When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Controversy

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When Vaccine Fears Attack: My Response to the Immunization Controversy

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

You probably thought last week’s post was an innocuous little thing. The one about the study that suggested flu shots may help prevent heart attack and stroke in some people?

I guess I thought many people think like me—“Hmm, that’s interesting”—and go about their business or delve deeper into the study to see what they make of it. I didn’t expect personal attacks.

From my Facebook page:

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival Doctor

Another commenter asked was I some sort of eugenicist (someone who tries to “improve” the human race by selective breeding). I doubt these people took the time to read my actual post.

I’m sure you’ve seen anti-immunization claims all over the Internet. As a doctor who believes prevention is the best survival tool, I think it’s important that the facts about vaccines be readily available for people who are interested. So I’ll use this post to respond to some of the claims I’ve seen.

Note: Rather than responding individually to comments this week, I will refrain from further debate. I trust that this blog post will serve as a sufficient response to alternate points of view.

Why Am I Speaking Up?
When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival Doctor

I welcome reasoned, respectful comments, even from those who strongly disagree. In fact, in the past, some commenters have truly made me think, changed my viewpoint a bit, or pointed out errors in my post that I then tried to immediately correct.

With some comments, however, I’ve chosen not to reply, thinking the rest of my readers could tell they were so loaded with vitriol or such convoluted reasoning that they’d just ignore them. But now, I’m starting to change my thinking because I’m afraid that’s what too many doctors do—give up on refuting (over and over) claims that have been clearly disproven—at least to date.

For instance, there’s no evidence that immunizations cause cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, etc. Yes, immunizations have minute levels of chemicals, but the amounts have never been shown to cause medical problems. I wager you get way more chemicals from your water, air, and foods than from immunizations.

And how many times can doctors deny accusations that we’re pawns or part of a plot to cause the diseases the immunizations claim to prevent?

Some people making these claims just don’t give up. In fact, they try to badger others into not expressing alternate opinions. I honestly don’t know where they find the time. But they apparently go from blog to blog and hope if they say something loud enough and repeat it over and over, people will take it as truth.

Unfortunately, that’s often what happens. Regular people read the rants with no one ranting the other viewpoint, so they assume no one questions this point of view.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorBut Couldn’t Mainstream Scientific Thinking Be Wrong?

Of course. I’m not saying that prevailing studies are always right. For example, a few years back, it was mainstream gospel that supplemental estrogen was good for postmenopausal women. Then, a large, well-done study proved otherwise. Further studies substantiated the findings, and now we don’t prescribe estrogen except in special cases.

When I first went into practice, no one I knew even suggested that bacteria caused stomach ulcers. Studies came out, followed by more specific ones, and now we routinely prescribe antibiotics to actually cure ulcers.

And then there are biases. We all have them. That’s why, for controversial subjects, I suggest you always read more than one point of view. If someone points toward some study or proof that goes against the norm, find another viewpoint and compare.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorBut I Make Money Off Flu Shots!

Anti-immunization advocates often claim that of course doctors want to vaccinate you. That’s how they make money!

One thing I know for sure is doctors make very little money off the vaccine—lucky to break even after all expenses. Think about it. We make a lot more money treating someone who’s sick than giving a $20 or $30 shot. But, even though we’re often criticized for thinking more about treatment than prevention, for some reason, in some people’s minds, this immunization thing must be the great exception.

The fact is, many people make money and acquire fame by being against the vaccine. Consider, for example, the person who makes their living off of selling some vitamin, herb, or elixir to cure everything from cancer to the flu to arthritis, cherry picking studies and quoting people who quote other people to back up these claims.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorBut This One Claim Is Everywhere! There Must Be Something to It.

“Anything can be claimed true and spread on the Web. Vaccine controversy is like gossip: Repeated, believed.”

[Tweet this.]

Anything can be stated as a truth and spread all over the Internet. It’s like gossip: The more times it’s repeated, the more people believe it.

And just because a celebrity, doctor, or book states something doesn’t make it true either. I’ve often seen fame and publicity trump evidence.

Some people are great at making a case for about anything—and making a living on it.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorWhat About This or That Study They Always Cite?
Coming Soon: My Take on That Cochrane Study

One particular study published by a reputable organization is often cited by anti-flu-shot advocates—and criticized by doctors for biases. In an upcoming post, I’ll give my take.

(Make sure you’re receiving updates by subscribing in the box in the upper left.)

I try to, at least partially, keep an open mind. I’ve been around long enough to realize that what we think for years is true can sometimes be proven false. But I seldom change my mind from the results of only one study.

As you remember from school, the scientific method tells us results need to be replicated to be proven correct. So after one study shows a controversial finding, more focused studies must be done to rule out any not-thought-of reason for it.

For instance, maybe some study finds that more people who took the flu shot got more of some disease. More studies must be done to find out if the cause was the vaccine or something else. (Maybe the flu-shot takers were older or more unhealthy or multiple other things.)

