Tag: risk perception

Who Is Brandy Vaughan?

Have you ever heard of Brandy Vaughan?

It wouldn’t be surprising if you hadn’t, as the number of folks with their own anti-vaccine organizations has increased over the years. Where we once just had the NVIC, now it seems like everyone has their own anti-vaccine Facebook group. That doesn’t mean that the anti-vaccine movement is growing though, as they are all fighting for the same members.

And it is over this membership fight where some folks got an introduction to Brandy Vaughan. She recently got in a tussle with the organizer for a more popular group.

When Anti-Vax Folks Don’t Get Along

Did you know that the anti-vaccine movement is corrupt?

“A video I wish I didn’t have to make. When I started in this movement, I had no idea it would be as corrupt as pharma.
But I have had my eyes opened many times over…this video describes just one of many disappointments along the way: Larry Cook, who runs a popular page and group.

In the beginning, I believed what he told me and tried to look past the many odd comments and strange behaviors. But it ultimately became clear that he puts his own profit far ahead of our children.

That in and of itself wasn’t enough to motivate me to speak out and open myself up to the hundreds of attacks I would get, I kept hoping the truth would be exposed by someone else. And while some have tried, the past couple of weeks I have seen too much to stay silent any longer.”

Brandy Vaughn

What was her problem with Larry Cook? It’s hard to know, but it seemed to have something to do with the way he was raising money.

“Brandy and I have not communicated in over 18 months (or so). There was a time when I supported her immensely, and then we parted ways (hey, look at the screenshot and see what I wrote and how I wrote it). This is an absolute unjustified attack on my character and absolutely is defamation of character. It’s character assassination. And, already, a LOT of people have been posting hostile comments on my posts, and of course, elsewhere, and I recently learned even VINE is now in on this. So yes, I do need to make a statement about this considering how many people are now involved in this narcissist drama. This is the time to have discernment. If some of it is blatantly untrue, then perhaps the rest is as well. Please use your discernment before proceeding.”

Larry Cook

Folks who understand that what they call a movement is really an anti-vaccine industry, likely aren’t surprised by all of this. Through movies, videos, books, seminars, online stores selling supplements and detox kits, and simply asking for donations, there is a lot of motivation for folks to make you fear vaccines.

Who Is Brandy Vaughan?

Is Brandy Vaughn really one of the world's leading experts on the HPV vaccine?
Is Brandy Vaughan really one of the world’s leading experts on the HPV vaccine?

So who is Brandy Vaughan and what is her connection to the anti-vaccine movement?

Brandy Vaughan used to work for Merck, but she isn’t an immunologist or vaccine researcher. She is a former pharmaceutical representative.

Was she a pharmaceutical representative for Merck vaccines?

Nope. She sold Vioxx, a painkiller that was taken off the market in 2004 because of safety problems and led to $5 billion in lawsuits.

And many years later, as lawmakers in California worked to increase vaccination rates, she created an organization to educate “the public on vaccine risk and dangers.”

This type of anti-vaccine propaganda never mentions the risks of leaving your kids unvaccinated.
This type of anti-vaccine propaganda never mentions the risks of leaving your kids unvaccinated.

Seems like she didn’t like the idea of having to vaccinate her “vaccine-free” son.

How does she educate people?

She raises money and puts up billboards that warn about what she thinks are the risks of vaccines.

She never seems to mention the risks of leaving kids unvaccinated though.

And she seems to encourage other parents to leave anti-vaccine propaganda wherever they can.

Depending on where you live, you might find their ‘risk’ cards in books at the library, stuck to cans of baby formula, or at the grocery store.

Why do they do it?

Because they think that vaccines aren’t safe and that they are injuring and damaging children.

“I’m tired of all the LIES LIES LIES. The chemical additives in vaccines have absolutely no place injected into the human body and are causing irreparable damage. And we are being lied to for profit— vaccines are NOT safe, just as most pharmaceutical drugs are not safe. They all have side effects. With vaccines, there are too many, too soon and this entire generation of children is suffering because of it. People have the RIGHT to know the risks before they do something that may change their lives forever — or the life of their innocent, healthy child.”

