Hab rachmones! Anti-vax inanity in my email!

From time to time, my wife or one of our friends will forward one of the latest health rumors going through the email lists in our community. The usual email list is the one that goes out to moms of young kids living in our ethnic/geographic community. Usually I shrug it off, but every once in a while, my wife and I get fed up and try to spread the truth.

The latest was sent by a friend and colleague who took one look at it and thought, "I bet this'll piss off Pal." She was right. The email contained a link to a notorious anti-vaccination site, and to one post in particular that repeats every inane vaccine myth as if it were fact.

It's not that there don't exist legitimate questions about some vaccines---it's that this author, well-known to me from many internet discussions, spews out the most ridiculous assertions as if they were facts. I beg of you---really, I'm begging---if you're on this email list, read a little further here, and spread the word, before it's too late.

The swine flu (H1N1) is here, and if you're a parent, you've probably seen it. It hit hard in the spring, then jumped to the summer camps, and now it's back. Somewhere around 20-40% of young people who are exposed to it will catch it and get the usual flu---fevers, body aches, cough. A certain percentage of those who get it will end up with a severe case, especially if they have asthma or other underlying conditions. The current vaccine (which should be available in a few weeks) is manufactured the same way we've always made flu shots, and is perfectly safe. Since there is no data to show otherwise, people who are against vaccines will make up reasons.

In the current email going around, the writer focuses on the ingredients of the shot. First of all, we know that people allergic to eggs can't have it. That's because they are manufactured using chicken eggs. That's a no-brainer---allergic to eggs, no flu shot (and you'd better hope a lot of other people get the shot so that they don't give it to you). I'll focus on just some of the more ridiculous lies in the piece (although it's hard to choose).

The writer "warns" us that many vaccines contain the antibiotics gentamycin, neomycin, or polymyxin. These are sometimes added to vials to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the bottles. She goes on to warn of the dangers of kidney failure from these ingredients. This is the height of either mendacity, stupidity, or both. Kidney damage can be caused by giving massive doses of gentamycin intravenously for severe infections. Genatmycin is used in hospitals in very sick patients, typically in amounts several thousand times greater than what may be in a vial of vaccine. The damage can only occur if it is administered this way, not if a few molecules enter your muscle from a shot.

She also makes the following insane statement about cancer risk:

Potassium chloride (30), calcium chloride (31), and sodium chloride (32) are also listed as ingredients for CSL. All three are considered mutagenic [cancer causing] for mammalian somatic cells.

Sodium chloride is table salt. All of these minerals listed are a common part of our diet, and in much larger amounts than in any vaccine.

Any medical or scientific professional who reads this piece recognizes it as the internet equivalent of a newspaper-cutout ransom note, the indication of a disturbed individual.

Look, you don't have to believe me---I'm just some doctor with fancy degrees and a couple of academic appointments. But you shouldn't believe some psychopath with internet access either.

Further reading

Cries the antivaccinationist: Why are we injecting TOXINS into our babies?

Toxic myths about vaccines

More like this

Table salt.


By Katharine (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

Yeah it takes a special kind of insanity to list table salt as mutagen of concern in a vaccine when a significant portion of this country consumes a gazillion times more of it in their food than they should every day :P

I guess it is possible that the writer is unaware that sodium chloride is table salt. I guess that's not really a reassuring outcome.

It probably also contains deadly dihydrogen monoxide...
You know, that stuff found in all cancer cells, is lethal if you breathe it, is found in sewage, and persistent exposure to crystalline DHMO is known to cause severe tissue damage.

I'm surprised they forgot to mention the carcinogenic effects of another ingredient: dihydrogen oxide.

For whom are you asking rachmones?
You should be asking for saychel to prevail.

Happy Sukkos, by the way.

Well, people beat me to the dihydrogen monoxide joke :(

But I have to admit I hadn't seen sodium chloride listed as a dangerous additive in one of these things before. Honestly, doesn't it sound scary? Try saying it with a really deep quavering voice, or imagine Vincent Price saying it in a dark room.

You're just being a spoilsport, pointing out that sodium chloride is salt. ::snort::

Man, I'm suddenly glad I left the playgroup I used to belong to, or I'd be spending all my time on the forum arguing with these nutcases. (A few years ago, I angered some folks by pointing out that homeopathic teething drops are water.)

