Saturday, January 24, 2015


When satire has a biting edge, it has been done correctly. One such instance was just done by The Onion in a piece called I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back. The anti-vaccination crowd is based on extremely thin science—in fact, most of it is based on a single study that has since been debunked. But the real problem with the anti-vaccination logic is that even if everything they claimed about increased autism rates due to vaccination were true, you would still have to be pretty foolish not to vaccinate your children.

It is easy for us to forget the way the world used to be. Just a hundred years ago, we didn’t have antibiotics. People could die because of a blood infection they got just scraping their knee in the backyard. According to the CDC, the infant mortality rate for the United States in 1915 was at 10% (100 infants out of every 1000 births died before their first birthday). Today it’s at 0.6% (6.17 per 1000 births). A large reason for that drop is because vaccinations are keeping babies who would have died from various diseases like the measles or mumps from dying.

But here’s the thing about keeping someone from dying. Suppose that we were able to magically cure a single disease right now—say, cancer. This would mean that there are now millions of people who are not dying anymore right? Wrong. It means there are now millions of people who will die from something other than cancer. That’s all. Everyone dies of something, and by necessity if you cure one thing, the other methods of death must rise.

Incidentally, this phenomena was observed during World War I. When soldiers were required to start wearing helmets, the number of injuries on the battlefield actually increased. Why, then, didn’t soldiers stop wearing their helmets? Because while the number of injuries increased, the number of fatalities decreased. Instead of a bullet killing a person when it struck them in the head, the bullet now merely injured the soldier because of the protection of the helmet.

So when we think back to medicine, when we cure someone of something that would kill them at a young age, then they will have many more years that they can live than they would have lived without the cure. But what that means is that they will have many more years to catch diseases that they would not have caught if they were already dead. So keeping infants from dying of the measles means that other diseases will necessarily have a slight uptick in their number of occurrences. This includes even the number of people diagnosed with autism, for instance.

Now not all the increased cases of autism can be accounted for by infants surviving longer than they would have without vaccines, and I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t look to find ways of mitigating that increase. But there is no evidence that vaccines are causing the problem. And even if vaccines were the problem, when enough people stop vaccinating it will mean diseases that could have been stopped will make a comeback, and it will mean that babies will die who otherwise would have survived. So even if vaccines cause autism, autism isn't fatal! Let's let something other than preventible diseases kill off our children.


  1. most of it is based on a single study that has since been debunked.

    I'm not really interested in debating vaccination in general, but this is simply grossly, wildly incorrect:

  2. I was basing it off the CDC, but I wouldn't die on a sword for them. The number of actual studies doesn't affect my main point :-)