Building herd immunity to reason

July 30, 2013 § 40 Comments

People are freaking out that some woman with anti-vaccine views has been given a spot on a popular TV show.

Vaccines are a pervasive and lucrative technology used to alter the biochemistry of the bodies of hundreds of millions or even billions of people.  As such, it is inconceivable that they have no significant downsides.

But vaccine skeptics are not treated as though they are merely wrong. They are not treated as if they are merely failing to see that the benefits outweigh the downsides.  Vaccine skeptics are treated as though they are wicked heretics and crazy kooks simply for suggesting that there are downsides at all.

One might reasonably argue that the downsides of vehicular traffic are outweighed by the benefits; but that doesn’t make the man who is upset that his family was killed in a traffic accident into a heretic or a crazy kook.

While certainly not dispositive, the fact that people who emphasize the downsides of a major technology are treated as heretics or crazy kooks who are killing our children tends to confirm, at least in my view, that the downsides are real (HT Scott).

The modern prescription drug regime rides, ideologically, on the historical coattails of the genuine successes of basic modern medicines like antibiotics. But it is in its current form an utter disaster, as (for one) Dr. David Healy documents in his many books, including most recently Pharmageddon.

Vaccines may be different — I for one have not done enough due diligence to have a firm opinion, although the way they are relentlessly presented as an unmitigated public good and critics are painted as not just wrong but evil murderous heretics does tend to peg the skepticism-o-meter. And I know better, now, than to trust Orwellian “evidence based medicine” and the clinical trial regime when it comes to evaluating vaccines, side effects, etc.

Yes, historically, vaccines have been enormously life-saving – statistically speaking – by creating herd immunity to some deadly diseases. Of course statistics aren’t all that meaningful to the individuals on the other end of the stick who were killed or maimed by vaccines. But give the Devil his due: public health has improved enormously with vaccination.

However, that historical account does not constitute a blanket justification of the current, present day vaccination-industrial-government complex. At all. Just because war has been justified and has saved lives in the past it doesn’t follow that today’s war is just.

§ 40 Responses to Building herd immunity to reason

  • Cane Caldo says:

    They are replacing the pretty and (ostensibly) conservative girl with a pretty and (popularly-considered) crazy girl. To the producers and their audience any hullabaloo would be considered baffling; as they’ve simply replaced one missing widget with what–to their eyes–must certainly appear to be an identical piece.

    The crimestop is strong with these ones.

    Good to see a post from you.

  • MarcAnthony says:

    Wow, you’ve read my mind. There was a “Law and Order: SVU” episode on today about this exact topic. The gist of the episode was that the woman who didn’t vaccinate her child should have been guilty of murder (!!!) because another child caught the measles from her child and died.

    The problem with this, of course, is that it basically criminalizes not doing what the medical establishment tells you to do. If a mother believes her child should not be vaccinated, well, she’s the person who gets to make medical decisions for their child. That somebody else caught measles from her child, number one, raises this question – why were they not vaccinated against it?

    But besides that, it’s saying that if you don’t want to take medicine for a contagious disease, it should be illegal for you to leave your house. It’s clearly just silly.

  • Zippy says:

    MarcAnthony:
    That somebody else caught measles from her child, number one, raises this question – why were they not vaccinated against it?

    Perhaps a wee bit of truth seeped into the script despite the crimestop. As I understand it, vaccination usually only marginally increases the immunity of any given vaccinated individual. (It also comes with nontrivial risks). The reason some deadly diseases have been wiped out is that the marginal increase in individual immunity is enough, when pervasive in the population, to halt the spread of disease — like a little sand in the gears or water in the gasoline.

    Much stronger immunity obtains individually after actually contracting the disease (e.g. Chicken Pox).

  • Scott W. says:

    With my children, we did the vaccinations required by law, and none of the optional ones even though we got a little earful about not doing them.

