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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


Ask 8 Questions Before You Skip a Vaccine

As anti-vaccine folks get more attention because of the rise in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease, in addition to more folks getting vaccinated, we are seeing some of the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement get more vocal.

Are measles outbreaks a sign that the anti-vaccine movement is “winning?”

Meetings, dinners, rallies…

They are doing everything they can to get their misinformation and propaganda out so that you don’t vaccinate and protect your kids.

Ask 8 Questions Before You Skip a Vaccine

If you see any of these folks, ask them a few questions…

  1. If Andrew Wakefield was right, and the MMR vaccine is associated with autism, then why are you worried about thimerosal? The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal…
  2. If Robert F. Kennedy, Jr is right, and it is all about thimerosal, then why are you worried about the MMR vaccine? The MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal…
  3. If you are worried about thimerosal and aluminum, then why are you worried about the MMR vaccine? Not only has it never contained thimerosal, as a live vaccine, but it has also never contained aluminum.
  4. If vaccines are associated with autism, then why don’t the counties with the highest immunization rates have the highest rates of autism?
  5. If better hygiene and sanitation got rid of vaccine-preventable diseases, then why didn’t it do it for all diseases at the same time? And why hasn’t it gotten rid of RSV, Ebola, Zika, HIV, Norovirus, and all of the diseases that we don’t have vaccines for?
  6. If measles is so mild, then during the measles epidemics from 1989 to 1991 in the United States, why were 11,000 people hospitalized and why did 123 people die?
  7. If you are concerned about vaccines that have a distant association with abortion, then why don’t you vaccinate your kids with all of the vaccines that don’t use WI-38 and MRC-5 cells lines?
  8. If your arguments are so solid, then why do you need to keep moving the goalposts (it’s autoimmune diseases they are worried about now, not autism) and why are they so easy to refute (vaccines aren’t associated with autoimmune diseases either)?

The answers will be predictable.

They will revolve around three basic core beliefs of the anti-vaccine movement.

  • The belief that vaccines are toxic, full of poison, and always cause damage and injuries.
  • The belief that vaccine-preventable diseases are mild and you are better off getting natural immunity.
  • The belief that vaccines don’t even work.

Is that what you believe?

Will you let those kinds of beliefs scare you away from vaccinating and protecting your kids?

Are you going to put our kids at risk because you believe those things?

Are you really making an informed choice to skip or delay a vaccine when all of the scary things that people are telling you about vaccines aren’t even true?

More on Questions to Ask Before You Skip a Vaccine


We Know Vaccines Work

We know vaccines work.

How well do they work?

In addition to eradicating smallpox, did you know that vaccines have helped eliminate four other now vaccine-preventable diseases?

  1. diphtheria
  2. neonatal tetanus
  3. polio
  4. congenital rubella syndrome

And unlike measles, which was declared eliminated in 2000, we really don’t see these diseases anymore.

We Know Vaccines Work

How well do vaccines work?

Let’s look at the disease counts (morbidity data), how many kids got sick, just before we developed a vaccine and where we are now:

DiseasePre-Vax EraNow% Decrease
Smallpox110,672last case 1977 100%
Diphtheria30,508199.9%
Pertussis265,26913,43994.9%
Tetanus6012096.7%
Neonatal Tetanus1,000+0100%
Polio21,269last case 1993100%
Measles763,094372 99.9%
Mumps212,9342,25198.9%
Rubella488,796599.9%
Congenital Rubella Syndrome20,0000100%
Hib invasive18,0002799.9%
HepB300,0002,79999.1%
Perinatal HepB16,20095294.1%
Pneumococcal invasive64,40098698.5%
HepA254,51811,16695.6%
Varicella5,358,5956,89299.9%

Sandra Roush and Trudy Murphy provided us with pre-vaccine baselines for 13 vaccine-preventable diseases in their article, Historical Comparisons of Morbidity and Mortality for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States.

“A greater than 92% decline in cases and a 99% or greater decline in deaths due to diseases prevented by vaccines recommended before 1980 were shown for diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, and tetanus. Endemic transmission of poliovirus and measles and rubella viruses has been eliminated in the United States; smallpox has been eradicated worldwide. Declines were 80% or greater for cases and deaths of most vaccine-preventable diseases targeted since 1980 including hepatitis A, acute hepatitis B, Hib, and varicella. Declines in cases and deaths of invasive S pneumoniae were 34% and 25%, respectively.”