Brandy Vaughan

Of course, the overwhelming evidence shows that vaccines are safe and that most side effects are mild. Kids today do get more vaccines, but they protect them from many more diseases, life-threatening diseases, that children used to get very routinely.

Learn the Risks from Brandy Vaughan

Brandy Vaughn wants to teach you about the risks of vaccines.

“Everything I have gone through in my life has been in preparation for this moment. This is why I am who I am. All the pieces of puzzle are coming together. This is why I am here in this world. This is my calling, my purpose. In fact, I often feel like this work is being done through me, not actually by me. I feel like I am floating in a river just going with the current — I don’t even have to swim and I’m fully in the flow.”

Brandy Vaughan

But not the normal risks, like that your kids might get a fever, be fussy, or have some pain after their vaccines. Her organization’s idea of the risk of vaccine comes from the viewpoint that vaccines “have no place in the human body.”

She also believes that:

  • everyone needs to detox because “we are all exposed to a massive amount of toxins from our environment, and particularly from vaccines.” And of course, she sells essential oils and supplements to help you detox.
  • it’s good to get sick because “there are many benefits to common illnesses”
  • vaccines “cannot create real immunity”
  • if you have cancer, you should “say NO to chemotherapy and radiation (get off all medications and no vaccines!)” because “traditional medical approaches (drugs, chemo, radiation) only FURTHER damage the body and immune system”

This is likely why experts in Perth, Australia are trying to keep her latest billboard from staying up in their city.

Learn the Risk billboard

They likely see all three components of anti-vaccine propaganda that the rest of us see:

  1. Making parents think vaccines are dangerous by overstating the side effects and risks of getting vaccinated, pushing vaccine scare stories, and the idea of vaccine induced diseases. And never mentioning any of the many benefits of vaccines.
  2. Making parents think that it’s no big deal to get measles or polio, by underestimating the risks of vaccine-preventable diseases and overstating the benefits of natural immunity over the protection you can get from vaccines.
  3. Making you think that vaccines don’t even work.

Whether these billboards stay up or not, parents only need to know one thing. The organization behind them isn’t helping them make an educated choice for their family. Don’t be scared into making a poor decision of skipping or delaying your child’s vaccines and leaving them unprotected. Be skeptical and learn the risks of getting the answers to your questions about vaccines from these folks.

Vaccines are safe and necessary. Vaccines Work.

Learn the Risks of Folks Like Brandy Vaughan

Brandy Vaughan and her organization scare parents away from vaccines by overstating, and in some cases, making up risks of vaccines.

More on Brandy Vaughan

Comparing Lightning Strikes to Measles Deaths

Have you ever heard that your child has more of a chance of getting hit by lightning than getting measles?

Since getting struck by lightning is rare, folks like to use it in comparisons to other things that they also think are low risk when trying to make a point.

There are problems with this type of argument though.

Understanding Risk Perception

In an age when many folks are overly anxious about things, it is important to understand the difference between real and perceived risks. Unfortunately, our biases often lead us to worry about the wrong things, sometimes with tragic consequences.

“No intervention is absolutely risk free. Even the journey to a physician’s office with the intention to receive a vaccination carries the risk of getting injured in an accident. With regards to risks of vaccination per se, one has to distinguish between real and perceived or alleged risks.”

Heininger on A risk–benefit analysis of vaccination

Vaccines have risks, but they are small risks, as we know that vaccines are safe and necessary and the decision to skip or delay your child’s vaccines carries with it a much greater risk.

Comparing Lightning Strikes to Vaccine Preventable Diseases

How common or rare do you think it is to get hit by lightning?

  • odds of being hit by lightning – 1 in 1,171,000 (each year)
  • odds of ever being hit by lightning – 1 in 14,600 (lifetime risk)
  • on average, 26 people die after being struck by lightning each year (since 2007), which is down from a recent historical average of 45 deaths per year (30 year average) and way down from when we used to see 400 lightning strike deaths each year before 1950
  • on average, 252 people are injured after being struck by lightning each year
Actually, just since 2000, at least 5 people have died of measles in Canada.
Actually, just since 2000, at least 6 people have died of measles in Canada.