    And of course as winter approaches comes the flu-vaccination full-court press. At my old parish years ago, my priest took time in the announcement ordinary during Mass to talk about the vaccination program we had and how he was particularly susceptible to contagions and implied strongly that you were an insensitive jerk if you didn’t get it.

    Strange times when not doing something is seen as the equivalent of lighting a stogie and blowing the smoke in a asthmatic’s face.

  • ” As I understand it, vaccination usually only marginally increases the immunity of any given vaccinated individual. (It also comes with nontrivial risks).”

    Hmmm, thinking out loud, doesn’t this alone undermine the idea that vaccinations are sooooo foundational to society that it’s literally murder not to get one?

  • (Sorry – if it’s not clear, I’m MarcAnthony as well.)

  • MarcusD says:

    You have to watch out for viral polymorphism and for uncommon strains becoming more common (both of which were concerns with Gardasil).

  • Scott W. says:

    Hmmm, thinking out loud, doesn’t this alone undermine the idea that vaccinations are sooooo foundational to society that it’s literally murder not to get one?

    I’d say so but just add that the no-vaccination-equals-murder idea applies to not getting them for your children, which ventures into “momma bear” territory; and as I mention on my blog, nothing will send your combox into thermonuclear meltdown faster than topics on the proper way to raise children.

    I see a connection to idea that raising your children Catholic is abuse. That is, you are not leaving them a blank slate to choose for themselves when they grow up. A kind of secular humanist vaccination against the disease of religion.

  • alcestiseshtemoa says:

    Good post. Lately I’ve been reading conspiracy theories from around the Internet and various websites, there’s a lot of stuff out there about the negatives and evil of big international corporations plus consumerist capitalism, globalization and open borders, technocratic bureaucracy, communism, big pharmaceuticals, dystopian propaganda, mutations (or viruses) and the like. Surprisingly, it’s mostly true.

  • Zippy says:

    alcestiseshtemoa:
    It isn’t a matter of conspiracies. It is just that we are expecting our human institutions to be perfect — we have substituted technology for God.

    As I wrote at Mark Shea’s,

    It turns out that the medicine-industrial complex doesn’t always act in your/our best interests any more than the military-industrial complex, or any number of other X-industrial complexes. It turns out that “experts” who mean well often don’t know what they are talking about; or more frequently, they know what they are talking about in a very narrow sense which results in sometimes dangerous half truths.

    Credulity is dangerous. You wouldn’t and shouldn’t accept “trust us, we only kill bad guys” from the military-industrial complex. You shouldn’t accept “trust us, these profitable alterations we make to the biochemistry of billions of people are an unmitigated good” either.

    It isn’t a matter of conspiracy — nothing so simple. It is a matter of these things being vast human institutions, with all that that implies.

  • MarcAnthony says:

    I’d like to point out that if I was to ever have kids, I’d probably get them vaccinated. What I object to is the idea of criminalizing the decision NOT to vaccinate your child. The I think about it, the more nonsensical the idea really becomes- are we really saying that if we don’t force a medical treatment on somebody then we’re effectively murdering people? Because in essence that’s what this amounts to.

  • Zippy says:

    I do recommend vaccinating kids – though on a slower schedule, and only for truly deadly diseases – as the default action of a parent. But that is a very weak default, and the fact that the State makes it mandatory with only a religious exemption is extremely problemmatic: it effectively criminalizes a refusal to follow the advice of a technocrat about what to inject in your body.

  • Paul J Cella says:

    The modern technocratic state is right now employing its supreme powers of coercion to: (a) force cooperation with mortal sin, (b) abolish free thought and opinion, (c) put to death the vulnerable and infirm. And a lot more besides.

    Requiring vaccination by means of administrative sanction is pretty far down the list of outrages deriving from the abuse of the modern state’s supreme coercive powers. And more importantly, the real solution here is to endeavor to reduce the state’s coercive powers.

    Is the technocratic mindset of modern medicine dangerous? Hell yes it is. I like to shock my doctor-friends by telling them I can discern no class of human beings LESS trustworthy to hold and wield political authority than doctors. Give me as my rulers the first thousand names in the Boston phonebook over a thousand MDs.

