Tag: propaganda

How Misinformed and Irresponsible Parents Led to Outbreaks of Smallpox

In our age of social media, we have gotten used to hearing from the Surgeon General and most everyone else in our government.

The Surgeon General had to address misinformation and propaganda about vaccines nearly 100 years ago.
The Surgeon General had to address misinformation and propaganda about vaccines nearly 100 years ago.

Folks likely weren’t as used to this back in the early part of the 20th Century.

Surgeon General Letter to All State Health Officers

At the time, because of a return of smallpox, H.S. Cumming wrote this letter:

To all State Health Officers:

The neglect of vaccination in many districts of certain sections of the United States has led to a recrudescence of smallpox, with the corresponding suffering experienced by its victims and a wholly unnecessary sacrifice of human lives in the years 1922 and 1923 amounting to 967 known deaths from smallpox and possibly a number of others which were not reported. During the first six months of 1924 an additional toll of at least 200 human lives has been taken every one of which deaths could have been prevented by vaccination and revaccination.

The increasing number of cases of smallpox and the continued spread of this disease from city to city and from State to State will, if not checked, not only augment the number of victims but may bring about a condition which would seriously interfere with the movements of passengers on trains steamers, automobiles, and other carriers. It is conceivable that this interference might be of a degree that would involve the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars in quarantine, a contingency which might easily be avoided provided our people can be induced to protect themselves by vaccination and revaccination.

The Public Health Service is being importuned at the present time to exercise its authority in enforcing interstate quarantine to prevent the migration of the unvaccinated when there is danger that these persons may have been exposed to smallpox.

It is particularly desirable that the Federal Government may not be forced to interfere in interstate travel and it is earnestly hoped that the authorities of all States, counties, municipalities, or other units of government will immediately begin campaigns to secure the vaccination or revaccination of all persons who have not been recently successfully vaccinated particularly in those States where smallpox is prevalent.

Vaccination and revaccination being a perfect protection against smallpox it might be argued that protection against the disease is a matter which should be left to the discretion of the individual, but there is no more reason for leaving the defense against an enemy of the State, such as smallpox is, to the discretion of the individual, than there would be in leaving the defense of the State against an armed invading force to the individual. These enemies are equally dangerous. Furthermore there are a large number of persons who are otherwise good citizens who because of indifference, carelessness, and lack of information, and oftentimes because of having been deceived by false propaganda and deliberate misinformation, either fail or refuse to protect themselves and their trusting but helpless children until it is too late. These same children of misinformed or irresponsible parents being too young to judge for themselves are entitled to the protection of the State and certainly the State is derelict in its duties if it allows such unprotected children to be exposed to smallpox.

Respectfully HS CUMMING Surgeon General

The response to the foregoing letter has been very gratifying. At the same time, much still remains to be done in the way of vaccination and revaccination of our nonimmune population if a recrudescence of this disease is to be forestalled.

Does any of that surprise you?

Talk of “enforcing interstate quarantine?”

People being deceived by “false propaganda and deliberate misinformation?”

Folks skipping vaccines and allowing a vaccine-preventable disease to return?

Unnecessary sacrifice…

Why?

What were they worried about?

It wasn’t autism!

And it couldn’t have been that they were getting too many vaccines

But they were still led to believe that vaccines were dangerous and they let that misinformation influence them, putting their kids at risk, with tragic results.

One hundred years later, folks shouldn’t still be making these same mistakes.

More on Misinformed and Irresponsible Parents

Vaccine Cartoons and Caricatures

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the anti-vaccine movement has long been a good source of material for folks who draw cartoons and caricatures.

Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people's minds!
Mr. X let everyone know about that flu shots were being used to control people’s minds!

And it still is!

Vaccine Cartoons and Caricatures

Of course The Simpsons, although they are often ahead of their time on things, wasn’t the first cartoon to send a message about vaccines.