Although 26 people dying after lightning strikes sounds like way too many to me, especially since one recent death was a 7-year-old boy in Tennessee playing under a tree, with 1 in 1,171,000 odds of getting hit, it sounds like we are pretty safe.

But is it fair to use those odds to justify your decision to keep your kids unvaccinated?

Of course not!

Why is our risk of getting struck by lightning so low?

What happens when we hear thunder or see lightning?

When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!

What happens when a thunder storm approaches and you are at your kids soccer or baseball game?

“Postpone or suspend activity if a thunderstorm appears imminent before or during an activity or contest (irrespective of whether lightning is seen or thunder heard) until the hazard has passed. Signs of imminent thunderstorm activity are darkening clouds, high winds, and thunder or lightning activity.”

UIL on Lightning Safety

Many ball fields now have lightning detectors to alert officials of nearby storms. And just about everyone has access to weather apps on a smart phone that can alert them to an approaching thunder storm or nearby lightning strikes.

The point is that most of us understand that lightning is dangerous, so we go far out of our away to avoid getting hit. The risk of getting hit by lightning isn’t 1 in 1,171,000 with folks running around outside waving golf clubs in the air during thunder storms or sitting on their roofs under an umbrella watching the storm.

The risk of getting hit by lightning is 1 in 1,171,000 because most of us go inside once we know lightning is nearby.

“Based on the media reports of the fatal incidents, many victims were either headed to safety at the time of the fatal strike or were just steps away from safety. Continued efforts are needed to convince people to get inside a safe place before the lightning threat becomes significant. For many activities, situational awareness and proper planning are essential to safety.”

A Detailed Analysis of Lightning Deaths in the United States from 2006 through 2017

And the same is true with measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases. They aren’t as common as they once were because most of us are vaccinated and protected.

If you skip or delay your child’s vaccines, you will increase the risk that they will get one of these vaccine-preventable diseases. And you will increase the risk that they will get someone else sick.

“I also warn them not to share their fears with their neighbors, because if too many people avoid the MMR, we’ll likely see the diseases increase significantly.”

Dr. Bob Sears in The Vaccine Book

And if enough people don’t get vaccinated, herd immunity fails, and we will see a return of pre-vaccine era levels of disease.

What to Know About Vaccines and Risk Perception

Folks often misuse lightning strikes when they think about risks, not understanding that the risk of getting hit by lightning is low because we take a lot of precautions to avoid getting hit by lightning.

More on Vaccines and Risk Perception

Are You Too Scared to Vaccinate Your Kids?

These days, if a parent suggests to their pediatrician that they might want to skip or delay their child’s vaccines, it is typically not because they are afraid of any association with autism, or because they have been influenced by Jenny McCarthy or Andrew Wakefield, or even because they have done a lot of research.

It is mostly because they are scared.

Are You Too Scared to Vaccinate Your Kids?

What are they scared of specifically?

“In today’s world, smallpox has been eradicated due to a successful vaccination program and vaccines have effectively controlled many other significant causes of morbidity and mortality. Consequently, fear has shifted from many vaccine-preventable diseases to fear of the vaccines.”

Marian Siddiqui et al on the Epidemiology of vaccine hesitancy in the United States

Surprisingly, there often isn’t anything specific that they are scared of. That’s unfortunate, as it makes it harder to offer reassurance when they don’t have specific questions or concerns.

Still, something is scaring these parents, sometimes to the point that they have panic attacks if they even think about vaccinating their kids.

“…many parents are inundated with horror stories of vaccine dangers, all designed to eat away at them emotionally while the medical and scientific communities have mounted their characteristic response by sharing the facts, the data, and all of the reliable peer-reviewed and well-cited research to show that vaccines are safe and effective.”

Federman on Understanding Vaccines: A Public Imperative

What has them so scared?

Could it be:

Whatever it is, it builds up to the point to where these parents fear the risks of vaccines more than they fear the risks and complications of vaccine-preventable diseases.

As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks.
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

That’s not surprising.

After all, why fear polio, measles, diphtheria, or tetanus, etc., if you have never had or known anyone that has had one of these now vaccine-preventable diseases? Why fear them, if you have never known anyone who has died with one of these now vaccine-preventable diseases?

