There’s a lot of hysteria over vaccines and the threat which they supposedly pose to the population because of some of the ingredients and the possibility of government mandated vaccinations against potential pandemics like Swine Flu (H1N!). While as a matter of principle the idea of forced vaccinations is an utterly unacceptable violation of individual rights, the hysteria over the risks of vaccines is based on a fundamental logical fallacy which needs to be exposed.
Some of the ingredients in modern vaccines can be very scary. Thiomersal is a compound based on EthylMercury which is used as an antifungal perservative. It is supposed to be stable and leave the body quickly, but is beleived to break down and cause neurological disorders incluidng autism. Squalene is a natural compound developed from shark liver oil which is an adjuvant which helps accelerate immune responses and is suspected of causing autoimmune disorders like Gulf War Syndrome. Aluminum is also used as an adjuvant and raises concerns that it may not leave the system and can cause a variety of adverse reactions. Extensive tests have been made on all of these ingredients and have found them to be safe in the tiny amounts included in vaccines, but the fact that they are genuinely toxic in larger amounts raises suspicion about them for those looking for explanations for troubling symptoms.
For our purposes here we can actually put aside the real or imagined dangers of these ingredients entirely. Let’s just grant for the sake of argument that there’s some real danger associated with some of these ingredients as critics suggest. It’s certainly true that there are things in vaccines which are genuinely dangerous. Flu vaccines are incubated in egg yolks, which many are dangerously allergic to. More significantly, every vaccine includes some form of a virus and those viruses are in and of themselves dangerous. There’s always a small chance of contracting the disease the vaccine protects you from by taking the vaccine. That’s how most vaccines work, giving you a mild exposure so you build up a resistance before you are exposed to the disease itself.
So yes, vaccines are inherently dangerous. As with almost everything in life making use of them is a calculated risk. Every day when you get in your car you are taking a calculated risk. You’re betting that despite the rather high level of automobile fatalities today won’t be the day you die in a car crash. You act on the assumption that the risk of dying is outweighed by your need to get places and do things. It’s the same with a vaccine. You’re betting that immunity to a serious and potentially fatal disease is worth the small risk of an unpleasant or even fatal side effect. For that to be a good bet, the risk posed by the vaccine needs to be substantially lower than the risk posed by the disease it protects you from.
The logical fallacy here is that while vaccines are dangerous and may even cause all sorts of terrible things like autism and the occasional death, the chance of dying or getting some other serious side effect from a vaccine is tiny compared to the chance of dying from the disease the vaccine protects you from. Therefore you accept the risk, because it protects you from something worse.
A lot of the argument about vaccines focuses on the flu vaccine because it is the cause celebre of the moment, but there is a lot of conflicting information because there are so many different strains of flu. To demonstrate how this fallacy applies it is easier to look at the simpler and well documented case of the Human Papilloma Vaccine which protects teenage girls from contracting cervical cancer in the future, and which has stirred up a great deal of controversy in its own right because of alarming side-effects and because in many ways it has proved to be a worst-case scenario in unexpected consequences.
Cervical cancer kills 2.4 of every 100,000 women in the United States. 23 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been distributed. Statistics suggest that of 23 million woment treated, 552 would have died without the vaccine. Studies of side effects of the HPV vaccine in use found that the most common effect was fainting, which occurred in 8.2 of 100,000 vaccinations, and that the most serious side-effect was abnormal blood clotting in .2 cases per 100,000, leading to strokes and paralyzation and in 32 documented cases it has resulted in death.
While each of those deaths is tragic, these statistics tell us that a girl not given the HPV vaccine is at least 17 times more likely to die of cervical cancer than a girl given the vaccine is to die from the vaccine. 17 to 1 odds in your favor are pretty good. Even if you take all of the cases of abnormal blood clotting into consideration, it’s still 12 times less likely to happen than death would without the vaccine. Again, 12 chances of dying to 1 chance of a dangerous blood clot is pretty good odds.
This is the heart of the problem with how many people look at vaccines. They look only at the risks of the vaccine without considering the greater threat which the vaccines prevent. Sure, you can point to the HPV vaccine and say it killed 32 people. But that’s 520 fewer people than would have died had the vaccine not been invented. The same holds true with other vaccines. The only sensible way to look at them is to consider both the risk and the benefits.