Roush et al on Historical Comparisons of Morbidity and Mortality for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States.

Their study, which came out in 2007, used morbidity (2006) and mortality (2004) data that was recent at the time. The data has held up very well since then, looking at 2018 statistics in the National Notifiable Infectious Diseases Weekly Tables (see below), even with talk of waning immunity for some vaccines.

But can’t you explain all of this decline away by talking about better hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition?

Of course not!

“…for those trained in pediatrics in the 1970s, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) was a horror.”

Walter Orenstein, MD

The pre-vaccine era for Hib was just before 1988, when the first Hib vaccine came out. We had good hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition in the 1980s and yet, a lot of kids died from Hib meningitis and epiglottitis. At least they did until he got a vaccine to prevent it.

And if it was better hygiene and sanitation, etc., why did it affect every disease at a different time? And why hasn’t better hygiene and sanitation stopped RSV, HIV, norovirus, Zika, and all of the other non-vaccine-preventable diseases?

Although there was a decline in mortality rates at the beginning of the 20th Century for all diseases thanks to better hygiene, sanitation, and nutrition, that effect plateaued by the mid-1930s. And since a lot of people were still getting sick, remember everyone used to get measles, even if a small percentage would die, it would add up to a lot of deaths!

Vaccines aren’t perfect, but they are safe, with few risks, and work well. Get vaccinated and protected if you want to keep from getting and bringing back these now vaccine-preventable diseases.

More on We Know Vaccines Work

Did Gregory Poland Really Say That MMR Vaccines Can’t Prevent Measles Outbreaks?

One of the pillars of the anti-vaccine movement is their belief that vaccines don’t even work.

They even think that they have graphs to prove it! They don’t…

Did Gregory Poland Really Say That MMR Vaccines Can’t Prevent Measles Outbreaks?

To help them try and argue their point, they also seem to like to cherry pick and misuse quotes from real experts.

Anti-vaccine propaganda from Lawrence Solomon.
Is that what Dr. Poland said?

In 2012, Gregory Poland, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Vaccine, did publish the article, The Re-Emergence of Measles in Developed Countries: Time to Develop the Next-Generation Measles Vaccines?

No where in the article does he say that the measles vaccine can’t prevent measles outbreaks.

He is just saying that since the vaccine isn’t 100% effective and because measles is so contagious, that it can’t prevent all measles outbreaks.

“Thus, measles outbreaks also occur even among highly vaccinated populations because of primary and secondary vaccine failure, which results in gradually larger pools of susceptible persons and outbreaks once measles is introduced.”

Poland et al on The Re-Emergence of Measles in Developed Countries: Time to Develop the Next-Generation Measles Vaccines?

And we likely won’t be able to eradicate measles with our current measles vaccine, “even though measles can be controlled, and even eliminated in some regions for defined periods of time.”

“Thus, while an excellent vaccine, a dilemma remains.”

Poland et al on The Re-Emergence of Measles in Developed Countries: Time to Develop the Next-Generation Measles Vaccines?

The dilemma is that measles is still around and that people who are too young to be vaccinated, too young to be fully vaccinated, and those with immune system problems who can’t be vaccinated sometimes get measles, in addition to folks who are intentionally unvaccinated.

With a better vaccine, fewer people would get caught up in outbreaks that are typically triggered by folks who are intentionally unvaccinated.

Remember, most outbreaks are traced back to someone who is unvaccinated. This is the person Dr. Poland is describing when he says “once measles is introduced,” as the endemic spread of measles has been eliminated in the United States. All cases are reintroduced from outside the country, typically when someone who is intentionally not vaccinated travels overseas and then returns with measles while they are still contagious.

“But he also said that sometimes people who oppose the vaccines will pick out one sentence in the scientific study and extrapolate it to mean things that it does not mean… He said that measles is the most contagious disease that we know, and yet we found that fear and ignorance is more so.”

Senator Carla Nelson on The Anti-vaxxers Might Wish that What was Lost had not been Found

Unfortunately, a better measles vaccine still won’t protect us from anti-vaccine propaganda.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and necessary. Get vaccinated and stop the outbreaks. You don’t have to wait for a new measles vaccine…

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