And why trust that you should vaccinate your kids when you are likely inundated with messages about vaccines being poison, a Big Pharma conspiracy, or that you can just heal your child with some garlic and essential oils if they get sick?

Reducing Anxiety from Vaccinations

Have any ideas on how to get over your anxiety about vaccinations?

To start, learn that vaccines are safe, necessary, and they work to protect your kids and that all of the messages you are hearing about vaccines that have been scaring you aren’t true. You have probably already realized that on some level, but there are cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies that work together to change our perception of risk, keep us believing things aren’t true, and in this case, can keep you from vaccinating and protecting your kids.

It can also help to learn to think critically and be more skeptical about the things you see and read about vaccines, especially if you aren’t sure about the source of the information.

“The Internet has been identified as an important source for parents to seek and share vaccine information. There are concerns that parental fears or hesitancy on childhood immunizations are increasing due to the popularity of social media and exposure to online antivaccination sentiment.”

Tustin et al on Internet Exposure Associated With Canadian Parents’ Perception of Risk on Childhood Immunization: Cross-Sectional Study

Don’t let a small, yet vocal anti-vaccine minority scare you into a poor decision about your child’s vaccines.

What to Know About Being Too Scared to Vaccinate Your Kids

Parents who are inundated with anti-vaccine messages and misinformation sometimes get too scared to vaccinate their kids, fearing vaccines more than they fear the diseases they prevent.

More on Being Too Scared to Vaccinate Your Kids

What Is Vaccine Choice?

Have you heard about the idea of vaccine choice?

The “right to choose” is being pushed by anti-vaccine groups in many states because they think that laws mandating kids to have vaccines to go to daycare, school, and college violates their parental rights and civil liberties.

“Their claim that vaccines are 100% safe and effective for all people all of the time is not based in science and is not supported by facts or evidence, making it more of a religious belief than an adequate basis for their mandate argument.”

Texans for Vaccine Choice

And of course, they use a lot of anti-vaccine talking points to try and scare parents into believing them. Vaccines are safe and they work, but no one says that they are 100% safe or that they are 100% effective.

What Is Vaccine Choice?

Right away, you should see another big problem with the vaccine choice movement.

No one is forcing anyone to get vaccinated. Everyone has a choice. It’s just that some folks don’t like the consequences that come with that choice of not vaccinating their kids – having to home school their kids instead of going to a public or private school.

So basically, vaccine choice is just the anti-vaccine movement moving the goal posts yet again.

“If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f–king measles.”

Jenny McCarthy

Study after study showed that vaccines are not associated with autism and what did we get, measles outbreaks in unvaccinated kids.

What’s Missing In the Vaccine Choice Argument?

In addition to facts, one big thing that is missing from the vaccine choice argument is that by pushing the idea that unvaccinated kids should be allowed to skip or delay any or all vaccines without consequences, that takes away the choice for the rest of us who want to keep our kids protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Can’t we just vaccinate our kids?

Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity.
Many children with cancer and other medical conditions benefit from herd immunity. (CC BY 2.0)

We do!

But that doesn’t take away all of the risk if you don’t vaccinate your kids.

“…the increased risk of disease in the pediatric population, in part because of increasing rates of vaccine refusal and in some circumstances more rapid loss of immunity, increases potential exposure of immunodeficient children.”

Medical Advisory Committee of the Immune Deficiency Foundation

There are kids who are too young to be vaccinated or fully vaccinated, kids who can’t be vaccinated because of true medical vaccine exemptions, and folks whose vaccine didn’t work, after all, vaccines aren’t 100% effective.

The “choice” folks don’t talk about those things though.

Make an informed choice about vaccines before you think about leaving your child unvaccinated and unprotected.

What To Know About Vaccine Choice

Listen to anti-vaccine propaganda, skip or delay vaccines and leave your kids unprotected or do your research and understand that vaccines work and are safe and necessary and get them vaccinated and protected – that’s your vaccine choice.

More on Vaccine Choice

Who Is Dr. Taz?

Dr. Taz is on a mission “to transform the way we do medicine and empower and equip you with the best tools so you can live your healthiest life.”

While that sounds very nice, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that she seems like every other anti-vaccine quack we run across these days.

