Anti-Vaxxers – Please try not to be so evil.

  • A video of a baby with pertussis struggling to breathe through a coughing fit has been viewed almost 3 million times since it was posted by Australian mother Rebecca Harreman on November 13th, 2015. While many are rallying around the young family, offering support and compassion at this trying time, there are some who are attacking the video and the pertussis vaccine itself as you can see:

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Science Pony has teamed up with her friends Destroyed by Science and The Mad Virologist to debunk these claims:
Claim #1 – The vaccine causes pertussis.

The CDC states that among children who get all 5 doses of DTaP on schedule, effectiveness is very high within the year following the 5th dose — nearly all children (98%) are fully protected. This coverages drops off however, and only about 70% of children are fully protected 5 years after getting their last dose of DTaP. It means that children who are vaccinated (the vast majority) can still get the disease, which means that you can have outbreaks where most of those affected are vaccinated – without the vaccine causing the disease. The fact that immunity wanes as the time since the vaccination increases shows that the vaccine works not that it doesn’t. There is no proof, whatsoever, that the disease is caused by the shot – in fact, the part of the bacteria that causes the cough is not even in the vaccination itself. 

This study goes into the limitations of the vaccination as well and suggests more frequent boosters as the solution:

“Our data suggests that the current schedule of acellular pertussis vaccine doses is insufficient to prevent outbreaks of pertussis. We noted a markedly increased rate of disease from age 8 through 12, proportionate to the interval since the last scheduled vaccine.The possibility of earlier or more numerous booster doses of acellular pertussis vaccine either as part of routine immunization or for outbreak control should be entertained.”

Claim #2 – Bacterial shift caused by vaccine are making pertussis stronger and more resistant to antibiotics.
Hmmm – while I found no evidence to support the idea that vaccines are causing the bacteria to be resistant to antibiotics, I found this article which explains how vaccines are being used to *reduce* antibiotic resistance levels. Curiouser and curiouser.

“Infectious diseases are still among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. This is mainly owing to the emergence of bacterial resistance to antibiotics and the lack of efficacious medications to treat several other infectious diseases. Development of new vaccines appears to be a promising solution to these issues. Indeed, with the advent of new discovery approaches and adjuvants, today is possible to make vaccines virtually against every pathogen. In addition, while vaccine-resistant bacteria have never been reported, accumulating literature is providing evidence that vaccination can reduce the raise of antibiotic resistant strains by decreasing their use.”

(The Mad Virologist): A vaccine is different from an antibiotic. Antibiotics can kill or stop the growth of bacteria. Vaccines train the immune system to identify bacteria to kill. These are two very different pressures and using one will not make the other useless. It would be like saying that because one plays baseball, one can’t play football (Bo does both).

(Science Pony): Vaccines =/= Antibiotics.

Claim #3 – Cocooning is the most dangerous thing you can do because those who have been recently vaccinated can spread pertussis to those who have not had it.

(Destroyed by Science): It isn’t clear whether they are suggesting that the vaccine sheds and spreads pertussis, or that family members who are vaccinated can be infected without having symptoms and pass on the illness. Although, the “recently vaccinated” part makes me think it is probably the former.

The first potential claim (vaccine shedding) isn’t possible using an acellular vaccine. This is addressed by Skeptical Raptor  here:

“Finally, the vaccine itself does not cause the asymptomatic infection. The vaccinated child acquires the infection from another infected child (in the Israeli cases, a child that had a severe whooping cough infection, infected others), and some of those children are asymptomatic for the disease. The vaccine contains antigens, just cell surface markers, not the whole bacteria. Even the whole cell vaccine contained, in essence, ground up bacteria. There is nothing alive in the vaccine, so there’s nothing to transmit.”

And this article from Just the Vax also explains why pertussis can not be shed by the vaccine:

“Why can’t the vaccine cause pertussis? Because there are no bacteria in it. The vaccine only contains the surface bits that help the bacteria attach to those ciliated cells in your respiratory tract. There is no chance that some surface bits injected into your arm or leg cause an illness that requires loads of bacteria sticking to those tiny cilia in your respiratory tract. Furthermore, the vaccine also does not contain the tracheal cytotoxin, which the bacteria release and which paralyses those cilia and prevent them from clearing your airways, which is what causes the characteristic cough.”

The second one is a little trickier to address, because it is true that a person can be infected with pertussis and be asymptomatic. However – being asymptomatic dramatically reduces the risk of passing on the bacteria, since it is spread by coughing and sneezing. Also, being vaccinated reduces the chance that the adult will contract the disease in the first place, further increasing the infant’s protection.

(Science Pony): I will add this illuminating piece from Tara Haelle which explains that, while cocooning (and research thereof) is imperfect, it is most effective when paired *with* the vaccine.

“The problem is that nearly all the studies looking at the effectiveness of cocooning has been based on mathematical models, not on real-life (epidemiological) evidence. The difference is that mathematical model evidence calculates how many cases *should* be prevented based on certain assumptions, including the assumption that a person who isn’t coughing doesn’t have pertussis and can’t transmit it to others. The big question is whether cocooning is effective in protecting infants from pertussis. And the study in Pediatrics in September began to give us the first glimmer of an answer: cocooning is not futile, but its effectiveness appears much more limited than hoped. So, bottom line: if you can convince the others around your baby – dads, grandparents, other moms, nannies, etc. – to get the booster, then yes, it will help in providing a cocoon-like protective effect for your newborn, but that effectiveness has limits. The far more effective strategy (especially if combined with cocooning) is for the mother to follow CDC recommendations to get the prenatal Tdap.”

Claim #4 – No proof that vaccinating during pregnancy gives any immunity to the baby.

(Destroyed by Science): A study in the Lancet looked at whooping cough rates after introduction of the whooping cough booster for pregnant women in 2012. Incidence rates dropped, particularly in the < 3 months age group.

“The monthly total of confirmed cases peaked in October, 2012 (1565 cases), and subsequently fell across all age groups. For the first 9 months of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, the greatest proportionate fall in confirmed cases  and in hospitalisation admissions occurred in infants younger than 3 months, although the incidence remained highest in this age group. Infants younger than 3 months were also the only age group in which there were fewer cases in 2013 than in 2011…Vaccine effectiveness based on 82 confirmed cases in infants born from Oct 1, 2012, and younger than 3 months at onset was 91% .”

In Argentina, maternal pertussis vaccines were introduced in 2012 resulting in a reduced incidence of infant mortality.

“The epidemiological situation was analyzed after this strategy was implemented, finding an 87% decrease in absolute mortality. There was a 69.9% decrease in the overall fatality rate and an 83.67% decrease in infants under 2 months of age between 2011 and 2013. Of the deaths during this period, 89.8% were under 6 months of age; of the 104 children with anti-pertussis vaccination data, only 3 had completed three vaccine doses. In 2014, the lowest number of deaths due to whooping cough in the last 40 years (n = 6) was registered, representing a 92% reduction compared to 2011.”

Finally, antibody concentrations in newborns whose mothers received the vaccine have been shown to be higher:

“Significantly higher concentrations of pertussis antibodies were measured at delivery in women who received Tdap during pregnancy vs postpartum and in their infants at birth and at age 2 months. Antibody responses in infants born to women receiving Tdap during pregnancy were not different following the fourth dose of DTaP.”

What does this all mean? It means, according to research, that babies whose mothers were administered the vaccine had more antibodies in their blood against the disease,  were less likely to contract the disease and were less likely to die of the disease.

Claim #5 – Vaccine has not been studied in pregnant women in terms of fetal harm or impairment of fertility.
On fetal harm – This study found “no increased risk of adverse events among women who received Tdap vaccine during pregnancy or their infants “,  while this study, which looked at an “extensive predefined list of adverse events related to pregnancy”, found “no increased risk” and pointed out that in particular, “there was no evidence of an increased risk of stillbirth.”, and this study from earlier this year likewise found “no adverse pregnancy outcomes” associated with TDap.

As for the claims that it has not been tested for impairment of fertility, this is slippery language. No, it hasn’t, because in order to get funding for a trial for risk, this risk must be indicated and no study on this vaccine has ever noted any issues with fertility. I assume that the vaccine has likewise not been tested for flying pigitis – that does not mean that it causes it.

Claim #6 – Every outbreak in recent years was in populations with higher than a average herd immunity rates.
This negates the fact that having the shot and being immune are not necessarily the same thing, as waning immunity with this vaccine means that protection is not complete as soon as 4 years after administration. This is an argument for an increase in the number of vaccines given, not an argument against the vaccine itself. As David Gorski explains:

“It’s no secret that recent outbreaks have been notable for a large contingent of vaccinated children being affected…Antivaccinationists love to cite these studies as smoking gun “proof” that the acellular pertussis vaccine “doesn’t work” and that “natural immunity is better,” but what they always leave out are the findings that the acellular pertussis vaccine in DTaP is quite effective in protecting younger children and in protecting teens who have received the recommended Tdap booster at age 11 or 12. The problem, it appears, is mostly in the range between the last DTaP dose, usually administered around age five or so, and the Tdap booster dose recommended for preadolescents.”

The Skeptics’ College does a great job of explaining the fallacious logic that many anti-vaxxers use in terms of immunizations – that being that if the vaccine is less than perfect it should be thrown out like the proverbial baby with the bath water. This is specious reasoning:

“It should come as no surprise that the pertussis vaccines have been a target of the anti-vaccine campaigners. One of the logical fallacies that is pervasive among anti-vaxxers is the nirvana fallacy (aka the “Perfect Solution” fallacy), which says that if an action is not 100% safe and/or effective then it is better to take no action at all. The problem here is that any examination of the benefits of said action are not even considered. This is essentially what happened with the whole cell pertussis vaccine; all of the adverse events of the vaccine were trumpeted by the anti-vaccine community while any consideration of the benefits was absent.”

Claim #7 – video is propaganda piece.
This claim is vile. Watch and decide for yourself.

Your Faithful Science Groupie,


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