Jared, you're forgetting the dangers of the gaseous state of dihydrogen monoxide - trigger for asthma and other breathing difficulties in low doses, fatal if inhaled in sufficient quantities, and can cause serious burns at certain temperatures.

By stripey_cat (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

Okay, maybe it will make you happy. I signed my daughter in tardy to school last week (dentist appointment). All the other kids signed in tardy above her listed "flu shot" as a reason.

Also, I called the pediatrician to make flu shot and H1N1 appt. They had run through all flu vaccine stock, will call back when they are making appts again. So a lot of kids are getting flu shots out there. It's going to be crazy when they get H1N1 in.

By micheleinmichigan (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

For those of you who aren't longtime readers of my blog, Dawn was a persistent, long-time antivax commenter/troll. So nasty and persistent was she that about a year ago she became only the second person I've ever banned from Respectful Insolence, the first being John Best.

She's just that nuts.

What are they going to do, go 'HOSHIT STAY AWAY FROM THE IODIZED STUFF I HEAR THAT CAUSES THYROID CANCER' when iodine not only actually just protects against goiter, plus potassium iodide (at least, I think a certain nuclide) protects against thyroid cancer?

By Katharine (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

Did dawn post here (and have it deleted) or is she the writer of the email? :P

woops followed the links and the linked stuff was from dawn. amazing. I usually avoid clicking random antivax (and other assorted crankery) links at work for fear of what it will do to my computer.

I have to say that the night she got progressively surlier (drunker) as time went on, ending with an offer to meet people with her husband for fistfights was a highlight of my time here at scienceblogs.

Genatmycin is used in hospitals in very sick patients, typically in amounts several thousand times greater than what may be in a vial of vaccine.

I looked up the vaccine contents. 25 micrograms. If I understand my sources correctly, therapeutic dosage for gentamycin is 3 grams per day. That's more than 100,000 times the dose, and it's repeated for a full course. Call it on the order of a million times as much.

She also makes the following insane statement about cancer risk:

Potassium chloride (30), calcium chloride (31), and sodium chloride (32) are also listed as ingredients for CSL. All three are considered mutagenic [cancer causing] for mammalian somatic cells.

Sodium chloride is table salt. All of these minerals listed are a common part of our diet, and in much larger amounts than in any vaccine.

Perhaps more to the point, all three are essential blood electrolytes. A single liter of blood contains lots more of each of these salts than a vaccine could. In fact, as we all should know, the salts are in the vaccine to balance it osmotically with human tissue.

But they sure sound scary, don't they?

The author can avoid the effects of these chemicals by avoiding any sodium, potassium, calcium, or chloride ions. To make absolutely certain that she doesn't ever get cancer she could flush them out of her system by drinking lots and lots of distilled water.

Mind, I don't think that this is a good idea and would never do it myself. However, if she's really afraid of those nasty chemicals ...

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

Appreciate the comments, fellas.

Of course I would assume it would be a bit easier for you to dissect the article, being scientists. Instead I see a bunch of sophomoric comments.

I can only fathom that to you, disease did not exist prior to the creation of the CDC in the 1940s. If you agree that disease existed prior to 1940, explain how the decline of disease can be attributed to vaccines?

Even your coveted JAMA seems to agree with official statistics for once.


No, no... it is likely your mindset is akin to those who still deny the holocaust even occurred. This way, it is a convenient excuse for you to deny children you have hurt in the past, present, and future.

If you are evidence based, give evidence not sock puppetry.

Jeffry @ 14:

If you are evidence based, give evidence

DC Sessions @ 13:

Perhaps more to the point, all three are essential blood electrolytes. A single liter of blood contains lots more of each of these salts than a vaccine could. In fact, as we all should know, the salts are in the vaccine to balance it osmotically with human tissue.

Jeffry reading comprehension FAIL

Jeffrey: Why did you come across some doctors denying existence of disease prior to creation of CDC? What's your point? I also notice the persistent refusal to acknowledge that mortality rate from a particular infectious disease are not the same thing as infection rates. For example, decreasing mortality from polio due to invention of the iron lung, among other things, does not equate the decline in the disease itself. Do you disagree?