    Nevertheless, vaccination has been an absolutely extraordinary advancement in human well-being. Most of these are terrible diseases, inflicting unimaginable misery.

    I agree that this “historical account does not constitute a blanket justification of the current, present day vaccination-industrial-government complex.” But the matter could be put more succinctly; “nothing can supply blanket justification of the current, present day industrial-government complex.”

  • Zippy says:

    That’s fair enough as general sociopolitical observations Paul. However, and drawing on personal experience, for many people naively following medical instructions is more acutely likely to get one killed or maimed (more likely than, say, having one’s speech proscribed). Thus the urgency. Compliance with state-ordered Russian Roulette presents an imminent personal danger in a way that compliance with state censorship doesn’t.

    People keep treating “vaccination” as if that present day medico-industrial complex had anything but a tenuous historical relationship to, say, the initiatives that wiped out polio. That naive nominalism can get you maimed or killed when dealing with modern medicine.

    Have you read “Pharmageddon” by Dr David Healy? I probably wouldn’t have if personal experience hadn’t driven me to it. I would just add from my own experience and due diligence that things are actually somewhat worse than he presents.

  • Paul J Cella says:

    I haven’t read Healy’s book, but I spent several days reading his blogs and other online writings. And then I checked his charges and arguments (as best I could) with doctors of my acquaintance, whose evaluations by and large confirmed Healy’s general presentation of the situation. The corruption of the pharmaceutical industry is beyond dispute, in my judgment.

    Compliance with state-ordered evil on euthanasia, abortion, etc., will imperil one’s immortal soul, so there is that urgency.

    I agree that medical instructions need to be treated with caution and diligence.

    My understanding is that it is common to link vaccination with autism (McCarthy definitely has); and my strong impression is that this is bogus. A friend at the CDC will certainly agree with you that vaccines alter your biochemistry, but rather less drastically that Hepatitis or even influenza.

    Anyway, my point is that it’s the capricious coercion of the technocratic state that is the root of the problem more than the medical consensus on vaccination.

  • Zippy says:

    Paul:
    Compliance with state-ordered evil on euthanasia, abortion, etc., will imperil one’s immortal soul, so there is that urgency.

    Sure. Just because I am talking about one thing it doesn’t follow that different things are unimportant.

    I agree that medical instructions need to be treated with caution and diligence.

    It is much worse than that. The system is designed to suppress knowledge of iatrogenic effects. Becoming a technocrat onesself and doing diligence can’t unearth data which was never recorded. Healy is attempting to remedy this with his Rxisk initiative.

    A friend at the CDC will certainly agree with you that vaccines alter your biochemistry, but rather less drastically that Hepatitis or even influenza.

    That depends on who “you” are.

    Anyway, my point is that it’s the capricious coercion of the technocratic state that is the root of the problem more than the medical consensus on vaccination.

    State coercion is almost entirely beside the point of the OP. People who refuse vaccines on precisely the regime recommended, even when they are not lawbreakers, are heretics.

  • Mike T says:

    Speaking of the technocratic state, this article by Radley Balko (very long) puts the trend in perspective. This part in particular:

    The net result of the Supreme Court’s immunity decisions is a sort of case-by-case buck-passing. In declining to attach liability under one theory, the court inevitably makes a good argument for why it should attach under a different one. Unfortunately, the court has already denied liability under that theory, too, and either has no interest in overturning that decision, or won’t consider the possibility, because it wasn’t argued.

    The long-term trend is absolute unaccountability for technocratic state employees aside from the threat of their victims meeting them in a parking lot with a loaded weapon. I have several relatives that were in law enforcement and after noting the trends on the Supreme Court and the unwillingness of Congress and the states to overturn their precedents via positive law, they’ve generally concluded the same. The medical profession is clearly being added to the list of those who will receive de facto or de jure qualified immunity for their “reasonable actions.”