Remember the children being fed to the Vaccination Monster?, with John Birch and other anti-vaccination heroes of the day marching to slay it?

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.

This etching of Charles Williams was made in 1802 as “propaganda against the introduction of vaccination as a preventative measure against smallpox.”

The Cow Pock is an etching by James Gillray.
The Cow Pock is an etching by James Gillray.

That was also the year of the etching by James Gillray of Edward Jenner vaccinating people, who were then turning into cows!

“Dr. Jenner, an excellent portrait, is seen in the exercise of his discovery; a workhouse lad, impressed into the service as his assistant, is holding a milk-pail filled with “vaccine pock hot from the cow.” A second doctor is in attendance, dispensing medicines to promote the effects of the vaccination, which are strongly developed on all sides. Various whimsical results are pictured in the unfortunate subjects with whom the process may be said to have “taken.” A picture in the background, founded on the worship of the golden cadf, represents the adoration of a cow.”

The satirical etchings of James Gillray

Yes, the Cow Pock etching is satire. He was poking fun at anti-vax folks.

And while he was maybe the first, Gillray certainly wasn’t the last to use cartoons to help illustrate the dangers of the anti-vaccine movement.

Or the benefits of vaccines.

Vaccination against small pox, or mercenary & merciless spreaders of death & devastation driven out of society was printed in 1808.

Vaccination against Small Pox. Courtesy of The British Museum.
Vaccination against Small Pox. Courtesy of The British Museum.

The etching by Isaac Cruikshank depicts Edward Jenner driving “three old-fashioned doctors, practicers of inoculation” out of town.

This wood engraving from 1881 shows a crying child getting vaccinated in a room full of people waiting their turn.
This wood engraving from 1881 shows a crying child getting vaccinated in a room full of people waiting their turn. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

In 1838, The Chirurgico Comico Alphabet included this Vaccination cartoon.

The Chirurgico Comico Vaccination.

There wasn’t an entry for smallpox…

How well do vaccines work?

Not well enough to inoculate us against a “Swindling Bank President…

"Now, my friends, step right up and be vaccinated for all forms of disease to which bank officials are liable!"
“Now, my friends, step right up and be vaccinated for all forms of disease to which bank officials are liable!”

The illustration above was made by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler in 1885.

Vaccine Cartoons That Make You Think

Who is most likely to allow misinformation to blindly lead them “off a cliff?”

This cartoon illustrates how misinformation blindly leads people off of a cliff to their getting vaccine preventable diseases.
This cartoon illustrates how misinformation blindly leads people off of a cliff to their getting vaccine preventable diseases.

These cartoons from the 1930s American Public Health Association “Health in Pictures” cartoon booklet can help us see that the anti-vaccine movement hasn’t changed much over the years.

Controlling these diseases is going to take more than just good hygiene and sanitation.
Controlling these diseases is going to take more than just good hygiene and sanitation.

Well maybe they have.

Vaccines are important for people and our pets.

Anti-vax folks today aren’t vaccinating and protecting their animals either!

Let's give them something to think about.
Let’s give them something to think about.

Many of these cartoonists, like Anne Mergen, did indeed give people something to think about.

What would you think about if you saw this cartoon?

The cartoon "Wonder Why My Parents Didn't Give Me Salk Shots?" was published on January 12, 1956.
“Wonder Why My Parents Didn’t Give Me Salk Shots?” was published on January 12, 1956 and “was aimed at parental apathy surrounding the new cure for polio.”

Tom Little won the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning in 1957 for his cartoon advocating the use of Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine.

Vaccine Cartoons Today

Unfortunately, the anti-vaccine movement continues to give cartoonists, animators, and writers plenty of material.

Lois and Peter are alone at their anti-vaccine rally, but still manage to trigger a measles outbreak at Stewie's daycare.
Lois and Peter (The Family Guy) are alone at their anti-vaccine rally, but still manage to trigger a measles outbreak at Stewie’s daycare.

