Over at Faith & Heritage, Robert Fingolfin posted a couple of articles detailing his positions against vaccination. Here I will present my own thoughts on the matter.
Once you “unplug” so to speak from the Matrix of the mainstream, whether the issue is race or Keynesian economics, there is a sore temptation to a harmful form of intellectual pride. This pride is the thought that you are smarter than the “lemmings” who unquestionably believe everything mainstream authorities tell them. However, it is illogical to assume that since the mainstream is wrong on subject X, that it is also wrong on subject Y. Each issue must be evaluated independently, and there is the very distinct possibility that both the mainstream AND the promulgator of an alternative hypothesis are both wrong, especially when the latter is trying to sell you a health supplement, book, or newsletter. There are three useful heuristics I use to determine the validity of any alternative hypothesis, and then I will discuss how the heuristics relate to the vaccine controversy:
a. Conspiracy theories are almost always wrong and should be rejected out-of-hand. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone promoting a hypothesis supported by a conspiracy theory is wrong, but rather that the conspiracy theory doesn’t prove anything useful. If the CDC, the government and the medical establishment are promulgating fraudulent data, then no rational argument can be made. It is impossible to prove the conspiracy, and also impossible to disprove the conspiracy, and since the conspiracy controls the data, nothing can be learned from that as well. Except for very small conspiracies, most things happen based on the promulgation of a shared worldview and consensus. This is why the research of Kevin MacDonald is so important: he liberated the study of Jewish influence in Western societies from the conspiracy nuts, and simply demonstrated that what some claim is a massive Jewish conspiracy is really the spontaneous cooperation of a relatively small group of recently immigrated, Eastern European Jews sharing an anti-Christian, anti-Western worldview (to cite a contrary example, the Western European Jews inhabiting Southern urban centers were largely supportive, loyal citizens of the Confederacy and did not agitate against the prevailing Christian social order).
Large conspiracies don’t work because people tend to talk. Conspiracy theory thinking is also debilitating in the sense that it fosters both a sense of pride (secret knowledge) and learned helplessness (it’s no use to try to change anything because the Conspiracy is so powerful). It leaves its adherents in an almost dispensationalist-style paralysis instead of a Dominion-taking postmillenial worldview.
This question in relation to vaccines is the worldview of those promoting them, notably the medical establishment. When I or someone I know has a health condition, I spend a lot of time looking up evidence-based information. Universally, I have been impressed with the evidence-based orientation of nearly all medical doctors. Mainstream medicine’s dedication to slow, incremental progress through the scientific method is admirable. In addition, medicine has become MORE evidence-based over time, gradually shedding outdated hypotheses. In contrast, the “magical thinkers” who construct elaborate theories without the bother of scientific experiments have withered. Virtually no one, for example, not even the practitioners themselves for the most part, takes seriously the original hypotheses of chiropractic (all maladies originate in the spine).
b. First and foremost is the existence of controlled scientific studies confirming or disproving a given hypothesis. Many religious folks have an aversion to the idea of science, but I believe the scientific method is simply a form of applied Calvinism. Any pseudoscientific blowhard like Sigmund Freud or Mary Baker Eddy can construct complex systems of thought that seem to make sense. The scientific method, however, calls fallen humans on their tendency to intellectual fraud by demanding evidence. Specifically, science demands that any system of thought be able to successfully predict the outcomes of a controlled experiment. Hypotheses confirmed by many experiments become theories. This is why the “Theory of Evolution” is a misnomer, unless we are talking about microevolution, as its use to explain ultimate origins is a hypothesis at best. Ironically, it is because of the misuse of the “Theory of Evolution” that many Christians have rejected science, when in fact macroevolution is not experimental science, but rather just a well-developed but (so far) untested hypothesis (a first step to prove macroevolution would involve a demonstration of speciation among animals descended from common ancestors, which is posited based on interpretations of fossil evidence and carbon dating, but has yet to be demonstrated in realtime; microevolution is a scientific fact, of course, and can be demonstrated within hours with various stimuli to bacterial cultures).
I don’t think any serious commentator questions the efficacy of vaccines. There are critiques around the edges (e.g. they don’t offer protection against all varieties of a disease, they only work for a limited time, etc), but every reasonable person can acknowledge that vaccines generally confer limited immunity to certain diseases for a certain period of time. Robert makes one of these edge critiques with his citing of public health statistics demonstrating that certain vaccines get credit for eradicating a disease when in fact, he posits, it was a general increase in public health and sanitation. I’ll make two minor points about this:
i. Robert has cherry-picked his data and I believe misinterpreted it. No one disputes that disease spreads by two interacting vectors: immunity and promulgation. The Black Death eventually ended in Europe because the only people left alive for the most part were those already immune to it. A disease that cannot infect cannot spread. Similarly, improvements in sanitation caused a systemic reduction in the vectors of promulgation. It should be obvious, however, that any such systemic efforts are subject to a declining returns curve. Once people have sanitary water and sewer, the major pre-sanitation disease-spreading vectors, the next steps in preventing the spread of disease are going to have a declining return. After all, even in a perfectly sanitary public system, people are still going to get sick and be around other people to spread the disease. The major vectors (water and sewer) have been eliminated, but the minor vector has not and generally cannot reliably be removed (quarantines, such as those described in his second post, can work, but often do not because not every person exposed can be accurately identified). It is not correct to linearly extrapolate the coincident improvement in sanitation and say that the additional gains post-vaccination are really gains related to improving sanitation.
ii. There are certain diseases where this does not hold true, for example, rubella, where the vaccine was introduced in the late 1960′s after virtually all of the US had adequate public sanitation:
iii. I’d also point out that many of the liberty-based objections Robert has to vaccines also apply to public sanitation. For example, since I don’t have city sewer at my home, my state requires me to have an aerobic septic system, and requires me to maintain the system with a licensed installer at a cost of about $300 per year. This is an imposition on my natural rights, but is necessary to prevent me from polluting my neighbors’ water supplies and land, and I support it because I know some people will simply pump raw sewage into a drainage ditch if not regulated. While the issue of vaccines is more emotional (injections into the body of your child), it is not significantly more invasive than public sanitation regulations. Americans have traditionally held that the individual states, not the federal government, have the prerogative to regulate this sort of thing, but I doubt Robert would be any happier about vaccines if it involved the state government instead of the federal.