There’s also something called study bias. Maybe the investigators wanted the therapy to work (or not work) so badly that they unconsciously did something that altered results. Or maybe one group was healthier or smoked more. There are ways to minimize these unintentional biases but never completely get rid of them. Hence, once again, the need for another study to confirm the findings.

And then there’s the cherry picking I mentioned before. Long before the Internet, people have periodically blamed all sorts of diseases on one or two things. These days it’s popular in some circles to blame immunizations—despite the lack of proof. (Of course there are some people who believe the proof has been altered by the American Medical Association, pharmaceuticals, the government, etc.)

“There’s no evidence that immunizations cause cancer, Alzheimer’s, autism, etc.”

[Tweet this.]

Despite the multiple studies done by independent researchers that show immunization benefits greatly outweigh risks, and despite multiple studies showing no risk at all for certain diseases (Alzheimer’s, autism, cancer, etc.), some don’t believe them, choosing instead to believe that the people doing these studies all have a hidden agenda. And, although the one study they may choose to back up their claim has been proven by multiple additional studies to be wrong, they further believe it was really the only correct one—apparently done by scientists with no hidden agenda.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorBut It Could Be True

Some of you will say, yeah, but what if it turns out immunizations do aggravate some chronic disease? I can’t answer. I guess you could ask the same about the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and on and on. We can only go on what tools, experience, and, in this case, studies we have at hand.

These same immunizations have saved and continue to save millions of lives. Before them, and in countries that don’t have them, many people haven’t lived long enough to have any claimed long-term complications of any immunization anyway. They die of the disease that we in the U.S. are immunized for.

Yes, there are people who would actually dispute the fact that immunizations prevent any disease, further proving how exasperating it can be to respond to every accusation.

When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorWhat About Side Effects?

Immunizations aren’t close to perfect. No one disputes that they can have rare side effects. That’s true of every single medicine, herb, holistic drug, natural alternative, or food. Anything we put on or in our body, or even inhale, that has benefits has risks as well. But, with immunizations, in the vast majority of people, the benefits far outweigh the risks.



When Vaccine Fears Attack: A Doctor Responds to the Immunization Controversy | The Survival DoctorSo Am I a Gung-Ho Flu-Shot Advocate?

I hate I’ve been put in the position to argue so adamantly about flu shots.

Yes, I think that for the general population, there are by far more benefits than risks. But some people have had bad reactions to them. I can see why they’d come out individually against them. And there will be years when more people will have adverse reactions than other years. Plus, flu shots are not nearly 100 percent effective.

But I haven’t seen objective evidence that they’re not more good for me than bad. And I think there’s much stronger evidence for other immunizations, such as diphtheria, polio, rubella, etc. You certainly have the right to disagree.

Get the Facts From All Sides, and Make Up Your Own Mind.

I’m not trying to force immunizations on anyone. I’m just saying, look at all the facts, and not just from one source, and make the best decision for you.

And don’t believe everything you read on the Internet—not even if it comes up first on your Google search. Be dubious of zealous types who claim to have “evidence” to the contrary of standard belief. Yes, they may be right, but often, they have their own personal agenda.


What do you think? How do you decide what to believe and what not to?

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  • MalikaBourne

    First off,I appreciate all that you do Doctor to teach us fro FREE when you have spent years learning and working with real people.
    I think this qualifies you to have your educated opinion over anyone who just reads statistics they read in an article.
    Personally I have not done first hand research to say one way or another about alleged toxins in vaccines. As an old nurse I spent my career teaching to prevent disease.
    As a baby boomer I had every “not so child-like disease” that crossed my path. I think those who are making the claims against any of the vaccines have never experienced an epidemic and the long term damage those diseases, in general, we can prevent DO cause.

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  • jr023

    good post Doc funny how jenny McCarty supposedly professed to be a vaccine expert now totally debunked is now pushing with ads for electronic cigarette’s while probably better than reg smoking it is still ingesting poisons.
    while I did not experience flu i fortunately missed the polio epidemics in the 50s bu a hair my dad told me stories from his dad who worked for the a bair funeral home now the first Ronald McDonald house during the Spanish flu epidemic he was a pickup driver and worked day and night due to so many deaths and like you said nothing is 100% unless you can count stupidity

  • Christina

    As many of your other commentators said: Excellent, fairly balanced, article from a proponent.

    I abhor the incivility of the internet, even as a value their right to be so (free speech and all that.) Sorry you had to tolerate that large dose of negativity in your life, but hey, it led to your article.

    Lest you be led astray by my compliments, I am against vaccines in almost all instances. I believe the detriments usually far outweigh the benefits, perhaps not to the individual in the short term; but to the individual in the long term (in chronic disease) and to the collective in the long term (by weakening the downline.) For only one example of that, see SV40, a potentially cancer causing virus and how it was introduced and spread by polio vaccines, and even though no contaminated vaccines were made after 1963 as mandated by law, vaccines companies were continuing to use the *stockpile* of contaminated vaccines until the 1990’s!!! (The law said they had to stop making it, but not that they couldn’t use it!) Wherever there is a large profit motive to large, faceless, corporations where no individual humans are held liable for damage, there is huge, apparently irresistible, risk of the urge for short-term profit taking precedence over morals, ethics or even sound long-term business objectives.

    Like one of your commentators, I too had most all of the childhood illnesses, but unlike her, am profoundly grateful. The temporary discomfort of the illness, led to a much stronger immune system, I believe; and were it necessary, I would endure the same discomfort again, knowingly, for such a immune boost… certainly over a vaccine. I annually risk a week or two of discomfort by not getting flu vaccines, although I ameliorate that risk with health and immune system boosters such as good nutrition and hygiene as well as homeopathic and herbal prophylactics. And know that for me, it’s a greater risk than for some because my family has always been particularly hard-hit and susceptible to the flu… my grandmother said “The cemeteries of [N European country] are filled with [our family] who died of the flu!”

    Yes, the flu can kill. But it’s rare. It was always rare, save for unusual circumstances like the 1918 epidemic–where just by the way, the ones who died for the most part were *not* the infants or the elderly, but the hale and hearty. And there is some interesting and controversial evidence that that particular epidemic was not natural flu, but a weaponized variety under experimentation by the military in WWI. Its spread was certainly vastly aided by the perfect storm of (1) the close quarters of the military personnel on the European continent and the general health challenges that come from such close-quarters living as well as the (2) stress on the civilian population of the terrible aftermath of a world war and finally (3) the theretofore unprecedented ability to travel at a speed that made the spread possible in real-time possible.

    The media must fill airtime somehow and sensationalism sells. “If it bleeds, it leads!” Let one person die of flu-related anything and you’d think we had another epidemic of 1918 proportions! Have we degenerated into such a culture of weaklings that we so fear a little acute discomfort that we will risk losing or at least weakening our individual and/or collective natural immunity? I guess the answer is “yes!” after all look at the epidemic of other self-inflicted health degradation caused by lifestyle factors (the weakling factor) such as smoking, substance addiction, and fill-in-the-blank… you know what they are, they are touted ad nauseum on the mainstream media just before the carefully targeted ads for the very substances and behaviours that cause the problems.

    I believe the risks that are observed and recognized by alternative medicine practitioners, that are not recognized or investigated by conventional medicine and science (really, Scientism,) outweigh the benefits of vaccines in almost all circumstances. Therefore, I avoid vaccination, and should be within my rights to do so, just as those who wish to be vaccinated are allowed to be so. And I as an avoider, despite my personal civil demeanor, have been subject to the same level or abuse as you have as a proponent, sadly.

  • F. Baum

    Hang in there doc–this is a fight worth fighting. Lives really are at stake on this.

  • Milehimama

    One thing I don’t see often addressed, but that I believe is a legitimate concern, is the risk of Guillan-Barre syndrome. It’s listed as an effect on several inserts, and it’s in the news lately as being linked to H1N1 vaccines.

    It’s hard for parents to make informed decisions because everyone thinks it’s so black and white, when it’s not. If you question or want to have a discussion about risk vs. benefit for each injection, you’re branded as an anti-vaxer crazy train lady. If you take the CDC and AAP schedule without question, you’re vilified from the other side as a brain washed sheeple.

    It’s very hard especially if your family falls into the “individually against” category. Two of my children had allergic reactions to vaccines and others had severe reactions so we are selective vaxers and delayed vaxers. I’ve been kicked out pediatric practices because my kids aren’t up to date on MMR- even though they aren’t up to date because the last vaccine they got sent one of them to the ER with anaphylaxis. Very frustrating for a parent when the medical community doesn’t take medical conditions into account. So, what am I left with if regular dr.s won’t see my kids for a rash or sore throat because of their vaccine status?

    • GoneWithTheWind

      Guillan-Barre syndrome is something individuals get in much the same way that some people have allergies. The vaccine doesn’t “give” you Guillan-Barre syndrome your body does. Peole who have this genetic condition could get Guillan-Barre syndrome from any medically necessary needle injection and from other non-needle treatments. Most people who get the Guillan-Barre syndrome recover and show no symptoms after a few days. Most people who get Guillan-Barre syndrome do not get it from a vaccination. Many thngs can trigger it.

      As to making a decision you need to understand the risk both in terms of the likelihood and the severity That is the chance of getting Guillan-Barre syndrome from a vaccination is about a 5 million to 1 and the severity is that you will endure some symptoms for a few days or weeks and then recover. The chance of dying from influenza in a typical year is about 100,000 to 1.

  • nmr

    I was a toddler when the first polio vaccine became available in 1950s. My father ( a doctor) was terrified of my brother and I getting polio. He bought black market vaccine and gave it to the both of us. He would find out a week later that this batch may have been a batch of live vaccine that gave some children polio. Fortunately, my brother and I were not affected. My father had us revaccinated later as a precaution, believing that he was actually sold fake vaccine. My parents grew up in an era without antibiotics or vaccines. Both lost siblings to complications from measles in 1920s. As a young physician,
    my father cared for children on a Chronic Osteomyelitis ward. His stories of a brother dying of measles at 18months and the children with horrific chronic wounds from osteomyelitis made an impression on me. I have a stong believe in prevention as a result.