Tom Evslin: Counteracting the anti-vaccine message

Editor’s note: Tom Evslin is an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It was first published on his blog,

The most prominent speaker at a “Hope and Healing” event to be held next week in Stowe is Andrew Wakefield, whose manipulation of test results to indicate a non-existent link between vaccines and autism made Time’s list of five great science frauds. More importantly, the hysteria he started and cynically exploits is partially responsible for a rise in preventable diseases. According to Time:

“… the General Medical Council in the U.K. revoked Wakefield’s medical license, citing ethical concerns over how he recruited the patients in the study as well as his failure to disclose that he was a paid consultant to attorneys representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by vaccines.” [emphasis mine]

Should he be allowed to speak? Yes, people who want to hear him have the right to do so. Free speech is not just for popular ideas.

Should he be speaking at Stowe High School, which, incidentally, does require its students to be vaccinated? That’s a tougher question but the answer is still yes. The school is available for rent and this makes its auditorium an asset to the town outside of school hours. The school board should not be put in the position of deciding which opinions are allowed. Every opinion has opponents.

But what can we do to counter this harmful narrative?

• Get our children vaccinated. This is best for them and best for society.

• Don’t pay to go to the event. According to organizer chiropractor Bradley Rauch as quoted in The Stowe Reporter the money earned from the conference will go first to speaker fees and expenses. In other words, if you buy a ticket, you are helping to fund Wakefield’s campaign of misinformation. The website for the conference says: “All profits will go to charity …” However, one of the organizations in the list of charities, Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, does not appear to be a charity. Its website does not say it is a 501(c)(3) or that donation are tax deductible. The coalition is a cosponsor of the event, so at least part of the profits actually are going to the sponsors despite the claim that “All profits will go to charity …”

• Be informed and help inform others. Bad ideas need to be countered with good ideas. The article in The Lancet,​ which is ​Wakefield’s contribution to the study of autism (the subject he is speaking on), was retracted by that journal after the General Medical Council in the UK concluded, according to The New York Times, that Wakefield has been dishonest and violated ethical rules. (​The last part of this post is the positive argument for mandatory vaccination.

• If you know someone who needs autism treatment, suggest that he or she avoid medical professionals from those who blame the condition on vaccination. According to The Stowe Reporter story, Bradley Rauch is planning to open a clinic in Stowe to treat autism. It is hard for me to believe that someone so badly mistaken about the causes of autism will be effective in treating it.

The argument for mandatory vaccination (which you won’t hear at the conference)

We used to have periodic epidemics of polio, smallpox, rubella and other diseases. Huge numbers of people were either killed outright or left badly damaged. When I went to grammar school a long time ago, there was usually at least one classmate in permanent braces as a result of polio. Not true anymore. Because of vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated and we no longer have to vaccinate against it; polio is almost there.

Should he be allowed to speak? Yes, people who want to hear him have the right to do so. Free speech is not just for popular ideas.


So why can’t people just decide for themselves whether their children should be vaccinated? Two obvious reasons are that parents don’t have an inherent right to risk the life and health of their children, and that, especially in a society where many health costs are socialized, everyone else will have to pay for the disease that could have been prevented. But let’s put those two arguments aside.

There are always some people who cannot be given a particular vaccine, either because of a general medical condition or because they’re allergic to the ingredients of the vaccine. So long as everyone who can get vaccinated does, the risk to those who can’t get vaccinated is very low. According to the World Health Organization paper Vaccination greatly reduces disease, disability, death and inequity worldwide:

“’Herd protection’ of the unvaccinated occurs when a sufficient proportion of the group is immune. The decline of disease incidence is greater than the proportion of individuals immunized because vaccination reduces the spread of an infectious agent by reducing the amount and/or duration of pathogen shedding by vaccinees, retarding transmission.”

Those who can’t be vaccinated need herd protection. Those who diminish the herd effect by refusing vaccination for themselves and their children are putting those who can’t be vaccinated at deadly risk.

Most vaccines are not 100 percent effective, even if they are always administered properly, which, of course, can’t be the case. However, so long as there is sufficient herd protection, there is very little risk for those few whose shots didn’t take. However, if there is a large enough group who just don’t get vaccinated, then those individuals for whom the vaccine didn’t work are at great risk.