In the absence of a detailed response, Jeffry, can you explain the difference between a mutagen and a carcinogen and then justify this phrase "mutagenic [cancer causing]"

While you're contemplating that answer, here's a link to a MSDS sheet for sodium chloride:


I added the bracketed text for clarification, don't blame dawn for that part.

I guess since you can't answer the question that means you either:

1] refuse to answer because you know the truth

2] you refuse to look because you are afraid.

Oh that takes all the fun out Pal :(

@10 Katherine: You may be thinking of the so-called "radiation pills" that one might take in the event of a nuclear accident. These contain potassium iodide, and their purpose is to flood the thyroid with non-radioactive iodide to keep out the radioactive iodine-131 which may be found in fresh fission products.

jeffery you missed one:
3] We're to busy arguing with the kitchen table

Now if the vaccines contained paprika I would be concerned.

To make small talk at a recent appointment, I casually asked my doctor's longtime nurse about getting the H1N1 shot. She told me with a straight face that no, she would refuse the shot, because being an African American she did not trust "the government" and was afraid "they" were conducting an experiment with the vaccine, a la the Tuskeegee Project. I honestly did not know what to say to that...

"I can only fathom that to you, disease did not exist prior to the creation of the CDC in the 1940s. If you agree that disease existed prior to 1940, explain how the decline of disease can be attributed to vaccines?"

Proof disease existed before 1940? Seriously? How about all the Native Americans killed by smallpox (gone due to vaccines)? How about bubonic plague, as recorded by Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliette"? How about the 1918 influenza? Polio? Seriously, are you that blind that you don't understand that people have been dying of disease since there have been people?

And no, I'm not going to make links to my sources, you can wikipedia it yourself, troll.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 05 Oct 2009 #permalink

Ok...so...I'm looking at those plots Jeffrey posted. What am I supposed to be seeing here that shows vaccines don't work? Cause all I'm seeing is that after vaccines were introduced, mortality rates went waaaaay down. Is there something I'm missing?

I like PAL's approach. For a second there I considered arguing that particular point. But then I remembered that anyone who lists electrolytes as potential carcinogens in vaccines would not be persuaded by anything I have to say.

Yo, Pal. You know how competency is a big deal when someone is a doctor? You know, like it's sort of important? Well how is it that MDs who dissuade people from getting their kids vaccinated aren't stripped of their licenses on the basis of competency. I'm thinking of that clown Mayer "Defendant" Eisenstein, specifically.


And isn't there a way to link the issue, now that I think about it, to malpractice insurance costs and the overall cost of health care? I mean, if we could come up with numbers that showed how much damage these charlatans do to healthy people and responsible people (by, say, eroding herd immunity) we could start a...movement. No, an initiative... No a REVOLUTION! To the barricades! With extra exclamation points!!!!!!!

The next time I get sick, I'm suing Jenny McCarthy for breaking down group immunity. Bitch. :)


Yeah, it's a problem. Orac has written a lot about the topic, but state medical boards are VERY hesitant to revoke licenses for bad practice---abuse, drugs, etc, but not incompetence.

Ah, Jeffry, using the old "let's make the time scale so big we can't see the difference!" trick.

Okay, one of the diseases that caused havoc (along with smallpox) on the Native Americans is measles. In the CDC Pink Book is an Appendix G which lists cases and deaths of several diseases from 1950 to about 2006. It is an image file so I had to hand type the data, and here it is:

Disease: Measles in the USA
(^^ first vaccine licensed)
(^^^ MMR licensed)
(^^^ Measles Elimination Program started)
1989___18,193___32 (this is what happens when
1990___27,786___64 measles vaccine coverage
1991____9,643___27 is reduced)
1993______312____0 (vaccine coverage returns)

I also pointed out the dates that the first measles vaccine was introduced, and when the MMR was introduced. Plus there was a program to improve vaccine uptake (it is one thing to have a vaccine, it is something else again to make sure people actually get the vaccine).

Now look at those numbers. Tell what year before 1960 there was a massive decrease in the incidence of measles.

While you are at it, kindly tell me what actual factual evidence you have that the MMR is worse than measles, mumps and rubella. You can see from the before 1960 data that measles caused death in one in a thousand cases. Plus there were all sorts of disabilities like deafness, blindness and other neurological impairments caused by all three diseases. Make sure that the document with this evidence is available at my local medical school library (papers in "Medical Hypotheses" do not count, if you want to know why, look up the second word in the title).

