if it’s catchy, why bother with the science?

One of the anti-vaxxer's favorite cliches is that too many vaccines overwhelm growing immune systems. But that claim falls apart when we look at the contents of the vaccines themselves.
injections
Illustration by Erik Anderson

Too many, too soon is one of the sacred mantras of the anti-vaccination movement and its sympathizers who are looking for any remotely plausible argument which would paint vaccines as some kind of poison turning an entire generation of children autistic. Ok, so you can show that timerosal used in vaccines had nothing to do with autism and that the type of mercury it contained wasn’t a neurotoxin. You could even tackle the big issue of how autism is diagnosed and whether parental age has something to do with a rise in the number of diagnosed cases over the last decade and have sound science on your side. But you certainly can’t debate a threefold increase in vaccinations over the last thirty years. And if you can’t debate that, you certainly couldn’t say that three times as many vaccines means that kids’ immune systems aren’t being overwhelmed, right?

Actually, yes. You could. The number of vaccinations is actually a misnomer used to make an argument which firmly casts vaccines as either the villain in today’s pediatric problems, or at least a suspect cause. What has been missed by TV personalities promoting this fallacy, like Bill Maher and Joy Behar, is the fact that today’s vaccines are much more efficient than those given when they were kids.

The initial seven vaccines of the late 1970s have been doubled in the last 30 years but their actual antigen load has been lowered from 3,000 to just about 150, only 5% of what the people making this argument were exposed to in their childhoods. For the too many too soon argument to be true, we’d need to see the same kinds of pediatric problems a generation ago and with far greater frequency than we do today. If we weren’t overwhelming immune systems back then, how could we possibly be doing it today with a twentieth of the antigens? And yet, this is the argument being made by the alt med and anti-vaccine crowd.

Either someone is trying to apply the homeopathic idea of dilution and potentization to vaccines, or we’re not being given the relevant fact for the sake of keeping the manufactroversy going. And even if doctors on TV will keep bringing up the massive drop in antigen loads thanks to modern technology, the anti-vaxers will keep on using it by bringing up their other favorite chant. They’ll blame unnamed toxins in vaccines and say that while there are far less antigens, there must be more toxins in the greater number of vaccines. How do these toxins cause whatever pediatric problems they want to blame on them?

They don’t know, but the lack of evidence for their position isn’t going to keep them up at night for the simple reason that they can blame doctors for doing bad research to protect their Big Pharma friends or just demonize those who disagree with their agenda as enablers of infanticide. Meanwhile, after vilifying well tested, well proven medical technology, putting almost every study of their efficacy into question over the tiniest if or but, they’ll sprinkle industrial mining chemicals on their autistic kids’ breakfast after seeing a testimonial on an anti-vax blog and call it battling autism.

Give that a moment to sink in. Highly refined, thoroughly tested and very successful vaccines that expose kids to around 150 antigens or roughly 5% of what their parents received in their early childhood are overwhelming immune systems of infants who are exposed to billions of bacteria and viruses from birth. However, a mining chemical which contains benzene, a known carcinogen, comes with no clinical proof of its safety and efficacy, and is marketed by testimonials is perfectly safe to sprinkle over their gluten-free waffles.

Yes, maybe it’s not going to actually harm anyone if it’s extremely diluted or administered in small enough quantities, but maybe, just maybe a group with this kind of approach to medical science has its priorities skewed and isn’t a reliable source of information on immunology. So rather then simply repeating the chant of too many too soon, some of the aforementioned TV personalities could take a minute to look up a few studies, read a couple of medical blogs and ask a couple of pointed questions once in a while. Just a thought…

# health // anti vaccination / immunology / vaccines


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