By Grant Jacobs 12/04/2017 1


I’m losing far too much of my writing time to people with misbegotten ideas about vaccines.*

I know people are very keen to make their own decisions. It’s understandable, but I wish if they insist on making their own decisions that they’d take equally as much care about the information they’re using to make their decisions — and in recognising if they are genuinely able to sort out good medical information from bad.

I’ve been doing biological science for decades, and it takes me time to check things, lots of it.

It’s much more sensible to make use of the people who know this stuff. It’s the same reason we call up plumbers, electricians, and other skilled people. They know their patch.

You know what a DIY disaster looks like? That’s what popular opposition to vaccines looks like to a biologist.

By all means ask questions. But for the love of everything good please stop saying “how things are” unless you really know stuff and your limits.

Notice that’s not (just) knowing your stuff, it’s also knowing your limits. Better people know when to hand it over to the electrician. (And better general-purpose tradies know when to pass it up to specialist businesses.)

Same for all of that medical and health stuff, not just vaccines.

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Belated thoughts

I wrote the original of this at 1am, in a place where I wake with the sun, at 6am. There’s so much more to the issue, but clearly I wasn’t going to tackle it at that hour.

Who to ask

One obvious problem is who to ask. In the case of NZ, the Immunisation Advisory Centre is source of good vaccine information. (More about them and other information in my previous post; more still in some of the older posts links towards the end of that post.)

Your GP might be another person to talk to.

Avoid advocacy or lobby groups

A topic in it’s own right; this is too brief.

Too often groups focused on ‘concerns’ are stuck in a self-reenforcing loop of looking for scary but incorrect ideas, promoting them (to themselves as much as anyone else), then looking for more. I have a lot of sympathy, actually. These people are tormenting themselves really, and the way they’re doing it they’re going to keep right on at it.

I think it’s fair to point out that a few members of these groups sadly appear to be trying to find a cause to “blame” for a tragedy, where there really is no thing or person to blame. Blaming a very human thing to do. The tragedies are real enough, too, but the apportioning of blame is all too often badly done. Just my opinion, but there’s rarely good value in feeling blame or guilt. Letting go is a damn hard thing to do, and you’ve got to admire those that can manage to.

A suggestion: most often medical researchers are best placed to riddle out out what causes what. It’s their thing to do.

Of course, beware of those ‘brave maverick souls’ claiming they’re rallying against established science that advocacy groups like to present as heroes. Andrew Wakefield would be the most prominent example. Science works by looking at all the evidence, taken together: best to see what that says. (Hint: vaccines are well studied, and very safe.)

Analogies break down and more

For those tempted to poke at the analogies I’ve used! Also a few loose ends.

I find it better to see what the point being made was, rather than try ‘push’ the analogy further. Analogies inevitably break down simply because they are analogies, not the actual thing being analogised.

There are rogue tradies, and well-meant efforts that just go wrong. You’re still better facing that than the much greater likelihood of a lousy DIY effort that then needs to be undone and redone.

People often prefer registered tradies, and those that are members of professional organisations. A parallel in the medical world would be stick to registered medical practitioners for advice.** The New Zealand registry is searchable online; you can look your doctor up in it. There are still a few GPs that give poor vaccine advice, from what I’ve read, but you’re much more likely to avoid it by sticking to registered practitioners.

Be wary of the ‘advice’ of various “integrative” practitioners, naturopaths, etc. Their views are not based on tested findings, but what they “think” is right, or according to ideologies they’re enamoured of. They honestly believe what they say (and so are convincing), but believing something doesn’t make it right. A key point about science is it’s not about what you ‘think’ is right, but what has been tested and shown to be right. Stick to the science-based stuff and you’ll be safer.

Similarly, avoid the remedies touted online. There’s no such thing as homeopathic vaccines – a contradiction in terms if there ever was one. Nor can various elixirs be substitutes for vaccines. “Boosting the immune system” is a sham marketing line. And so.

Sadly this list of misleading and false ‘alternatives’ grows longer the more you look. At times it feels like endless madness.

You’ve got to feel for new parents with all this stuff being tossed around. Don’t add to it. Don’t share or retweet those vaccine ‘concern’ posts.

Enough from me, I’m done. For now.

Footnotes

“Duty calls”, XKCD.com

I’ll freely admit this is unlikely to reach those I‘d like it to. Social media makes it hard for that to happen. But I can try…?

* I’m trying to put time towards a couple of writing projects (at my own expense). It’s frustrating that time is being ebbed away with this latest round of vaccine “concerns”. Yes, I know there’s that thing of just letting people be wrong on the internet — see the cartoon, it’s an old favourite of mine. But there‘s also a thing that for a scientist not correcting these is a bit like to a doctor standing by the scene of an accident and doing nothing.

** While pharmacies can offer vaccines in New Zealand I confess I have a few reservations about advice from them. Pharmacies commonly carry ‘fake’ remedies, like homeopathic remedies, and there are accounts of them recommending these. My feeling is they need to resolve the issue of carrying these products.

Other posts at Code for life

Featured image

You’re probably wondering why my featured imagine is Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia 1762-1796. Rather than more photographs of vaccination, I decided to turn to history. The History of Vaccination website has a timeline of vaccine history. For 1768 they note –

Catherine the Great of Russia was inoculated by physician Thomas Dimsdale, with relays of horses at the ready in case the inoculation should go wrong and Dimsdale need to escape from Catherine’s angry subjects. The operation was kept secret, and Catherine recovered successfully. Her inoculation later encouraged others to follow suit.

Public Domain, source: Wikipedia.


One Response to “Please don’t share vaccine “concern” posts”

  • Great post, thanks Grant. Combating pseudoscience and unfounded fears is exhausting work, but your efforts are appreciated.

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