Nuts. not walnuts, not peanuts, not cashews.
Just bloody nuts.whacko. crackerbox palace.
riding off the rails on the crazy train.

Tell me when someone has a co-infection of Measles, Mumps and Rubella at the same time?!

Then perhaps you can get some numbers on disease at your local library: Vital Statistics of the United States Vol 1.

Or maybe you even have access to the Library of Medicine?

Again, that is the whole crux of the matter. Look beyond 1960 and before the CDC was created. If you don't want to, you really are no different than most I have spoken to.

Play with the numbers and hypothesize all you wish, the decline of infectious disease declined dramatically prior to any vaccine being introduced.

Wow, teh stupid is strong in this one.

Tell me when someone has a co-infection of Measles, Mumps and Rubella at the same time?!

Is there an antivaxer equivalent of a Poe? I honestly can't tell whether Jeffry is an idiot or a troll in comment 36.

How about this: why are you claiming that anyone is denying the existence of disease prior to 1940? I've never seen that claim made anywhere on this blog, and certainly not in this post. That's a total non-sequitor.

Still, I'll have a crack at answering your question:
If you agree that disease existed prior to 1940, explain how the decline of disease can be attributed to vaccines?

Easy. Death rates went down due to several key innovations, such as the iron lung but also antibiotics (reducing deaths due to secondary infections), intravenous fluids (reducing deaths due to dehydration, a common cause of death in viral infections), and other innovations. Better access to this sort of medical care was also a big step forward. Compare survival rates in the US in 1930 versus survival rates in rural Bangladesh today. Huge difference, and all because the rural Bangladeshis have little to no access to medical care.

But this doesn't affect the *infection* rate; only the death rate. People were still getting polio after the iron lung was invented. They just weren't dying of it, and living long enough to teach the world about things like post-polio syndrome (which can be fatal as well; it's what Arthur C Clarke recently died of, having had a mild case of polio as a child). Many suffered lifelong paralysis, with the lucky ones wearing braces on their legs and the unlucky ones confined to wheelchairs or even iron lungs. (There are a small number of iron lung users still alive today, most of them elderly people who had polio in the days before the polio vaccine.)

You can reduce the rate of infection with polio by hygiene improvements, but this is problematic in small children -- there are very straightforward reasons why children tend to be the most affected by epidemics, and it's all to do with why it's hard to get them to wash their hands before eating and stop them eating inappropriate things. And sanitation does little to help; polio is most often transmitted person-to-person, not through tainted water. And keeping people generally healthy helps, as a healthy body is better able to fight infection. But there's only so much that can do. To eliminate the suffering of polio, the virus itself had to be extirpated from the population. There is really only one way to do that: mass vaccination, so people's immune systems are able to deactivate the virus the moment it enters their bloodstreams, preventing it from traveling any farther.

This was effective in the US. Polio is virtually unheard of here. Other countries are not so lucky, and polio is endemic. With globalization, it would take very little for a pandemic to reoccur, were it not for continued polio vaccination. Sure, very few would die of it. Perhaps fifty thousand, out of a population of hundreds of millions of Americans. I don't know about you, but given that polio is easily prevented with vaccination, I think fifty thousand is an unacceptably high number. And that doesn't even take into account the lifelong suffering of many of the survivors. If only two people are permanently paralyzed for every one who dies, that would be one hundred thousand who would become totally dependent on others for their care. An even larger number would have partial paralysis, and a larger number still would have temporary paralysis, perhaps only losing a year of their lives (which is particularly unfortunate if it's during one's academic career).

Is that really acceptable to you? Do you really think reducing those effects was not significant?

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 06 Oct 2009 #permalink

Tell me when someone has a co-infection of Measles, Mumps and Rubella at the same time?!

whut? Do you really think MMR only sets out to protects against getting all 3 diseases simultaneously?

Instead of asking us to look up data you need to provide evidence to persuade us. You are the one making the claim.

HCN showed how you do it, he posted data clearly showing a drop in measles cases and deaths associated with the introduction of vaccines.

HCN (and anyone else, for that matter):

That table looks familiar. I do believe I've posted it once or twice (and I have the now-no-longer-available pure-text version from the CDC for a good bit of the measles and rubella part.)