Even SouthPark has done an episode about vaccines, as Cartman, who is afraid to get a shot, tries to get a religious exemption to stay in school.

Chicken pox party - The Simpsons did it.
Chicken pox party – The Simpsons did it.

And whether it was in the 1800s or the 21st Century, all of these cartoon images can provide some understanding of how people view public health and the need for vaccines.

“Nuisances and other perceived threats to health were not, of course, seen only in the pointed exaggerations of caricature; they were also available in news drawings and, sometimes, through direct personal observation. But an essential characteristic of the cartoons is their agitational character. They strove for change. To do this, they selected targets, they uncovered less visible problems, and they assigned responsibility for these problems.”

Bert Hansen on The image and advocacy of public health in American caricature and cartoons from 1860 to 1900.

Fortunately, most understand that vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are necessary.

More on Vaccine Cartoons

Is It Rational to Be Anti-Vaccine?

Why do some people think that they are making a rational decision when they skip or delay their children’s vaccines?

Are parents making a rational decision when they skip or delay their children's vaccines?
Are parents really making a rational decision when they skip or delay their children’s vaccines?

Is it because they “know” that they are right?

Or because others reinforce their beliefs?

Is It Rational to Be Anti-Vaccine?

Whatever the reason, we should be clear that skipping or delaying vaccines, leaving your child at risk to get a vaccine-preventable disease and putting others at risk, is really not a rational decision.

“It is not the case, of course, that people make decisions about vaccination based solely on rational, evidenced-based, scientific perspectives.”

Timothy Caulfield et al on Injecting doubt: responding to the naturopathic anti-vaccination rhetoric

Instead, people often seem to skip or delay vaccines after fear helps a number of cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies take hold and change their perception of risk into something that is much different from reality. That fear is stoked by misinformation and propaganda they see on the Internet or hear from friends and family.

Or they become influenced by the idea that their child has been damaged or injured by a vaccine, even though in the great majority of cases, it has been shown that vaccines do not cause those problems.

“Well, if you’re going to inform yourself about vaccines, I think anybody who’s truly informed will realize that getting a vaccine is much better than not getting one. If you’re choosing not to vaccinate your child, it’s because you’re getting, frankly, bad information about vaccines.”

Paul Offit, MD

So call it what you want, but no, in general, it is not rational to be anti-vaccine, especially considering that:

Do you know what the biggest clue that it isn’t a rational decision in most cases?

Changing Your Mind About Vaccines

When a rational person is given new evidence or information that not only challenges their worldview, but blows it out of the water, what do they do?

They change their mind.

“It is irrational to hold any view so tightly that you aren’t willing to admit the possibility that you might be wrong.”

What would it take to convince you that you were wrong?

When do anti-vax folks change their minds?

“I don’t feel I’m putting my child at risk. There’s nothing that’s going to change my mind on this on that specific vaccination.”

More often than not, it is after one of their kids gets sick or there is a disease outbreak nearby.

Instead of changing their minds in the midst of disease outbreaks and immunization mandates, some parents decide to break the law

If you are not vaccinating and protecting your kids, what would it take to get you to change your mind about vaccines?

Do you need to see double blind placebo controlled studies, studies with saline placebos, studies with vaccines tested together, or long term safety studies?

Do you need to remind yourself what the pre-vaccine era was like? Or understand what will happen if too many people stop vaccinating their kids?

Don't wait until it's too late to vaccinate your child.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to vaccinate your child.

Whatever it takes, hopefully you don’t wait too long and regret your decision.

Of course, no one wants to intentionally harm their children. But you can’t do what’s right and make a rational decision if you are relying on bad information and advice.

More on the Idea of Rational Anti-Vaccine Beliefs

Whose Rights Are Taken Away By Vaccine Mandates?

Why do some people continue to bring up anti-vaccine talking points and act like they are asking some profound questions?