California used to have very liberal laws on refusing vaccination. Not vaccinating became a fad among the nominally well-educated health-food-eating citizens in affluent Marin County. In 2015, only 84 percent of that county’s students entering kindergarten were fully vaccinated according to the San Francisco Chronicle in a story about the ensuing measles outbreak. “Last year there were 61 measles cases in California — the highest since the disease was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000. The state beat that number in the first month of this year.” California, seeing that there could easily be epidemics of more deadly diseases, has sensibly made it more difficult to avoid vaccination except for those who have a specific medical condition which would make a particular vaccination unsafe.

Part of the anti-vaccination hysteria comes from the falsified study by Wakefield. Because of the scare the article engendered, huge follow-up studies were done. That was easy because there is lots of vaccination. Absolutely no statistical or causal link has been found between any vaccination and autism. Nonetheless, the myth lives on.

The truth is that every vaccination does have some small risk. If it’s by injection, there’s a tiny chance of infection. There’s a very small chance that the vaccine, like anything else, can be contaminated. There’s an equally tiny risk that the recipient will have an undiagnosed allergy to the infection. Obviously new vaccines like the one for Zika have to be thoroughly tested and procedures can always be improved. We always must be aware new data can surface.

Ironically, as long as almost everyone else gets vaccinated, those who opt their families out of the very small risk of a tested vaccine get a free ride on the very herd protection they are compromising. Society can’t afford to let that happen. We can’t leave those who can’t get vaccinated or whose vaccine doesn’t work at risk. We can’t give preventable epidemics room to blossom. Some vaccinations must be mandatory. This is an example of a case where the needs of the society come before the needs of the individual and state compulsion is justified.

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  • Don Dalton

    Some of the best arguments presenting science on vaccine harms are found on the website, There, the theory of immune activation states that immune activation occurring in developing brains elicits a cytokine response; the intensity of the response varies in each individual. Vaccines are designed to elicit an immune response: no immune response and the vaccine won’t “take.” It’s been shown through numerous studies that the cytokine IL-6, released during an immune response, may disrupt the Purkinje cells in the brain if the immune response is severe or if the individual is particularly susceptible. Further, it’s been shown, beyond any debate, that damaging Purkinje cells leads to autistic-like symptoms. So the basic theory is that by provoking the immune system, in some cases the immune response is severe enough to lead to a cascade of events that damage Purkinje cells sufficiently to cause neurological disorders. Here is the basic outline of the theory:

    Here is an excellent introduction to the effects of immune activation on developing brains:

    • The paper you cite does NOT claim that vaccination causes
      autism or any other brain damage. It does say that the natural immune response, which occurs when we are exposed to a diseas,e might do damage in some cases when it occurs in a pregnant woman in a severe form. Vaccination, of course, works, by inducing an immune response, which gives the white blood cells a template for recognizing and destroying the pathogen responsible for a particular disease. If anything this is an argument for mandatory vaccination:

      1. The less diseases that are present in the general environment, the less cases of immune reaction there will be. For example, we are no longer exposed to the smallpox virus.

      2. The immune reaction to an inoculation is generally much milder than the reaction to the disease itself. According to the paper, this should reduce the possibility of brain damage

      3. If it is dangerous
      to give inoculations to pregnant women (the article only says this needs study and I don’t know if that’s been done), they will be at much less danger of contracting a disease if they have already had their shots and the rest of us have as well. An excellent argument for mandatory vaccinations BEFORE entering school.

      BTW, the argument you cite is not the argument that Wakefield et al make against vaccinations; they blame heavy metals used in the manufacture of the vaccine – despite all evidence to the contrary.

      • Don Dalton

        Wakefield did not blame heavy metals for MMR harms. I left out my response to your comments on Wakefield in order to meet the word limit.

        You are correct that the paper I cited does not claim vaccination harms; it explains the mechanism of immune activation on developing brains, as I said it would.

