By Grant Jacobs 02/10/2018

There’s a new billboard on South Auckland motorway near the exit to Middlemore hospital encouraging drivers to question the safety of vaccines,

Short answer: yes.

But what’s in vaccines is not really the issue, it’s a way to distract people from the real question: are you better off with the vaccine than without it?

You could turn this around and ask: if you knew the harms causes by vaccine-preventable illnesses, would you risk not vaccinating?

(Hell, no.)

What you need to know are the risks from the vaccines compared to the risks from the illness the vaccine prevents.

It’s the balance of risks that matters

The Western Australian Dept. of Health has a useful side-by-side list comparing the risks of the illness and the vaccine for most of the common vaccines.

In all of them you’re much better off with the vaccine.

The risks from vaccines are very small, especially compared to the risks from the illnesses vaccines prevent.

That’s not very surprising: it’s part of how health departments choose to offer a vaccine—they decide by comparing the benefits and risks.

Health departments are hardly going to offer a vaccine that is riskier than the illness.

There’s a comparison of the MMR vaccine and measles for a million kids from an earlier post, Vaccine battles (worth reading) –

What’s in the vaccines

A great way of worrying yourself silly is to look at a list of ‘possible’ problems that you don’t understand. I’m sure we’ve all done it.

Groups opposed to vaccines are using this billboard to do just this. For example, by pointing at the CDC list of things that are in vaccines.

They’re pointing to a scientific list of ingredients that just lists the items with no explanation. It’s straight-forward for someone with a biological science background (like the author), but it’d throw parents that thought they were supposed to learn ‘all that’.

They don’t have to.

That stuff is for vaccine scientists, like Sciblogs’ Helen Petousis-Harris, or health professionals.

What parents need to do is read stuff that’s written for them.

(And, no, there is no grand conspiracy to hide anything, after all these lists are public. It helps to remember that health professionals and scientists are strongly driven by helping others, and they have their own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews they care about too.)

Better advice

Learning what to do is particularly hard on new parents. Where might they find sound advice?

I’ve previously suggested a few sources of vaccine information in A few vaccine resources. Some of the thoughts I offered about vaccine posts are worth considering, too.

There is a repeated pattern of parents thinking they don’t need to give vaccines for their children, then learning the hard way. It’s painful watching this needlessly repeat itself.

(Some people posting about this online point to an anti-vaccine lobby group for advice about vaccine contents and more. The behind these groups ‘scare up’ the issue. I feel for them a bit. They seem to spend their lives frightening themselves, or perhaps getting a kick out of the response they get from nervous parents. Some appear to be trying to ‘find’ something to ‘blame’ for a tragedy, others projecting their their distrust of administrations on a chosen topic, and so on. All very human things to do, but all unhelpful.)

Who is doing this?

The billboard was purchased by Warnings about Vaccine Expectations (WAVES), who have a long history of vaccine misinformation. My reading strongly suggests they have been involved in some tragic events.

I would encourage parents to steer clear of them.

Use better sources, like those I suggested in the previous section.

The billboard is at GHL Towing and Salvage, installed by Ad-Vantage Media (see The property owners almost certainly have little to do with this, and may themselves not be happy about it either—so please don’t harass them.

You could argue that billboard companies could take some responsibility in hosting material that might fairly obviously breaches advertising standards, or at least consider any moral issues. Discussion online suggests are large number of complaints are being filed to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Related articles in Code for life


The billboard is on the property of GHL Towing and Salvage, installed by Ad-Vantage Media (see, and was purchased by Warnings about Vaccine Expectations (WAVES). The Australian AVN group say the billboard has been paid for a month.

WavesNZ, who posted the billboard, was once known as the IAS, and have a long history of misinformation about vaccines. I tackled one example in 2012 in IAS talks about vaccines.

I’m unable to follow developments on the WavesNZ Facebook page. They have removed me from it some years ago for no good reason. I had not written there in some time, then when the Vaxxed movie fuss started in NZ I found I could not view their page after having been a member for many years. My guess is that they removed people they thought might stymie their ‘secret’ plans for hosting the movie. I asked for an explanation, but received none. I had long adopted a practice of only writing politely in response to open questions, not starting topics.

