No Vaccine? A Different Risk

Paul Offit is one of America’s most-hated scientists. He’s been called a “biostitute” for the pharmaceutical industry and been threatened with death for his advocacy of one of medicine’s greatest innovations: vaccines. In recent years, anti-vaccine sentiment has spread like, well, an epidemic, with frightening results. In 2004, there were 26,000 reported pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the U.S., up from only 1,000 in 1976. A new article in Wired profiles Offit’s crusade and the interesting risk psychology of the anti-vaccine movement. Offit’s mission is really a mission to educate parents about the true risks their children face: “The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk. It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.” [%comments]


I'd rather catch meningitis from my kids and die than have them live their lives with some auto-immune disorder caused by my fear of them infecting me with meningitis.


Pertussis is a really poor example because many of those cases came from a new development; children are vaccinated at an early age, then receive a booster at 11. Very recently, pertussis has been able to overcome the vaccination by about age 10; before the kids get the booster. So a huge number of "properly" vaccinated kids (like mine) still get pertussis.

Using it as an example is disingenuous for another reason; unlike most vaccines, it acts against a bacteria, not a virus, and requires multiple boosters over a lifetime. The schedule is demanding, and it is not surprising people can't or won't keep up with it. Most of us assume (wrongly) that all our vaccinations last a lifetime.

Scott Fitchet

Wired is also now officially a "biostitute".

Bruce G

Being old enough to have known a few polio victims, I never doubt the need for vaccination.

You never doubt the need for *any* vaccination? And they say "the luddites" are unquestioning!

There are plenty of companies coming up with new vaccinations every day and, I'm sorry, they're not all worth it when you weigh cost/risk/benefit. The companies will have you believe every vaccine is a must-have, but that's our market-driven society for you.


@Wil (#11)
>In other words, individuals can practice bad behavior but are protected by the correct behavior of others.
I couldn't have phrased that better. This is a classic case of the tragedy of the commons.


really sad - just today in Germany, Berlin, i have read the big big black-red coloured first page of a famous local newspaper, which wrotes:
"GET YOUR VACCINE NOW - scientist estimate 35,000 deaths in germany" ....

i just struggled if the 35,000 deaths came from the vaccine or from the VIRUS ......

people have to realize that main-stream-media supports profit, because its made off it.

i wont take any vaccine to support any profits.


Maybe if my pediatrician didn't push the vaccine against chicken pox with the same zeal as the vaccine against polio I would believe him when he says it's important. Do we really need to vaccinate against all those childhood illnesses? Including chicken pox, measles, and the flu?

Dr. Offit's comments about it being horrible to see a child die of meningitis are correct. But it is fear mongering. And THAT is why we don't trust big pharma. They sell their wares through fear just like the anti-vaccination people do.

Give me facts. Give me percentages. Give me real risk analysis, and I will make good decisions. Tell me that I risk my kid's life by refusing the chickenpox vaccine and I will stop believing anything you say.


This Wired article is another example of many out there that seek to dismiss the debate entirely. They do this by making those who are concerned about vaccines look like blathering idiots who know nothing compared to know-it-all doctors.

For my part, I think vaccines usually are worth the risk. However, there are legitimate risks to vaccines, and we should be having intelligent discussions about how to reduce those risks instead of dismissing the concerns entirely. A quick browsing of PubMed (the leading database for medical journals) shows a majority of studies with "no known evidence" of complications with thimerosal, squalene, or whatever the issue is. However, I have also found a substantial number of studies showing there IS evidence of complications.

Sounds to me like the data is inconclusive yet. And while I'm still vaccinating my kids, I have concerns that I wish medical researchers and journalists would address instead of trying to dismiss those concerns entirely.



“The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk. It's just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here's what that different risk looks like.' Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.”

So living with brain injuries and severe consequences because of vaccines, that's better? One or the other? My son received a vaccine injury that caused brain damage. There are tens of thousands of other children suffering similar injuries every year so that someone with poor hygiene, or unprotected sex, or lacks the immediate proper medical attention doesn't get HPV, Hib, HepB, or chicken pox.

