Anti-Vaxxers Against Logic

Written by Argumentful

In this article we show why the arguments used by anti-vaxxers have 0% credibility and defy logic.

Here at Argumentful we often see debates where the general public gives equal weight to arguments relying on science versus arguments relying on pure speculation. You must have seen those news interviews where a scientist debunks a completely foolish speculation asked to sit face to face with a person that just has an opposing opinion backed by nothing… well, at least nothing grounded in science. All the while, the moderator giving equal weight to the opposing parties, increasing the illusion that there is equal evidence on both sides of the debate.  

We thought it’s time we took a stand against it. Luckily, at the same time our friends at United4Information proposed that we collaborate on a campaign on anti-vaxxers and we gladly accepted.

This is the result.


Progress Due to Vaccines

With the exception of improvements in sanitation and water safety, vaccination has saved as many lives as any other public health innovation.

Vaccination has led to eradication of smallpox and the elimination of poliomyelitis and measles from large parts of the world, saving millions of lives.

But there is still opportunity to make a greater contribution to people’s lives, as three million children still die every year from vaccine preventable diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhoea.

Not to mention that we are quite close to get vaccines for malaria and even HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

Here is the list of available vaccines per disease and pipeline vaccines.

The percentage of children 19-35 months receiving vaccinations for Hepatitis B and MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) in the US is around 91.5%. In England, since 2006 the numbers have increased significantly and are now revolving between 90 and 95%. These numbers are below WHO’s target and can be improved.

The scientific community needs to take an active role in informing the public about the benefits of vaccines, as well as any risks associated with these.

Another important aspect is that of objectivity: any representative that promotes vaccination must be completely objective and without any ties to the pharma industry. As such, there is an essential role to be played by impartial organizations which militate for vaccination and without any connections to the industry, such as Sabin Vaccine Institute or Jenner Vaccine Foundation.

So what are the reasons for which some people still believe vaccines are detrimental?

Anti-Vaxxers Reasons

Vaccines and Autism

Anti-vaxxers rely on a study which was later retracted that was initially published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. He claimed a link between MMR vaccine and autism based on studying 12 children. Although the paper stated that no causal connection was found, after the study’s publication, Wakefield went on to hold a press conference asking for suspension of the triple MMR vaccine until more research could be done. His recommendation was to split the triple vaccine into three separate vaccines, each to be administered one year after the other. It seems that it was this press conference that inflamed the vaccination panic more than the actual published study. Six years later, in 2004, an investigation was run by Sunday Times’s Brian Deer, which found financial conflicts of interest. Wakefield had come across the autistic cases when he was approached by a solicitors’ firm: they were trying to sue the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine. He received payments of more than £435,000 for the purpose of building a case against the MMR vaccine. Furthermore, the investigation revealed that Wakefield had applied for a patent for a single-jab measles vaccine before he started his campaign against the triple MMR vaccine.

After six more years, in 2010, The Lancet fully retracts the original study. Since the study was first published, it has been refuted countless times, with The Institute of Medicine of the United States National Academy of Sciences, the CDC and the UK National Health Service having found no link between vaccines and autism.

Here are some of these studies which found no link between MMR vaccine and autism:

A 2002 study, examined data from 500,000 vaccinations in Finland in the 1980s. “We did not identify any association between MMR vaccination and encephalitis [brain swelling]], aseptic meningitis, or autism”.

In another 2002 study, scientists used data collected from Denmark in the 1990s reflecting more than 400,000 children who received the MMR vaccine. The conclusion was: “strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes autism.”

A 2004 study looking at the U.K. medical records of more than 1000 people diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorders – including autism – between 1987 and 2001, and then searched for a link with their vaccination history: “Our findings suggest that MMR vaccination is not associated with an increased risk of pervasive developmental disorders.”

A 2005 paper examined data for about 31,000 children born in Yokohama, Japan from 1988 to 1996. The combined MMR vaccine was phased out in Japan in 1993, so that none of the children born in the last four years studied (1993 to 1996) received that vaccine. (They were given separate vaccines instead of the combined vaccine.) And yet rates of autism actually rose for the age cohorts that did not receive the MMR vaccine, showing that MMR “cannot explain the rise over time in the incidence” of autism. 

Another study from 2010, compared neuropsychological outcomes (speech, language, verbal memory, motor coordination, general intellectual functioning, and others) in children who received recommended vaccines on schedule and children who delayed having these vaccines or did not have these vaccines at all. The researchers concluded: “no statistically significant differences favoured the less vaccinated children.”

–  A 2013 study checked whether there was a connection between autism and vaccines. The authors determined that an increased exposure to ingredients in vaccines that stimulate antibodies was “not related to the risk of developing” an autism spectrum disorder.

