The Vaccine Safety Challenge Is Beyond Stupid

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In a textbook case of money can’t buy you critical thinking, anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actor Robert De Niro are offering $100,000 dollars to anyone who can prove that vaccines are safe for children and pregnant women. The claim is that vaccines contain Thimerosal, a preservative with traces of mercury. Thimerosal has not been used in children's vaccines in almost two decades.

I’m vaccinated, healthy, and I've never developed measles. Are you vaccinated? Great, we are living proof that vaccines are safe. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 85 percent of children have been vaccinated against measles in the world, so according to anti-vaxxers, most of humanity is in terrible danger.

Vaccines don’t cause autism. There was one study that suggested it and it was thoroughly debunked. The disgraced author Andrew Wakefield is now trying to milk the anti-vaxxer cow by making himself a victim.

But even if vaccines caused autism (and they really, really don’t), the anti-vaxxer movement prefers death over a neurodevelopmental disorder. If you don’t vaccinate your kids, you are going to get people killed. Being an anti-vaxxer is choosing death.

It could be your own kid like the incredibly unfortunate case of a Spanish boy a few years ago. It might be a baby cousin who’s too young to be vaccinated or has medical reasons for not being vaccinated. It could be your mom battling cancer and going through chemotherapy with a suppressed immune system. More likely it will be strangers.

Widespread vaccination generates herd immunity. People who are vaccinated are keeping the ones who can’t be vaccinated safe. According to the WHO, between 2000 and 2015, measles vaccinations saved over 20 million children, and yet millions have died since and are still dying. They could have been saved.

The anti-vaxxers' body of evidence is made of dubious and often completely misleading studies. Even their claim about the rise of autism has to be taken with a grain of salt. Scientists and medical practitioners working with autistic individuals consider the rise dependent on changes in diagnostic guidelines and awareness. There’s no compelling evidence for an underlying change to the actual prevalence.

Kennedy met with president Trump last month to discuss the matter, and just last week 350 medical associations led by the American Academy of Pediatrics sent the president a letter declaring their “unequivocal support for the safety of vaccines.”

Anti-vaxxers like to do these kinds of stunts, but hopefully this will end like the last one. In that case, German anti-vaxxer Stefan Lanka was forced to pay €100,000 ($106,300 then) by a court after he made a similar bet. So if you want to take money from Mr. Kennedy, you have our blessings.

UPDATE: Mr. Lanka filed for appeal and won the appeal based on a technicality. He requested one study to prove that measles was a virus and the guy who took on the bet submitted several. Mr. Lanka is also an AIDS denier. 

[H/T: Buzzfeed]

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