Why misinformation is bigger than social media


One of the main concerns I see from people who are trying to address misinformation comes down to social media. You can just imagine, a normal middle class mom, lets say her name is Susan, comes home from a long day at work. Susan’s kids are running around and she gets on Facebook. Her friend Karen shares a post about vaccines with the title, “Vaccinating your kids is going to give them AUTISM!” Susan might see this, click on the link, and see that the information looks legitimate. Not really recognizable between this and something from The Washington Post. She trust Karen, and finds the arguments and statistics pretty convincing. Susan shares this article, maybe not even fully agreeing with the premise but thinks the ideas presented are worth other peoples consideration. Then, Susan’s father, a man in his 70’s, shares it.

What we just proposed, this hypothetical, demonstrates some of the unseen dangers and influences of misinformation that goes beyond social media. If I asked you why this article was shared around, you might answer, “Because the source posted it and Facebook allowed the article to spread!” You might be right, but for this blog post I want to challenge that thinking and go more in-depth into the reasons misinformation spreads.

First, back to Susan and Karen. To understand why their story is so important, we need to discuss some statistics (I know, it’s boring but stick with me)

  • The Pew Research center found that 50% of mothers (both married and unmarried) have a high school degree or less. This means the lower level of education may create a higher susceptibility to misinformation

  • The internet wasn’t commercially available until the early 90’s, which means anyone past the age of 40 or so would have spend their high school education during the internet's inception. People aged 50 and up wouldn’t know anything about the internet until the next generation invented and explained it to them.

So why do young/middle aged mothers fall to anti-vaccine rhetoric? This could be due to

a) children who are the targets of antivaxx lies and propaganda convincing loving parents not to vaccinate for the sake of their children

b) a lack of college education which may lead to an even higher susceptibility to misinformation.

c) their age (if 40 or above) because of a lack of exposure to the internet and a less concerned use of it’s content.

So Karen and Susan are very likely sharing information because of their children, because of a lack of college education, or because of the lack of exposure to the internet/reliable sources. This might seem obvious, but anti-vaccine lies and misinformation is just one part of a larger problem. Fake news all over social media has drawn national attention, and to understand vaccine misinformation, we need to understand misinformation on a larger scale. The fake news reaching these mothers isn’t very different from the fake news reaching grandparents. So who else is susceptible to these lies online?

  • According to a study in advances.sciencemag.org, “90% of respondents shared no stories from fake news domains. According to our main measure of fake news content, 8.5% of respondents for whom we have linked Facebook data shared at least one such article to their friends.”

Look back to that last point. What was the demographic of that 8.5 percent? “Those over 65 shared an average of 0.75 fake news articles (95% CI, 0.515 to 0.977), more than twice as many as those in the second-oldest age group (0.26 articles; 95% CI, 0.206 to 0.314).”

“Ok, slow down” you might be thinking. What does this even mean?” In normal people language, these statistics show that older people are at a higher risk of fake news. The study found individuals over 65 (Baby boomers) are more likely to share misinformation on Facebook. This demonstrates an issue that goes beyond social media, and extends into a much broader concern; a lack of education on proper internet use and caution.

When I say “middle aged and older individuals are not educated on proper internet caution” the first thing that comes to mind when I say “internet caution” is scams. We all know and hate it, scams come in every form and constantly bombard us with attempts to break into our bank accounts. It could be from a phone call, from an ad, it could be a link that a friend shares. All of these scams usually are ignored if you have a trained eye for these sorts of thievery that persist online, but the statistics of those that fall to the clutches of scams are staggering. Scamwatch.gov shows that out 35,413 reports of scam, 25,527 of those came from individuals 35 or older. 7,502 of which are from people 65+ alone. This means 72% of those who fell victim to a scam were middle aged and elderly individuals, and only 28% if individuals 34 and younger comprise these victims. Although a direct causation cannot be explicitly determined, the data does support at least some level of correlation.

When I browsed through Reddit yesterday, an article from Business Insider was shared titled, “Baby boomers share nearly 7 times as many 'fake news' articles on Facebook as adults under 30, new study finds.” As I went into the comments, I found one user who said,

As a boomer, not surprised. My generation was taught to sit in front of the teevee and absorb information. It was one way communication. Too many remain set in that mode; when they receive information that reinforces their preconceived notions they feel the need to share it rather than analyze it objectively.”

Another user commented, “What they don’t understand is that we grew up with the internet, we know which alleys to avoid. They used to tell us “Don’t take candy from strangers” because they know how to navigate the life they grew up in and so do we.”

And finally, a user commented their thoughts which expressed the issue here perfectly. “I feel like growing up with Internet we have learned from our mistakes that what you say to someone online on AOL instant messenger is going to carry on to the real world. We learned how to correctly source information, where and how to find this info, cross referencing to determine a trend among facts, etc.

With that final comment specifically, what difference is there in the upbringing of teenagers and young adults versus middle aged and specifically older individuals? Where did these young people learn correct sourcing?

The answer is a bit complicated, but I’ll do my best to explain it here.

The education system constantly shifts and changes as information and society develops. For instance, remember D.A.R.E? It stands for Drug abuse resistance education, and most teenagers and adults can remember D.A.R.E officers speaking to them at school about the dangers of drugs. When I was in 5th grade, a police officer came to our school and told us the dangers of marijuana and heroin, and explained why people do drugs in the first place. They also explained what situations lead to peer pressure that leads to drug use, like a party where a friend offers cocaine. These programs eventually taught the dangers of bullying, and with that, cyber-bullying.

Cyber-bullying and online harassment caught the attention of legislators and parents, afraid their kids would be subjected to all sorts of horrors online without their knowledge. Instead of aiming to educate the parents on responsible monitoring, educators and schools used things such as the D.A.R.E program and English classes (which use computers for their papers and research) to educate the young people who would encounter the online world about proper navigation.

I can recall going to classes as early as third grade that taught typing skills. We would have timed trials and had to properly use the keyboard without staring into the buttons as we slowly scanned for each press of the letter. Later in middle/high school, classes which required research of nearly any kind had to contain a proper works cited page. You would get docked points if the sources weren't legitimate, and teachers warned about seemingly trustworthy sources constantly.

Schools didn’t just tell us what websites to visit and not visit, the way information was provided was also challenged. Logical fallacies, skewing information, and unseen biases were all parts of a modern critique of online information.

Remember this was a development in the mid-late 90s for schools to gain use of computers, and even then, misinformation primarily circles around on social media which wasn’t even a thing until the early 2000s. School children now grow up with these tools, and according to the Pew Research center “Nearly every online teen (94% of 12 to 17 year olds who report using the Internet) has used the Internet for school research; 71% used the Internet as the major source for their most recent school project; 58% have used a Web site set up by school or a class; 34% have downloaded a study aid; and 17% have created a Web page for a school project.”

So part of addressing issues such as vaccine misinformation needs to center on the generational gap between young people who have traversed the internet and those of older age groups who have not received a proper education of the numerous factual-pot-holes.

So as a way to finish off this blog post, I want to end with a short discussion about what teenagers and adults can do to help end misinformation online.

1: Keep your family accountable

I know a lot of young people don’t enjoy Facebook, more and more people are turning away from the platform. But to end misinformation, these susceptible groups of mothers and older individuals need to be protected from the fake news that can show up on their timeline. There are a few ways you can help protect your family and friends, some of which you may not have thought about.

First, point out potentially dangerous information your family could be sharing. If you have a grandparent, cousin, uncle, or anyone who shares news stories from social media there are a few ways you can approach that situation. Share with them reliable sources, and express that being politically active or sharing their thoughts is great! But sharing fake information doesn’t help anybody. At that point, send them a link to this CDC article about finding reliable information.

2: Teach a man to fish, don’t do it for him

I can remember countless times were my family would be confused about how to use the internet, how to manage their specific app, or why the internet wasn’t working. I know that firsthand, teenagers can become the Tech guy of their family and constantly are trying to explain simple traits or pitfalls of the internet. Instead of just solving the issue, teens that are more tech savvy and young people can go further into depth about how to manage the internet. Explaining the sources the sources their parents are sharing and why the information is unreliable.

When you are looking at scientific information, be aware of the bias at play, tell them how information can be skewed and the red lights which should be raised at specific key words or statements. False parallels, improper citations, and websites that don’t refer back to a scientific study all are aspects of fake news that may not be expressed to people.

So instead of saying “Mom/Dad, this isn’t true, you should be more careful what you post and share on Facebook!” Try a different approach were you explain the intricacies of how misinformation is presented. If you yourself aren’t well versed in proper research methods, check out this link to the Library of Georgetown.

3: Don’t wait, one link leads to 100 more

One of the most important takeaways here for proper internet use comes from the source. Even if the link looks legitimate, the website seems scholarly, the internet is a deceiving place. There is absolutely no accountability on Twitter, Facebook, etc. And when you click on one link, one video, 100 more follow in their wake.

For those that are unaware, Facebook, YouTube, and nearly every website at this point use Artificial intelligence and algorithms to determine what content is best designed for you. In an article by Wired magazine, media theorist and writer Douglas Rushkoff. said "Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don't know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don't know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers." Have you ever gone on google and typed in “Cheap pools” for that summer addition you’ve finally saved enough money for? Something like that, and what follows? A million ads that all have something to do with pools. Ladders, noodles, floats, everything is immediately flooding your profile.

This has lead to famously dangerous situations, many of which not only occurred on Facebook but YouTube as well. The “adpocalypse” of YouTube has been a sweeping movement of advertisers pulling their ads from the website after controversies surrounding the recommendation algorithm occur time and time again. Most recently, a controversy surrounding a pedophile ring that uses the YouTube algorithm to recommend videos of young girls caused advertisers to panic. Strange sexual videos involving children's characters being recommended to children on YouTube occurred before that in an event called “Elsagate.”

These algorithms are dangerous if you follow the rabbit hole of weird and misinformed videos or articles. This can occur with anything you can imagine, flat earth conspiracies, 9-11 deniers, antivaxxers, anything. And being aware of that is important to avoid misinformation reaching you or the people you care about.

In the end, don’t trust the internet. It’s a wonderful tool that has benefited humanity in a way only comparable to the printing press or the automobile, but it can cause some serious damage. If you have young children, be mindful of what they engage with. For your family, don’t wait for them to blindly enter the sea of lies hoping they can traverse those waves alone. Educating people is something countless groups, organizations, and people are attempting to do, but it also requires people to care.

If you liked this article, consider supporting my patreon. Being a high school student as well as a church volunteer that dabbles in science advocacy is difficult. However with the support of people that have followed my story and enjoy the content I produce I can continue to do what I love and stand up for truth! Thank you for your support and kindness, even if you don’t become a Patreon it means the world to me! And a special shout out to Joan Edelstein for becoming my first Patron!






 





Faith and vaccines: Why Religion can help or hinder vaccination rates

Before we get into this discussion some clarification is necessary. I am a Christian, usually going under the label of non-denominational. My political views are fairly independent, sometimes left leaning sometimes right leaning. Faith, politics, and science has always been a really important part of my life, being the foundation for the majority of my views, behavior, and beliefs. I’ve been serving at my church for 7 years, and I led a debate club in my High school for about two years.

To really understand how important my faith is to me, you’d need to meet me in person. I could tell you that I want to go into ministry, I could tell you that for years I’ve been studying the Bible to become a pastor. I could tell you all the books I read and how amazing Jesus has been in my life. But telling you that still doesn’t express how fundamental my Christians beliefs are to me.

I even wrote a book titled “10,000 Words of Silence: the R.E.A.L solutions for your youth group” which I’m trying my hardest to release soon (I’ve been fairly busy). Because of all this, discussions about the church, religion, and philosophy are deeply personal conversations that I care so much about. This blog post is one such discussion, a conversation I deeply want to convey in a way that is understandable, impactful, and convincing.

From the title, you probably guessed what dialogue I’m trying to facilitate, what point I’m going to try and get across. And before you jump to the discussion, I want to state one important truth; YOU CAN BELIEVE IN GOD AND DISAGREE WITH PEOPLE

In my time advocating for vaccines, I’ve seen numerous claims, criticisms, and angry comments trying to prove I cannot be pro-vaccine and a Christian. These claims only serve to divide people, and aren’t even true. For those familiar with debate, saying you cannot believe in Jesus and be pro-vaccine is an appeal to false authority, a common logical fallacy. So going into this discussion, understand I am in no way presenting that as a valid criticism of vaccine hesitancy or antivaxxers. Antivaxxers can believe in God, in fact most of them probably do. I would never challenge the faith of someone during a scientific debate, so don’t do the same here.

Although people within the same faith can often find conflict the scientific community, doctors, and medical professionals of any kind are accused to be godless far more often. The intersection between science and faith is one that has constantly been under stress and criticism from both the secular and faith-based communities. Whether it’s evolution, medicine, or even the existence of God entirely, science most certainly is at the very least presented as the opposition to these ideas. You know what I mean, in nearly every religious movie the bad guy is a professor, a scientist, someone who worships logic over God (if you’re unaware of what I’m talking about watch any movie by “Pureflix”).

This division isn’t fictional or even largely exaggerated. Pew Research center found that nearly half of adults say churches should not express their views on policy decisions about scientific issues, while 46% say churches should keep out of such matters. The same study also found 59% of people claim religion and science are often in conflict, with only 38% saying they are mostly compatible.

That’s not very surprising, with more than half of Americans believing religion and science often conflict, you’d assume there would be similar disagreement on what commentary a church should make on scientific issues. However, how many people would you guess say their own views contrast with science? 50%? 60%? No, only 30%. While more than half of the people in this study believed science and religion often are in conflict, the same individuals will just as easily ignore the implications of their own religious views.

This is extremely concerning, because religious communities acknowledging a conflict between science and faith but believing they themselves aren’t in any conflict can create some dangerous and false scientific assumptions. And the biggest of these false assumptions is regarding vaccines. As we move further into this discussion around science, faith, and vaccines keep in mind these concerns and questions; do science and faith conflict? Do religious leaders have a role in addressing misinformation? What religions or doctrines might prohibit vaccinations?

Part 1: Coughing congregants

For the beginning of our dialogue about vaccines and religion, I want to first discuss the actual impacts anti-vaccine rhetoric has on religious communities. We’ll look at past outbreaks, actual religious beliefs, and what challenges these outbreaks present.

The most well known community that has suffered from misinformation leading to preventable disease outbreaks is the Orthodox Jewish communities. You may have heard that earlier this year outbreaks of Measles in these communities reached nearly 200 confirmed cases in New York, being one of the most severe outbreaks of measles in decades. The New York Times said, “health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates,” and this is a major concern.

For herd immunity to work, (the concept that a community is protected from diseases by having the majority of the populus vaccinated) The Oxford Vaccine group says measles needs to have a 90-95% vaccination rate in any given community. So these schools were having rates nearly 30% lower than the recommended amount of vaccinated individuals. Why did this happen?

Misinformation was reaching these jewish communities and causing low vaccination rates, with emails and flyers saying, “Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law.”

That claim was sent in an email, as antivaxxers specifically sent out misinformation to these jewish communities using their religious beliefs to draw a claim that vaccines were somehow immoral. You can find the actual ingredients for vaccines HERE, and just so were on the same page claiming there is “Pig DNA in vaccines” is ridiculous.

“Gelatine derived from pigs is used in some live vaccines as a stabiliser to protect live viruses against the effects of temperature. Gelatine in vaccines is highly purified and hydrolysed (broken down by water), so it is different from the natural gelatine used in foods. For example, very sensitive scientific tests have shown that no DNA from pigs can be detected in the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz). These tests show that the gelatine is broken down so much that the original source cannot be identified.”

Making these exaggerated claims that are so detached from the truth of the situation are dangerous, because it ignores important details like this which destroy such a false narrative. However, the Jewish communities already distrusted the health departments in New York, after health officials attempted to limit a circumcision practice involving Jewish Mohels placing their mouth over the babies penis. This made them more susceptible to anti-vaccine misinformation, because a narrative was presented that health officials shouldn’t be trusted. With skepticism of health officials already existing, it seemed science was attempting to ruin Jewish traditions.

However, the Jewish community and faith is not neglecting these negative impacts and the real risk of a disease like measles. Rabbi David Niederman spoke about the importance of vaccines with the Washington Post, saying “We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health…They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.”

Religious leaders like Rabbi Niederman are important to stop these outbreaks, because these religious leaders have obvious authority and reinforcing the importance of something like vaccines is a vital step we need to take in order to ensure proper inoculation rates.

Part 2: Faith in vaccines

Rabbi Niederman commenting on vaccines and speaking to the importance of his community being vaccinated is vital but dangerous at the same time. Religious leaders risk serious criticism for taking a stance on a medical issue, as earlier we even discussed how nearly half of Americans don’t believe a church should express their views on scientific issues. Due to this, churches, religious leaders, pastors, and rabbis all might decide risking division within their church isn’t worth weighing in on these issues.

Despite this, multiple religions have spoken about vaccines openly to stop churches from avoiding these concerns. For instance, Islamic leaders created the Dakar Declaration on Vaccination to express how Islamic faith allows for vaccines and even quoting Islamic prophets to show how vaccines are actually supported by the faith.

“The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: “There is no disease that God has created for which He has not made a cure that is known by some people and unbeknownst to others, except death.” (Authenticated by Ibn Majah)

Interestingly, in this declaration the safety of vaccines is reinforced and upheld as overwhelming, along with statistics from the W.H.O showing how many lives vaccines have saved. The declaration also strongly condemns, “ all forms of defamation and harassment perpetrated against workers in immunization programs” showing that even leaders of the Islamic faith are aware of antivaxxers using their skepticism to justify hate and harassment.

The Catholic church, one of the most authoritative and fundamentalist denomination of Christianity, made a similar statement. The national catholic Bioethics center established support of vaccines and even has an FAQ regarding vaccines HERE. When asked for elaboration on vaccines containing aborted human cells, Antonio Spagnolo, a medical doctor and bioethics professor at Rome's Sacred Heart University stated

“there is an acceptable distance" from cooperating with the original evil of the abortions when people use the vaccines to prevent the "great danger" of spreading disease. He said the Vatican academy's "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses" made the church's position clear.” Although, the church wants the scientific community to refrain from using these cells or further causing question to the sanctity of human life by using similar methods for further developments.

Most don’t understand why these aborted cells are used in the first place. Historyofvaccines.org details the past use of human cell strains in vaccines HERE, and says,

“In 1941, Australian ophthalmologist Norman Gregg first realized that congenital cataracts in babies were the result of their mothers being infected with rubella during pregnancy. Along with cataracts, it was eventually determined that congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) could also cause deafness, heart disease, encephalitis, mental retardation, and pneumonia, among many other conditions. At the height of a rubella epidemic that began in Europe and spread to the United States in the mid-1960s, Plotkin calculated that 1% of all births at Philadelphia General Hospital were affected by congenital rubella syndrome. In some cases, women who were infected with rubella while pregnant terminated their pregnancies due to the serious risks from CRS.

Following one such abortion, the fetus was sent to Plotkin at the laboratory he had devoted to rubella research. Testing the kidney of the fetus, Plotkin found and isolated the rubella virus. Separately, Leonard Hayflick (also working at the Wistar Institute at that time) developed a cell strain called WI-38 using lung cells from an aborted fetus. Hayflick found that many viruses, including rubella, grew well in the WI-38, and he showed that it proved to be free of contaminants and safe to use for human vaccines.”

Other vaccines use a similar strain of human cells, however the cells Plotkin used came from an aborted fetus that was going to be born with serious complications because Rubella had no vaccine. On top of that, only two cells were used in the cell culture which developed these cells. The abortion for the rubella vaccine occurred 78 years ago, and the MMR vaccine has saved nearly 17 million lives. This is why Catholic officials claimed “acceptable distance” exist from this abortion, and the lives saved heavily outweigh the moral complications of the cells origin.

Other objections to vaccines, including claims that vaccines aren’t necessary because of God’s invention of the immune system being substantial enough to protect people from disease, hold no logic. Not a single religious official with any substantial knowledge of their faith system would claim people have perfect immune systems. God did make the world perfect in nearly every belief structure, however in most faiths a fall into sin or disparity caused suffering and evil. That suffering and evil extends to our physical bodies, as they deteriorate and die.

Alongside this philosophical objection, the same idea could be presented in defense of vaccines, saying God made our minds perfect and therefore the doctors and scientist who developed these vaccines did so through God's approval. This however, is not a real or substantial argument, but goes along the same exact logic as the previous claim.

In the end, no religious doctrine changes the factual evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. Whatever objections you make upon these grounds ignores that, and is threatening to sway people away from the safety of vaccines on the illogical religious claims. And knowingly doing so is immoral.

Part 3: what does this mean for me?

In the end, this discussion around the religious claims, objections, and even support of vaccines, is important to understand. Antivaxxers often will claim religious individuals cannot support vaccines and support their faith at the same time. This claim is unfair, yet common.

On top of this, religious leaders and organizations have voiced their support of vaccines out of necessity. We continue to see preventable disease outbreaks, especially in these traditional and orthodox communities. These outbreaks are costly, and could threaten the safety of people with our general and religious communities.

Our churches, pastors, Rabbis, and elders need to take this stance and support vaccines to help ensure these outbreaks don’t occur. Childcare in churches should make sure children are vaccinated to maintain the health and safety of children under the responsibility of volunteers and by extension, the churches care.

I say this out of love, and that as someone who is heavily involved in my church and community, I would never want to see preventable disease damage my friends, family, or church.


Before we get into this discussion some clarification is necessary. I am a Christian, usually going under the label of non-denominational. My political views are fairly independent, sometimes left leaning sometimes right leaning. Faith, politics, and science has always been a really important part of my life, being the foundation for the majority of my views, behavior, and beliefs. I’ve been serving at my church for 7 years, and I led a debate club in my High school for about two years.

To really understand how important my faith is to me, you’d need to meet me in person. I could tell you that I want to go into ministry, I could tell you that for years I’ve been studying the Bible to become a pastor. I could tell you all the books I read and how amazing Jesus has been in my life. But telling you that still doesn’t express how fundamental my Christians beliefs are to me.

I even wrote a book titled “10,000 Words of Silence: the R.E.A.L solutions for your youth group” which I’m trying my hardest to release soon (I’ve been fairly busy). Because of all this, discussions about the church, religion, and philosophy are deeply personal conversations that I care so much about. This blog post is one such discussion, a conversation I deeply want to convey in a way that is understandable, impactful, and convincing.

From the title, you probably guessed what dialogue I’m trying to facilitate, what point I’m going to try and get across. And before you jump to the discussion, I want to state one important truth; YOU CAN BELIEVE IN GOD AND DISAGREE WITH PEOPLE

In my time advocating for vaccines, I’ve seen numerous claims, criticisms, and angry comments trying to prove I cannot be pro-vaccine and a Christian. These claims only serve to divide people, and aren’t even true. For those familiar with debate, saying you cannot believe in Jesus and be pro-vaccine is an appeal to false authority, a common logical fallacy. So going into this discussion, understand I am in no way presenting that as a valid criticism of vaccine hesitancy or antivaxxers. Antivaxxers can believe in God, in fact most of them probably do. I would never challenge the faith of someone during a scientific debate, so don’t do the same here.

Although people within the same faith can often find conflict the scientific community, doctors, and medical professionals of any kind are accused to be godless far more often. The intersection between science and faith is one that has constantly been under stress and criticism from both the secular and faith-based communities. Whether it’s evolution, medicine, or even the existence of God entirely, science most certainly is at the very least presented as the opposition to these ideas. You know what I mean, in nearly every religious movie the bad guy is a professor, a scientist, someone who worships logic over God (if you’re unaware of what I’m talking about watch any movie by “Pureflix”).

This division isn’t fictional or even largely exaggerated. Pew Research center found that nearly half of adults say churches should not express their views on policy decisions about scientific issues, while 46% say churches should keep out of such matters. The same study also found 59% of people claim religion and science are often in conflict, with only 38% saying they are mostly compatible.

That’s not very surprising, with more than half of Americans believing religion and science often conflict, you’d assume there would be similar disagreement on what commentary a church should make on scientific issues. However, how many people would you guess say their own views contrast with science? 50%? 60%? No, only 30%. While more than half of the people in this study believed science and religion often are in conflict, the same individuals will just as easily ignore the implications of their own religious views.

This is extremely concerning, because religious communities acknowledging a conflict between science and faith but believing they themselves aren’t in any conflict can create some dangerous and false scientific assumptions. And the biggest of these false assumptions is regarding vaccines. As we move further into this discussion around science, faith, and vaccines keep in mind these concerns and questions; do science and faith conflict? Do religious leaders have a role in addressing misinformation? What religions or doctrines might prohibit vaccinations?


Part 1: Coughing congregants

For the beginning of our dialogue about vaccines and religion, I want to first discuss the actual impacts anti-vaccine rhetoric has on religious communities. We’ll look at past outbreaks, actual religious beliefs, and what challenges these outbreaks present.

The most well known community that has suffered from misinformation leading to preventable disease outbreaks is the Orthodox Jewish communities. You may have heard that earlier this year outbreaks of Measles in these communities reached nearly 200 confirmed cases in New York, being one of the most severe outbreaks of measles in decades. The New York Times said, “health officials discovered that some religious schools, or yeshivas, in ultra-Orthodox communities in Rockland County had vaccination rates as low as 60 percent, far below the state average of 92.5 percent. Audits found that some schools were overreporting vaccination rates,” and this is a major concern.

For herd immunity to work, (the concept that a community is protected from diseases by having the majority of the populus vaccinated) The Oxford Vaccine group says measles needs to have a 90-95% vaccination rate in any given community. So these schools were having rates nearly 30% lower than the recommended amount of vaccinated individuals. Why did this happen?

Misinformation was reaching these jewish communities and causing low vaccination rates, with emails and flyers saying, “Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law.”

That claim was sent in an email, as antivaxxers specifically sent out misinformation to these jewish communities using their religious beliefs to draw a claim that vaccines were somehow immoral. You can find the actual ingredients for vaccines HERE, and just so were on the same page claiming there is “Pig DNA in vaccines” is ridiculous.

“Gelatine derived from pigs is used in some live vaccines as a stabiliser to protect live viruses against the effects of temperature. Gelatine in vaccines is highly purified and hydrolysed (broken down by water), so it is different from the natural gelatine used in foods. For example, very sensitive scientific tests have shown that no DNA from pigs can be detected in the nasal flu vaccine (Fluenz). These tests show that the gelatine is broken down so much that the original source cannot be identified.”

Making these exaggerated claims that are so detached from the truth of the situation are dangerous, because it ignores important details like this which destroy such a false narrative. However, the Jewish communities already distrusted the health departments in New York, after health officials attempted to limit a circumcision practice involving Jewish Mohels placing their mouth over the babies penis. This made them more susceptible to anti-vaccine misinformation, because a narrative was presented that health officials shouldn’t be trusted. With skepticism of health officials already existing, it seemed science was attempting to ruin Jewish traditions.

However, the Jewish community and faith is not neglecting these negative impacts and the real risk of a disease like measles. Rabbi David Niederman spoke about the importance of vaccines with the Washington Post, saying “We are telling people the health department is looking out for your health…They are the experts and you should take the vaccinations.”

Religious leaders like Rabbi Niederman are important to stop these outbreaks, because these religious leaders have obvious authority and reinforcing the importance of something like vaccines is a vital step we need to take in order to ensure proper inoculation rates.


Part 2: Faith in vaccines

Rabbi Niederman commenting on vaccines and speaking to the importance of his community being vaccinated is vital but dangerous at the same time. Religious leaders risk serious criticism for taking a stance on a medical issue, as earlier we even discussed how nearly half of Americans don’t believe a church should express their views on scientific issues. Due to this, churches, religious leaders, pastors, and rabbis all might decide risking division within their church isn’t worth weighing in on these issues.

Despite this, multiple religions have spoken about vaccines openly to stop churches from avoiding these concerns. For instance, Islamic leaders created the Dakar Declaration on Vaccination to express how Islamic faith allows for vaccines and even quoting Islamic prophets to show how vaccines are actually supported by the faith.

“The Prophet (pbuh) is reported to have said: “There is no disease that God has created for which He has not made a cure that is known by some people and unbeknownst to others, except death.” (Authenticated by Ibn Majah)

Interestingly, in this declaration the safety of vaccines is reinforced and upheld as overwhelming, along with statistics from the W.H.O showing how many lives vaccines have saved. The declaration also strongly condemns, “ all forms of defamation and harassment perpetrated against workers in immunization programs” showing that even leaders of the Islamic faith are aware of antivaxxers using their skepticism to justify hate and harassment.

The Catholic church, one of the most authoritative and fundamentalist denomination of Christianity, made a similar statement. The national catholic Bioethics center established support of vaccines and even has an FAQ regarding vaccines HERE. When asked for elaboration on vaccines containing aborted human cells, Antonio Spagnolo, a medical doctor and bioethics professor at Rome's Sacred Heart University stated

“there is an acceptable distance" from cooperating with the original evil of the abortions when people use the vaccines to prevent the "great danger" of spreading disease. He said the Vatican academy's "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses" made the church's position clear.” Although, the church wants the scientific community to refrain from using these cells or further causing question to the sanctity of human life by using similar methods for further developments.

Most don’t understand why these aborted cells are used in the first place. Historyofvaccines.org details the past use of human cell strains in vaccines HERE, and says,

“In 1941, Australian ophthalmologist Norman Gregg first realized that congenital cataracts in babies were the result of their mothers being infected with rubella during pregnancy. Along with cataracts, it was eventually determined that congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) could also cause deafness, heart disease, encephalitis, mental retardation, and pneumonia, among many other conditions. At the height of a rubella epidemic that began in Europe and spread to the United States in the mid-1960s, Plotkin calculated that 1% of all births at Philadelphia General Hospital were affected by congenital rubella syndrome. In some cases, women who were infected with rubella while pregnant terminated their pregnancies due to the serious risks from CRS.

Following one such abortion, the fetus was sent to Plotkin at the laboratory he had devoted to rubella research. Testing the kidney of the fetus, Plotkin found and isolated the rubella virus. Separately, Leonard Hayflick (also working at the Wistar Institute at that time) developed a cell strain called WI-38 using lung cells from an aborted fetus. Hayflick found that many viruses, including rubella, grew well in the WI-38, and he showed that it proved to be free of contaminants and safe to use for human vaccines.”

Other vaccines use a similar strain of human cells, however the cells Plotkin used came from an aborted fetus that was going to be born with serious complications because Rubella had no vaccine. On top of that, only two cells were used in the cell culture which developed these cells. The abortion for the rubella vaccine occured 78 years ago, and the MMR vaccine has saved nearly 17 million lives. This is why Catholic officials claimed “acceptable distance” exist from this abortion, and the lives saved heavily outweigh the moral complications of the cells origin.

Other objections to vaccines, including claims that vaccines aren’t necessary because of God’s invention of the immune system being substantial enough to protect people from disease, hold no logic. Not a single religious official with any substantial knowledge of their faith system would claim people have perfect immune systems. God did make the world perfect in nearly every belief structure, however in most faiths a fall into sin or disparity caused suffering and evil. That suffering and evil extends to our physical bodies, as they deteriorate and die.

Alongside this philosophical objection, the same idea could be presented in defense of vaccines, saying God made our minds perfect and therefore the doctors and scientist who developed these vaccines did so through God's approval. This however, is not a real or substantial argument, but goes along the same exact logic as the previous claim.

In the end, no religious doctrine changes the factual evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. Whatever objections you make upon these grounds ignores that, and is threatening to sway people away from the safety of vaccines on the illogical religious claims. And knowingly doing so is immoral.

 

Part 3: what does this mean for me?

In the end, this discussion around the religious claims, objections, and even support of vaccines, is important to understand. Antivaxxers often will claim religious individuals cannot support vaccines and support their faith at the same time. This claim is unfair, yet common.

On top of this, religious leaders and organizations have voiced their support of vaccines out of necessity. We continue to see preventable disease outbreaks, especially in these traditional and orthodox communities. These outbreaks are costly, and could threaten the safety of people within our entire community.

Our churches, pastors, Rabbis, and elders need to take this stance and support vaccines to help ensure these outbreaks don’t occur. Childcare in churches should make sure children are vaccinated to maintain the health and safety of children who are under the responsibility of volunteers and by extension, the churches care.

I say this out of love, and that as someone who is heavily involved in my church and community, I would never want to see preventable disease damage my friends, family, or church. As someone wanting to become a pastor, faith and science do not need to conflict. They can come together in supporting the prevention of diseases which should be erased from our nation and the world at large. That starts with leaders and church goers calling for a change, and voicing their support of science.

If you liked this article, consider supporting my patreon. Being a high school student as well as a church volunteer that dabbles in science advocacy is difficult. However with the support of people that have followed my story and enjoy the content I produce I can continue to do what I love and stand up for truth! Thank you for your support and kindness, even if you don’t become a Patreon it means the world to me! And a special shout out to Joan Edelstein for becoming my first Patron!










Deep-Dive: Everything you need to know about the VICP

It’s strange looking back and seeing how far my story has come. Only 3 months ago, I stumbled my way to the immunization department to catch up on my missed vaccines. At the time, I thought nothing of it.  After speaking with the staff, I sat there by myself—no public attention on me, no camera waiting for me to speak—and just reassured myself that this was important. Catching up on my vaccines was something that I needed to do.

Now, I’m writing this introduction to my blog while I wait for my third round of shots. I think about how I testified before Congress, that this weekend I’ll be speaking at a TEDx conference, and reflect on how unbelievable my circumstances are.

Yet to some, my story is unbelievable in a negative way. To most people, it’s a story of a teenager finding truth, helping to protect himself and his community, and taking a stance against misinformation. A smaller, but vocal group, claims I’m a teenager being misled by big pharma and helping drive the country closer to genocide by vaccines.

With how far my story has come, I’ve seen the increasingly hostile and confrontational behavior of some individuals who stand against vaccines. Not only that, I’ve seen their arguments and reason presented over and over again.

Most would simply disregard these people, choosing to write them off as crazy or not worth their time. Others will engage head-on, commenting on every claim and picking it apart piece by piece. In my mind, both of these are ineffective: the first involves no effort to bring the truth to light, and the second usually leads to mean spirited arguments and debates.

Instead, what I’ve tried to do with this small group—with these communities that look to me as a pawn or naive teenager—is to identify the common claims followed by a serious and detailed conversation on why their rhetoric is incorrect. What are the biggest and most common arguments? What are some of the most recurring pieces of evidence or citations? Attacking those head-on in a fair and scientific way could do some good.

Every time I post on social media, speak with someone I know personally, or even have conversations with my mom, I see similar arguments. The same lines of thinking and logic are used consistently, so addressing those issues specifically is important. It’s not important because we're trying to prove these people wrong, but rather to show people like me—who are looking at the facts and logic—that vaccines are undeniably safe and effective. I even have a number of friends that claim to be ‘on the fence’ with vaccines because of the confusing arguments and nuance involved in this debate. This blog post is for them, to address one of the most ubiquitous arguments made by anti-vaxxers:

The vaccine court.

Part 1: What is the VICP?

The vaccine injury compensation program is a complicated and unique program meant to pay settlements, damages, and court costs resulting from vaccine-related injuries. The VICP was formed in the 80’s and has paid around 4 billion dollars since its creation, resulting in one of the biggest “gotcha” claims from anti-vaxxers. “Vaccines don’t cause autism? Well what about the VICP? Can’t explain that can you!” Even though it’s presented like that, there’s a lot of missing details in a claim structured this way. To start, let’s identify what the VICP really is...

“The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system for resolving vaccine injury petitions. It was created in the 1980s, after lawsuits against vaccine companies and health care providers threatened to cause vaccine shortages and reduce U.S. vaccination rates, which could have caused a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases.”

This comes straight from the health resources and service administration (HRSA) website. Here, the HRSA details all things regarding the VICP. You can even find their data report on this program here, last updated at the time of this blog post on March 1, 2019. Just a few weeks ago. So right off the bat, this data and information is in no way hidden or old.

Keep that in mind—because why would the government maintain this transparency if the VICP and its payouts are some sort of government scheme? The answer is simple: they wouldn’t. This also shows the government is well aware vaccines carry a minor risk (though “risk” is in itself very strong vocabulary to communicate such a low chance of anything happening). The reason this program exists is to help the few individuals that suffer any sort of complications, especially because of the sense of responsibility placed on the government due to public's pressure on maintaining a high inoculation rate. When we place emphasis on vaccines, the minor risk possible should be accounted for. And that’s what the government decided to do with this program: protect the few who have complications while far more dangerous diseases are eradicated.

This program is not hidden, secretive, or outdated. Most individuals don’t know this program even exists, until an antivaxxer comments in all caps “4 BILLION DOLLARS!” followed by some random claims or bogus connections. This is frustrating, because the overlooked details were about to get into demonstrate the opposite of what anti-vaxxers are claiming is obvious proof of risk.

So what you need to know as we move onto the second section of this blog post is that

  1. The VICP protects individuals who suffer a complication to vaccines.

  2. The VICP is not a secret program and has information constantly updated/provided to the public

  3. Because of an intense emphasis placed on vaccines, the VICP was created to aid the few individuals that suffer a complication

  4. The VICP is a no-fault compensation program, meaning an individual who suffered a complication may, “receive compensation for their injuries, without proving fault against the opposite party.”

Part 2: Does the VICP demonstrate a high amount of vaccine injuries?

No, the exact opposite actually. And here's why.

When I started writing this blog, I knew this would be an issue that deals with a lot of statistics and complicated information. That information, without context, could very well be presented as factual. So I’ll try to explain this clearly and explain all numbers accurately and in their proper context.

The VICP was made nearly 30 years ago, when lawsuits from a few individuals threatened to lower inoculation rates. So ironically, the program was intended to make vaccines safer and less risky, but the program is used as an argument to stop vaccinations. If that seems strange, you should read last weeks blog here where we discussed the negative effects of an Italian court case which damaged the public's trust in vaccine safety. Because of these lawsuits, the VICP was formed. It works through the U.S. court of federal claims, where petitions are sent that detail a potential injury to vaccines. This petition is reviewed, and if determined to have any merit, follows a complex legal route that may lead to compensation.

You may be thinking, “Well how many people have applied for compensation through this program?” And the answer is around 20,000. On the surface this may seem like a lot of people, especially when anti-vaxxers will claim 90-99% of injuries go unreported (which is a claim that holds no real credibility, as upwards of 600,000 people would be injured and that isn’t the case). Of those 20,000, “17,718 petitions have been adjudicated, with 6,430 of those determined to be compensatable.” Only about 30% of the cases petitioned were compensated. And remember the individual claiming damages does not hold the burden of proof. (Edit: the burden of proof is not entirely off the petitioner, however the petitioner still holds less responsibility to prove their injuries are vaccine related. If the petitioner makes a case that is at least 50% likely, the requirement of proof is met)

Most of these were turned away because claimed damages were made on false premises. Recent studies have concluded that nearly half of new petitions are simply from minor needle injuries. Nothing to do with the contents of the vaccines. Even then, the negative public image around vaccines and misinformed beliefs about autism dramatically affect petitions to the VICP. Time magazine detailed how, “...since the rise of the anti-vax fringe, the VICP has been inundated. In 1998, the year U.K. physician Andrew Wakefield published his fraudulent paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism, just 325 injury claims were filed, 181 were dismissed and 144 were compensated. In 2010, Wakefield’s fraud was exposed, his paper was withdrawn, and he was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U.K. But the anti-vax hysteria had been unleashed, driven in part by anti-vaccine drum-bangers like Jenny McCarthy. The following year, 1,637 claims were filed. In 2012, that figure rose further, to 2,702. The number of awards granted increased as well, but still remained in the low triple digits—266 in 2011 and 263 in 2012.”

When random celebrities and liars publish articles, it has an immediate effect. In the same article, Time magazine also stated, “From 2006 to 2014, approximately 2.5 billion doses of vaccines were administered in the U.S. In that time, a total of just 2,976 claims were adjudicated by the special masters and only 1,876 of those received compensation. Divide that number by the vaccine dose total and you get less than a one in a million risk of harm. Going all the way back to 1988—before the flu vaccine became part of the recommended schedule of vaccines—a total of 16,038 claims have been adjudicated and 4,150 have been compensated.”

So a few things to note here:

  1. Public perception of vaccines directly impacts programs like the VICP.

  2. Most petitions are false claims, and if not are usually minor injuries. Around 60% of petitions don’t gain compensation for that reason.

  3. With the number of vaccines administered and the amount of compensated petitions, your risk of injury is around 0.0000007544%. Just a little lower than one in a million.

  4. If only 6,430 cases have been compensated, and around 4 billion dollars have been awarded, that’s an average of about $622,083 for each case/individual. That is in no way a bad thing, as this covers both court expenses, fees, as well as compensation awarded to the petitioner. You’re having around 200 people a year that have legitimate injuries, and those people are being cared for by this program. Isn’t that what antivaxxers want in the first place?

  5. Comparing the number of lives saved in the US by the damages shows how important vaccines are. “The CDC estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years.” The W.H.O stated at least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015 thanks to vaccinations delivered around the world. That’s only a 5-year time span.

Part 3: What does this all mean?

With the VICP being used as a main-staple assertion by anti-vaxxers all throughout the country, understanding the reality of the program is important. With so many anti-vaxxers claiming the government isn’t trustworthy, it’s important to understand that the government is, in fact, aiding the very few genuinely vaccine injured people.

Vaccines save lives, and the VICP proves the dangers of vaccines are far less hazardous than the diseases they prevent. Keep this in mind the next time you speak to someone who has been led to believe the VICP is a government scheme and payout for countless maimed children. That’s not the case.

It’s not a coincidence that again and again we see these arguments against vaccines prove nothing to conclude otherwise.


If you liked this article, consider supporting my patreon. Being a high school student as well as a church volunteer that dabbles in science advocacy is difficult. However with the support of people that have followed my story and enjoy the content I produce I can continue to do what I love and stand up for truth! Thank you for your support and kindness, even if you don’t become a Patreon it means the world to me!





Why lies spread, and what we can do about it

Oh man, a lot has happened since I went to Washington DC and testified in front of congress.

Even just today as of March 22nd, GoFundMe announced they were taking down anti-vaccine campaigns.

Facebook recently announced changes to anti-vaccine post as well.

And even Amazon removing books pedaling misinformation about vaccines and autism.

Now the one I found most interesting was this story surrounding Italy “banning unvaccinated kids from school.” Once I heard the news, I immediately started drafting this blog post but got caught up in other pursuits and the vast detail within this story/issue.

So let’s get into it, and discuss what's been happening!

You may have seen within the last week or so that the Italian government has taken action to stop the spread of preventable diseases within their public schools. As the media has been reporting the new developments, people have taken the false assumption that Italy has banned unvaccinated kids from attending public school. Even the BBC claimed, “Italy bans unvaccinated children from school,” which is still inaccurate to the actual events which have transpired.

The idea that unvaccinated school children are being “banned” from attending public is true to a small margin but is still exaggerated. Any young students 6 years old and younger can be turned away from public schools if they haven’t received their necessary vaccines. Any children that are older than 6 years old simply receive a fine of around $500 for sending their unvaccinated children to school.

“Tech times” even reported that more than 300 kindergartners have been turned away in Bologna, Italy already. And this is just one city impacted by a law which has a national reach. This is important to understand, as the law is effective in some ways, but may still not go far enough to stop Italy's past issues with anti-vaccine misinformation and preventable disease.

So as we dive into this issue, there are a few points I want to hit on and discuss. A few details about Italy's past with the anti-vaxx movement, and if this law should be a stepping stone for other countries like the U.S to follow in.

Part 1: Court Confusion

The anti-vaxx movement has been around ever since the 18th century. Protest were held more than a hundred years ago, claiming children were being massacred by vaccines. This of course is not limited to the United States, though some would think that because of a lack of exposure.

Italy has had a long history of legislation and issues when it comes to fighting anti-vaxx misinformation and ideas. The effectiveness and safety of vaccines has been proven time and time again, but despite this the proof hasn’t seemed to resonate with the Italian government and nation to some capacity. Even in late 2018, about 6 months ago, the Italian government was contemplating doing the opposite of the actions which have been taken and raise the age parents could delay vaccines. Time magazine detailed how, “The law was introduced last year under the Democratic Party government during an outbreak of measles that saw the number of cases in Italy hit 5,004 in 2017 – up from 870 the year before. That gave Italy the second highest number of measles cases in Europe”

This issue of combating the spread of preventable disease was not made an simpler by the 2012 court case in which a mother sued the Italian government, claiming her son had autism which was caused by the MMR vaccine. Valentino Bocca became the center of a debate between truth and science, with his parents under the misguided crusade against the truth. Their son did not have autism due to the MMR vaccine, as even recent studies continue to show the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. In fact, The Daily Mail which reported on this story back in 2012 even said, “The Bocca family...turned to Comilva [An anti-vaxx lobbying group] for advice on compensation after they were finally told that their son had autism when he was five years old.”

This is important to understand, as Italy had a court case where a family was claiming their son had autism from the MMR vaccine and gained national attention because of it. The ensuing distrust in vaccines made efforts to stop the spread of diseases like Measles much harder.

Now, the U.S department of health and human services say most children are diagnosed with autism soon after birth or around the time they turn 3. But with autism being a spectrum disorder, this late identification which took place with the Bocca family happens more often than you’d think.

The court decision was eventually overturned, seeing that the evidence was substantial against the families claims. Despite this, the case gaining a national spotlight instilled distrust all throughout Italy and causing a massive problem for the next 7 years, leading up to this recent crackdown on anti-vaxx children going to public schools.

Knowing this, and seeing the history of Italy's battle against dangerous misinformation, the government's crackdowns and “bans” on unvaccinated kids makes a lot more sense.

And no, it doesn’t infringe on rights either. Leading us into part two.

Part 2: My body, my measles

Italy's story shows how important proper information is, and how stories like the Bocca family can lead to massive problems which need legislative solutions. To understand what the United States can do and what we as a nation can learn from Italy, we need to analyze the root of the anti-vaccines movement and their claims.

Part of addressing any arguments regarding vaccines needs to be focused on the foundations of misinformation. The foundation of an argument, and the belief it stems from, is going to be fundamental to address false beliefs. And one such root of the ideology anti-vaccine individuals have is this concept of vaccinations being “my body and my choice.”

You see this everywhere, anti-vaccine groups base their entire platforms on “respecting your right to choose,” and that mandates or force infringe on this inherit choice. Part of this is respectable and comes from a genuine sense of fear. However this claim that “you have the right to refuse vaccines and if you want to get vaccinated, nobody is stopping you,” is a loaded one that needs to be understood.

First, the idea that anti-vaxxers respect your right to choose has been shown to be inherently misguided. Because of a mentality that people who receive vaccinations are sheep, often accused of being in league with “big pharma,” any claim to respect is immediately lost. You see this most certainly happen with the anti-vaccine movement far more often because of a sense of identity gathered in communities of other conspiracy theorist and anti-vaxxers. This community and identity creates what is known as an “echo chamber,” which is a situation in which people only hear opinions of one type, or opinions that are similar to their own.

Echo chambers and a sense of identity make it much easier to harass and be rude to people who disagree with your beliefs (as well with a sense of anonymity online), as people that disagree with you have become the minority and the villain within your small bubble of people who hold these same beliefs. CNN even reported that anti-vaxxers will attack parents and harass them after their children die to diseases like the flu if they advocate for vaccines; something that could have saved their children's lives.

This happens due to social media sites linking and discussing these deaths and individuals, calling for harassment and negativity regardless of circumstances. So again, this concept that anti-vaxxers “respect your right to choose” has had a history demonstrating the opposite.

And even beyond that, claiming you have the right to choose whether or not you vaccinate is a claim which disregards the complications of vaccines. Measures such as removing exemptions are also demonized, because they take away this inherent right to choose. But why would the government allow the public environments they facilitate to be placed at a higher risk for the contraction and outbreaks of preventable diseases?

Think about it like this, your immune system is a fighter, a warrior meant to fight off foreign bacteria, viruses, and infections. Those nasty invaders are attacked, and once defeated, the body learns to defend against the disease if presented again. That’s basic science that even anti-vaxxers understand. Much like a real warrior, the first fight teaches lessons in strategy and further methods of defense against an opponent that help tremendously if a second battle occurs.

But with vaccines, this happens on a small scale, where your body learns how to fight a weak form of the disease that can be applied if reintroduced to the same combatant. If you have this immunity and resistance, you have a much larger chance to avoid spreading the disease to other people. That just makes sense, if less people have the flu for instance, less people will contract the flu overall from those people that otherwise may have spread influenza. This is called “herd immunity.”

Your “choice” not to vaccinate places other people at risk. If I choose not to vaccinate and give a 3 year old the flu they could die. That child had no choice in the matter, and that's why vaccines are so important.

This is also why arguments of choice are inherently misleading, appealing to an idea that pro-vaccine movements and efforts are trying to take away your rights and freedoms. This isn’t the case at all, as people are simply protecting the entire population and the vulnerable from diseases which should otherwise be forgotten to history.

Part 3: what can we do about this?

With stories like Italy taking measures to protect their schools and social media/internet platforms such as Facebook, Pinterest, GoFundMe, and Amazon attempting to stop the spread of misinformation, change is possible. These changes can stop people like the ones in my own family and countless others from believing lies about vaccines. Taking away the opportunity of profit from these platforms built off the graves of children lost to these diseases is also important.

And the most important thing you can do? Keep an eye on legislation and bills being proposed, try and contact your representatives to voice concerns for established systems that spread lies or allow people to be put at risk to these diseases.

In Ohio, house bill 132 was proposed and is undergoing changes and further discussion. What is house bill 132 you may ask?

It’s a bill seeking to make changes to public school systems (most of which are academic, financial, and technological guidelines) that includes this segment;

Sec. 3313.675. (A) As used in this section, "school" means an elementary or high school for which the state board of education prescribes minimum standards pursuant to section 3301.07 of the Revised Code. (B) When a school, board of education, or governing authority of a school notifies a pupil or the pupil's parent or guardian of the immunization requirements described in section 3313.671 of the Revised Code, the school, board, or governing authority also shall notify the pupil, parent, or guardian of the exemptions from immunization described in that section. The school, board, or governing authority shall provide notice of the exemptions in the same manner as it provides notice of the requirements.


See any issues there? Although on paper this proposal seems harmless and logical. In its essence, house Bill 132 seeks to create a false legitimacy of the choice to exempt from immunization requirements. If this bill sought to truly be fair and genuine, the exemptions would be presented by alongside the same type of warning something like a pack of cigarettes would contain. “Here are the vaccine requirements, and here are the exemptions. You should also be aware exemptions from vaccines may put your child an other children at risk to contract and facilitate the outbreak of preventable diseases.”

If house bill 132 were to find itself under serious consideration, this could cause massive issues. Again, attributed to a false legitimacy when exemptions are proposed “in the same manner.” A doctor would never present exemptions from surgery and the surgery itself in the same manner, the only difference in this case being vaccinations can save other individuals lives as well.

Most Ohio citizens don’t know about this, and if your representatives are approached with a bill like house bill 132, will they be aware of your concerns if you stay silent?

Speak up in opposition of movements like this and legislation if you see the same issues I do.

But most of all, get vaccinated. Protect the health and safety of yourself and other people.

That’s still the best thing we can all do to protect our communities.