Vaccinations: the science and also the philosophy

I just had to share this. Two really good opinion pieces on childhood vaccinations, quackery and pseudoscience published online on the very same day (ie: today). Day: made.

I came across both of these pieces thanks to Dr Rousseau, who is out to thwart quackery and pseudoscience in her blog. Dr Rousseau trumps any of the other anti-quackery writers I follow because she’s local and she shares my view on dubious trends like the anti-vaccine movement and the Paleo diet – except that she actually knows the science-y reasons why they are poppycock, and can articulate that way better than I can. And I won’t lie, the fact that she’s a she makes her doubly interesting to me – I can probably count on one hand the number of women I encounter online who write about science.

So, here they are:

Post one

Post two

The first: the “surgeon/scientist” blogger known as Orac on the science blog Respectful Insolence goes into great detail about what a travesty it is that Jenny McCarthy, most outspoken celebrity voice behind the MMRs-lead-to-autism codswallop of 2008, has recently been named as a regular on the popular daytime chat show The View on ABC in the States. It’s a long piece, but it’s rich with links that provide plenty of context for the damage that McCarthy and the anti-vaccine movement have done over the years.

An extract:

“Even though The View is fluffy infotainment, it’s fluffy infotainment with millions of viewers, many of whom are young mothers who might be wondering whether it’s safe to vaccinate or not. If Jenny McCarthy is allowed to let her antivaccine freak flag fly again in this venue, the damage could be severe, as questions of science are presented as manufactroversies in which pseudoscience is presented as science.”

I especially love the term “manufactroversies”. It is most excellent.

The second: a Daily Maverick opinion piece by Ivo Vegter, the columnist probably best known for his criticism of “environmental exaggeration” (especially related to fracking). I always read his stuff with interest – and love that he questions things that most people take as a given.

My favourite bit:

“Preventing reckless actions that cause clear harm to others does not contradict any principles of liberty, as far as I know. This, the scientific evidence that it works, and the unusual fact that it can only confer ‘herd immunity’ if as many people as possible are vaccinated, seem like perfectly sound reasons to support mandatory vaccination.

“I’m sure you’ll tell me why I’m wrong, but if you don’t vaccinate your kids, I’m going to judge you like you’re still wearing a Power Balance bracelet.”

All I can say is: yes.

And also: if you think your kid is special or different enough to not need to buy into herd immunity, then your kid is also too special and different to go to school/creche/hockey club/the mall/the movies/basically anywhere in public where they will come into contact with mine.

Does anyone reading this have any insight into how strict South African schools are in demanding Road to Health cards for children before they enrol? How can I make sure my kid doesn’t end up in the same school as a child who’s not vaccinated against, say, the frighteningly contagious pertussis, aka whooping cough? Because that un-vaccinated child could very easily contract pertussis (and because it lasts a very long time, chances are, they will not be kept in quarantine at home the entire time they’re sick), as so many children and adolescents in the United States have in the recent outbreak. And it’s not hard to imagine a circumstance in which that kid could pass it onto my kid’s (future but as yet non-existent) baby sibling who is too young to be vaccinated. And, as most deaths from whooping cough occur in infants under three months of age, that tiny baby of mine could die. And this is not an exaggerated example, by the way. This is what is happening in some of the most developed, educated states of America – so it’s not a stretch to imagine it happening in some privileged, middle-class enclaves of South Africa.

So, basically – vaccinate your kids. Thanks.

Side note: Here is a great resource on the anti-vaccination movement’s body count so far: www.jennymccarthybodycount.


2 thoughts on “Vaccinations: the science and also the philosophy

  1. Signe Rousseau (@Dr_Rousseau)

    Thanks very much for the kind words. I take it as a compliment to be referred to as a scientist, but should point out that I am not *that* kind of scientist (I don’t do experiments in labs, nor have any medical training). But I do feel very strongly about the harms of pseudoscience, so it is true that I am committed to spreading as much intelligence about that as possible. (Also, the blog you link to is mostly a collection of other people’s writings. Most of my own rants take place at

    1. miche17 Post author

      Thanks so much – I shall amend my post at once. 🙂 PS: Your own blog is much more fun to read than the original one I linked to, I must admit!


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