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week of August 25, 2022

Respect my anecdotes

The claim:

A new anti-vaccine film claims that the anecdotes about COVID vaccines prove its dangers and that no one is tracking these. 

The facts:

An Argument from Anecdote is one logical fallacy that has multiple problems. The validity of an anecdote might not be established, or the anecdote might be an example itself of a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, where something is assumed to be the cause of an event that follows without any evidence other than timing. It may also be that a hasty generalization was made in assuming that an event happening on a small scale can be generalized to the community at large. 

There are several agencies and databases, such as VAERS and V-safe, made to track adverse events (unwanted events that happen after a vaccine). Because events can be submitted by anyone and without knowing the cause of the event, the databases are not records of vaccine reactions. They may contain vaccine reactions, but events listed are not vaccine reactions just because they exist in the database.

How do we know if the reports being submitted to VAERS point to a real concern? Researchers are constantly looking at these systems for safety signals. In order to create a safety signal or point to a pattern, we would need to see people who have all or most of the same symptoms. We know that researchers have identified side effects this way--a number of people exhibiting the same symptoms in approximately the same amount of time after vaccination.

Looking for a safety signal is far more methodical than collecting stories from people you know or people you have solicited on the internet.

Excess deaths

The claim:

A doctor with a British accent claims that excess deaths over the last few years have been caused by vaccines.

The facts:

Per the most recent U.S. estimates, up to 80% of people have already been infected with COVID, while only about 68% of the population is fully vaccinated. We know that COVID infection can cause organ damage affecting the heart, kidneys, skin, and brain. Survivors can also suffer from Long-COVID for weeks, months, or even longer. The vaccine, on the other hand, has been shown over and over to be generally safe, with very few,  and rare serious side effects.

The doctor in the above clip is committing the logical fallacy of "questionable cause" in assuming excess deaths are caused by vaccines. He has little evidence to back his claims and ignores the very real possibility of alternate causes of excess death. (COVID, anyone?)

Two types of polio vaccine

The claim:

It's possible that vaccine-derived polio is causing increased levels of vaccine refusal. What do people need to know about the two kinds of polio vaccines, their risks, and the kinds of immunity they provide?

The facts:

When the polio vaccine was first introduced, families in the United States lined up for hours for the opportunity to protect their children from the disease that left about 16,000 children paralyzed annually in the US. In 1952, the US experienced the worst outbreak, with over 58,000 cases leaving 21,000 people paralyzed and over 3,000 people dead.

In 1955, the first polio vaccine, an inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) was licensed and widely distributed in the US. This vaccine used an inactivated form of the polio virus, which could not cause polio or shed virus to cause polio in others.

The vaccine is given in the form of an injection and prevents the polio virus from entering your bloodstream from your intestines. Because the immunity from IPV is mostly limited to your humoral system (which does not include your digestive system), if you are vaccinated, you will not get polio. But if exposed to wild polio, you could still spread it as it travels through your digestive system. 

Several years later, the oral polio vaccine (OPV) was developed. It contained a weakened form of the polio virus, which was given to children on a sugar cube and had several advantages over IPV. Most importantly, it conferred immunity much faster than IPV did, meaning it can be more useful during an outbreak, where someone may not have weeks to develop protection before they are exposed.

Secondly, because it was given on a sugar cube, it is very easy to distribute and administer.

Lastly, because it is introduced through the digestive system, it can shed the weakened virus through the feces. This shedding can actually provide a very limited amount of immunity to others as their immune systems respond to the weakened virus they are exposed to.

The downside of OPV is that in very rare cases, the weakened virus can revert to a form of polio that can cause illness and paralysis, called vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV). VDPV is generally not a problem if the community is vaccinated, as those who have been vaccinated will be able to fend off the VDVP the same way they would for wild-type polio.

OPV today is mostly only used in areas where polio is still endemic. The United States and much of the world where polio has been eliminated vaccinates with IPV exclusively. As vaccination rates are dropping in the US, we are leaving ourselves open to outbreaks of polio, much like the one we are seeing in New York. Someone from a country where OPV is given traveled to the United States and shed the virus.

Exposed people vaccinated with IPV are protected but will be able to still transmit the virus as it moves through their digestive tract. Left behind are unvaccinated people at risk for disease as the virus spreads. Vaccine refusal, in this case, is the cause of the outbreak, as had the community been vaccinated, the outbreak would not have occurred.

Some might be tempted to blame vaccines entirely for the outbreak (it was a vaccine (OPV) that caused the case of polio in the first place) but that is a base-rate logical fallacy. Had vaccines never been given, or if vaccination were to stop, the rates of polio in all communities would far, far eclipse what is happening now.

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