most deadly diseases around.

Why Do We Only Fear Vaccine-Preventable Diseases?

So is it true that we only fear vaccine-preventable diseases and that’s why folks get vaccinated?

“Why aren’t you walking around concerned about leprosy every day? Why aren’t you concerned about someone from another country bringing leprosy into Australia or the US and somehow exposing all of our most vulnerable to this illness? I’ll tell you why. Because there’s no vaccine for leprosy. You are afraid of what we vaccinate for because these illnesses are hyped up all of the time. It’s propaganda. You are told what to fear, so they can then sell you an alleged solution.
The only diseases we fear are the ones that a vaccine has been developed and marketed for. We never feared measles and mumps in the early 20th century… Because its what the media tells us to do.”

Learn the Risk – Why aren’t we afraid of all diseases?

Did you know that there actually is a vaccine for leprosy? Don’t expect it to be added to our immunization schedule any time soon or to increase your fears about leprosy, as leprosy is not highly contagious and it can be cured.

Forget about leprosy though… If folks didn’t fear measles and mumps in the early 20th century, before we had vaccines to control these diseases, then why did epidemics so often lead to newspaper headlines, quarantines, and school closings?

Quarantines were routine in the pre-vaccine era.
Quarantines were routine in the pre-vaccine era.

And if we only fear diseases that a vaccine has been developed and marketed for, then why are so many parents afraid of RSV and herpes?

How many new parents won’t even let family members kiss their newborns because they are worried about herpes, even if they don’t have a cold sore? How many parents get panicked if they hear RSV, which can cause severe disease in high risk babies, but typically only causes cold symptoms in most others.

Anyway, fear doesn’t drive most of us to vaccinate and protect our kids. We just understand that vaccines are safe and necessary and that getting vaccinated is a smart decision.

It is the diseases that aren’t vaccine preventable that might scare us a little bit…

What to Know About Fearing Vaccine-Preventable Diseases

Anti-vaccine folks push propaganda to make parents afraid of vaccines and to scare them away from vaccinating and protecting their kids. The idea that we are only afraid of vaccine preventable diseases is a good example.

More on Fearing Vaccine Preventable Diseases

The Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

In May 1895, a smallpox outbreak hit west Plano.
1895 Fort Worth Gazette

North Texas is no stranger to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

After all, this was the site of a large measles outbreak in 2013 at the Kenneth Copeland Ministries Eagle Mountain International Church.

And it has also been the site of chicken pox parties, mumps outbreaks, and a few clusters of unvaccinated kids.

Mostly though, parents in North Texas do a good job of getting their kids vaccinated and protected.

The Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Of course, that’s not what’s keeping smallpox away.

Routine smallpox vaccination, which was typically given when children were about 12 months old, ended in 1972 in the United States. And smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980.

“Today, Preston Lakes is a quiet, manicured neighborhood in an affluent area of Plano. Almost 120 years ago, it was the site of one of Plano’s darkest hours.”

Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Driving around Plano now, it is hard to imagine that this city once battled smallpox.

While that is probably true of any modern city, the curious thing is that the area in and around Plano wasn’t settled until the early 1840’s, at which time an effective smallpox vaccine had been available for over 40 years.

Remember, Edward Jenner developed his smallpox vaccine in 1796. And before that we had variolation.

“On May 6, 1895, Plano City Council called an emergency meeting, establishing a strict quarantine “to protect our citizens from this loathsome disease.” Anyone within the area between what is now Spring Creek Parkway, Park Boulevard, Coit and Preston Roads was forbidden to leave. An armed guard patrolled the border.”

Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Farwick Collinsworth, whose family owned large portions of what is now West Plano, lost his 11-year-old granddaughter in the smallpox outbreak.

Next, his wife and two sons died.

Then two more grandchildren and a nephew.

All together, at least 15 people died in the smallpox outbreak of 1895 in Plano, Texas.

“In 1806 the first smallpox inoculations were administered in San Antonio de Béxar. After initial resistance to the experiment, the townspeople came to accept the procedure, and the threat of smallpox was lessened for a time.”

Texas State Historical Association Public Health

While the Plano outbreak is certainly sad, it is truly tragic that smallpox was already a vaccine-preventable disease at this time.