  • Zippy says:

    Mike T:
    The long-term trend is absolute unaccountability for technocratic state employees aside from the threat of their victims meeting them in a parking lot with a loaded weapon.

    I’m afraid there is going to be an increasing trend toward those kinds of measures, for precisely that reason.

    Liability is an interesting subject all its own – another mechanism by which technocratic modernity expunges heresy.

    Everyman is ruthlessly held legally liable for accidents even when his actions are perfectly reasonable and ordinary. Frequently the label “negligence” is attached pro-forma; but we call them “accidents” rather than “on purpose” for a reason, and not all accidents arise from someone being genuinely negligent. Thus the liability insurance industry: it literally isn’t possible to limit our liability exposure simply by acting reasonably.

    When it comes to professionals, though, the kind of doctor who exposes himself to liability is the guy who actually thinks and makes decisions based on his expertise and experience, looking on the patient in front of him as a human being. The guy who sticks to “standard practices” founded on (Orwellian) “evidence based medicine” limits his liability. The first guy is highly likely to find his career ending prematurely, if only because he can’t get liability insurance. The latter drone is safely ensconced in a legal cocoon, completely protected from accountability.

  • Mike T says:

    The guy who sticks to “standard practices” founded on (Orwellian) “evidence based medicine” limits his liability.

    Indeed this is the common argument made when police do something insanely stupid. Often you’ll see them say that while we may agree sending a SWAT unit after an unarmed marijuana grower is probably the equivalent of eschewing a targeted assassination in favor of a B52 to take out one terrorist in a village… the fact that somewhere someone wrote it into policy and then trained these people means they cannot be expect to say “wait a minute, does this make sense?”

    One of the problems is that no one wants to be judgmental. No one wants to play Mencken made Dictator for a Day and let slip the dogs of war on the congenitally stupid and the reprobate who’ve been given more dangerous power than their lot in life dictates is prudent for society to give them.

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  • Learning says:

    I am trained as a veterinarian. It is documented that animal vaccines can have serious side effects. For example, cats can develop nasty cancers at vaccine sites. That doesn’t mean not to vaccinated but to do a risk -benefit assessment. For examples, rabies is a deadly disease to the cat and the owner and it is out there, so we will vaccinate for that one. Feline Leukemia for an indoor cat, doesn’t need it. I am not an pediatrician so I would not hazard which are necessary or whether children are being over vaccinated.

  • slumlord says:

    As a physician, I can’t believe what I’m reading on this blog.

    Facepalm.

    No wonder the Left is triumphant.

    (Disclaimer. I’ve never received a cent from a pharmaceutical company)

  • Zippy says:

    Slumlord:
    (Disclaimer. I’ve never received a cent from a pharmaceutical company)

    If you think that is relevant, you haven’t read Healy.

  • Arachas says:

    I understand the argument, more or less, from both sides. I’m not particularly happy with the status quo, and I don’t trust government or business as far as I can throw them.

    But I’m also alive. I’m not a healthy man, and two of my sons share most of my ailments. Modern medicine, in other words, has done well by me. I’m one of those guys like the priest mentioned, who will catch that flu. I ended up in the emergency room last year. I’ve had pneumonia twice. Also spinal meningitis and shingles. But medicine, and the pharmaceutical companies, have not only kept me alive, they’ve improved my standard of living, and continue to do so. And some of that is no doubt on the shoulders of those around me, who are forced, coerced, shamed, or happily cooperate with getting pertussis and influenza shots…and all the rest.

    Is it, perhaps, a fair analogy to compare mandated vaccination to mandatory vehicle safety inspections, as done in my state? Every year I have to get my car inspected for seatbelts, lights, tires, brakes, and probably other things I don’t understand. Last year I let it lapse by a month or two. I ran a risk, sticking it to the Man. (Okay, I was lazy) I got a ticket. This year, my inspection showed completely rusted brakes and two tires with bald patches. The repairs to bring it up to specs cost me over $500. That wasn’t convenient, by any means.