There’s a reddit discussion on this if that’s your scene.

About the featured image

It’s the billboard.

0 Responses to “Vaccines and risk on Auckland motorway billboard”

  • They will remove anyone who debunks the nonsense they are posting. At they moment they simply regurgitating the USA based misinformation such as HHS safety studies , sanitation and the books written by laypersons.

  • They will remove anyone who debunks the nonsense they are posting.

    The core members of groups opposed to vaccine do this, but my post is aimed at parents, really. (Reaching parents is another matter unfortunately. I’d like to be writing in media outlets where I’d have better reach. Pretty much the only times in recent years that I’ve deal with the small core of people opposed to vaccines in NZ are when they’ve written on Sciblogs comments.)

    These things play on parents’ want to do the right thing. In this case, the group opposed to vaccines are trying to rark up the idea that there is some sort of substantial risk in vaccines (there isn’t). I’m also seeing a bit of a pattern of pointing at scientific papers without explaining what they really show, implying “there’s a problem” when there isn’t.

    As you’ll see from my Footnote, I can’t reply them directly anyway as they removed me from the group for some unspecified reason (perhaps a pre-emptive move ahead of the Vaxxed movie effort).

    In any event the billboard should be down in a few hours from what others say.

  • Grant

    It looks as though we can expect a month of this nonsense.

    Would you tell readers the basics at putting in a complaint to at Advertising Standards people? I would like to know.

    And I think readers could consider making a point to remind friends, family, and contacts how safe vaccines are. Tell the story: my child, grandchild, friends child had their vaccine, they are healthy, isn’t it wonderful that they are safe from that disease. If we do that it will lessen the impact, of the campaign this group plan.

  • Hi Maurice,

    Instructions are on the Reddit post which Grant has linked in the last section of his article.


  • I think that the furore round the billboard shows several things. Amongst which, that New Zealanders increasingly will not settle for less than full Transparency of issues, facts, context, risks – good and bad & on all matters associated with vaccines. It also shows that a growing number of citizens question what they put in their bodies (and those of their kids), and are deeply concerned around the ethical / transparency side of informed consent.

    Which, frankly, I believe is a good thing ..

  • I would not be so presumptuous David. I think the lesson here is that the vast majority have no idea nor any concern about what is going on, and a few citizens (about 140 at last count) – if I may borrow your wording – question what is put on a billboard, and are deeply concerned around the ethical / transparency side of dishonest dissent.

    Which, frankly, I believe is a good thing …

  • Choice words Maurice. And yet, as we know, surprising nnumbers of New Zealanders critique their food labels in the Supermarket before they purchase. Yet, I am guessing that most people have absolutely no idea what is in a vaccine. Heck, my Father – a GP until he retired recently had absolutely no idea!

    I would suggest that knowing about what is in vaccines is – by it’s very nature – very consistent indeed with New Zeakand public wishes.

    In the name of Transparency, and Informed Consent, I think that it is a shame that the billboard was pulled down ..

  • Grant. You say that “what’s in vaccines is not really the issue”. You are wrong: for a heck of a lot of people, it is absolutely a central issue.

    May I ask: To what extent (if at all) are the views you Express in this particular blog ‘Official’ Ministry views 9f the billboard. Or, are they primarily your own, as per your private, science related blog.

  • I’m short on time for complete replies right now, but quickly:

    – from memory there’s a cheat-sheet for ASA complaints on the Honest Universe blog here at Sciblogs. The moment has passed for the current billboard, I think. I recall reading WavesNZ saying they received 151 complaints forwarded on to them.

    – David, try reading the full article, not just first lines. It’d be more accurate to say some people are being mislead into thinking that the ingredients ‘are the important thing’. (The ingredients are fine; there isn’t anything sound gained by scaring them up.)

    Put another way, there is a difference between what people think matters (or what WavesNZ are telling them), and what actually matters for their decision.

    What WavesNZ is doing is walking around this, to exploit people’s lack of understanding of science (their own lack of understanding of the science, too, actually) to insert their ‘scary-um’ version. There’s a pattern of them pointing at a science material, knowing no-one will understand it, then making claims that just aren’t right as if that’s what science says but it doesn’t.

