Antifaxxers: Vaccine Movement has Lessons for Climate and Science Denial

March 10, 2019

Washington Post:

For more than 30 years in Oregon, cases of tetanus in children were almost mythical — studied in textbooks but never seen in person — thanks to the effectiveness of pediatric vaccination programs.

That streak ended in 2017 when an unvaccinated 6-year-old boy arrived at a hospital in the state, experiencing jaw spasms and struggling to breathe, according to a new case study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The child was playing on a farm when he cut his head on something, the report said. His parents cleaned and stitched the wound at home, but alarming symptoms emerged six days later. The boy’s jaw began clenching, and his neck and back were arched — a trademark indication of tetanus called opisthotonus that is caused by involuntary muscle spasms.

He was airlifted to a pediatric hospital, where he was diagnosed with tetanus. It was the first instance of the life-threatening neuromuscular disease in a child in Oregon in more than three decades.

“Fortunately, the emergency department physicians immediately recognized the symptoms of severe tetanus,” Judith Guzman-Cottrill, an author of the report and a pediatrics professor at Oregon Health & Science University, told The Washington Post in an email. “Physicians have all read about tetanus, and we have seen pictures of people suffering from tetanus. … It is profound.”

It would be only the start of a downward spiral and lengthy hospital stay for the boy. When he was first admitted to the hospital, he was alert — but couldn’t open his mouth, the report said. Physicians sedated and intubated him because the spasms of his diaphragm and larynx were causing breathing problems.

The boy was given an anti-tetanus immunoglobulin for his wound, as well as the DTaP vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. He was also placed in a dark room with ear plugs, which helped reduce the intensity of his spasms. His scalp wound was cleaned by medical professionals.

Still, the arching of the boy’s neck and back worsened. His blood pressure shot up, and he became feverish. Doctors inserted a tube in his windpipe so a ventilator could help with his breathing, and treated him with neuromuscular-blocking drugs to reduce his muscle spasms. He would remain on those drugs for more than a month, and in the intensive care unit for a total of 47 days.

By the time he was transferred out of the ICU, the boy needed help walking 20 feet. His tracheal tube was removed on Day 54, the report said. On Day 57, he was transferred from the pediatric hospital to a rehabilitation center, where he spent two-and-a-half weeks.

In all, the boy’s medical charges in the hospital amounted to $811,929 — which did not include the cost of being airlifted to the hospital or of inpatient rehabilitation, according to the CDC. It’s unclear from the report who covered his hospital expenses. It took about a month after his rehab for the boy to return to “normal activities” such as running and bicycling, the report added.

“The patient was in the intensive care unit, in critical condition, for over six weeks,” Guzman-Cottrill said. “The complex and prolonged care led to the high treatment cost. In contrast, the cost of one DTaP dose is somewhere around $24-$30 a dose, and this illness could have been prevented with five doses of DTaP vaccine.”

Notably, physicians counseled the boy’s family to bring the child up to date on all of his vaccinations, as well as receive a follow-up dose of the DTaP vaccine.

His family said no.

New York Times:

The parents who are worried or sure about grave risks from vaccines reflect a broader horror that has flickered or flared in everything from the birther movement to “Pizzagate,” that nonsense about children as Democratic sex slaves in the imagined basement of a Washington pizza joint. Their recklessness and the attendant re-emergence of measles aren’t just a public health crisis. They’re a public sanity one, emblematic of too many people’s willful disregard of evidence, proud suspicion of expertise and estrangement from reason.

Again and again, until blue in the face, medical authorities have debunked the renegade assertion that there’s a link between the M.M.R. vaccine, so named because it inoculates against measles, mumps and rubella, and autism. On Tuesday, a group of Danish researchers who looked at more than 650,000 children over 10 years announced that they had found no such association.

Again and again, until out of breath, those same medical authorities have also explained why making sure that all or nearly all children are vaccinated is so crucial: It creates a critical mass of resistance, known as herd immunity, that doesn’t give a disease the chance to spread.

Nonetheless, enough parents plug their ears that the World Health Organization lists “vaccine hesitancy” — a euphemism if ever I heard one — among 10 global health threats in 2019.

They choose their own alternative facts. Take Darla Shine, the wife of Bill Shine, who just announced his resignation as the White House communications director. Last month, amid alarms about new cases of measles, she took to Twitter with the cockamamie claim that not being vaccinated and coming down with measles or mumps was a big-picture plus, a hardiness builder that could help a person fight cancer down the line.