History of Smallpox in Texas

Still, as late as 1900, 894 people died of smallpox in the United States. Globally, at least 300 million people died of smallpox during the 20th century.

So why weren’t folks vaccinated against smallpox in the late 19th century in North Texas?

In 1901, the editor of The Texas Medical Journal discusses the "prejudice against vaccination" in Texas at the time of a widespread smallpox epidemic.
In 1901, the editor of The Texas Medical Journal discusses the “prejudice against vaccination” in Texas, at the time of a widespread smallpox epidemic.

While some people talking about issues with vaccine availability, remember that this is just after almost 100,000 people participated in the Leicester Demonstration March of 1885 to protest the smallpox vaccine.

While Leicester is quite a ways from Plano, a little bit closer to home we had the Laredo Smallpox Riot.

“When he realized that Laredoans were not fully embracing the quarantine program, especially the mandatory inoculation, he asked the governor to send in Texas Rangers. A contingent of rangers under Captain J.H. Rogers arrived on March 19, 1899, and began enforcing the health official’s orders more vigorously than some of the city’s residents thought proper. Milling protestors pelted rangers and health workers with harsh words and harder rocks, leading to a couple of minor injuries.
The next day, when the rangers got word that someone had telephoned a local hardware store to order 2,000 rounds of buckshot, the officers began a house-to-house search of the part of town where the order had come from. The situation soon deteriorated into a riot, with the rangers killing two citizens and wounding 10 others. It took cavalry from nearby Fort McIntosh to restore order.
The inoculation and fumigation program continued, and by May 1, Dr. Blunt lifted the quarantine in the border city.”

Frontier Medicine: Texas Doctors Overcome Disease and Despair

And we had folks pushing homeopathic vaccines, anti-vaccine talking points about the “evil results from vaccination,” all contributing to a “prejudice against vaccination.”

The Texas Medical Journal, in 1902, describes how other areas have controlled or eliminated smallpox with vaccines - but not Texas.
The Texas Medical Journal, in 1902, describes how other areas had controlled or eliminated smallpox with the vaccine – but not Texas.

It maybe shouldn’t be surprising that the last smallpox outbreak in the United States was in Texas – in 1949. Eight people got sick, and one person, Lillian Barber, died.

But Texas wasn’t at the center of the anti-vaccine fight against protecting kids against smallpox. In Utah (the McMillan bill), Minnesota, and California, laws were passed banning mandatory vaccination for attending school. While the governors of Utah and California vetoed their bills, in Utah, legislators overcame the veto.

What came next?

Outbreaks of smallpox.

In 1906, AMA President William J. Mayo, a Minnesota physician, charged that his state’s “inability to enforce vaccination” had unleashed a smallpox epidemic, infecting 28,000 of the state’s citizens – “all due to a small but vociferous band of antivaccination agitators.”

Pox: An American History

That was over a hundred years ago.

What comes next?

Will we let today’s “vociferous band of antivaccination agitators” guide  vaccine policy and put our kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, as they push the same old anti-vaccine propaganda and fight against vaccine mandates, which are only necessary because they scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?

Let’s hope not.

What to Know About the Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Fifteen people died in Plano, Texas in 1895, even though a smallpox vaccine was available at the time that could have prevented this and most other smallpox outbreaks and epidemics. Tragically, the fight against its use mirrors much of what we see in today’s anti-vaccine movement.

More on the Plano Smallpox Outbreak of 1895

Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

We often hear the argument that anyone who supports the ideas that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary must be a shill for Big Pharma. And that pediatricians, even though they are among the lowest paid doctors, are making tons of money from vaccines and even getting bonuses to get kids vaccinated.

Of course, none of these myths and conspiracy theories are true.

Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

But guess what motivates many of the folks in the anti-vaccine movement?

“Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems.”

Claire Dwoskin

For some, it is the idea that vaccines damaged their child.

And then there’s the money.

CNN did a report several years ago on how a few groups were funding researchers and organizations that put out much of the material that scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

It wasn’t a surprise though. Many others had been saying the same things for years about:

  • the Dwoskin Family Foundation and CMSRI
  • Barry Segal and Focus for Health
  • JB Handley and Generation Rescue

But anti-vaccine experts aren’t just motivated by the money they directly get from those with deep pockets.

Selling supplements is big business for integrative, holistic, and anti-vaccine folks.
Selling supplements is big business for integrative, holistic, and anti-vaccine folks.