    Also WavesNZ are not really about ‘informed choice’. They might wish/believe that, but in practice they’re about pushing their own views, shutting out others. Among other things, they delete people who offer information contrary to their misinformed opinion, as I know from direct personal experience.

  • David,

    May I ask: To what extent (if at all) are the views you Express in this particular blog ‘Official’ Ministry views 9f the billboard. Or, are they primarily your own, as per your private, science related blog.

    Why even ask? It’s self-evident.

    I’m a biologist who is independent of the various organisations, who has followed vaccine issues in NZ for over a decade now. I have a good position to comment on this in a well-informed way.

  • It’d be more accurate to say some people are being mislead into thinking that the ingredients ‘are the important thing’. (The ingredients are fine; there isn’t anything sound gained by scaring them up.)

    This. Exactly this. As I’ve pointed out on my own blog, WAVES is making inaccurate/misleading statements about vaccine ingredients, in such a way that the only conclusion I can make is that they are trying to scare people away from getting themselves &/or their children vaccinated.

  • Thank you for clarifying that Grant. I didnt really think that it was self-evident – which is why I asked.

    I like your rewording “It’d be more accurate to say some people .. ” And, I get that.

    I do believe that there are a lot of New Zealanders who are genuinely concerned about the risk factors of Vaccine adjuvants and such. Far from all being ‘extremists’ or ‘antivaxxers’, many are genuinely concerned about the potential impacts of ‘bundling’ more (and more) vaccinations together, on young and developing immune systems. Many are also hauntingly concerned about the long-term implications – and want to know that sufficient, and fit-for-purpose Long Term evaluations have been undertaken. For which, there is a paucity of information – at least to find. Kiwis know that there are immense pressures to rush products to market and – like me – they dont always get satisfactory answers from asking their family doctor. “Just Trust Me” is not enough for some. Which is understandable.

    ‘The science’ is one thing, but there are a number of other related realms related to public understanding, acknowledgement and acceptance of (vaccine) science, benefits and risks. Perhaps that is why Oxford University appointed Richard Dawkins as ‘Professor of Public Understanding of Science’ in 1995; he was able to communicate to the public in meaningful ways.

    Anyways, I enjoyed reading this post (and learnt valuable material from several of your links).
    Quick question: Please can you link me to the ‘best’ (validated) detailed explanation, as to why the CDC VAERS database Risk information is different to NZ Vaccine Insert information, and material contained within the CARM database. I want to share it with some others. Thank you. DB

  • the potential impacts of ‘bundling’ more (and more) vaccinations together, on young and developing immune systems.
    Except that the number of antigens included in vaccines has actually decreased over time, as we’ve moved to using specific proteins rather then entire deactivated organisms. And, as I’m sure you’re aware, “young & developing immune systems” are exposed to way more antigens on a daily basis than would ever be encountered in the vaccine schedule.

  • Perhaps so Alison; I defer to your knowledge about that specifically ..

  • David,

    re “I do believe that […]”

    This is walking right past, or around, a core (if not, the) point I made: “It’d be more accurate to say some people are being mislead into thinking that the ingredients ‘are the important thing’.” […] “there is a difference between what people think matters (or what WavesNZ are telling them), and what actually matters for their decision.”

    I didn’t say those people were (your words), “all being ‘extremists’ or ‘antivaxxers’,” In fact, I pointed out throughout my post that I’m addressing parents, esp. first-time parents. IME they mostly don’t have a stance, they’re just confused by the noisy claims and would like clarity over the anti-vaccine groups’ encouraging them to ‘consider the risks’, etc.


    Quick question: Please can you link me to the ‘best’ (validated) detailed explanation, as to why the CDC VAERS database Risk information is different to NZ Vaccine Insert information, and material contained within the CARM database. I want to share it with some others. Thank you.

    You’re going to have to at least say what these ‘differences’are.

    In any event your question doesn’t make sense to me – nor why I ought to do this homework for you! Without knowing what your open-ended question is intended to refer to or mean, it’d require a breakdown of several very large datasets, which of course I’m not going to do—well, not without someone paying my consulting fees—as that’d be serious research time.