Who Is Dr. Taz?

Dr. Tasneem Bhatia MD (Dr. Taz) describes herself as a nationally recognized “wellness expert” who became a “pioneer and trailblazer” after overcoming her own personal health problems.

With multiple office locations and membership packages, Dr. Taz is pleased to offer many non-evidenced based services for you and your child, and she will even file your claim forms from your insurance company, although, as expected, she doesn’t actually participate in any insurance plans.

What about vaccines?

“My journey in medicine began with pediatrics, so I am well aware of the importance of vaccines and the incredible history and success of vaccination programs in reducing infant and child mortality.

Yet as my journey continues, I have had to listen to patient after patient describe a change or a shifting in their children once vaccines were administered. I experienced this as a parent. I will never forget the day that my son received a combination vaccine. Within 24 hrs., his mild reflux became severe, his weight gain over the next few months slowed and we continue to play catch up, trying to analyze our next steps. My son, however, is not autistic. He is brilliant, hilarious, and an absolute charmer.

My patients and my own children have forced me to rethink this vaccine controversy.”

Dr. Taz on Back to School Survival Series Part Two, The Vaccine Debate Continues

Of course, there is no vaccine controversy, except the one that folks like Dr. Taz have created. Like many other vaccine-friendly pediatricians, anecdotes became evidence and quickly overcame years of learning.

And shame on Dr. Taz for implying that autistic kids are not brilliant, hilarious and charmers!

That’s the vaccine controversy. Continuing to push the idea that autistic kids are vaccine damaged and not understanding the simple concept that correlation doesn’t imply causation.

“Red flags for parents that may justify an alternative schedule include”

Dr. Taz on Back to School Survival Series Part Two, The Vaccine Debate Continues

While there are true contraindications to getting vaccinated, she doesn’t list any of them, instead pushing anti-vaccine talking points about skipping or delaying vaccines if your child has reflux, colic, or delayed milestones, etc.

But there’s more.

During a visit with Dr. Taz, you can also get your child:

  • a Zyto scan
  • Meridian testing
  • a brain boost evaluation
  • sports optimization testing

And parents can get a detox screen “which will directly correlate with your child’s early ability to detox and process chemicals.”  That’s probably just MTHFR testing, which you don’t need and which doesn’t correlate with much of anything, besides homocystinuria.

Selling supplements is big business for integrative, holistic, and anti-vaccine folks.
Your diagnostic tests and evaluation, whether it is the Zyto scan or detox screen, likely helps them scare convince you into buying more supplements.

Dr. Taz also offers:

  • acupuncture and Chinese medicine
  • aromatherapy
  • Ayurveda (Indian medicine)
  • energy healing
  • essential oils
  • craniosacral therapy (osteopathy)
  • homeopathy
  • IV therapy

Now, I understand that these types of holistic docs push the idea of “pulling from conventional, integrative, holistic, functional and Chinese medicine to create the best customized treatment plans possible,” but if any of these alternative therapies worked, whether it was acupuncture or Ayurveda, or homeopathy, then why do they need to integrate them all?

So what services does Dr. Bhatia offer to bring her patients to “whole health”? It’s a veritable cornucopia of quackery. Homeopathy? Check. Acupuncture? Check. (Obviously.) IV vitamin therapy? Check. Oh, and of course Dr. Bhatia offers thermograms. She even offers mobile thermograms. Never mind that thermography remains an unvalidated test for the early detection of breast cancer, much less for all the other conditions for which Dr. Bhatia recommends it, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, back injuries, digestive disorders, “and more…”

A commercial for acupuncture masquerading as news

And how does someone go from teaching medical students and residents at Emory University to being one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop experts, along with Kelly Brogan?

Dr. Taz was a pediatrician who said that vaccines were safe and necessary.
It wasn’t so long ago that Dr. Taz was a pediatrician who said that vaccines were safe and necessary.

Or from saying vaccines are safe and necessary and that parents shouldn’t expose their kids at chicken pox parties to a few years later saying that we shouldn’t judge Kristin Cavallari because we need more vaccine research.

What motivates these folks?

What to Know About Dr. Taz Bhatia

Dr. Taz promotes herself as an integrative medicine expert who pushes many unproven treatments and has alternative and dangerous views about vaccines and autistic kids.

More on Dr. Taz Bhatia

Immunization Education Agreement

Having disagreements about getting kids vaccinated and protected are not rare these days.

“Many parents have questions about their children’s vaccines, and answering their questions can help parents feel confident in choosing to immunize their child according to the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule.”

CDC on Talking to Parents about Vaccines

They never were though.

The anti-vaccine movement, concerns about the pain from the shots, and worry about side effects have been around for as long as there have been vaccines.

Options When You Disagree About Vaccines

So what should you do if you disagree with someone about vaccines and you don’t want to get your child vaccinated?

It depends on who it is.

For example, if the person you disagree with is your pediatrician, then simply arguing about it likely isn’t a good idea, on either side.

Most pediatricians understand that many vaccine-hesitant parents are simply scared because of things they read and see on the Internet and they want to help you get educated, see through the myths and misinformation that are out there, and eventually get caught up and vaccinated.

They understand that terminating the physician-patient relationship over vaccines truly is a last resort for “when a substantial level of distrust develops, significant differences in the philosophy of care emerge, or poor quality of communication persists.”

Immunization Education Agreement

So what can you do besides arguing?

Will you agree to get educated about vaccines?
Will you agree to get educated about vaccines using recommended and reliable sources of information?

Pediatricians and other health care providers can agree to get better educated about all of the different ways to talk to vaccine-hesitant parents.

And vaccine-hesitant parents can agree to get educated about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases using books and websites that are recommended by their provider.

Reassure your pediatrician that you are not done talking about vaccines and agree to get educated about vaccines:

Immunization Education Agreement Form

Even if you think that you have already done enough research, do just a little more. And then talk to you pediatrician again. And again if you have to.

Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are necessary. Don’t let anyone scare you into thinking that they aren’t.

What to Know About the Immunization Agreement

Whether you find yourself on opposite sides about immunizations with a friend, your spouse, an ex, or your pediatrician, agree to get educated about vaccines using these recommended and reliable sources of information and then talk about it some more.

More on the Immunization Education Agreement

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Why do anti-vaccine folks think that there are so many vaccine reactions?

It is mostly because they think that anything bad that happens after someone is vaccinated, even if it is weeks or months later, must have been caused by the vaccine.

“Differentiation between coincidence and causality is of utmost importance in this respect. This is not always easy, especially when an event is rare and background rates are not available.”

Heininger on A risk-benefit analysis of vaccination

Of course, this discounts that fact that most people have a basic risk, often called the background rate, for developing most of these very same conditions, and they can just coincide with getting vaccinated.

Put more simply, the “reaction” would have happened whether or not they had been vaccinated.

“…when a number of well-controlled studies were conducted during the 1980s, the investigators found, nearly unanimously, that the number of SIDS deaths temporally associated with DTP vaccination was within the range expected to occur by chance. In other words, the SIDS deaths would have occurred even if no vaccinations had been given.”

WHO on Six Common Misconceptions About Immunization

That doesn’t mean that everything automatically gets blamed on coincidence though.

Is It a Vaccine Reaction?

Vaccine adverse events can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.
Vaccine reactions can be reported to VAERS online or using a downloadable form.

When trying to determine if a child has had a vaccine reaction, experts typically go through a series of questions, looking at the evidence for and against :

  • How soon after the vaccine was given did the reaction occur? Was it minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years later?
  • Is there any evidence that something else could have caused the reaction?
  • Is there a known causal relation between the reaction and the vaccine?
  • Is the reaction a table injury?
  • Is there evidence that the vaccine does not have a causal association with the reaction?
  • Do any lab tests support the idea that it was a vaccine reaction?

Why is it important to consider these and other questions?

Because most of us are very good at jumping to conclusions, are quick to place blame, and like to know the reasons for why things happen.

We don’t like to think that things are just caused by coincidence.

Post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore, because of this).

We are especially good at linking events and often automatically assume that one thing caused another simply because it occurred afterwards.

It is incident to physicians, I am afraid, beyond all other men, to mistake subsequence for consequence.