“I had the #Measles #Mumps #Chickenpox as a child and so did every kid I knew,” she tweeted, adding that her own kids were, regrettably, vaccinated. “They will never have the lifelong natural immunity I have. Come breathe on me!” Thanks but no thanks. I suspect my breath is better spent elsewhere.

A week and a half ago, a Republican state representative in Arizona said on her Facebook page that pressure on parents to vaccinate children “is not based on American values but, rather, Communist.” Bet you didn’t know that the original symbol of the Russian Revolution wasn’t a hammer and sickle. It was a syringe.

I shouldn’t joke, and I should add that anti-vaxxers run the political gamut. They’re on the left, their professed concern for social welfare proven hollow by the risk that their unvaccinated children pose to newborns and others who haven’t yet been — or can’t be — vaccinated. They’re on the right, among people who see the government and its edicts as oppressive forces. Paranoia has no partisan affiliation.

For example, anti-vaccine propaganda — some of which was spread by Russian trolls and bots as part of their sowing of discord before the 2016 election — can look as official and trustworthy as legitimate information. “And as websites get better and Twitter becomes something that people not only look at but rely on, it’s very difficult to get away from falsehoods and conspiracies,” Specter told me. “We’re living in a world where facts are just another element of your decision-making process.”

One of the best explanations of that came in a 2016 essay in The Times Magazine by Jonathan Mahler, who noted “a radical new relationship between citizen and truth.” He wrote that millions of people “are abandoning traditional sources of information, from the government to the institutional media, in favor of a D.I.Y. approach to fact-finding.”

New York Times:

“Why are parents not vaccinating their kids? What the hell is wrong with people?”

As a father of two young children, I’ve had outbursts like this on more than one occasion as I sit in my Play-Doh- and Lego-littered family room, reading the latest news about measles and other preventable viruses making a global comeback.

This week, Senator Rand Paul, who has previously fueled the dangerous myth that vaccines cause harm by saying in 2016 that it’s “wrong to say there are no risks to vaccines,” spoke out against government-mandated vaccines at a Senate Health Committee hearing, saying, “I believe that the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh the risks, but I still do not favor giving up on liberty for a false sense of security.” This was just days after the news that passengers might have been exposed to measles at Chicago’s Midway Airport, even though the virus has been considered eradicated in the United States since 2000.

With a measles outbreak affecting over 200 people this year and arecent study proving yet again that there is no reason to believe that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as M.M.R., causes autism, it’s infuriating to know that parents still resist vaccinating their children. But I know people whom I think of as otherwise intelligent and well intentioned who aren’t convinced that vaccines are safe. In the face of their dangerous choices, I’ve been thinking seriously about what I can do to get through to them.

Medical professionals refer to these parents as “vaccine-hesitant.” As much satisfaction as it might offer to bring my family-room rants — What is wrong with you? — to my conversations with them, I’m starting to believe I can’t simply write them off as idiots. Even presenting facts might not be enough. Those of us who understand how important and safe vaccines are might need to meet them where they are, trying to express empathy for the misguided fear they’re obviously experiencing, if we’re to break through to them and encourage them to make choices that can save lives.

This outlook is inspired by conversations I’ve had at home. My wife, Sarah, is a family medicine physician with a public health degree. She has told me that most of the skeptical parents she sees each week aren’t raving conspiracy theorists — bug-eyed stereotypes who write manifestoes in crayon, listen to Alex Jones and live off the grid. They’re people who seem to make rational choices in most other areas of their lives. “Parents are worried about the vaccine side effects,” she said. “They believe they might cause autism in their children or some debilitating illness.”

“Vaccine-hesitant” parents are often influenced by a thoroughly debunked, nearly two-decade-old study that erroneously concluded that the M.M.R. vaccine is linked to autism in children. Since then, a small but highly organized and zealous group referred to as the “anti-vaxx” movement has promoted this misguided propaganda and also intimidated and harassed pro-vaccine doctors. Russia has strategically weaponized this doubt, unleashing bots on social mediato spread disinformation and promote discord, creating a false equivalency between “both sides” of the debate and “eroding public consensus on vaccination.

All of this has influenced friends of mine from the Bay Area and Virginia, otherwise highly informed individuals who pride themselves on sniffing out fake news, to remain skeptical about vaccines. Sarah described their mind-set and those of the patients she sees: “The parents don’t trust big pharma. They don’t trust scientific studies, and they think evidence is always changing. They don’t understand how vaccines work. Some will be like ‘I don’t want to overload my kid’s immune system with too many shots at once.’”