Now that we have dealt with these side issues, the primary issue most often brought up is the idea that more children are harmed from vaccines than benefit from them. Is this true? According to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System operated by the CDC, about 3,000 children suffered a serious reaction to a vaccine, and far fewer died; this likely overstates the case, as these are simply reports by parents, not validated vaccine issues (when children die, parents are often eager to blame vaccines which are sometimes just coincidental). But let’s assume the 3,000 is an accurate figure. Let’s compare that to the results of just one vaccine, rubella. As you can see above, rubella was holding steady at about 25 cases per 100,000 population in the mid-1960′s before the vaccine. With over 300 million people in the US, this represents 75,000 cases of rubella that we could expect a year without the vaccine, even with modern public sanitation. I’d expect that the average “serious reaction” to a vaccine is considerably less serious than contracting rubella.
It is important to acknowledge that many early Christian critics of vaccines argued that because they were so effective at preventing death and disease, they should not be used because they hindered God’s providential punishment for human sin. Those who made this argument obviously have a very defective theology, but it’s ironic that contemporary Christian critics of vaccines make the opposite argument, i.e. that they are harmful and ineffective.
There is one other angle to discuss which brings up another complicated issue. There is definitely a risk in getting your child vaccinated, and the risk in NOT getting your child vaccinated is likewise very low. In fact, because vaccines have eradicated these diseases, the total risk of vaccination (though very small) probably now exceeds the risk of not vaccinating, i.e. the bad consequences of stopping vaccination only occur if most people stop vaccinating; if 99% of people vaccinate, 1% can choose not to and likely never pay a consequence because the diseases can never spread to them through the vaccinated population. However, if you choose not to vaccinate you and your children are lowering your risk slightly but essentially piggybacking on the vaccination risks taken by others which serve to mitigate your risk. I think this is potentially an immoral stance, if taken consciously, though I should note most non-vaccinators are not consciously choosing a parasitic strategy, but rather are genuinely motivated by a (IMO misplaced and incorrect) concern about the risk to their child’s health.
I should note that the risk of not vaccinating is rising considerably due to our Third World immigration policies. It’s one thing to choose not to vaccinate in rural Vermont; it’s and\ entirely different level of risk in Houston or Los Angeles. Also, if your children ever pursue mission work in the Third World, not vaccinating can also be a risky decision.
c. So far, in outlining a general method to consider alternative hypotheses against the mainstream, I have counseled you to reject conspiracy theories, embrace data and to apply the scientific method to investigating the truth claims of the hypothesis. I add to this a third heuristic, which consists of two conditions, both of which must be true to give the alternative hypothesis credibility:
i. Those espousing the alternative hypothesis are actively being persecuted: by this I mean not simply ridiculed but actually being driven out of polite society and their employment for espousing the position.
ii. Those persecuting the promulgators of the alternative theory must have a financial incentive to do so.
For example, on the issue of race, people espousing a belief in racial differences are actively hounded out of respectable society and their jobs. Similarly, the affirmative action and equality racket has a definite financial interest in continuing to use “racism” as a tool to extract resources from whites. Generally, persecution of one’s opponents is only worth the political capital if the scientific evidence is so overwhelming and obvious that the only way to maintain power is to silence dissent. This persecution gives additional credibility to the substantial scientific evidence that race matters.
This same reasoning doesn’t quite hold true for vaccines, or for “alternative health” in general. Anyone is free to believe in colloidial silver, shark cartilage, energy healing, aromatherapy, chiropractic or any other sort of alternative health system without fearing losing their job. Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity who actively promotes the (debunked for the most part) idea that vaccines cause autism, yet while some dismiss her as loopy she is not hounded out of Hollywood.
Financially, vaccines are considered by most pharmaceutical companies to be extremely low margin, undesirable product lines. You get maybe $5 and then the possibility of an emotional parent suing you when her child dies (of whatever cause) after getting the vaccine, a perfect plaintiff for some lawyer and a jury to stick it to you (and then once one jury sticks it to you, thousands of plaintiffs pile on, all able to use the original jury’s verdict to secure the facts for their own). Vaccines are such a bad business that Congress has had to reduce their liability for injuries and also extend the patent period for new vaccines to entice manufacturers to stay in the business.
In “alternative health” generally, the opposite holds true financially. The promoters of alternative health products stand to gain a lot (for some, billions) if their ideas are accepted, while those they attack in the medical establishment benefit very little from debunking them. Doctors make their money on serious illnesses and surgeries, and it’s simply not a credible financial threat to them for people to use silver instead of a $4 antibiotic, as most people are sane enough to go to an M.D. when there’s a serious acute problem.
To conclude, I believe we must be very cautious of letting our alienation from the mainstream on some issues spill over irrationally into other issues. Good people can of course disagree and I hope I have provided some food for thought for those torn on this issue.
I do have an issue with the HPV vaccine. It is simply unnecessary to mandate a vaccine where the vector of disease is a moral choice. That said, I will likely have my daughters receive this vaccination. People lie, and I do not want them to pay a price because their husband hid a past sexual history.