If you want them, I've pulled together the tabulated incidence and mortality data from the MMWR summaries back a fair way (1944) into a spreadsheet. I can either mail a copy (you know how to find my address, just ping me) or I'm thinking of uploading it to Google Documents.

Useful stuff.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 06 Oct 2009 #permalink

Yes, you've seen it before. We've discussed it. I gave what I typed up to LarianLeQuella on the JREF forum, which he has put on an anti-anti-vax website, http://factsnotfantasy.com/deaths.html . He seems to coordinate with Todd W. of http://antiantivax.flurf.net/

If you contact them, I believe they would appreciate the information.

Oh, by the way, Jeffry: The list I showed is exactly take from that source that you claim the MMR is worse than measles, mumps and rubella. There is absolutely no reason to look before 1950, because there was no measles vaccine. In order to show that the MMR is worse than measles, you need to show what harm the MMR does. If it did not exist before 1971, then you cannot show it harmed before 1971. In other words, you have no proof.

Given the information I was able to obtain from CDC and census information (for the 2008 influenza season), 30% of the population received the vaccine. The effective rate was 40%, so only 12% of the population was the âHerdâ protecting everyone else.

In order to get an 80% âHerdâ protection, you will need to triple the percentage of the population vaccinated and have a 90% effective rate. Good luck with that given the current number of cases in the unvaccinated population already.

What's your point, Chuck (other than epidemiology and mathematics fail)...

"(and you'd better hope a lot of other people get the shot so that they don't give it to you)"


If you have better resources concerning H1N1 or seasonal vaccination rates, I would love to see them.

I have been watching with great interest this discussion about vaccines. Here are some issues I have seen that are not addressed here unless I missed something. Most flu vaccines use a preservative called Thimerosol which is 49% mercury by weight. Each dose has up to 25 mcg of mercury which is over 250 times the EPA safety limit. The second issue is the use of the adjuvant Squalene. This has been strongly identified with Gulf War Syndrome (GWS). 95% of GWS victims had the presence of the squalene antibody. Of the soldiers that did not have GWS symptoms, none had the squalene antibody. If this is all true, it would seem that the shot might in fact be more dangerous than the flu, especially since the flu virus frequently mutates too fast to match with a vaccine unless they get lucky. My source is mercola.com, hosted by Dr Joseph Mercola (search on vaccinations).

"[m]y source is mercola.com[...]"

That's your first mistake. The issue of thimerosal has been addressed ad nauseum. As to squalene, funny you should mention it as someone today commented that it's very ironic that the same crowd that touts the danger of squalene is the one most likely to buy squalene health pills. The only one Mercola is accountable for as to any of his claims is Mercola.

Oh, boy.

First off, there is no squalene in American influenza vaccines.

There is no thimerosal in pediatric vaccines, and influenza vaccines are available with thimerosal. Also the EPA guidelines are for methylmercury, which is different from ethylmercury!

By the way, according to this EPA guideline, the limit is "resulting criterion of 0.3 mg methylmercury/kg in fish tissue". That "m" is for milligrams, which are 1000 times bigger than micrograms. I would dare say someone has played with a decimal point here and there (hint, a microgram, mcg, is 0.000001 grams and a milligram, mg, is 0.001 grams).

Mercola is not a good source of information.

My source is mercola.com

Ah, I think I see your problem. Not all sources are equal and mercola is among the worst sources of information on the internet, it makes wikipedia look like the fountain of all knowlege.

Cripes. You know someone's a moron when they say 'HURF DURF A VITAL PART OF VITAMIN D SYNTHESIS IN THE BODY (i.e. squalene) IS BAD FOR US, I THINK WE'LL TAKE IT IN PILL FORM'.

We PRODUCE squalene.

By Katharine (not verified) on 07 Oct 2009 #permalink

We PRODUCE squalene.

So what? That's natural squalene, and it doesn't get into our bodies by way of a needle. The needle makes all the difference, you know. That's how they add the nanites that will take over our minds when the satellites send the commands.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Oct 2009 #permalink

Satellites are real?????

Satellites are real?????

If you don't think so, it's proof that you're already mind-controlled.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 07 Oct 2009 #permalink

I heard that gin confuses the nanobots.