    But a couple of quick general points:

    – Comparing VAERS data and inserts makes no sense, it’s apples v oranges. (VAERS is a database of claims, made by anyone. They are not confirmed findings. To illustrate the point that anyone can file any claim at all in VAERS one guy filed a claim that a vaccine turned him into the Hulk. Obviously untrue, but all claims are filed. A key point is that the claims mean basically nothing until they’re checked out further.)

    – “the CDC VAERS database Risk information”: I don’t believe there is any such thing, it’d be a contradiction in terms. Perhaps you’re confusing one thing with another. As VAERS reports are unconfirmed claims they can’t be used to assign risk as they stand.

    – Vaccines go through an enormous amount of testing, they are not ‘rushed to the market’ with a few (very) rare exceptions for things like Ebola, Marburg, etc. It helps to remember that it’s the national health boards that set them, not the companies.

    – Silly attempts at put-downs are, well, silly.

  • Grant I understand very well your core point, that “ there is a difference between what people think matters (or what WavesNZ are telling them), and what actually matters for their decision.” As mentioned: I get that.

    Nevertheless, I submit that the issue of ingredients / adjuvants (potentially) impacting babies immune systems Does matter – yes, along with a more balanced understanding of the benefits / risks of the vaccines themselves. Both these matters are of great interest and importance to a growing number of people. Certainly, to many of us outside the Science community.

    The fact is, that there Is a body of research around the use of aluminium as an adjuvant, which Should be cause for legitimate concern to the Health Fraternity. That it does not appear to be acknowledged as cause for further study is, in itself, serious concern to (what appears to be) a growing number of New Zealanders. Myself included. These studies / research / papers are made public in some quarters, but they are routinely belittled (or existence denied) in other quarters. And the authors besmirched. Which, does not help anybody in furthering their understanding, nor assist personal decision process for their kids. Rather, it makes matters worse!

    I think it is also clear, that IMAC / WHO etc. have not sufficiently addressed the matter of benefits / risks in the public arena. I think it would be a good thing, if they were to openly tackle this head-on. Kiwis are not stupid. They want a clear understanding of the risks / benefits, as per the NZ Bill of Rights and the NZ principle of Informed Consent. Which demands transparency, and top-shelf communication. ( I happen to think that IMAC are trying to do their best!)

    Back to my question, which was not sufficiently clear: My bad.
    Can you point me to a good (validated) source, which provides a detailed, overview as to the purpose & intent of the VAERS database, NZ Vaccine inserts and CARM database – and which also provides detailed explanation as to why the listed adverse events associated for specific vaccines are different in each.

    Its not a trick question: If you are not able to (or prefer not to), thats quite alright; please just say so, and I shall pursue by way of IMAC. DB

  • along with a more balanced understanding of the benefits / risks of the vaccines themselves.

    This sounds more like an attempt to inject ‘false balance’ into the discussion. David, we know the risks & benefits. You’ve read enough of Helen Petoussis-Harris’s blog posts on vaccination to be aware of this.

    Regarding measles, for example:
    Seizures are an uncommon complication: 300/1,000,000 vaccinated children may experience seizures; for children infected by measles the figure is 10,000 out of that million.
    Thromocytopenia (rare complication): seen in 26 in every million vaccinated; and in 330 in every million with measles.
    The following are very rare complications;
    Severe anaphylaxis: in 4/1,000,000 vaccinated, 0 of those with measles
    SSPE: 0 vaccinated children will die of this; 10/1,000,000 of those with measles die later of SSPE (& it’s not a nice death)
    Encephalitis: <1/1,000,000 vaccinated children develop this, compared to odds of 2,000 in every million children with measles.
    The same data are readily available for other VPDs.

  • And I should have added that the above doesn’t include the social & economic impacts of the ‘normal’ morbidity associated with measles.

  • Alison. I understand that “We know the benefits / risks”. My main point there, is that i do not believe that they are adequately / sufficiently communicated, Outside Sciencedom. I think it is quite clear that they are not, as evidenced by mistrust of the medical fraternity in some quarters. Also, if communication around the benefits were up-to-spec, then there would have been little need for the billboard to have been taken down!