They have discovered many ways to turn the anti-vaccine movement into a money making industry.

Paul Thomas doesn't mention that he gets a big cut of the sales for a "free" summit that costs $197 as he promotes his anti-vaccine lecture.
Paul Thomas doesn’t mention that he gets a big cut of the sales for a “free” summit that costs $197 as he promotes his anti-vaccine lecture.

Many of these folks also get money by:

  • selling anti-vaccine books, e-books, videos, seminars, and movies
  • getting paid to speak at anti-vaccine conferences and summits, often for chiropractors or folks like Gwyneth Paltrow, pushing her GOOP
  • selling supplements and vitamins in a “wellness” store, either online or in their offices, that they claim can detox you from vaccines, protect you from toxins, and even prevent autism
  • ads on their websites and Facebook pages
  • appearing as “experts” in court, as they push the idea that everything is a vaccine injury
  • soliciting donations

Those who are health care providers can also establish integrative or holistic medical practices that don’t accept insurance and only see patients that can pay cash. In addition to selling supplements, these providers offer unproven and disproven alternative therapies, like homeopathy, integrative testing, IV therapy, and cranio-sacral therapy.

Does your holistic pediatrician accept insurance?
Does your holistic pediatrician accept insurance?

But only if you have plenty of cash handy.

Kelly Brogan, MD, for example, who believes in a paleo approach to vaccines and thinks we should co-exist with viruses and bacteria, charges up to $4,497 for your first appointment! But if that’s too much for you, for only $997, you can start living a “happy, healthier life” with her 44 day online program.

“We coexist with bacteria and viruses to a level of enmeshment that makes the perception of ‘vaccine-preventable infections’ a laughable notion.”

Kelly Brogan, MD on Where do Vaccines Fit into a Paleo Lifestyle?

And now, some doctors are even making money by selling vaccine exemptions!

Oliver argued that Sears likes to have it both ways, seeming to support science-based medicine while once in a while saying things like “vaccines don’t cause autism except when they do.”

The line inspired Oliver to fire back with this: “Don’t worry, opportunist quacks writing books that fan the flames of people’s unfounded fears don’t cause a legitimate public health hazard, except when they do.”

John Oliver takes a shot at the anti-vaccine movement and the ‘opportunistic quacks’ behind it

Mostly they just sell fear though.

But that’s all they need to get their foot in the door and keep some parents from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

What to Know About the Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

Although they cry Big Pharma at the drop of a hat, it should be clear that folks in the anti-vaccine movement are often motivated by money.

More on the Money and Motivation of the Anti-Vaccine Movement

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Yes, we know.

It’s because you have done your research.

“Many would argue that we have become a culture characterized by intolerance of any risk (particularly of co-mission as opposed to omission), such that when harm does occur someone is to blame.”

Poland et al on Understanding those who do not understand: a brief review of the anti-vaccine movement

But that’s not really why you aren’t vaccinating your kids.

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Research has explained the real reasons, most of which happen subconsciously, and they include the following  well known cognitive phenomena:

  1. ambiguity aversion – the idea is that people tend to prefer known risks rather than unknown risks and while you would think that would tend to widely favor getting vaccinated (known, very small risks of a vaccine) vs remaining unprotected (relatively unknown risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease and coping with possible complications), that’s not how vaccine-hesitant people think. If you are skipping or delaying any vaccines, you are likely to overestimate the risks of vaccines, include ‘risks’ that are not even associated with vaccines, and make getting vaccinated seem like a much bigger and ambiguous risk than it really is. Also, some vaccine-hesitant parents see much more ambiguity in the whole getting vaccinated decision than there really is, mostly because of the false balance in media reporting. There is no ambiguity – experts agree that vaccines are safe and necessary.
  2. anticipatory regret – you might decide to skip or delay a vaccine because you “wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself” if your child had a severe reaction, explaining the anti-vaccine slogan that “You can always get Vaccinated, but you can never get Unvaccinated.” While it is a catchy slogan, it misses the fact that some parents do regret their decision to not vaccinate their kids because they did wait too long and their child did get a vaccine-preventable disease. You can’t always get vaccinated and severe reactions are very rare.
  3. availability heuristic – we think things are likely to happen if we can easily remember them and we are most likely to remember things like vaccine scare stories because we see them all of the time. That doesn’t make them true or mean that they really are common though. Have you seen many of those videos?
  4. bandwagoning – many of us like to jump on the bandwagon – doing what everyone else is doing. So how does bandwagoning fit into vaccine hesitancy, considering that most people vaccinate and protect their kids? Just consider that many of unvaccinated kids we see today are grouped together in “pockets of susceptibles” because their vaccine-hesitant parents are also clustered together in an echo chamber, making it seem like skipping or delaying vaccines is a more popular option than it really is. Also, so much of the vaccine sentiment online is negative, it is easy for it to seem like it is the same in the real world. For example, it has been found that 75% of the vaccine sentiment on Pinterest, 66% of the vaccine sentiment on YouTube, and 30-35% of the vaccine sentiment on Facebook and Twitter is negative! Do your friends and family members vaccinate their kids?
  5. cognitive dissonance – this is the anxiety you get from believing in two things that contradict each other, like if you are afraid to vaccinate your child, but you are just as afraid that if he isn’t vaccinated, then he will get measles. One belief eventually wins out and makes it easier for you to believe anything else that reinforces it, even things that aren’t logical and which are easily disproven. Even if you don’t realize it, and you probably won’t, this is when you begin to use cherry picking, confirmation bias, survivorship bias, etc., and become a Dunning Kruger master.
  6. control – most of us like to be in control, or at least feel like we are in control. Saying no to a vaccine, especially a vaccine that you feel is involuntary (your child needs it to attend daycare or school), may help you feel a little more in control of what may seem like a never ending bombardment of risks facing your child.
  7. explanatory attribution – people like, or even need, to find a meaning for things, such as why kids are autistic, and when you don’t have one, it becomes very easy to make one up or latch onto someone else’s idea of a vaccine injury or vaccine induced disease.
  8. free-riding – while some people are hiding in the herd out of necessity, including those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with medical exemptions, others are free-riders and are benefiting from the fact that most of the rest of us do get vaccinated and do vaccinate our kids.
  9. omission bias – when given the option, some people prefer doing nothing instead of doing something, even if it leads to something much worse happening in the future. Choosing to do nothing, like skipping or delaying your child’s shots, is still a decision though, and if your child or someone else’s child gets sick, your action (by omission) is still the cause and you would still be morally responsible.
  10. optimism bias – some parents are overly optimistic about their ability to protect their intentionally unvaccinated kids from getting a vaccine-preventable disease or even that they can treat them if they do get sick with essential oils, homeopathic remedies, a trip to the chiropractor, or other alternative type treatments. They can’t.

Of course, none of these things would be able to take hold so well without one other thing – fear.

Fear helps these cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies take hold and change your perception of risk into something that is much different from reality. That’s why some people 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.

They aren’t. Vaccines are safe.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Again, some people fear vaccines more than they fear the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. Surprisingly, this effect is well known and has been predicted. If you don’t know or have never seen anyone with a vaccine-preventable disease, like polio, measles, diphtheria, or tetanus, then it’s easy to believe that they really were mild diseases.

They weren’t. And they still aren’t. Vaccines are necessary.

Rotavirus vaccines are associated with a very small risk of intussusception, but that is not a good reason to miss the benefits of this vaccine.
My daughter getting all of her two month vaccines to make sure she was safe and  fully protected. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

But why are some parents so afraid of vaccines that they have panic attacks if they even think about vaccinating their baby? It certainly doesn’t help if you believe one or more of the 100 myths about vaccines that you might see on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. Or that you are likely constantly being hit with vaccine scare videos that make it sound like every child has a vaccine injury.

All of that propaganda can make you more susceptible to the cognitive biases that we all have to deal with from time to time, even leading you to believe in the many anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that are always floating around.

But fear shouldn’t be what drives your decision making.

We shouldn’t have to wait for outbreaks for folks to start vaccinating their kids again.

Get educated and understand that vaccines are safe, with few risks and many benefits. Learn to think critically, be more skeptical about the things you see and read about vaccines, and overcome your biases.

What to Know About Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

You aren’t vaccinating your kids because something or someone has scared you and a series of cognitive bias are making it hard for you to see the truth that vaccines are safe, necessary, and that they work.

More On Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids