Updated: Feb 12, 2022
This post will address fifteen of the most commonly used arguments against vaccines. Throughout this post, you should notice that none of these arguments requires much scientific knowledge or logical ability to defeat. Anyone with an unbiased mind and an internet-capable computer can find their flaws in minutes. I realise that this post is lengthy, but it's broken up into sections, so you can read only the parts you care about.
🦋 We shouldn’t trust the doctors/scientists that support vaccines because they are paid by pharmaceutical companies/the government
This argument is total nonsense. Beyond the fact that it’s an ad hominem fallacy, its premise is blatantly untrue. Pharmaceutical companies or the government pays only a tiny portion of vaccine researchers. The vast quantity of vaccine research comes from independent scientists working out of universities and are funded by grants that they apply for. Further, this argument represents a fundamental paradox in the thinking of the anti-vaccine movement. This argument arises in almost every conversation I have with them, yet they inevitably claim to have unbiasedly considered the evidence in those same conversations. These two claims are incompatible. You have not considered the evidence if you blindly write off every scientist who disagrees with you. Finally, this argument overlooks that many anti-vaccine advocates blindly believe in making money off books and alternative “medicines.” They make quite a bit of money off. Go to almost every anti-vaccine advocate's website. You will find a store selling their products. So the few scientists and doctors who oppose vaccines have a monetary incentive for holding their position. So this argument is entirely logically inconsistent.
🦋 Many doctors/scientists are coming forward against vaccines
First, realise that this “many” is an exceedingly small portion of professionals, so this entire argument is inflation of conflict fallacy. Further, this argument is also a blatant appeal to authority fallacy. It doesn’t matter what crackpot position you believe in; you can find someone with an advanced degree that agrees with you. You can find PhD's in physics that argue that gravity isn’t true, and M.D.s that say that smoking doesn’t cause cancer, but it would be absurd of me to say, “Many doctors are coming out and saying that smoking doesn’t cause cancer. Therefore smoking is safe.” Also, notice the inconsistency in the anti-vaccine's logic. Any time that I bring up a paper that shows that vaccines work/are safe, they instantly respond with, “those researchers were paid by pharmaceutical companies and shouldn’t be trusted” (which is rarely true), but any time that someone agrees with them, they instantly believe that source. This is classic cherry-picking of data (i.e., it's a sharpshooter fallacy).
🦋 If vaccines work, why do you care if my child is vaccinated?
Anyone who uses this argument (almost every anti-vaccine I have ever talked to) has demonstrated that they don’t have the foggiest clue what they are talking about because the answer comes from the most basic facts about vaccines.
In brief, in non-scientific terms, this is how the immune system works. A germ enters your body, and an immune cell finds it, memorises it, returns to the central command, and generates cells specifically to combat that germ. All of this takes time, however, and often by the time your immune system has the troops ready to go, the embryo has already been replicated and taken hold. At this point, it’s an all-out war, and you will be sick for a while. A vaccine teaches your body to recognise the germ before you encounter it. Your body then keeps low levels of antibodies specific to that germ. These act as the first line of defence. When the embryo is detected, it can be taken out before it becomes a problem. Here’s the catch, though, your body doesn’t keep a whole regiment on alert. It only keeps low levels of the antibody circulating. So, for regular exposure to a germ, a vaccinated person’s immune system can take care of it, but if you get significant exposure, it can overwhelm that first line of defence, and you still have a full-blown war. This is one of the reasons why vaccines sometimes fail. To put it another way, if someone with H1N1 sneezes in your face, you’re probably going to get the flu even if you’re vaccinated.
So, how does this relate to the original argument? Vaccines lead to herd immunity. When many individuals are vaccinated, very few people get exposed to a hefty dose of the disease, and therefore very few people get it. However, when unvaccinated people are around, you are much more likely to get a hefty dose of the disease and get sick. So even though I am vaccinated, my risk of getting the disease is higher than if you were also vaccinated.
Further, many older adults and immunocompromised people cannot receive vaccines but are protected by herd immunity. Additionally, for various reasons, vaccines don’t always take hold. In a minimal number of cases (usually between 1 and 5% depending on the vaccine), the vaccine doesn’t work, leaving the person completely vulnerable. So by not vaccinating, you are putting all of those people at risk. In short, vaccines work and reduce disease even if you don’t vaccinate, but they work much more effectively when everyone is vaccinated.