I’ve begun to agree with Sarah, who believes education, personal relationships and counter-narratives are the long-term keys to success and rebuilding trust in health professionals and experts. Her mantra: “Don’t vilify, bully or mock the parents, but try to empathize and teach, and then empower them.” She encourages doctors to actually listen to their patients’ unfounded fears before jumping in with the kind of harsh critiques or judgment that can backfire and solidify their false beliefs. Instead, she suggests doctors acknowledge their concerns and build trust over time, while also providing correct information, facts and relatable personal stories.

It’s obviously difficult to empathize with parents who are “vaccine-hesitant,” as they engage in reckless behavior that is far too dangerous to be left unchecked. The World Health Organization listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global threats of 2019. And it’s important to remember that these parents are not making choices that endanger just themselves or even just their children — they’re putting vulnerable groups at risk. People who can’t receive vaccines depend on herd immunity to protect them from diseases.

Still, I try to remember that some vaccine-hesitant parents are victims themselves — of misinformation spread through social media. When I meet parents who don’t believe vaccines are safe, it reminds me of my experiences talking to people who believed conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama being a Muslim born in Kenya. I’m not naïve enough to think I can change the minds of all, but I hold on to the hope that by establishing a relationship and offering facts, we can get many of them to come around. (For those who don’t, I hope they enjoyed having a Muslim president.)



67 Responses to “Antifaxxers: Vaccine Movement has Lessons for Climate and Science Denial”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    In response to A Thorpe’s (aka Throwup) 11:07 comment today:

    “We are in an ice age and at the moment we are still coming out of the last ice age and are reaching the peak of an interglacial period”. We are “in” but “still coming out of”? Throwup needs to become familiar with the terms “glacial periods” or “glacials” and “Interglacial periods” or “interglacials” and use them properly if he wants to be understood.

    He also needs to get his facts straight if he wants us to know just “when” he’s talking about. Where did his “450.000 years of ice ages” figure come from? PFTA or from his anal orifice? We are presently in the fifth major ice age. The Quaternary Ice Age, which started over two million years ago.

    Perhaps Throwup should improve his understanding and grasp of the facts by looking at the Wiki entry for Ice Age (, where he will find the following interesting bits of info:

    “There is considerable evidence that over the very recent period of the last 100–1000 years, the sharp increases in human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels, has caused the parallel sharp and accelerating increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases which trap the sun’s heat. The consensus theory of the scientific community is that the resulting greenhouse effect is a principal cause of the increase in global warming which has occurred over the same period, and a chief contributor to the accelerated melting of the remaining glaciers and polar ice. A 2012 investigation finds that dinosaurs released methane through digestion in a similar amount to humanity’s current methane release, which “could have been a key factor” to the very warm climate 150 million years ago.”

    “William Ruddiman has proposed the early anthropocene hypothesis, according to which the anthropocene era, as some people call the most recent period in the earth’s history when the activities of the human species first began to have a significant global impact on the earth’s climate and ecosystems, did not begin in the 18th century with the advent of the Industrial Era, but dates back to 8,000 years ago, due to intense farming activities of our early agrarian ancestors. It was at that time that atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations stopped following the periodic pattern of the Milankovitch cycles. In his overdue-glaciation hypothesis Ruddiman states that an incipient glacial would probably have begun several thousand years ago, but the arrival of that scheduled glacial was forestalled by the activities of early farmers”

    “At a meeting of the American Geophysical Union (December 17, 2008), scientists detailed evidence in support of the controversial idea that the introduction of large-scale rice agriculture in Asia, coupled with extensive deforestation in Europe began to alter world climate by pumping significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere over the last 1,000 years. In turn, a warmer atmosphere heated the oceans making them much less efficient storehouses of carbon dioxide and reinforcing global warming, possibly forestalling the onset of a new glacial age”

    Of course he will reject all of that because he knows better than ALL the world’s scientists, and the laws of thermodynamics say….(ZZZZZzzzzzz…..!!!)

    PS Another addition to the list of Throwup’s All Time Dumbest Comments:

    “…there is no such physical quantity as an average temperature”.

    I’m sorry I didn’t know about the fact that there was no such thing as an “average” when I taught physics—-I did the kids a disservice, I guess.

    • A Thorpe Says:

      You really are a complete wanker. When I referred to Wikipedia in relation to the laws of thermodynamics you did not accept Wikipedia as a valid reference, but now you use it.

      I cannot know more than all the worlds scientists. Another pointless remark. Individually we can only know about the same science. The problem is how to apply it. You keep telling me to go to other sites. I have told you that my references are papers from scientists, many of them professors, who understand physics and mathematics. Do you write to them and tell them they are wrong?

