Vaccine Safety: Is This the Best They Can Do?

In the debate over vaccine safety, I’m not on either side. I am quite unsure whether vaccines with mercury caused autism, for example. I would be happy to read a decent book on the subject, no matter what the author believed.

Instead we have a book by Dr. Paul Offit, who wrote, criticizing another book about vaccines, that it “never discusses the fact that mercury is present on the earth’s surface.”

Sentences like that make me think vaccines are less safe than claimed by Dr. Offit.

4 Replies to “Vaccine Safety: Is This the Best They Can Do?”

  1. I have been reading a book by ANOTHER M.D. on the subject of autism and vaccines. This is Dr. Bryan Jepson, whose book Changing the Course of Autism was published in 2007. It is a comprehensive review of the studies that exist on the possible causes of autism. Jepson shows that there are plenty of holes in the methodologies used by those wanting to prove vaccines safe. However, he also says that vaccines haven’t been proven to be the cause of autism at this time.

    Please take a look at my blog post at, which goes into much more detail.

  2. It’s certainly true that vaccination supporters are uncommonly bad at presenting a convincing, respectful case for the safety of vaccines. It’s probably not that vaccines are especially unsafe — after all, most parents happily feed their kids any amount of artificial color, pesticides, and MacDonald’s fries, and on that scale the vaccines seem well down in the noise level, and anyway less than posed by the pathogens they are meant to protect against. It’s more a matter of arrogance. It doesn’t take much for (what we might call) an anti-anti-vaxxer to start in on name-calling, or lying about the meaning of various studies, exposures, and numbers.

    When they act exactly like somebody trying to execute a coverup, it’s hardly surprising when people conclude that’s what’s going on. Anti-anti-vaxxers might actually have the truth on their side, but they certainly deserve much of the blame for anybody harmed, either because of real, undelineated risks, or because of illness resulting from the distrust they have engendered through their arrogance.

  3. Nathan and Phyllis, thank you for your comments. I wouldn’t say that Dr. Offit is “arrogant”; I don’t know of any word that is a good description of the argument that it is relevant to vaccine safety that mercury exists on the Earth’s surface. It isn’t stupid or clueless because yes, the amount of mercury exposure from other sources is relevant. But since everybody in this debate, including Dr. Offit, knows that the amount of mercury a child got from mercury-preserved vaccines was much higher than from normal sources (such as food, air, and water) to bring up such a vague and unhelpful fact just puzzles me.

  4. Over the years I have become more skeptical about modern western medicine. I have two nephews that have autism (one is 5 and the other 8). They both began autism before the age of 2 (after their vaccinations with thimerosal) and under different circumstances but modern medicines have no knowledge of cause or treatment. But through other experimental sources they have found some effective unsanctioned treatments with a gluten-free, dairy free diet. Pediatricians and autism specialists did not believe that they had any affect but we do have anecdotal/empirical but “unscientific” evidence that this has helped. The 5 year old has more than doubled his vocabulary and has more interest in interacting with people. The 8 year old had polyps in his throat that went undiagnosed for years (he’s on medicare, so imagine that nightmare). After going on the diet the polyps receded, much to the bewilderment of his doctors.

    I also have a friend that for years dealt with chronic fatigue and loss of bone mass. Doctors prescibed either medication or surgery without having any knowledge of the root cause. After years of frustration they took a shot in the dark and consulted a chiropractor/holistic practitioner. I sounded hokey, but they rubbed certain items on her skin and tested reactions by feeling their arm resistance. They were skeptical but the practitioner told them to get a DNA test for Celiacs disease. And sure enough the DNA test came back positive.

    The medical community is skeptical of anything that hasn’t been properly vetted (read: multimillion dollar study). Anecdotal evidence is throw off as unreliable at best and kookery more commonly. The medical/pharmaceutical community is very risk averse, probably due to the litigative environment, and can and will only treat very well known diseases and often only the symptoms. Along with this risk aversion is the protectionism of current methods and ideologies. It is unfortunate that medicine is just as susceptible to ideology as politics and religion despite their reliance on science. Western medicine has done a great deal to advance health, for sure, but the persistence of this type of ideology is counterproductive to the point of being discrediting.

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