    Yes, I have learnt a lot from Dr Helen P.H’s blogs – however the public do not generally read SciBlogs ..

    PS: as mentioned, I think IMAC try their best

  • David,

    I suspect that you already know that you are trying to compare apples with oranges and leeks, but here goes, in a very simplified form:

    VAERS – anyone can report anything they feel is related to a vaccine, in the USA. No questions are asked as to whether the relationship actually exists or not. For example, one person reported a vaccine turned them into the Incredible Hulk. It was accepted.

    NZ vaccine inserts – legal documents that are written by the vaccine manufacturer, and are required by law to be in the packaging of every vaccine marketed in NZ.

    CARM – a NZ database where attempts are made to determine whether reported side effects can actually be attributed to medications (any medications, not just vaccines) that are marketed in NZ.

    So, since the three things exist for three different purposes, it is no surprise that there are three different sets of information in them. (Hint: the purpose is in the name).

    For a “good (validated) source” I would recommend you start with the individual websites of VAERS and CARM, each of which tells you their purpose and limitations, what they can and can’t be used for. As to the vaccine inserts, I would recommend that you read the actual inserts, since similar information can be found there.

    I get the impression from your comments that either you are completely unable to understand what you are reading, or that you are deliberately ignoring freely available information in an attempt to sow FUD about vaccine safety.

  • I appreciate your response Grant. Which does partially fulfill my request.

    As to your “impressions”, you are mistaken on both counts. Thanks again. DB.

  • David,

    I see that my first impressionis the more likely, that you don’t understand what you are reading.

    After all, if you understood what you were reading, you would understand that I’m not Grant.

  • Alison. What is the source of your quoted complications please?

  • Stuart. Thank you for your insight re VAERS / CARM / Vaccine inserts. I have found the links you suggested I look for, which describe their purposes & limitations. As a result of this – and previous discussion with yourself and Grant, I have a somewhat enhanced understanding of the differences between these, (and a swag of other, related areas. And, I thank you.

    I wish to share this info with others (in another realm), in order to promote Understanding and informed knowledge, and to help to Reduce F.U.D. That is to say, with others,in certain quarters, some of whom genuinely want to know ‘Why the differences’. (I do not wish to use the ‘Antivaxxer’ word, as not everybody in the other realm is anti-vaxxer per se, and lots of them are genuinely confused by the layers of conflicting information, research, motives, etc. etc. And seek to understand.

    OK. I have searched on Mr. Google, and come up with, what appears to be (to me) reasonable material, which explains the differences in some detail. Here are the links. Please would an appropriate somebody mind commenting, as to the level of descriptive veracity of each ? Thanks: DB

  • Thanks for that. I do recall being introduced to Skeptical Raptor at some earlier point.

    So, please could I have comment, as to the veracity – and additional observation as to what extent the (presumably) US based Skeptical Raptor’s comments might apply to NZ Vaccine Inserts ?

  • re package inserts, this from ‘The Mad Virologist’ (

    Many people don’t understand what a vaccine insert really is and what it is meant to do. Often people will use what’s in a vaccine insert as an argument against vaccines. Simply put, a vaccine insert (or any medication insert for that matter) is an instruction guide for those giving the vaccine so that the companies that make the vaccines are protected against claims of the vaccine being administered incorrectly. It was not written for patients to know the risks and benefits of the vaccine.

    (I’d write my own answer, but this is about as clear as it gets! Vaccine inserts are a mix of instruction material and legal protection for the company. The companies tend to list everything that ‘might’ go ‘wrong‘, even if they’re exceptionally unlikely (even unrealistically unlikely) to cover their arses. It’s helpful to remember that listed ‘adverse events’ in clinical trials can have nothing to do with the vaccines simply because life continues to go on, and stuff happens to those people.)

  • More to the point, can we please end this sealioning stuff?

    David could easily have looked up his earlier questions himself (which he demonstrates!); I did write a section pointing at sources of information eh…; and contrary to what he implies IMAC does cover this stuff under explanations of vaccine safety safety monitoring, etc.