Dr Samuel Johnson

But we also know that correlation does not imply causation. And because of the great benefits of vaccines, it is important to find strong evidence for a correlation before we blame vaccines for a reaction.

Too often though, the opposite happens. Despite strong evidence against a correlation, parents and some pediatricians still blame vaccines for many things, from SIDS and encephalitis to autism.

Background Rates vs Vaccine Reactions

Although anti-vaccine folks are always calling for vaccinated vs unvaccinated studies to further prove that vaccines are indeed safe, much of that work is already done by looking at the observed rate of possible reactions and comparing them to the background rate of reactions and conditions.

We often know how many people are expected to develop certain conditions, from seizures and type 1 diabetes mellitus to acute transverse myelitis and juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis.

“On the basis of the reviewed data, if a cohort of 10 million individuals was vaccinated in the UK, 21.5 cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome and 5.75 cases of sudden death would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination as coincident background cases. In female vaccinees in the USA, 86.3 cases of optic neuritis per 10 million population would be expected within 6 weeks of vaccination. 397 per 1 million vaccinated pregnant women would be predicted to have a spontaneous abortion within 1 day of vaccination.”

Black et al on Importance of background rates of disease in assessment of vaccine safety during mass immunisation with pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccines

Intussusception is a good example of this.

This might surprise some folks, but we diagnosed and treated kids with intussusception well before the first rotavirus vaccines were ever introduced. And then, it was only after the risk of intussusception after vaccination exceeded the background rate that experts were able to determine that there was an issue.

Background rates also explain why unvaccinated kids develop autism. It’s not a coincidence.

“Knowledge of the background incidence rates of possible adverse events is a crucial part of assessing possible vaccine safety concerns. It allows for a rapid observed vs expected analysis and helps to distinguish legitimate safety concerns from events that are temporally associated with but not necessarily caused by vaccination.”

Gadroen et al on Baseline incidence of intussusception in early childhood before rotavirus vaccine introduction, the Netherlands, January 2008 to December 2012

Fortunately, studies have never found an increased risk above the background rate for SIDS, non-febrile seizures, and other things that anti-vaccine folks often blame on vaccines. So when these things happen on the same day or one or two days after getting vaccinated, it almost certainly truly is a coincidence. It would have happened even if your child had not been vaccinated, just like we see these things happen in the days before a child was due to get their vaccines.

For example, using background incidence rates in Danish children, one study found that if you vaccinated a million children with a new flu vaccine, you could expect that naturally, after seven days, you would see:

  • facial nerve palsy – one case
  • seizures – 36 cases
  • multiple sclerosis – one case
  • type 1 diabetes – three cases
  • juvenile and rheumatoid arthritis – three cases

After six weeks, those numbers of course go up. In addition to 4 kids developing MS, 20 develop diabetes, 19 develop arthritis, and 218 have seizures, and there would have been at least two deaths of unknown cause.

Would you blame the flu shot for these things?

What flu shot?

This was a “hypothetical vaccine cohort” that used 30 years of data from the Danish healthcare system to figure out background rates of each condition.

“In addition, the expected number of deaths in Japan following an estimated 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine administered would be >8000 deaths during the 20 days following vaccination, based on the crude mortality rate.”

McCarthy et al on Mortality Rates and Cause-of-Death Patterns in a Vaccinated Population

Looking at background rates is especially helpful when folks report about vaccine deaths.

Using the Japan example that McCarthy studied, if they had looked at background rates, then all of a sudden, the 107 deaths they found after 15 million doses of H1N1 vaccine were given in 2009 would not have been so alarming. Background rates would have predicted a much, much higher number of deaths to naturally occur in that time period simply based on crude mortality rates.

Again, none of this means that possible vaccine reactions are dismissed as being coincidences. They just aren’t immediately assumed to have been caused by vaccines, because vaccines are necessary and a lot of research has already gone into demonstrating that vaccines are safe and vaccines continue to go through routine safety monitoring to make sure they stay safe.

What to Know About Evaluating Vaccine Reactions

Vaccines are safe and many of the things that folks think are vaccine reactions can be explained by looking at the background rates for these conditions and understanding that they would have happened anyway.

More on Evaluating Vaccine Reactions