Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?

An internet alternative medicine fringe web site, Modern Alternative Mama (MAMA), has begun promoting “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month” in conjunction with (an announced) dangerous campaign to hawk natural cures for cancer, in scientific mockery of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I’ll debunk the cancer quackery when it’s published by MAMA, but since the vaccine nonsense came first, I’ll have a go at it in this article.  The MAMA article, “Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?” 1, solemnly informs us that:

whatweneedxamLet’s get started…

How Dangerous are these Diseases?
This is best answered using pre- and post-vaccination numbers for the United States from a well-referenced article by the National Network for Immunization Information (NNii)2:

  • Before 1985, Haemophilus Influenzae type b (Hib) caused serious infections in 20,000 children each year.   In 2002, there were 34 cases.
  • In the 1964-65 rubella epidemic, 12.5 million people were infected.  Of the 20,000 babies born with rubella, 11,600 were deaf, 3,580 were blind, and 1,800 were mentally retarded.  There were only 4 cases of congenital rubella between 2001 and 2004.
  • In 1952, polio paralyzed more than 21,000 people.  In 2002, the United States was polio-free.
  • In the 1920s up to 200,000 cases of diphtheria were reported each year, killing up to  3,000 annually. In 2002, the number of cases in the USA: one.
  • Prior to 1963, measles killed more than more than 500 people per year out of an infected total of more than 3 million/year.  In 2002, there were 44 cases of measles nationwide.  (Recently, when vaccination rates dropped due to anti-vaxxers, serious outbreaks of the disease occurred in unvaccinated persons in states such as California and Ohio.  Ohio alone exceeded the entire 2002 nationwide total).
  • In the 1940s, whooping cough killed up to 8,000 children per year, infecting an average of 175,000 per year.  In 2002, only 771 cases were reported.

Despite all of this, MAMA somehow concludes:

ooopsNo MAMA.  The people more likely to get any of these preventable diseases are the people who have not been vaccinated.  Look at the statistics.

How Dangerous are These Vaccines?
MAMA’s best answer to this question is given in her quote here:

donotbelieveUnfortunately, in science, what one person believes or doesn’t believe doesn’t matter.  “I don’t believe it” and conspiracy theories figure heavily into MAMA’s work.

Resorting to scare tactics in the guise of science, MAMA then pulls a package insert from an MMR vaccine and lists every possible side effect, including:

sidesIt’s interesting to note MAMA’s hypocrisy here as we quote her article’s thoughts on scare tactics, regarding CDC commentary on ear infections as a vaccine side effect:

scare2MAMA isn’t a bit shy about listing “death” as a possible side effect of the MMR vaccine (which has never been proven6), but that doesn’t stop her from accusing the CDC of fear-mongering.  Not to mention openly lying in saying that the CDC statement concludes that hearing loss is likely.

MAMA’s fear-mongering continues with a cherry-picked statistic from the national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS):

vaers1What MAMA doesn’t tell you is the most important thing about VAERS: anyone can file a VAERS report.  No cause-effect relationship between a vaccination and the reported problem is ever established.  For example, I can get the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination tomorrow, get food poisoning at lunch from a bad burrito, and report the resulting vomiting and diarrhea to VAERS as a reaction to the vaccine, and into the database it goes. 7  This disclaimer is in the first paragraph of the VAERS database description.

The irony thickens.  Had MAMA actually read the VAERS introduction, she would have seen the disclaimer:

“VAERS data contains coincidental events” 7

… and she wouldn’t write mind-numbingly contradictory tripe like this in the introduction to her article, where she demands hard evidence, not stories, in the vaccine debate:

vaers3Yes MAMA, please… no scary tales.  If you’re going to quote from the VAERS database, understand what it is first.  Really.  Please.

Are There Any Benefits to These Diseases?
I’ll leave that up to the reader.

Are blindness, deafness, paralyzation, mental retardation, and death beneficial?


Third World Countries

Perhaps the most offensive part of the the MAMA article deals with Africa.

The article is written in debate/response format, addressed to a reader named Erich, who she tries to shame (along with the CDC) as a fear-mongerer for pointing out the elephant in the room regarding vaccinations and disease.  Before I give you the answer, let’s see if you can figure it out by reading a passage directed to Erich:

canwejustagreeNo MAMA, we cannot agree, because it’s piss-poor science.  You admit you have the data.  Maybe you should have looked at it.  Since you picked Africa, I’ll pick Africa.  Let’s talk polio, which has been eradicated in the USA (your “first world” country) thanks to vaccinations:

According to UNICEF, more than 70% of the world’s children who have not been vaccinated against polio live either in Africa or Asia. 3

Polio remains an active problem in ten countries worldwide.  Of those countries, eight are in Africa:  Angola, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo,  Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. 4,5

Eight poorly vaccinated countries.  No wonder MAMA wants to dismiss Africa.

Polio in the Wild (CDC image)

Polio in the Wild (CDC image)

MAMA’s dismissal of immunization statistics regarding Africa is not only scientifically dishonest, it’s also, IMHO, heartless.  African children are not being vaccinated because of socioeconomic conditions (poverty, war, etc.).  According to UNICEF, one impoverished child dies every 20 seconds from a disease preventable by a vaccine.

“Children in remote rural regions and impoverished areas of cities in poor and emerging countries are not being vaccinated” — UNICEF Report

… and, of course, children in “first world” countries such as the USA are being vaccinated… unless MAMA gets her way.

Figures lie, and liars figure…

A large part of the MAMA article involves some very hazy math prefaced repeatedly by her favorite term “let’s assume”.  Rather than combat fictional numbers, I’ll simply point out that she quotes from the CDC “Pink Book” (Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases) which supports her anti-vaccine numbers like a flea supports an elephant on its back.  But then we get this gem:

notsureWhy oh why would you rely on statistics from a source you don’t believe is accurate?  And why oh why would you write a supposedly science-based article and lace it with statements about your beliefs, and your assumptions, rather than hard numbers?


assumeBecause when you assume, and base your pseudoscience on personal beliefs, you can make anything seem true.


(Please note: to avoid increasing search engine positioning for dubious, quack web sites, I use the excellent DoNotLink.com redirect service for hyperlinks to these sites).

(1) Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?  (original MAMA article)

(2)  Vaccine Effectiveness:  Do vaccines work?

(3) UNICEF Immunization

(4)  UNICEF Polio

(5) Interim CDC Guidance for Polio Vaccination for Travel to and from Countries Affected by Wild Polio Virus

(6)   MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubella) Vaccine

(7)  VAERS Data


One thought on “Which is Safer: Vaccines or Illnesses?

  1. Sooo unvaccinated kids is the reason Africa is having problems.. It wouldn’t be due more to the dirty water and lack of nutrition would it?


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