    But because I and everyone else on my road have met a bare minimum of safety standards, I and everyone else on my road, including those most vulnerable should my brakes not work, like a motorcyclist or biker, are a good deal less likely to get seriously hurt or killed.

    And sure, maybe an inspector will try to hose me. Maybe the manufacturers can or do conspire to keep parts disposable and expensive instead of durable. I don’t know. I sure have to wonder. But I think that’s a separate (though related) issue to whether it is a just and good use of the coercive power of my local government to force me to inspect my car and keep it in repair.

    I think it is. I think we as a (mostly) democratic society have collectively decided it is. And I think we’ve made the same decision with regards to immunizations, for the same reasons.

    Now true, it’s an imperfect analogy. Getting an inspection is not going to have a side effect of dying. Just a big bill. But the downside to not immunizing on a wide scale is (I think) comparatively greater as well.

    And again, you also agree that serious diseases should be immunized, and perhaps you agree that sometimes people should just buck up and go along with that coercion for the good of their neighbors. Maybe I’m a little more sensitive, or maybe I’d draw the line a little further? If so, it’s probably for purely selfish reasons. Me and my boys, we’re cruising down the side of the road on our bicycles, hoping no one’s brakes fail, or their steering doesn’t lock up.

  • Mike T says:

    Now true, it’s an imperfect analogy. Getting an inspection is not going to have a side effect of dying. Just a big bill. But the downside to not immunizing on a wide scale is (I think) comparatively greater as well.

    As Zippy and Vox Day have observed, it is not logical to treat all vaccines as the same for the purpose of public policy. A vaccine for Polio is simply not comparable to Chicken Pox among other examples. The case for forcing individuals who might have serious or fatal reactions to take them for the “greater good” is highly dependent upon both the lethality to the general population and to the individual in question.

    I had a serious reaction as a baby to the Pertusis vaccine. It nearly killed me. In an increasingly technocratic society, my mother probably would have been arrested or I would have been taken for failing to complete the third dose because the value of herd immunity would override the patently obvious fact that the risk of getting whooping cough was less than the likelihood of the 3rd round actually killing me.

  • Alte says:

    “But besides that, it’s saying that if you don’t want to take medicine for a contagious disease, it should be illegal for you to leave your house. It’s clearly just silly.”

    No, it’s a form of quarantine.

    If you know that you carry an infectious and dangerous disease, but refuse to protect others from it, it could be a crime. Depends upon how dangerous the disease and protection are.

  • Zippy says:

    “Quarantining” a perfectly healthy person because he might get a disease isn’t really a quarantine in the usual sense.

  • Alte says:

    No, but it’s logical in reverse. Once you’re sick, if you know you have such a disease because you refused to take the prophylactic, then you probably shouldn’t leave the house out of concern for your neighbor. People who don’t use vaccines should be much more vigilant about self-quarantining, but those are precisely the people who are the most lackadaisical about it.

    I’m not saying that the vaccine should be mandatory (although I’m also not saying that), but responding to what MA specifically wrote.

  • Alte says:

    I’m pretty crunchy, so I know plenty of no-vac people. They think these diseases are a joke and some sort of childhood right of passage. Their understanding of history and medicine is… inaccurate.

    My children are on a limited and delayed (standard German) schedule, and I’m the queen of conspiracy theories, but there are most definitely some vaccines worth using.

    One of the main problems is actually that all of the lawsuits have driven most of the vaccine producers out of business. Now there are just a couple, they’re completely overwhelmed, the government shields them vigilantly from private oversight, and there is no competition amongst them. They’ve become TBTF, and the no-vac types helped them get that way.

  • Zippy says:

    Alte:
    My marginally informed take is “it depends on the vaccine”. Varicella is dangerous for adults but pretty harmless to kids, and the urban legend is that immunity from getting chicken pox as a kid is stronger than the immunity from a vaccine. Polio, not so much.