      I take it that you did not look at the calculation in the reference. You don’t like the truth. So what does the average temperature in the example I gave tell you? Absolutely nothing of any use to understand the combined system. You tell me it is a dumb comment but it still completely beyond you to explain why it is and what an average temperature means. Try reading the paper by Essex and McKitrick “Does a global temperature exist”. Too much for you I expect which is why I simplified it for you. Write to their universities and complain that their staff are incompetent. You won’t will you because you can insult on this website and think you are intelligent.

      I suspect that you even tread on your trunk when walking about. What a stupid DUMBO you are.

  2. A Thorpe Says:

    I do reject the view of the AGU from 2008. The atmosphere does not heat the oceans. The sun heats the oceans and the landmass and they heat the atmosphere. The atmosphere has no independent energy source to enable it to heat the oceans. Thermodynamics is about mass and specific heat. Look then up and work out where all the energy is stored. It is not in the atmosphere. The oceans heat up slowly because of their thermal properties, then the land masses are next and finally the atmosphere heats up quickest but holds little energy. The opposite is true when it comes to heat loss. The atmosphere cools very quickly because of the low mass and specific heat. It is why dry desert areas are very cold at night. The dry atmosphere has little energy storage, unlike a moist atmosphere and it is water vapour that contains the energy not the CO2. The oceans retain the heat which is why they heat the atmosphere and not vice versa. It is why coastal regions are warmer in winter.

    I can keep this up as long as you insult me. At least people get some science from me and there is a chance the some will stop reading your nonsense. If you want to stop 🛑 science on this site, then 🛑 replying.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      “….it is water vapour that contains the energy not the CO2.”

      Another nonsensical assertion from our resident thermodynamics genius—plucked from the middle of his latest gibberish—think about it in relation to all his previous blathering about energy transfer and laugh again at his foolishness.

      According to his “explanations” of the laws of thermodynamics, that’s not possible—-since both the H20 and CO2 are free-floating in the atmosphere along with other gasses, they all will reach that “average” local temperature that Throwup denies exists, which when added up and averaged ultimately leads to a “global temperature”. And since that global temperature is rising, we have global warming. The accepted explanation for this is the greenhouse effect, and the GHG of most concern is C02, with methane close behind. End of discussion.

      A Throwup says “I can keep this up as long as you insult me”. I have no doubt about that—-remember Einstein’s old saw about people who keep doing the same thing over and over? Particularly since his definition of our “insulting” him is when we point out his bad science, bad logic, bad thinking, and bad use of the language.

      “At least people get some science from me and there is a chance the some will stop reading your nonsense. If you want to stop 🛑 science on this site, then 🛑 replying”.

      Actually, it’s time to end this episode of the “There Are Moron Deniers and Flat-Earthers Among Us ” reality show. He gives us no science of value, and virtually no one is reading what he posts. We have wrung about all the entertainment value out of Throwup that we are likely to get, so I for one am going to ignore anything he says on this thread or any more crap he posts about his version of “thermodynamics” on any other thread.

      Since he is comparatively new to Crock, I will also explain to him that he has followed the script of many denier A-holes and trolls that have preceded him here. It can be seen just by rereading this thread from the beginning.

      1) Denier A-hole spouts much unscientific crap
      2) Several Crockers point out his failings
      3) Denier A-hole fights back (or thinks he has) with more crap
      4) Denier A-hole gets called a moron etc. by those Crockers who tried to reason with him, and they immediately decide to not waste any more time trying to talk science with him
      5) They give him a bunch of thumbs down and then ignore him
      6) A single Crocker often takes on the task of continuing to offer the denier A-hole the opportunity to look foolish by responding to him and encouraging his stupidity
      7) In this case, it’s dumboldguy, DOG for short, who chose that handle first because it traps the morons into talking third grade level trash about things like “Dumbo stepping on his trunk” instead of facts, and second because of a history of “sheep dog” behaviors in life and on the job that yielded the patience and experience to continue snapping at Throwup’s heels until he destroyed himself.

      Throwup is too much NPD, D-K, and just plain stupid to realize that almost no one has been following our “exchange” and couldn’t care less if he ever tries to give us his “science” again. ROTFLMAO at how badly he has been “had” here by all of us—-goodbye, T-up.

      • A Thorpe Says:

        So you are still rambling on. If you accept the idea of greenhouse gasses then water vapour is the strongest greenhouse gas because there is more of it by mass than CO2 and it contains latent heat which is released into the atmosphere when it condenses. It contains considerably more energy than 0.04% of CO2 in the atmosphere. You don’t seem to be aware of this and still say CO2 is the main concern. It is only of concern when you are claiming wrongly that humans are responsible for climate change.