My son didn't have a choice about what he thought was best for him, his mother and I had to make that choice for him, at no point were we thinking about the poor kid that MIGHT get a disease if my son MIGHT give to him IF he was infected because of not being vaccinated. We made the choice we did, to have him vaccinated, because we were told it was safe to do so. It's not safe.

"But the odds are a million to one." Well so is getting hit by lightening, do you put your child in the middle of a field during a thunderstorm?

One in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism 20 years ago, now it's one in 91. You do the math, it is mathematically impossible for autism to be genetic. It is environmental, something is making these children autistic. ONE of the possibilities is vaccines and we may never know unless there are studies done to look at vaccinated vs unvaccinated.

Is it really so necessary to vaccinate a newborn against Hepatitis B, a sexually transmitted disease? Is it necessary to give 8 vaccines to a little baby in one day? Do we even have any studies that look at the contraindicators associated with introducing more than one vaccine at a time? Do we know what the adjunct ingredients so when combined with other ingredients such as: human diploid cells from aborted fetal tissue, thimerosal, aluminum hydroxide, benzethonium chloride, formaldehyde , distillation of coal tar vesicle fluid from calf skins, chick embryonic fluid and red rhesus monkey fetal lung cells?

Where are the warning labels in doctor's offices? What exactly are the risks?



I once heard a mom tell a moving story about how her kid had a medical condition that prevented him from getting vaccinated and proceeded to get sick from a kid whose mom chose not to vaccinate. The kid with the medical condition ended up in the ICU. This is the one thing most people who don't get their kids vaccinated. Your choice may affect your kid, but it can even have greater affects to other kids who aren't as fortunate as yours.


I find it horrifying that all these so called "parents" in this thread are willing to risk their child's health and well-being over a matter of $30-60.
My mother was infected with polio as a child and it sickens me to think that anyone would risk their child becoming a cripple for life just so they could make a political statement.

mark b

The anti-vaccine crowd is just practicing ant-Darwinian self-selection.


Correlation does not mean causation.

The flu vaccine did not CAUSE brain injury. The virus is not live.. it does not have the ability to make anything happen.

Also, when you want to (mis)quote that autism statistic, you might want to study the ever-increasing list of conditions that "autism" refers to. A list of possible causes of autism does not - and will not - include vaccines, because that's not remotely possible.

Vaccines are unquestionably a good thing -- the proper metric is number of negative results that can be verifiably ascribed to any one specific vaccine vs the number of doses dispensed.. not "I knew one person who" anecdotal bloviating nonsense. The RATE is what matters.

Flu vaccine is mandatory for health care workers.. paid for by the hospital, not the worker. Why? Eliminating hospital-acquired infections is the right thing to do for all patients.

Arguing against the flu vaccine is silly -- we do know that vaccinating over large populations reduces the overall rate of flu acquisition and in large numbers reduces the severity of the flu if it is acquired.

Here's the gauntlet, though: Go get anti-vaccination experiments published in a scientific journal. Don't whine about it, do it. I'll believe you when I read about it, and not a moment earlier. Good luck!



@26 I am intrigued by this: i wont take any vaccine to support any profits.

Do you also not eat so that food companies won't profit? Do you pay for clothing or other necessities? I am not sure why some folks have to worry so much about what is in the other guys' pocket. Is it necessary? Is it safe? What are the risks for doing it/not doing it...these are the factors of an important decision calculus.


1. It's not about the money. It has never been about the money.

2. The cumulative effect of vaccination has not been well examined.

3. The efficacy of vaccines (flu in particular) has not been studied. No one has bothered taking the year when the flu vaccine was not available because of contamination (2004) and comparing flu deaths to other years with higher vaccination rates.

4. Flu deaths discussed by the CDC include deaths from pneumonia. No other illnesses are concatenated with pneumonia deaths, even though the significant connection between flu and pneumonia is that the flu weakens the immune system enabling pneumonia to be caught. Unsurprisingly, cancer, AIDS, and even a broken bone also weakens the immune system. And yet, the deaths due to pneumonia as a result of a weakened immune system aren't attributed to the underlying disease in other cases.

5. No one is willing to address the differences in risk between chicken pox and polio? Yes, some vaccines prevent real diseases with real infection rates and potentially deadly consequences. And some do not.



