On Vaccinations (and Burritos)

Sometime last year I was having a post-work cocktail with a colleague, of whom I have become positively acquainted with. He and his partner, at that time, happen to be expecting parents and the topic of childhood vaccinations came up.  I expressed that I was undecided on vaccinating my (future) children and I was refuted with, “…your kids wont be able to play with my kids”.   This capricious response was troubling and I want to examine these polarizing views in greater depth.

The Logicality of Vaccinations:

Usually when I discuss vaccinations with people who are pro-vaccination, they generally go on some rant about whooping cough and hepatitis and start to say that I am causing harm on society by proliferating false information, or pseudo-science. And, here is my response to this. Dividing all people into pro-vaccination and anti-vaccination makes the assumption that this debate is dichotomous – as if everything is all or nothing.   If I was to proclaim that I am pro-burrito, does that presuppose that I must unconditionally accept every burrito as equal and whenever I am proposed with a burrito-eating opportunity then I eat them- NOM, NOM, NOM!!   Being in favor of vaccinations (or burritos), does not imply you blindly and unconditionally accept everything in its category without question, conversely, if you are anti-vaccinations (or anti-burrito) you should not categorically reject every vaccination or burrito on pure principle. As in either case, (vaccinations or burritos) choosing all or nothing means you are deciding on principle and NOT on science, reason or rationality, as its fallacious to assume a priori positive value of the category “vaccinations” (the whole) is automatically transferred, a posteriori, to the individual vaccinations (the parts). In short, just because the idea of burritos is awesome tasty, does not mean that Guadalajara on North 10th street in San Jose is awesome tasty in reality. In fact, Guadalajara is a blemish on the amazing San Jose burrito scene and eating there is a guarantee of indigestion.  I do not need Nate Silver’s wizardry to realize their burrito sucks!

I imagine you are thinking that this is a false comparison as there is no public agency (or private) that governs Burrito quality assurance. This is true, however, I think there should be one. Does having a public institution that governs vaccination safety validate unconditional acceptance? It is rather ironic how we can rant on Facebook about the inefficiencies of the DMV, IRS, ACA and congress; or, how we can complain about corporate interest adversely influencing the USDA, EPA and FDA – but the CDC, in regard to vaccinations, is perfect and incapable of mistakes, inefficiencies and corporate influence. This notion is rather absurd- there is no such thing as a flawless authority, and categorical faith in the CDC without question is dogmatic and foolish.

One day, when I have children I am going to choose what food I feed my child based on research and from reading food labels. I will review all my options and make an informed decision that I feel is the best for my child. I will not blindly assume that the USDA is infallible or categorically accept all baby food as equal, safe and healthy. Most people would see this approach to food as rational, tempered and prudent- but, when this same logic is applied to vaccinations, I am perceived as negligent and harmful to society.  There is nothing wrong with questioning authority or accepting vaccinations based on personal conditions.

The Pseudo-Science:

            Another common response I get is people saying, IT DOESN’T CAUSE AUTISM! MOVE ON!  THE CDC HAS ALREADY CONCLUDED THIS.   Ok, well, lets look into this. In the last 75 years there has been 165 studies conducted on the safety of Thimerosal (organic-mercury) that have concluded that it is harmful to humans and has been linked to the following:

  • Death
  • Acrodynia
  • Poisoning
  • Allergic reaction
  • Malformations
  • Autoimmune reaction
  • Well’s syndrome
  • Developmental delay
  • Neurodevelopment issues
  • Autism

And within those 165 studies is a study, conducted by the CDC, which infers a 7.6 fold increase in autism risk from Thimerosal exposure in infants. Conversely, the CDC has inferred that Thimerosal is safe based on 6 studies that were coauthored and funded by the CDC1. If 165 studies have concluded this substance to be unsafe and six studies have concluded it to be safe, and these six happen to be coauthored and funded by the agency that would be adversely impacted if it turned out that they were unsafe, then it would be fairly reasonable to assert that the CDC’s conclusion (that they’re safe) is potentially bias, suspect and, perhaps, invalid. Or, at the bare minimum, a thorough (third party) examination of their methodology should be conducted.

I am not stating that vaccinations are, in whole, SAFE, or in whole, UNSAFE. But merely stating it’s foolish, irrational and irresponsible to unconditionally presume they are either all safe or all unsafe. I understand that vaccine effectiveness is greatly decreased when there is a decrease in deployment – it needs everybody to use them to work properly.   However, if we are going to decide that vaccines are safe and fair (and necessary in society) based on utilitarian calculus, then it is reasonable, in order to properly calculate the cost/risk, to ask the question: “what are the risks?” Moreover, it is also reasonable that the parents (who make these decisions for their children) understand the risks and are given the freedom, autonomy and facts to make an informed decision based on all the information for each individual vaccination.   Deciding with false (or bias) data and deciding from blind faith does not serve any social good, and in the long term, may do significantly more harm than good.

Concluding, this dialogue needs to be progressed further.




1 Brian Hooker, Janet Kern, David Geier, et al., “Methodological Issues and Evidence of Malfeasance in Research Purporting to Show Thimerosal in Vaccines Is Safe,” BioMed Research International, vol. 2014, Article ID 247218, 8 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/247218

2 thoughts on “On Vaccinations (and Burritos)

  1. The chief flaw I see in your argument is that it’s impossible for an individual to be an expert on everything, and to be in complete control of outcomes. You will not have time to fully research every aspect of your child’s environment, nor be able to micro-manage their interactions with all others. At some point, you’ll have to trust that someone else’s expertise in an area of knowledge is greater than yours, and follow their recommendations. By all means, find out all you can on a case-by-case basis. But try not to miss the forest for the trees.

    Let’s just discuss mercury, how it gets into our environment and into our bodies. The greatest source of mercury, by a factor of thousands of times, is produced by coal being burned for energy. The next largest source is industries like gold and copper smelting. The mercury from these goes into the air, gets brought back down in rain, and enters the oceans and rivers. Fish retain it in their tissues. Some species retain more than others. The most likely cause for you getting mercury poisoning, unless you are a coal or gold mine worker, is eating tuna. There’s far more mercury in tuna salad from your deli, or that fabulously tasty sushi platter, than in all the vaccinations you could possibly take in a lifetime.

    I’m not suggesting that any amount of mercury is safe, even the miniscule amount in thimerosal. But in developed countries, you can always request single-dose immunizations, which do not have thimerosal. It’s only present in multi-dose vaccine vials, added as a preservative. An interesting side corollary is the fact that diagnoses of autism are rising much faster in developed countries, where we have non-thimerosal vaccines, than in the third world, where all vaccines are shipped and stored in multi-dose vials – with thimerosal.


    1. I appreciate your comment. I concur that it’s impossible for a parent to be expected to know the ins and outs of these sciences. And this is also the case with nutrition and the USDA.

      However I don’t find this as a flaw to the argument- as I am arguing for CDC transparency (or admittance of failings) and to temper the hostile reactions of the pro-vaccination folk. And to show that this conversation requires attention.

      If people want to do as the cdc says that’s their choice, but for the people who want to make logical and informed decisions- that choice should be free of persecution.

      MIT just released a study showing a 0.99 correlation coefficient between glyphosate and autism. So perhaps it has nothing to do with vaccinations but is actually GMO food, or both. Nonetheless. This should all be discussed openly. Again thank you.



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