        The reference you gave me about greenhouse gases contains this ridiculous statement: “Most of the gas in the atmosphere is nitrogen and oxygen – both of which are molecules made of two atoms. The atoms in these molecules are bound together tightly and unable to vibrate, so they cannot absorb heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect.” Really? You believe that nitrogen and oxygen cannot absorb heat. if they cannot absorb heat then they must be at absolute zero. You believe that 99% of the atmosphere has no heat content. I have also seen an old NASA document now removed from their site claiming exactly the same. What utter crap you believe in. No wonder you call yourself DOG, we all know how much dogs like the smell of crap!

        It would be impossible to model the climate if is was based on knowing what every atom on earth was doing. So obviously simplifications are needed which means models have to be based regions, or cells, of the atmosphere and oceans having an “equilibrium temperature”. I have never denied this since I have never discussed this point until now. The point I was making was that an average of an variable has to have a physical meaning. Any fool can calculate an average from a set of number but in physics it has to have a meaning. I gave you a reference to a paper on the subject but still no response from you explaining why you do not accept it. I gave you references on how to calculate the temperature after combining ice and water and pointed out that the result is not the average. So how can an average temperature have any physical meaning? You still cannot say.

        Your comment continues to show your utter failure to understand thermodynamics because you fail to see that when referring to water vapour and CO2 having the same average temperature that there is a huge difference in the energy because of the latent heat. The CO2 has a lower specific heat than both nitrogen and oxygen. It is energy than matters in thermodynamics. But then you believe that 99% of the atmosphere is at absolute zero. I hope you are well insulated the next time you step outside because nothing is going to keep you warm at absolute zero.

        As for your, probably incorrect, Einstein quote about repeating the same thing. I wouldn’t recommend telling any athlete that repeating the same exercise daily will not improve their performance. Some quotes sound good but are generally made for amusement. Einstein did however say “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.” The work of John Tyndall is often quoted as proof of the ability of greenhouse gases to trap radiation. As I have often said radiation and thermal energy cannot be trapped. Your reference does at least refer to absorption and emission of radiation. Although the thought of energy having “trouble” leaving the atmosphere and being “waylaid” does not suggest a scientific mind behind this reference. If your belief that radiation is trapped and some returns to the energy source causing more warming is correct then Tyndall did not observe this. He said it was all trapped. I gave you references to a recent interpretation of Tyndall’s work using a candle and a thermal camera. This was nothing more than a magic trick set up specifically to deceive. I gave you a reference to the university researcher who set up this fake experiment. No experiments prove that the greenhouse effect exists in a laboratory or in the atmosphere. Prof Wood did however prove it wrong in his experiments with greenhouses. He proved trapped radiation cannot increase the temperature. A thermos flask shows exactly the same but you are in denial about that as well.

        You keep referring to Nobel prizes but significantly it has not been awarded for the greenhouse theory. Rather odd don’t you think considering you and many more fools like you think it is the biggest threat to mankind. Your ignore the work of Max Planck who did get a prize. He explained EMR and what happens when radiation is emitted and absorbed by bodies and his work proves that the second law of thermodynamics applies, so radiation from the cold atmosphere to the warmer surface cannot cause more warming. You don’t have any respect for Nobel laureates when it does not suit your argument. You also made reference to work by Maxwell and ridiculously quoted a paragraph that appeared to support your case and ignoring the paragraph saying it did not apply to the atmosphere. Who is the arsehole here? You are along with all the rest of you.

        As the saying goes you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. In your case you don’t seem to know any from your puppy days.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          if there was a Nobel prize for stupid..

          • A Thorpe Says:

            If only, and you would receive it!

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Hmmmmmm……Just how completely stupid would one have to be to get nominated for that Nobel Prize for Stupid? What would they have to do to demonstrate enough Stupid to be noticed?

            Would a good start be to insult the owner and publisher of the Climate Denial Crock of the Week blog? You know, that well known anti-denier activist in the climate change discussion? Peter Sinclair, who sometimes makes comments here as greenman3610? And he even gave himself a thumb up for it when he posted it!!!

            Yep, works for me—-I’ll even chip in to help cover the cost of the crate we’ll need to ship Throwup to Stockholm for his medal. He’d never find his way there otherwise.

            ROTFLMAO! Along with all but a small handful of the 9,507 other amazing people who follow this blog.

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