Logical fallacies abound in the discussion surrounding vaccines and they come from both sides of the debate. From the anecdotal evidence of a parent just absolutely sure they noticed a behavioral difference in their kid after a shot to the wildly enthusiastic anti-vax shamers, it’s hard to get a sound argument on the topic.
Most of the mainstream media and public at large focus on the logical fallacies of the anti-vaxxers concerned about the efficacy and safety of vaccines. We get a constant barrage of news stories pointing out the flaws in their rationale (or lack thereof). But the vaccine pushers on the other side are often more fallacious in their arguments.
I’ve documented the wealth of pro-vaccine illogic, covering most of the fallacies from part-to-whole (“all vaccines work…”) to appeal to authority (“President Obama said it’s safe…”) and the ever popular ad hominem (“you Jenny McCarthy-worshiping imbeciles…”).
One of the most heavily abused logical fallacies, however, is a bit more obscure. Austrian economists would surely be able to identify it, though some libertarians like Penn Jillette fall into the irrational trap just as easy as lesser minds. Pro-vaxxers claim that if enough people get vaccinated, it creates a herd immunity that limits contagion, especially for immunocompromised individuals like pregnant women, infants, and the elderly. As vaccines.gov explains:
“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as ‘community immunity.'”
That all sounds fine and dandy. We want a healthy society. And who doesn’t want to protect pregnant women and babies? If it’s just a matter of getting a couple shots in order to protect all of society, that’s a trade off everyone should be willing to make.
What they fail to mention in this propaganda, however, is that while many vaccines do reduce incidence rates of their target communicable diseases, many also carry a substantial individual risk to many who receives them.
There are those who will tell you that all vaccines are perfectly safe, ignoring vast amounts of data to the contrary. A couple of children get encephalopathy every year from the MMR vaccine and 1 in 3000 doses leads to seizures. There are other neurological conditions that result from MMR: mental regression/retardation, motor and sensory deficits, and movement disorders and about 1 child dies every two years from it (“Pediatrics” 1998). The flu vaccine has a high incidence rate of Guillain-Barré paralysis and it has also been shown that the HPV vaccine has led to death. There have also been studies linking increased vaccination dosage with infant hospitalization and mortality. The national Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) takes over 11,000 reports of vaccine injury every year, 2 percent of which result in death.
It’s becoming blatantly obvious to anyone with a critical mind that not all vaccines are perfectly safe for everyone. And what people are saying when they demand that people vaccinate their kids or when they want to make vaccines mandatory is that they advocate for the health of society over the individual health of the child. Yes, there are risks associated with vaccination, they’ll say, but the benefits to society — the herd immunity — outweigh those individual risks. As Hillary Clinton (or was it Josef Stalin?) is quoted as saying, “We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society.” This is the fallacy of division — the fatal flaw of socialism: what is good for the whole is good for the individual parts.
But we know how that philosophy works when applied by force nationally. When you limit the rights of the individual in favor of the benefits of society, not only are the individuals harmed, but society tends to fail as well. We’ve seen this in every forced socialist experiment from the USSR to modern Venezuela.
To solidify the link between vaccination and socialism in the US, unlike any other product or even pharmaceutical drug, injuries related to vaccines and subsequent legal challenges are handled entirely through the federal government in a “no-fault compensation program” called the National Vaccine injury Compensation Program. Through this bureaucratic brainchild, the manufacturers and doctors allegedly responsibly for vaccine injury are left unchallenged and the responsibility is transferred to the taxpayer. A drug company may make a shoddy product and a doctor may erroneously administer the vaccine, but if a kid gets sick because of it, you the citizenry are liable for damages.
Socialism, however, is not a problem in and of itself; it only becomes a problem when it is forced on a population. Similarly, vaccination isn’t a problem per se until it becomes mandatory as, of all people, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson advocated for recently until subsequently dialing it back. When the government threatens to take kids away from their parents for not injecting up to 15 potentially harmful foreign substances into their their 1-year-old, that begins to sound like downright medical fascism.
Yes, there are certainly logical fallacies employed to reject vaccines. But there are also legitimate concerns with the safety and efficacy of many of the drugs. Claiming that those concerns should be ignored for the benefit of society is perhaps the most dangerous fallacy ever. After all, there was only one thing that killed more people in the 20th century than infectious disease: socialism.
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