Saying that all vaccines are good or all vaccines are bad is just like any other over-generalization. One could easily argue that forcing the chicken pox vaccine on children does more harm than good, as the resistance that an early age vaccination provides will wear off right around the age that infection with the disease starts becoming particularly harmful. On the other end of the spectrum, I shudder to imagine growing up in a world where smallpox and polio were prevalent.

There are good vaccines, and then there are not so good vaccines. The important thing is to be informed.


"Tell me that I risk my kid's life by refusing the chickenpox vaccine and I will stop believing anything you say."

Chickenpox is usually not bad when one has it in childhood. The problem occurs when one contracts chickenpox as an adult. If you don't vaccinate your child and your child doesn't get chickenpox, they risk getting it as an adult, when it could be deadly. So not vaccinating probably doesn't mean you would wind up burying your 6-year-old. But you might wind up burying your 25-year-old. Or maybe your daughter gets chickenpox when she's pregnant, and your grandchild has birth defects as a result.


"Arguing against the flu vaccine is silly — we do know that vaccinating over large populations reduces the overall rate of flu acquisition and in large numbers reduces the severity of the flu if it is acquired."

The flu shot has never worked. A Cochrane Group review of all flu shot studies showed that the shot won't prevent you from getting the flu, but if you do get it, you'll be sick four hours less than if you didn't get the flu shot. It appears that the annual marketing push is just a shot in the arm for Big Pharma and your doctor, who might be innocently peddling what amounts to nothing more than snake oil.

The CDC even has some scary, heart-wrenching videos of parents crying about their children dying from the flu. Estimates are that 1,000 people do die of the flu per year, excluding pneumonia complications. Dr. Robert Sears wrote in The Vaccine Book that of those 1,000 people, only 100 children (including infants and young adults) die from the flu each year. However, a scary video does not mean that the flu shot actually works or that it could have prevented these awful deaths.

More evidence that the flu shot doesn't work continues to pour in, even in sub-groups thought to be most susceptible to complications from the flu: elderly, asthmatics, and even children.

The New York Times even ran a story about the ineffectiveness of flu vaccine in the elderly. The story cites that flu shot study conclusions were based on correlation, not causation -- the type of statistical mistake the CDC usually accuses laymen of making. Elderly who get the flu shot were simply more likely to be doing healthy things recommended by their doctors.

A growing number of immunologists and epidemiologists say the vaccine probably does not work very well for people over 70, the group that accounts for three-fourths of all flu deaths.

The latest blow was a study in The Lancet last month that called into question much of the statistical evidence for the vaccine's effectiveness.

The authors said previous studies had measured the wrong thing: not any actual protection against the flu virus but a fundamental difference between the kinds of people who get vaccines and those who do not.

Preventing flu by ensuring adequate Vitamin D blood levels is much better than the flu shot. If you or your child didn't get enough sun this summer, supplementing with Vitamin D3 is wise. The recommendation is 1,000IU for children under two years old and at least 2,000IU for adults. Checking blood levels in spring and fall is a good idea. The Vitamin D Council website is an excellent source for information on what The New York Times called, " The Nutrient of the Decade."



Except that the chickenpox vaccine wears off. Which means that even if your vaccinate, your 25 year old may not be safe unless he or she has gotten the booster shots. So how about we delay the chickenpox vaccine until the kid is say 14 (past puberty it has potentially bad effects prior to that, unlikely)?

My objection isn't to vaccines in principle. It's to the fear mongering, and the automatic accusation that if I consider one vaccine to be superfluous I am either trying to take my children out of the gene pool, am terminally stupid, or too cheap to give something necessary to my kids. I do not believe that all vaccines currently advocated are necessary.

Furthermore, I find the fear mongering and personal attacks on those opposing vaccination just as unconvincing and ridiculous as the personal attacks on Dr. Offit. Neither will convince the other side of a thing. So give it up. Give numbers. Give real statistics. Then let informed people make informed decisions.



Our children that are not vaccinated should be the ones that are frightened of those that are vaccinated, as they now have been injected with live viruses and are carriers. Good Health, excerise and rest is the key to longevity. Creating a vaccine for everything including the common flu diminishes the strength of our immune systems. We need more research to be done on vaccines for the safety of everyone, maybe more research into natural alternatives.