What about my choice to send my kids to school and not worry about their being exposed to measles or another vaccine-preventable disease? #JustAsking
What about my choice to send my kids to school and not worry about their being exposed to measles or another vaccine-preventable disease? #JustAsking

I’m just asking…

Whose Rights Are Taken Away By Vaccine Mandates?

Do they not realize that these anti-vaccine talking point have been refuted a thousand times already?

For example, while ‘where there is a risk, there should be a choice” makes a catchy slogan, it is obvious that these folks only care about the rights, risks, and choices of those who don’t want to vaccinate their kids.

Remember that parents nearly always have a choice on whether or not to vaccinate their healthy kids, even if they live in a state without non-medical exceptions.

You don’t have that choice if your child can’t be vaccinated though.

And they very obviously only care about their imagined right to send their intentionally unvaccinated child to school, where they pose a risk to those who can’t be vaccinated and who have immune system problems.

Don’t parents who vaccinate and protect their kids have rights?

What about their right to send their kids to school and not have to worry about being unnecessarily exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease?

That’s especially important if their child can’t be vaccinated or can’t be fully vaccinated, including those with immune system problems or cancer, who may be immunodeficient because of chemotherapy.

More Anti-Vax PRATTS

What about the $4 billion in payouts from VAERS?

That’s actually from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund, during a time when billions and billions of doses of vaccines have been given. And while the the great majority of those vaccines are given safely, since vaccines are not 100% safe, we have the Vaccine Court to help folks get compensated if they do suffer a vaccine injury.

But folks should be concerned that there are 200 new vaccines in the pipeline right?

Nope.

In fact, the “200 vaccines” in the pipeline include:

  • 124 for infectious diseases, including 36 to prevent or treat HIV, 25 to prevent influenza, including new nasal flu vaccines, 8 for RSV, and 8 for ebola
  • 105 for cancers
  • thirteen for allergies
  • eight for neurological disorders
  • seven for other conditions

So the only concerning part is that most won’t make it out of the pipeline and few are actually new vaccines to treat infectious diseases…

Of course it is also very concerning that they continue to push this kind of misinformation that scares parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids.

Why isn’t the media covering that more?

How about covering the fact that anti-vaccine folks continue to push the idea that vaccines are not tested against placebos, against saline placebos, aren’t tested together, and aren’t tested in long-term studies, despite the fact that they are?

Do We Need Vaccine Mandates?

It might surprise some folks, but vaccine mandates aren’t new.

What is relatively new are all of the exemptions that were added to the very effective vaccine mandates that helped eliminate measles in the United States.

Bob Sears warned us these measles outbreaks were coming. Of course, many people blame him for stoking those fears that made parents avoid the MMR...
Bob Sears warned us these measles outbreaks were coming. Of course, many people blame him for stoking those fears that made parents avoid the MMR…

It should be clear that we now need vaccine mandates without non-medical exemptions as too many people have been abusing these vaccine exemptions.

It’s a big part of the reason why we are seeing a rise in measles and outbreaks of other diseases.

How many will be enough?

Do we have to wait until more kids are dying before we get your attention?
Do we have to wait until even more kids are dying before we get everyone’s attention? Do we have to go back to the pre-vaccine era?

Do we need to wait until more kids are dying before we strengthen our vaccine mandates?

Or better yet, how about we put an end to spreading anti-vaccine propaganda and encourage more people to get vaccinated and protected so that we don’t need mandates?

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are very obviously necessary.

And for what it’s worth, science isn’t something that gets “debated in an open court of law.”

Debating science in the court room got us The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes or the Scopes Monkey Trial, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in schools.
Debating science in the court room got us The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes or the Scopes Monkey Trial, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in schools.

Neither should laws be made simply because our legislators are influenced by a very vocal minority of people who want to take away the choices and rights of everyone else so that they can send their intentionally unvaccinated kids to school.

More on Parental Rights and Vaccine Mandates