Anti-Vaxxers – Please try not to be so evil (simplified)

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:

pertussis1 pertussis2


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 pertussis. 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. 

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.

(The Mad Virologist): A vaccine is different than 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 the bacteria 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. 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): While cocooning (and research thereof) is imperfect, it is most effective when paired *with* the vaccine.

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

  • 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 babies who were less than 3 months old.
  • In Argentina, maternal pertussis vaccines were introduced in 2012 resulting in a reduced incidence of infant mortality.
  • Finally, antibody concentrations in newborns whose mothers received the vaccine have been shown to be higher.

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 or die of the pertussis .

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.

As already explained being immunized does not guarantee perfect immunity as the rates of coverage drop off at about 4-5 years and thereafter. It is completely plausible that outbreaks occur in heavily vaccinated areas, especially if there are pockets within these areas of anti-vaxxers. Turning away from a solution because it is not perfet is an example of the nirvana fallacy and it is classic anti (specious) reasoning.

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

Your Faithful Science Groupie,


2 thoughts on “Anti-Vaxxers – Please try not to be so evil (simplified)

  • November 24, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Please correct – it’s a bacteria (Bordetella pertussis), not virus!

    • December 16, 2015 at 3:29 am

      Of course you are correct. I fixed it ages ago but forgot to credit you for picking up on my mistake. Thanks so much!


Leave a Reply