    Also, though I’m pretty authoritarian in theory I’m reluctant to embrace “shut up and take your medicine” as public policy, except in quite extreme circumstances.

    Interesting take on the law of unintended consequences as applied to vaccine activism. I’ve long contended (though it may not be true anymore) that the open source software movement has had a similar opposite-to-intentions effect, using up all the oxygen in the room – profit motive – that might have been employed by small companies to compete against the big guys.

  • Mike T says:

    I’ve long contended (though it may not be true anymore) that the open source software movement has had a similar opposite-to-intentions effect, using up all the oxygen in the room – profit motive – that might have been employed by small companies to compete against the big guys.

    Actually, open source software is what made possible most of Microsoft’s competition. Much of MacOS X is based on open source software, Android is based on Linux, Palm’s failed WebOS was based on Linux and most of the new mobile operating systems are based on Linux. The open source side was enough to get them started and didn’t prevent them from building a proprietary side.

    The only small company that had a real shot in the 90s against Microsoft was Be and they were quite literally shut out of the whole market by Microsoft’s contracts with OEMs. Dell told them point blank that they’d love to make BeOS a full competitor option to Windows; Be was smaller and BeOS was both better (way better!) than Windows and cheaper. Microsoft set up the contracts such that literally any computer model coming with something other than Windows would negate all Microsoft discounts across Dell’s product lines. That would have meant Dell systems would instantly have a $100-$200 price increase just for the OS resulting in Dell being unable to compete on price.

    What we’ve found is that increasingly there is just too much inertia to move toward anything fundamentally different. Something like BeOS today might be able to survive now that Microsoft’s behavior was changed, but it would be a very hard sell and Be blew a lot of investor money and bought precious little real marketshare at the time with it.

    Where open source has really failed is actually on the desktop because desktop open source software has no means to be commercialized easily the way server software can be.

  • Alte says:

    “My marginally informed take is “it depends on the vaccine”.”

    Yes. They not all equally useful and some are… questionable. The paucity of producers is serving to drive up profits, which creates a perverse R&D incentive. The entire pharma sector is a mess. I started out in biotech and it can be a nauseating business.

    “Varicella is dangerous for adults but pretty harmless to kids, and the urban legend is that immunity from getting chicken pox as a kid is stronger than the immunity from a vaccine.”

    Doesn’t it protect better against shingles? Can’t remember.

  • Alte says:

    Paucity of pill producers produces perverse profits. LOL

  • Chris says:

    Vanessa, I have seen whooping cough. I have seen young women die from cervical cancer and young men and women die of meningococcus. I have seen the brain damage measles will do — in the grown adult, now deaf and intellectually limted.

    Vaccines rock. For these diseases are not only lethatl (which the green crunchies seem to think is a good thing: I don’t) but they disfigure, they destroy, and the person is left suffering and the family grieving.

    The lawyer scum in the USA are directly responsible for a lack of drug makers and vaccine makers. I’ve had conversations about developing metabolites of current medications (in the hope the metabolite will have less side effects etc). It goes something like “we don’t have 100 M. Yoo risky. Forget it”

  • Chris says:

    Re VSV — chicken pox, no. The virus lies dormant in your spine, and when yr immune system is weak represents as shingles. Same virus you’ve had all along.

  • Chris says:

    Re Evidence Based Medicine.

    Slumlord has it right. Some commentators here literally do not know what they are talking about. Writing EBM papers makes you profoundly aware of just how limited the information docs have to work with is, and how much we do as an art, using the evidence but applying it to each person.

    I HAVE received $$ from big pharma, but nof for over 5 years: I gave it up for Academe. I do write meta analyses.

  • Alte says:

    Interesting about shingles. So, it’s the opposite then.

  • MCP12 says:

    “I have seen young women die from cervical cancer”

    If they got that cancer, it was from HPV. You get HPV from being stupid with who you have sex with. In other words, they had it coming. I have very little sympathy for people with that kind of cancer.

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