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?
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.)
Learning what to do is particularly hard on new parents. Where might they find sound advice?
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 billboards.co.nz). 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
- Please don’t share vaccine “concern” posts (at times having to deal with them is a bit too much)
- Sources for medical information for non-medics and non-scientists (a resource page)
- Are too many vaccines too soon harmful? (I look into a research study that tests this)
- Fact or fallacy, a survey of immunisation statements in the print media (at the time I wrote that the media unfortunately get things wrong, which can be confusing if you’re new to the topic, but I have to say the NZ media is doing better of late — keep it up!)
- The Panic Virus (a review of a book examining parents’ concerns about vaccines)
- Thoughts on, and for, those trying to choose to vaccinate or not (Some thoughts on some aspects of parent trying to find sound information.)
- Immunisation then and now (a peek at history)
- Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy (including rubella in New Zealand – I’m a rubella kid)
The billboard is on the property of GHL Towing and Salvage, installed by Ad-Vantage Media (see billboards.co.nz), 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.