This video does an excellent job of visualising what I just said (skip to 1:45 if you want to see the simulation). You can also check out this great simulation showing how vaccine levels affect disease rates.
🦋 No vaccine is 100% safe
True, but you know what else isn’t 100% safe, not getting vaccinated! The anti-vaccine crowd loves to list the potential side effects of vaccines while ignoring the dangerous side effects of not getting vaccinated. Side effects like measles, polio, hepatitis, deafness, death, etc. Most deficient vaccines have shallow hazardous side effects, so it comes down to a basic risk assessment. The risk of getting the vaccine is lower than not getting the immunisation. Therefore, you are safer with the vaccines. Also, thanks to herd immunity, the risk associated with not getting the immunisation increases as the number of people who haven’t vaccinated increases (see #3). So every additional person you convince not to vaccinate increases your risk of getting sick. Don’t believe me? Get on Google Scholar and look at the literature. Many studies have looked at side effect rates and disease rates, and they paint a clear picture: vaccines work and have low risks of side effects.
🦋 Vaccines contain many TOXIC chemicals that aren’t safe at ANY dosage!
I put “toxic” and “any” in caps because that is generally how I see anti-vaccine nuts put it. The first half of this is true; vaccines contain “toxic” chemicals, but the second half is total crap. Almost everything is toxic at high enough levels and safe at low levels, and the levels in vaccines are deficient. Further, this argument ignores the fact that chemicals are everywhere. You and I are made of chemicals. Your organically grown fruit is made of chemicals. Everything is made of chemicals, and most things (you and your organic fruit included) contain “toxic” chemicals. Here are a few examples of the most commonly attacked chemicals in vaccines.
Formaldehyde – As anti-vaccersvaccines point out, formaldehyde is known to be highly carcinogenic. They fail to point out that your body requires small amounts to function correctly. Also, it is present in many fruits and vegetables. The amount of formaldehyde in an organically grown pear is typically more significant than the amount in a vaccine, yet no one fears the toxic pear.
Aluminium – Is aluminium toxic? Yes. Is it in vaccines? Yes. Is it in breast milk? Also yes. That’s right, mommy’s goodness contains poisonous aluminium. There is more aluminium in breast milk than in vaccines. An infant gets roughly 4 milligrams of aluminium from vaccines (a tiny amount). During those same six months, an infant would get approximately 10 milligrams (also a low level) from breastfeeding or 40 milligrams (still a low level) from baby formula. So, no matter what you do, if you feed your child during its first six months of life, you will be giving it more aluminium than it would receive from a vaccine. So if you aren’t worried about the aluminium in its milk, please shut up about the aluminium in vaccines.
Mercury – Probably no chemical gets more press from anti-vaccine nuts than mercury. The funny thing is, vaccines don’t contain mercury; they contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative. Now, you may say, “wait a minute, if vaccines contain thimerosal, and thimerosal contains mercury, then vaccines contain mercury.” Technically you are correct, but you didn’t pay attention in chemistry class. How chemicals behave depends on what other chemicals they are bound to. The highly toxic mercury is methyl mercury. Thimerosal is ethyl mercury, which is not harmful unless extremely high doses. You may think that mercury is mercury, and I’m just playing semantic games, but as I will demonstrate, you’re dead wrong. Let me use an illustration to show that chemical properties change when they are bound to different substances. Sodium and chlorine are both highly toxic. If you were to regularly sprinkle either one across your food, you would be in big trouble. Yet when they are combined into sodium chloride, wet get table salt (sea salt is also mostly sodium chloride), which is safe unless eaten in excess. You don’t get the symptoms of chlorine poisoning from salt, even though salt is a chlorine-containing preservative. You don’t get the symptoms of mercury poisoning from thimerosal even though thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative. This is high school chemistry. Finally, as of 2001, technological advances had provided alternatives to thimerosal that don’t contain any mercury. So to both appease the public and err on the side of caution (there is no evidence that the amount of thimerosal in vaccines was toxic), thimerosal was removed from all vaccines except a few forms of the flu shot. So really, this whole section was a waste because almost all modern vaccines contain no mercury of any state, yet this is the number 1 chemical that the anti-vaccine crowd cites as being harmful. Once again, they are not fact-checking their memes and blogs.
