Ask the grumpies: Vaccine delayers… do they deserve our contempt (spoiler: yes, but not as much as deniers)

Jenny F. Scientist asks:

How to be less contemptuous of, say, vaccine delayers, or do they deserve it.

Vaccine delayers are an interesting group. They tend to argue that vaccines are given too early because doctors want to make sure kids get vaccines so they give them at the first chance or on rigid schedules that coincide with things like daycare or elementary school requirements.  The argument is that some vaccination is better than no vaccination, so doctors give them too early.  A conscientious parent who believes in vaccines and has the means to get them done will get them done but “optimally”.  Now… why is delaying optimal?  One (refuted) argument (made by a son of the original Dr. Sears who has since been censured –– the original Dr. Sears was very much in favor of the regular vaccination schedule) is that too many vaccines at once overtax a child’s system, which is silly because the vaccines don’t work that way and even if they did, kids are exposed to more taxing things just crawling around the house.  Similarly there’s an argument about metals, but most vaccines don’t have the metals/chemicals that parents are afraid of anymore, and the metals they do have are in low amounts (one study says babies get more aluminum from breastmilk than from a vaccine).  Then there’s the argument that babies do sometimes get reactions to vaccines, things like allergic reactions or swelling and redness around the injection site, and an older child might be better able to tolerate the side effects.  (Moms who subscribed to this philosophy just wanted to delay vaccines, not spread them out.)

Another argument is that some moms just want to feel special and working out a special snowflake schedule for their kid helps.  This argument is unlikely to make you feel less contemptuous.

A more likely argument is that a lot of white dude MD doctors are exploiting women’s fears for their children in order to sell them products.  There’s a lot of evidence for this latter argument.  When white dudes with medical degrees are pushing something and they’re put on talk shows, how is a parent without a science (or other advanced) degree supposed to know if she should listen to him or to her own pediatrician?  You know and I know how to read articles in PubMed and how to evaluate evidence and when correlation is not causation… but most people don’t.  I have graduate students I teach this stuff to.  Instead of feeling contemptuous of the vaccine delayer women, perhaps the contempt should be saved for the men who are exploiting them and their children to sell their stuff.

When I was on a mommy forum vaccine delayers tended to be less stupid (…and less narcissistic) than deniers– one was even a microbiology PhD student.  She would try to talk deniers into getting vaccines later.  I think it worked on some of the mommies, though I think she also convinced some mommies who would have gotten vaccines on schedule to delay, so I’m not sure that there was a net positive.

Usually delaying isn’t going to be a problem.  Except when it is.

What, of course, worked to get more moms on that forum to vaccinate on time was a measles outbreak nearby.  Terrifying!

In an ideal world, enough people would vaccinate their kids on schedule that people who didn’t get vaccinated would have herd immunity.  In an ideal world, many of these diseases would be completely eradicated.  But we don’t live in an ideal world, so delaying vaccines carries risks that it shouldn’t.  It’s still safest to vaccinate your kids on schedule unless there is evidence of a known allergy.

21 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Vaccine delayers… do they deserve our contempt (spoiler: yes, but not as much as deniers)”

  1. rose Says:

    Thank you.
    I have seen children die from vaccine preventable disease and know a young man crippled by polio because his parent did not believe in vaccination and then took her very young son to a country were polio was super not controlled. I also remember when rubella caused many many miscarriages…… Why does anyone want to return to those days?
    So, yes. And thank you.
    Privilege and ignorance and bigotry and violence and lies … all the lies, constantly.
    THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU BOTH DO. Thank you for writing here too.

  2. EB Says:

    Seriously? Do you think “white dudes” are the only people who ever try to sell a product so they can benefit from it? This type of careless demonizing of white males in every conceivable situation, even irrelevant ones like this, is why we are in real danger of having a second Trump presidency.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ok, looking at your previous comments here, I see that you’re a bit of a troll.

      But, in the interest of anyone reading. The point of that paragraph is that people listen to white men with fancy degrees. They don’t listen to women fancy degrees or not. Dr. Jen Gunter is attacked for saying things that are helpful and true in a way that she would not be if she were a white dude. Nobody threatens to rape white dude experts like they do women. There are no women DOCTORS going on Oprah or similar places to promote their delayed vaccination schedules. Just white dudes who are making money. I don’t know if Jenny McCarthy makes money off her anti-vaxx stuff, but she doesn’t have an MD– she’s an actress. The “experts” she quotes… all white dudes (and discredited). Because people believe that white dudes have expertise even when they really don’t.

      In general: People hating on white men is not going to have anything to do with how people vote because there doesn’t have to be a war on christmas for 40% of the country to believe that there is. People stopping pointing out privilege is not going to stop Fox News and Joe Biden from saying that white men are under attack. So why NOT point out the truth?

      I guess this link love I’ll dig up some articles explaining the #notallmen thing. Maybe you’ll find them helpful.

      But you don’t have to continue hate-reading this blog. That’s a choice! I’m sure you have better things to do with your time! You campaigning for local democrats is going to have a bigger effect on Trump’s power than anything we say on this small part of the internet. Go forth and do what you can to make the world a better place!

      • rose Says:

        You say it so much better than I do!!!!
        Please keep repeating the truth.
        White dudes believe in their ‘expertise and opinions’ due to privileged experience despite science, evidence, documented research, facts. I cannot imagine what that feels like. I got so tired of showing the pay roll evidence and still having male managers deny that men were better paid than women…… .
        Please keep writing this blog.

  3. SP Says:

    We vaccinate on schedule, including flu. I believe in science and evidence. But there is some small primitive part of my brain that has fear of vaccines, that gets a little anxious when I hear anti-vax propaganda. Parenting anxiety, and “what if they are right?” I can talk myself out of that fear because of all the rational arguments for vaccines (and because I believe in living in society where we all get vaccinated for the good of society and not relying on herd immunity when medically unnecessary). I don’t have sympathy for vaccination deniers and delayers, because in the end, it is a choice that has potential to hurt your children AND other pepople. I do understand how someone could arrive at the decisions they do, even if they are wrong.

    Cali has made great progress with taking away the personal belief exemption, and now may go a step further to limit the doctor shopping that occurs. There is a school (private, and attracting a certain “type” of parent) with a vaccination rate under 30% in town. But most public schools are much better.

    I don’t think I could be on a mom forum where anti-vax was an acceptable viewpoint. I just can’t.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yeah, I’m not on mommy forums anymore. And my life is much better!

      Stay away from Waldorf schools! They’re also anti-reading in addition to being anti-vaxx. Can you imagine not being given the tools to read until you’re 7 because they’re afraid of stealing your childhood, as if reading is somehow a bad thing?

      • SP Says:

        For sure. I did some reading on them and yeah, not for me.

      • Becca Says:

        Waldorf schools aren’t anti-reading. They are pro-goat, and arguably anti-computer.

        The most intensive users of the Chicago public library system that I have ever personally met were a family of 5 unschoolers who later sent the three younger kids to Waldorf school.

        They have nutty beliefs, but so do Montessori schools. That said, what makes them seem “nutty” is less that they are poorly evidenced based (although that they are) and more that they are not mainstream. Regular standard K-12 education systems are full of fads and non-evidenced based approaches (or worse, Gates foundation/charter school/et al led flights of fancy through *misread* evidence). Also, when you are comparing Waldorf schools to unschoolers, Waldorf schools seem positively standardized.

        That said, you are right about people in Waldorf schools being unusually likely to be anti-vax. Also: pro-raw milk, pro-bread machine, anti-medication for ADHD/depression and anti-war… it’s a mixed bag.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They may not all be anti reading, but all the ones the women on the mommy forums I used to frequent certainly were and when I looked it up like 10 years ago there were plenty of pages of their philosophy that reading instruction prior to age 7 is bad. If kids could teach themselves to read that was fine but phonics before 7, that could destroy creativity.

        Nobody was comparing Waldorf to unschooling. Or to Montessori. Montessori doesn’t tend to attract antivaxxers. Waldorf does.

        I would never send a kid to a Waldorf school. You make them sound even more dangerous than I’d thought which was already pretty dangerous. The women never mentioned anti medication nor did I see that in my reading.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Which is the first link that pops up when you google Waldorf reading age. Even the “myth busting” links do not contradict that they don’t introduce reading tools until 7 at the earliest.

        So no, that is part of their philosophy. No lol.

      • becca Says:

        “not requiring reading until third grade” is entirely different than not *introducing* it. You make it sound like everybody learns to read with phonics and if you don’t learn at age 2.5 you’re damaged forever. I certainly did not. I read easily before kindergarten because my Mom read to me (with expression, pointing at the words, for many hours on end. I did the same with my elder and it worked fine. It doesn’t work for teaching spelling though!). Waldorf has no problem with that.

        I see no problem with people who want to give out worksheets to 4 year olds and teach didactically, if the kids enjoy it. I also have no problem with people who delay a reading-dependent curriculum and emphasize play until the kids are 7 years old. The evidence does not suggest the later approach is *terrible*, at least judging from Finland and studies

        At the end of the day, I think learner initiated education is ideal. Unschooling may be scary to you, but I was unschooled from age 11 until 14, when I started part time at a community college.

        It’s important to note that I’m bright but not *that* bright- the majority of the readers of this blog could’ve quit school halfway through 5th grade and gone on to obtain PhDs in molecular medicine, if they were so inclined.
        There really is that much wasted time in middle/high school. Or maybe if you enjoy those years they aren’t wasted- I’m just saying the US schooling is not notably efficient in terms of academics.

        Re: the data on Montessori and vaccination rates- I did not mean to imply they are as bad as Waldorf schools, but there is an elevated rate

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No, all I said was that it’s horrific that kids aren’t given the tools to read until they’re 7 as if reading is a bad thing.

        You’re reading a LOT into that statement. I also think that Waldorf schools are terrible. Mainly because the parents who send their kids to them are way more likely to be anti-vaxxers. Which is terrifying.

        I did not say ANYTHING about anything else. Nothing about ages 11-14. Nothing about unschooling. Nothing about middle school or high school.

        Just that being denied the tools to read is really sad because READING IS FUN. Reading on your own without having to ask a parent is FUN. I feel really sorry for kids who just needed a little instruction to make the connection and missed out on two years of that joy because their parents are sending them to a school where they believe reading instruction interferes with childhood exploration.

        If you read the comments from that first link, many of them are talking about how their kids had dyslexia that did not get caught until much later because of Waldorf’s philosophies about phonics, and earlier interventions are better.

        Yes, I know you had an unconventional schooling situation, but that doesn’t change the facts about Waldorf schools or that I believe that reading is fun (you may disagree) and I’m sad for people who don’t get to do it on their own until they’re in third grade. They’re missing out on a lot of great stuff that they could explore on their own, but can’t because they have to have an adult provide the tools. It’s just the stuff they’re missing out is words written on paper instead of looking at nature (which you can still do even if you know how to read).

  4. Matthew D Healy Says:

    Below are citations to my published research. Mostly, you will notice, in the field of Infectious Diseases. You can probably guess my opinion about all the vaccine pseudoscience floating around. But just in case anybody who reads these words is in any doubt, here is what I say:

    1. Few if any drugs have better risk-benefit ratios than vaccines; no drug is totally safe but serious adverse events caused by vaccines are very very rare. Lots of pills you can by over the counter at Walgreens are more likely to harm you.

    2. The guy whose Lancet paper on vaccines and autism lost his license to practice medicine when he was caught faking his data. Now he makes a living giving speeches to anti-vaxxers.

    3. The recommended vaccine schedules are the result from careful consideration by multiple experts.

    4. The idea that the immune system cannot handle the recommended schedule is, to use the proper technical terminology, utter balderdash.

    5. A particularly interesting scientific story in the vaccine field is that of Rotavirus vaccines. The first such vaccine to be marketed turned out to have a rare but serious side effect, so it was taken off the market and the companies developing the next two Rotavirus vaccines had to conduct HUGE clinical trials. In order to get enough cases to compare frequencies between groups, they had to test about SEVENTY THOUSAND patients:

    Evidence that I know a thing or two about Infectious Diseases…

    Here is the most recent presentation on which I am an author:
    These are my publications on PubMed:
    This is a preprint of a paper currently under review with a journal on which I am an author:
    These are patent filings on which I am a named inventor:

    Click to access 20180346888.pdf

  5. Matthew D Healy Says:

    Hmm, my comment didn’t appear. Maybe it was stuck in the Moderation Queue because it has a bunch of links to PubMed papers and the like.

  6. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I’m so glad my kids are older and it’s easier to avoid antivaxxers now!

  7. First Gen American Says:

    As a parent of a kid who had an immune deficiency the first 5 years of his life, I am very much pro vaccine…and pro nutritious diet. Those two things made all the difference in the world. Thank god he was born in this century.

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