A 2014 systematic review analysed data from 67 previous studies. The researchers did find evidence of some associations between vaccines and adverse events: the rotavirus vaccine can be linked to intussusception (a dangerous and sometimes deadly intestinal pathology), and MMR vaccine can be linked to febrile seizures. But even these associations are “extremely rare and must be weighed against the protective benefits that vaccines provide.” The authors conclude that “there is strong evidence that MMR vaccine is not associated with autism.”

Additionally, there have been studies to check if all vaccines combined could cause autism. As children receive 25 different vaccines before the age of 2, scientists wanted to see if there is a link between these and autism. A report published in 2004 by the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine reviewed all the studies on vaccination and autism and found no evidence supporting a link between autism and vaccination.

Despite this, in 2002 after a considerable number of peer reviewed papers had already contradicted the findings in Wakefield’s paper, around 20%-25% of people believed in the vaccine-autism link, with as many as 39% to 53% concluding that there was equal evidence on both sides of the dispute.

This goes to show the important role that media plays in (mis)informing the population, especially when it comes to a controversial topic. It was the media who continued to give long lasting credibility to the questionable connection between vaccines and autism, which continues to this day.

The same study referenced above shows that when it comes to scientific matters, the general public acknowledges the overall topic, but does not absorb the details. As such, there was (and maybe still is) an awareness about the vaccines- autism link, but the public generally does not dive deeper to understand that one side of the dispute didn’t bring a lot of evidence and used speculation. People tend to believe that there is equal evidence on both sides of the debate.

The Issue with Thimerosal

Another issue with vaccines was that of thimerosal- a substance that was used in some vaccines and which contains mercury. Very small amounts of this compound were being used in order to avoid the development of bacteria in vaccines. Although there was no evidence to back the connection between this substance and autism, thimerosal was removed from all vaccines by 2001. Later studies were conducted to see any differences in autism rates between children who had been vaccinated with thimerosal and without. No differences were found. To this day, the rates of autism continue to increase, despite this substance having been taken out from vaccines.

Vaccines and COVID-19

It was to be expected that next to all the other conspiracy theories which re-emerged with COVID-19, anti-vaxxers would also try and make their voice heard. The claim that the reduction in infant vaccination during the Coronavirus lockdown caused a reduction in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is candidly and rationally discredited in Respectful Insolence blog.

Here are some studies either refuting causation by vaccines of SIDS, or supporting a beneficial effect of vaccines over SIDS:

A 2001 study showing that “immunization uptake was strongly associated with a lower risk of SIDS”.

A 2007 meta-analysis showing beneficial effects of vaccination over SIDS:

“Immunisations are associated with a halving of the risk of SIDS.”

A 2018 study finding no connection between SIDS, ADHD and vaccines:

 “We found that state-level childhood vaccine uptake for age appropriate vaccines was neither associated with the decline in the incidence of SIDS nor rise in the prevalence of ADHD. Our findings provide current and evidence-based information to assist providers counselling vaccine-hesitant parents.”

Anti-Vaxxers Argument Maps

We’ve put together the argument maps which contain the 2 reasons that anti-vaxxers offer against vaccines- autism and SIDS. We have excluded thimerosal, since that is no longer an ingredient of vaccines since 2001.

We’ve created two versions of this argument map, just to note that even without rebuttals, the argument that anti-vaxxers make doesn’t stand the test of logic.

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A few notes about this map:

-The percentages represent the probability of truth or credibility.

-Reason 1 has 0% credibility because the study it relies on had financial conflicts and was retracted. Note how even without the studies to refute this initial study, there is 0% credibility for this reason so often cited by the anti-vaxxers.

-Reason 2 has 0% credibility because there is no logical link between two sub-reasons used together to justify the main reason. Since SIDS deaths generally represent 6% of total infant deaths, the decrease of total infant deaths cannot be explained by the decrease in vaccination within the same period. Rather there is likely a combination of reasons which caused a total decrease in infant deaths. Here we are also excluding the studies that show vaccinations do not increase SIDS deaths (quite the opposite) in order to show that even without these, the reasons used by the anti-vaxxers lack logical thinking. This is a classic case of false causation and false correlation.

And here is the version which contains the rebuttal studies:

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A few notes regarding this map:

-The percentages represent probability of truth or credibility.

-The overall credibility of Reason 1 and Reason 2 are negative numbers: that is the result of the rebuttals added to the score of the reason- since the rebuttals contain counter-arguments, these are then added with a negative sign. Nevertheless, the algorithm has adjusted the overall conclusion back to 0%, in order to avoid confusion.

Do you know of any other reasons used by anti-vaxxers? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to research them and see if they stand the test of logic and science.

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