🦋 Vaccines did not eliminate diseases; they were declining before vaccines were introduced
This argument contains a grain of truth, but it is distorted and inaccurate. Disease rates had indeed declined before vaccines, but that does not mean vaccines were not the final weapon that ended them altogether. By analogy, we were winning WWII before dropping the atomic bomb, but it would be absurd to say that the nuclear bomb didn’t end the war. Similarly, diseases had declined before vaccines, but it is ridiculous to say that vaccines didn’t play a pivotal role in eliminating them.
Further, vaccines were responsible is demonstrated by the incidences of these diseases popping back up when vaccine rates are lowered and from developing countries that haven’t had all of our other medical improvements but still show significantly reduced disease rates when given vaccines. Why do disease rates plummet when we introduce vaccines to developing countries that don’t have clean water or good sanitation? Also, if you look at the dates at which diseases disappeared, they are scattered over a wide range but are always associated with the introduction of vaccines. If these diseases were eliminated by clean water and sanitation (as the anti-vax crowd suggests), why weren’t all the conditions eliminated? why
🦋 There have been no scientific studies that…
I have seen countless variations of this: “there have been no scientific studies that compare safety between the vaccinated and unvaccinated,” “there have been no scientific studies that have looked at long term effects,” etc. I can’t make the blanket statement that every single permutation of this argument is false, but I can say that every single one of these that I have ever heard has been false. For goodness sake, people, I can say, get on Google Scholar and do your homework! For goodness sake, people, I can say. It’s not that hard to fact check these claims. The problem is that anti-vaccines have no interest in fact-checking. They would instead blindly believe their favourite blog or pithy meme. At that point, they invariably either pretend that I didn’t just debunk their crap (red herring fallacy) and move on to some other nonsense, or they respond with argument #1 (ad hominem and ad hoc fallacies) and write off the article as biased and untrustworthy (hardly the response of someone interested in truth). Finally, this form of argument is known as an argument from ignorance fallacy. It says, “we don’t know that vaccines are safe. Therefore, they are dangerous.” That type of thinking is not logically valid.
By way of example, there is a widespread article passed around by anti-vaccine nuts called “9 Questions That Stump Every Pro-Vaccine Advocate and Their Claims.” Most of these questions revolve around scientific articles that supposedly don’t exist. Still, a few seconds on the internet quickly brings up this refutation that shows how easy it is to find these “non-existent” science articles. The anti-vaccine had to enter these claims into Google Scholar, and they could have debunked them in seconds. Instead, they choose to blindly believe that these articles don’t exist and continue to repost this blog. Notice that this is not something that is in any way ambiguous. These articles either exist or they don’t, and the fact that anti-vaccines continue to claim that the research has never been done even though the papers are readily available on Pub Med and Google Scholar should cause a huge red flag to go up because it proves that anti-vaccines have utterly no interest in facts and are not doing even rudimentary background checks on their arguments.
🦋 Vaccines can overwhelm a child’s immune system
This argument is just downright silly. It goes something like this, “A newborn's immune system isn’t fully formed yet, so by giving it multiple vaccines right away, you can overload its immune system and make it sick (or even immunocompromised).” The reality is that this argument is utter nonsense. Vaccines expose children to a minimal number of antigens (antigens are the proteins on the surface of a cell that the immune system uses to recognise and respond to it, each type of virus, bacteria, and cell in your body has its unique antigen). In contrast, their environment exposes them to hundreds, even thousands of antigens daily. Do you know what happens when your kid worms its way through the birth canal? It gets covered in all manner of nasty germs. Do you know what happens when you cuddle the thing and breathe on it? It gets covered in all ways of nasty germs. Do you know what happens when you pass it off to the next person who then breathes on it? It gets covered in a whole new set of nasty germs. Unless you have a C section in a clean room and instantly stick your kid into an incubation chamber, it will be exposed to far more antigens in its first few hours outside the womb than it will ever get from vaccines. Arguing that vaccines will overwhelm a child’s immune system is like arguing that a teaspoon will make an Olympic swimming pool overflow.
🦋 Vaccines cause autism
In short, no, they don’t. This argument has done more damage than any other anti-vaccine argument, and it is soooooo easy to debunk, yet anti-vaccines refuse to accept the contrary evidence. In brief, here’s what happened. In 1998 Dr Wakefield published a paper suggesting vaccines were causing autism, and the media and general public went nuts with it. So scientists responded by doing what scientists do with an extraordinary claim like this: they tested it repeatedly, but what they consistently found was that vaccines were not causing autism. So, in 2010 an official investigation into Wakefield’s claims was made by the British General Medical Council. In brief, it found that he was a dishonest, unethical scumbag who had falsified his results and was being paid by parents who thought their kids had been harmed by vaccines (odd, I thought it was supposed to be the scientists who are supporting vaccines that were being paid off). The journal that published his paper has now retracted it. Multiple of his other rejected documents have been retracted from various journals, and Wakefield is no longer allowed to practice medicine.
Further, thimerosal is generally the chemical in vaccines accused of causing autism, but it was removed from vaccines in 2001 (see #5). So, if it had been causing autism, then autism rates should have lowered, or at least slowed down, after 2001, but guess what, they didn’t. or slowed down. So in summary, the article proposing that vaccines cause autism was a fraud invented by an unethical doctor, countless papers since that one has failed to find a link between vaccines and autism, and autism rates continue to climb even though that chemical that supposedly causes autism is no longer in vaccines. This argument is one big, steamy pile of crap.
Here is the one fundamental question that people who use this argument need to answer and are utterly incapable of answering: if vaccines cause autism, why has a study found that autism rates are the same between vaccinated and unvaccinated children? If vaccines cause autism, the autism rates must be higher among the vaccinated, but they aren’t. A recent study with a sample size of over 1.2 million children very convincingly demonstrated this. Vaccines do not cause autism; it’s that simple.
🦋 The majority of people who got the disease were vaccinated for it
In some cases, this is true, but ultimately, it is irrelevant. Let me use an example to illustrate. Suppose that I told you that 150 out of 200 people (75%) who got disease X had been vaccinated for it? Anti-vaccines hop all over numbers like this and say, “see. Vaccines don’t work if the majority of people who get the disease were vaccinated for it.” As any mathematician will tell you, the problem is that the relative percentages, not the raw numbers, matter. So, you also have to look at the total rate of vaccinated people for that disease. Let’s suppose that 95% of the population had been vaccinated, and there were 100,000 people in the population (95,000 vaccinated, 5,000 unvaccinated). That means that the disease rate was 1 in 633 among the vaccinated and 1 in 100 among the unvaccinated. So yes, of course, the majority of people who got the disease were vaccinated against it. That is a superficial and irrelevant result of the fact that the majority of people were vaccinated. What’s important is the relative percentages, not the raw numbers. Even though the majority of people who got disease X had been vaccinated, the actual disease rate was over six times lower among the vaccinated. Further, in many cases (such as whooping cough), even when the vaccine fails, the severity of the disease is still lessened. So it’s not as simple as whether or not they got it; severity also has to be included.
🦋 Disease outbreaks occur among vaccinated populations
This is another classic example of a sharpshooter fallacy. Anti-vaccines like to point out specific instances of disease outbreaks in a vaccinated population. The problem is that these examples ignore the many unvaccinated communities that also had outbreaks and the thousands of vaccinated communities that didn’t have outbreaks. As previously explained (see #3), like all medicines, vaccines do not work 100% of the time, but they work most. So, of course, outbreaks will still occur in vaccinated communities. Still, when we zoom out and look at the big picture, we see that outbreaks occur less often among vaccinated communities than unvaccinated communities (see #10). So this argument is another example of cherry-picking data.
Further, this argument ignores several critical features of these outbreaks. First, they usually occur in college dorms and other situations where proximity increases the chances of the vaccine failing (see #3). Also, they are generally easily contained. That is, outbreaks are confined to a specific university or community. This containment is because of herd immunity. When outbreaks occur in areas where very few people are vaccinated, they tend to be much harder to control (see the video in #3). Also, these outbreaks are very often triggered by travel to other countries where vaccines aren’t prevalent. For example, in 2011, there were 222 cases of measles in the US. Two hundred of those were linked to travel to other countries. So, these outbreaks support vaccines' effectiveness because they are usually caused by contact with unvaccinated populations. To put this another way, 90% of measles cases in 2011 were CAUSED by people who had not been vaccinated. This is solid evidence that herd immunity works, and opposing vaccines is dangerous. (Note: I did not cherry-pick these data, this is a widespread trend among disease outbreaks).
Related to this argument is that “I was vaccinated and still got sick.” This is, once again, a sharpshooter fallacy. You have to look at the big picture, not an isolated datum.
🦋 Vaccines contain chicken proteins, monkey cells, calf serum, etc.
Yes, vaccines contain some things (though anti-vaccines often list items that aren’t actually in vaccines), but who cares? I often hear anti-vaccines make this claim as it follows that containing these things is terrible and unsafe, but nothing could be further from the truth. Modern medical practices use animal tissues, cells, serum, etc. All the time. A great many lives have been saved by using animal parts. This argument is what is known as an appeal to emotion fallacy. It sounds terrible, so people respond to it as if it is awful and never stop considering the issue. It evokes an emotional response that blocks logical thought. Unless you can prove that these things are bad for you, you don’t argue.
This argument is probably compelling if you’re a hardcore animal rights advocate. Still, most people I hear using this argument are concerned about human health, not the treatment of animals.
🦋 Natural immunity is better than immunity from vaccines
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that this statement is true. My response would then be, so what!? You generally get natural immunity from actually getting the disease! Are you honestly saying that it would be better for your kid to get polio than it would be for him to get vaccinated for polio because he will be better protected from polio (if he survives, of course)? That’s just nuts! How can anyone possibly say that it would be better for kids to go through these horrible, often life-threatening diseases than it would be for them to be protected from them in the first place? This is possibly the stupidest anti-vaccine argument I have ever heard (and that’s saying something).
🦋 No vaccine is 100% effective
The fact that anti-vaccines use this argument should be a big clue about the worthlessness of their claims. Just think about this argument, “they don’t work 100% of the time. Therefore. Therefore we shouldn’t use them.” That’s downright idiotic. Virtually nothing works 100% of the time. Here are just a few examples that don’t work 100%: seat belts, airbags, cancer treatments, condoms, safety harnesses, helmets, parking brakes, air filters, etc. The fact that a safety mechanism isn’t 100% effective DOES NOT mean that we shouldn’t use it. Also, vaccines sometimes fail have already been discussed in several other sections (see #3, 10, 11, and 12).
Closely related to this argument is the claim that vaccines don’t work/shouldn’t be used because some require periodic boosters. Again, this is just silly. It's about saying that changing the oil in your car won’t help it last longer because you will have to change it again in a few months. Yes, some vaccines require boosters, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t work; it just means that they have limits.
🦋 Vaccines contain aborted fetus cells
No, they most certainly do not. Here’s the deal, back in the 60s, cells were taken from a few aborted fetuses, and those cells were used to generate cell lines that are used in the production of vaccines. So the current cells are the great, great, great….great decedents of the original cell; and are not themselves from an aborted fetus. Also, no portion of the cells themselves enters the vaccine. They are used as a growth medium to help develop the virus, which will ultimately be deactivated and included in the vaccine. I have sometimes heard anti-backers claim that “if they are grown on aborted cells, then some of the aborted cells must be in the vaccine,” but this, once again, illustrates how little these people understand about science. This claim is easy to debunk. Fruit trees grow from the ground; does that mean apples contain dirt? Of course not. The virus used to make vaccines are produced using fetal cells does not mean that the vaccines contain fetal cells.
So it comes down to this, in the 60s, a few fetuses were aborted, and scientists took advantage of those abortions to create a life-saving medicine. How does any of that lead to the conclusion that using vaccines is immoral? No new fetuses are being aborted in the name of vaccines, and no fetal cells are in the vaccines. What’s done is done; we can’t change it. So, all that we can do is make the most moral choice out of the options available to us, and the most ethical choice is the one that saves lives (i.e., vaccines). To put this another way, suppose that I made a cure for cancer, but in the process, I used aborted fetus cells (no additional fetuses need to be aborted now that I have a cell line). Would you honestly tell the millions of people dying from cancer that they shouldn’t use my medicine? I sure hope not.
The obvious conclusion of all of this is quite simple; the anti-vaccine movement consists of biased, paranoid conspiracy theorists who would rather accept the information on blogs than the information provided by professional scientists. They put the health of themselves, their children, and the entire public at risk simply because they refuse to consider the evidence. Their arguments are childish and easy to defeat. Anyone with a computer and access to the internet can shoot holes in their nonsense with a few minutes of honest searching. So please do everyone a favour and VACCINATE! 🦋