    All of this, though, comes back to the key messages of my post. The relevant question for parents (and others) concerned about all the ‘noise’ is if they’re better off with the vaccines or not, and parents don’t have to ‘learn all this stuff’. (As I wrote that stuff is for vaccine scientists and health professionals; see my reply re inserts, too.)

    Risks don’t exist in isolation.

    In this case it’s a case of choosing one of two actions. The question has to be which of the two (vaccine, or not) is better.

    The answer is straight-forward. For the approved, recommended vaccines you’re much better off with the vaccine than not — it’s how & why the MoH (etc.) approve & recommend them in the first place.

    Diseases have risks too: much bigger risks than the vaccines. You can’t ignore the risks from the diseases in this.

    Pointing at vaccine ‘risks’ in isolation creates unjustified FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt). What is relevant is that vaccines lower the risks (and substantially).

    People pointing only a ‘risks’ of vaccines are not pointing out that in not taking the vaccine the person is now exposed to much greater risk.

    They also not acknowledging just how small the risk from vaccines really is, that that all but a tiny fraction of the ‘side effects’ are temporary, like a mild fever or local swelling.

    I gave an example of the balance of risks between a disease (measles) and the vaccine in the article.

  • Hi David,

    I only saw your email to me a couple of days ago, and have finally have had time to read it.

    Just a general point—not aimed at you in particular but a reminder to readers in general, I guess—I generally prefer people put things to the blog, and restrict contacting me directly for things that really can’t be put to the blog, e.g. for confidentially reasons, a source who wishes to be anonymous tipping me of story, etc.

    A deeper reason is that a small number of people have tried (and still try!) play me both ways, saying one thing by email, and other things in public space.

    (As a bit of a sideline this reminds me of one time WavesNZ emailing me, in the days it was IAS. It subsequently proved to be an attempt to (successfully) sideline me at a time they faced media attention the following day. It was quite deliberate, and shows that the core organisers are not above being deliberately deceitful if it suits their ends.)

    Nothing against what you wrote to me, but I’m reading it as stuff you could have put it to the blog.

    A few general thoughts –

    If you find others are harsh on you, it’s a good idea to check how you come across to others. A number of things you write don’t logically gel properly. At best it means you haven’t sorted things out properly for yourself yet.

    You might want to consider if you’re really the best person to try present things to others? It’d likely be more sensible, and easier, to encourage them to visit Sciblogs where we have an open forum, and where there is expertise to help them out.

    I spent (many) years on a small number of ‘anti-vaccine’ groups. I’m familiar with those groups, what people think and say, and what does and doesn’t fly there. (Contrary to what you keep saying!) I eventually developed a policy of only writing in response to open questions by members. That was mostly tolerated as I’m very polite and can write tightly on-topic when I want to. This really only works if you know the material well, come across well, and are able to quickly and easily (and politely!) reply to ‘parries’, particularly because of how echo chambers run. Among other things people easily sense when someone doesn’t know the material first-hand well, and in that environment that can backfire fast and actually make things worse as they then think they’re justified in opposing what is in fact a valid point. Again, I’d suggest you’d do better to encourage people to come here.

    Finally, be aware that focusing only on ‘risks’ in that setting, even “correcting” perceptions, is playing the game they’re setting up (as I pointed out in the post). It’s one of the reasons I shifted to the balance of risks.


  • What is the source of the diagram depicting the ailments between 1 million MMR vaccinated and one million measles cases?

    • Excuse my not looking back at the article itself, but from memory the body text links to an earlier article where I’ve used this, that article in turn links back to the source of the table. (There are likely several of these tables around, with slightly different figures depending on the specific source of each individual estimate.)

  • See how fiercely the truth is gagged in NZ!! We live in a dictatorship with no freedom of speech. Only the propaganda is permitted and some fools are not open minded enough to see red flags flying in their face. Immunisations/Vaccines NZ, reputable research for better advice.

  • No one is “gagging truth”. After all, you’re free to express your opinion as you just have.

    That billboard doesn’t offer any statements – if plays a loaded question implying that there is some “risk” that parents are “supposed” to be “concerned” about. That’s fear-mongering.

    Please note that comments are supposed to discuss the post/topic at hand, not be used to promote things: