February 2006

The Vaccination Bible, edited by Lynne McTaggart of “What Doctors Don’t Tell You“.

This book is, as it describs itself in the introduction, “an unabashed case against” vaccination.

The usual case is made – that vaccinations are more dangerous and less effective than we are led to believe, and that the diseases in question are not necessarily as serious as we are led to believe. Although there is not much that is novel, the case is made with a good deal more clarity and objectivity than is typical in this debate and as such it is well worth reading.

It does have some of the problems that I have complained about before in relation to vaccination arguments.

For example, on p31 the efficacy of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine is discussed. McTaggart points out that in a pertussis outbreak in 1993, 82% of the victims had completed a course of three vaccinations while 75% had been vaccinated 4 or 5 times. This looks impressive but, given that she does not give any information about the proportion of vaccinated people in the general population, it is in reality impossible fully to evaluate the claim that this shows the vaccination to be ineffective. (See Lies, Damned Lied and Statistics for more about that.)

Another problem is that – despite an introductory claim that “We’ve concentrated on evidence published in the medical literature. If you are going to make a case against vaccination with your doctor, this is the kind of material he should respect” – a fair number of the references are actually to fellow anti-vaccination writers. For example, Neil Z Miller’s book Vaccines: Are They Really Safe and Effective (click here for my blog on that) is cited twice on p17 as evidence for two statistical claims. If those stastics were accurate, surely it would be better to cite the original sources? (Perhaps I am overly cynical but, given my experiences with Miller’s book, I would not be surprised to find that his source was some yet further anti-vaccination writer…)

The part of the book that I found more interesting was chapter 13 – Diseases caused by Vaccines. The book postulates that vaccinating against some viruses causes them to leave the field to other, perhaps more dangerous viruses. It also postulates that vaccinations can cause the targeted viruses to mutate into other, again perhaps more dangerous strains. Thus, the theory goes, by fighting one disease we merely leave clear the way for others.

In support of these claims, McTaggart provides a great deal of information suggesting a strong link between, in particular, polio and ME. ME is a postviral fatigue illness, and McTaggart argues convincingly that it is, at least, closely related to polio. However, what is not clear is how this is connected to vaccinations. ME can apparently be triggered by the muscle damage caused by an injection. We are given no information, however, about whether and what kind of other events can also trigger ME or how likely an injection is to trigger ME even in a patient who is susceptible… Beyond that, there is little other than the speculative assertion that the virus or viruses causing ME may be mutations of the “original” polio viruses and that this mutation may perhaps have its roots in the polio vaccination campaign. In short, there may be reason to investigate a link between polio, ME and vaccination: but there is no evidence of such a link.

The final point I want to raise relates to a claimed link between the Hib meningitis vaccine and a rise in other meningitis strains (pp159-60).

McTaggart points out that, according to a study pulished in the Lancet in 1993, 94% of the meningitis strains studied were Hib strains, leaving 6% of those strains totally unaffected by a Hib vaccine. This means that, even if Hib strains decline, non-Hib strains will persist. Assuming that Hib strains do decline, non-Hib strains will become proportionately more common. McTaggart concludes from this that the “success” of the vaccine merely enables those other, resistant strains to predominate and so the vaccines “cause” additional disease from those other strains. However, this reasoning is wholly faulty.

Let’s use a simple illustration.

Suppose that there are 10 strains of trembles virus, each causing 100 cases of trembles per year. Nine of these strains are Trembles Q, which can be prevented by vaccination, and the other is Trembles X, which is resistant to vaccination.

  • Prior to introduction of the vaccine there are 10 x 100 i.e. 1,000 cases of trembles per year. Since each strain is equally prevalent, 90% of trembles cases are Trembles Q and 10% are Trembles X.
  • The vacination is 100% effective for all Trembles Q strains and wipes those strains out.
  • Therefore, following vaccination of the whole population, there are no longer any Trembles Q cases, although there are still 100 cases per year of Trembles X. That means that 100% of trembles cases are Trembles X.

According to McTaggart’s faulty reasoning you could now point out that the introduction of the vaccine has caused Trembles X cases to rise from only 10% of all trembles cases to now 100% of trembles cases…. and conclude that therefore vaccination has caused a rise in Trembles X!

In order to complete her case against the Hib vaccine (on the ground that it increases the incidence of other forms of meningitis) McTaggart must also – as a minimum – provide evidence that other strains of meningitis have in fact increased in number as well as in proportion. This she failed entirely to do.

Leaving these criticisms aside for a moment, the book looks on the whole like a relatively fair and objective, if not partiularly original, presentation of the case against vaccination. The problem is that it leaves too many questions unanswered and, ultimately, fails to convince.


Vaccines: Are They Really Safe & Effective, by Neil Z Miller

First, a few words about the author and his purpose in writing this book.

The book purports to be objective. It claims to give us “information”, and “the facts”. In his preface, Miller states “I merely try to present the facts in a clear and straightforward manner.” This is a misleading pretence at neutrality.

Mr Miller does not write his book as an attempt to provide objective information but as an argument against vaccination.

He clearly has a vehement antipathy to vaccinations and a deep mistrust of the medical establishment (which he refers to as the Medical-Industrial Complex). If you have any doubt about that, you might care to look at the Secret Database section in the website he owns, runs and uses to promote his book. Here is one particularly choice passage:

Vaccine production is a disgusting procedure. [Goes on to describe certain aspects of the process and ingredients used.] What happens next, once this foul concoction — live viruses, bacteria, toxic substances, and diseased animal matter — is created? This witch’s brew is forced into the healthy child.”

So now we know where Miller is coming from. What about his book?

The main thing to strike the reader is the dense use of facts and statistics: he uses them like they are going out of fashion. I’m all for facts. The trouble is that Miller uses too many facts, and uses them very selectively, which serves to cloud the issues rather than to clarify them.

(And much of the statistical information seemed incomplete – see my blog post Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics for more about my views on the misleading use of incomplete information in the vaccination debate.)

Perhaps the statistical snowstorm is just an unfortunate effect of a somewhat cramped, fact-packed style, but perhaps not… I tried to check a few of the statistical claims made, but due to shortcomings in Miller’s list of references I kept coming up against dead ends.

For example, one astonishing claim is that “according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the chances are about 15 times greater that measles will be contracted by those vaccinated against the disease than by those who are left alone.” (p27)

Can this really be true? Is that really what the WHO think about the measles vaccine? This was a reference I just had to follow up. Sadly, the reference supposedly backing up this claim is not to any document published by the WHO, but to Robert Mendelsohn’s 1984 book, How to Raise a Healthy Child… in Spite of Your Doctor. Hmm. I doubt that Mendelsohn speaks for the WHO, so that is perplexing. Wish I had the time / energy to follow it up, but instead I tried the opposite approach and had a look to see what the WHO really think.

Here is what they say about measles in their measles factsheet: “Measles remains a leading cause of death among young children, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine for the past 40 years.” (my emphasis) (See my post Our friend, the government, for my views on the linguistic accuracy of claims that these vaccines are “safe”.)

So I still have no idea where Miller gets his remarkable claim from, and I am even less sure of the truth of that claim.

I’ll move on to my next major gripe about Miller: emotive language.

The book may be moderate in tone when compared with the website; but it is scarcely objective. We see the description of vaccinations as “injecting foreign proteins and toxic substances into the healthy bodies of innocent infants” (p89) Miller characterises doctors as “trying to frighten parents by exaggerating the risks [of an illness]” (p27). These descriptions may be in some sense accurate, who knows? But they are hardly conducive to clear and objective thought.

Moreover, what Miller is doing could equally be described as trying to frighten parents – it’s just that he is trying to frighten parents into defiance of their doctors rather than obedience to them. In my view, both approaches are wrong. Why should parents not attempt to work in partnership with the health professionals whose job it is to care for them? (I did call this blog “Touchingly Naive”…)

In the same vein are the heartrending accounts by parents and others of damage to their children as a result of what they consider (perhaps rightly – again, who knows?) to be vaccine reactions.

These accounts are included not so much for scientific merit but for emotional pulling power. They are used not only to confirm the existence of anecdotal evidence meriting scientific investigation, but to justify Miller’s own assertions. They are introduced by sentences such as “Personal stories by concerned parents confirm that the vaccine may be more detrimental than beneficial” (p59) and “Personal stories confirm a probable link to adverse reactions.” (p61) This is just untruthful. Personal stories might raise the real possibility that the vaccines may be detrimental and that they may be linked to adverse reactions. They do not and cannot “confirm” such hypotheses without rigorous scientific studies and analysis.

Miller’s book, taken as a polemic against mandatory vaccination and as a call for proper research into vaccine safety and efficacy, is arguably powerful. It certainly calls for somebody sensible to respond – or, as George R Schwartz MD puts it in his foreword, Miller is “a voice seeking dialogue and requiring counterpoint“.

However, taken as it was purportedly intended – as a helpful and objective explanation of the truth about vaccinations – it is a failure.