        The immune activation from vaccines is generally much less than that from the disease– in general. However, in the disease the immune response is mediated by the mucous membranes and by the natural course of disease development; the immune system has time to adjust. In a vaccine, the immune system is stimulated all at once, and directly through the injection, and we know that is some cases this reaction can be quite severe. From vaccinepapers: “Vaccine adverse reactions can cause very large cytokine expression in the brain, including expression of IL-6, a proven cause of autism.” We are then referred to this:

        This issue here isn’t, do vaccines work? The issue is, are vaccine harms covered up, in order to protect the vaccine program and profits?

        • David Bell

          “This issue here isn’t, do vaccines work? The issue is, are vaccine harms
          covered up, in order to protect the vaccine program and profits?”

          I thought the issue was “do vaccines cause autism” and the answer based on every available piece of evidence is categorically no.

          As for a “cover up”, given that the papers cited by your anti-vaccine organization are a matter of public record; the answer based on the evidence you have provided is also no.

          • Don Dalton

            You assume that the CDC is being honest with us. The epidemiological and other studies that the CDC produces are used as evidence the world over, by every major scientific organization on the planet. So if the CDC is involved in a cover-up, as the CDC whistleblower alleges, this has major impact.

            We know that the CDC is closely aligned with pharma: it receives industry funding and makes no bones about being partners with pharma. We also know, through the lead in Washington, DC, water scandal, that the CDC isn’t above covering up harms. We know that the powers that be have figured out that if they can say that “science says so” then they can sell us just about anything; that’s how they got us to take so many opioids, and made a killing, literally and figuratively, off it. Good work, boys!! You can take that one to the bank.

            There is no doubt that vaccines can cause severe neurological harms. The question is, how often? Everything possible is being done to keep us from answering that question– or even asking it. That’s what the media is for, after all.

          • David Bell

            “You assume that the CDC is being honest with us.”

            No, I am assuming that over a million doctors and every credible medical association is not involved in a decades long conspiracy. I am assuming this because no evidence exists to support such a claim.

            “So if the CDC is involved in a cover-up, as the CDC whistleblower alleges, this has major impact.”

            It would be if not for the fact that every piece of research done by every other group corroborates the CDC claims. Adding in the “whistle blower” has provided no evidence to corroborate his claims; your allegations are less than credible.

            Now that’s out of the way, there is no doubt that the link between vaccines and autism is non-existent.

  • Felicia Scott

    Citing a measles out break in California is misleading. California allows illegal aliens from countries where public health is non-existent to wander around freely, and they let them into their public schools as well. Disease outbreak is expected when you allow that to occur.

    • The disease outbreaks in California were centered around the communities with low vaccination rates like Marin County – these affluent neighborhoods are NOT where immigrants are going to school.

      We don’t have to lock the town gates like medieval cities did (usually fruitlessly) during plague epidemics. We do have to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated except when medically impossible.

  • Let’s see.. women have the right to chose. GMO fanatics want everything labeled and choice. But, I don’t have the right to chose if my children get GMOs injected into their bodies.

    • That’s right. The choice whether or not to eat GMOs even though there is no evidence of any harm from them affects no one except the person who makes the choice. Obviously you can argue that a woman’s decision affects the fetus and then argue over whether the fetus is a person. I’m “pro-choice” but do understand the other point-of-view. (but pls let’s not have that discussion when discussing vaccination)

      In the case of mandatory vaccination there is no question that not having your children vaccinated lets you free-ride on the herd immunity conferred because other people do get vaccinated at the same time as you damage that herd immunity. That’s why some vaccinations, like taxes, must be mandatory.

      • Don Dalton

        It’s not a question of “free riding.” It’s a question of protecting one’s children from the lies and deceit promulgated by the CDC, believed and furthered by the medical community, amplified by a compliant and uncritical media that could find the real truth about Wakefield if it would lift a finger to investigate, and created by a pharmaceutical industry that has proved again and again that it gives a damn about our children or anyone else, so long as we’re compliant purchasers of ever-more drugs, vaccines, and opioids.

        • David Bell

          The real truth about Andrew Wakefield is that he falsified data on a paper for financial gain. This cost him his medical license.

          He has spent the subsequent years cynically exploiting conspiracy enthusiasts.

          This is your idea of a credible source?

          • Don Dalton


            I realize that the above link is unacceptable for two reasons:
            1. It has too many facts, and too much evidence, and it doesn’t follow the glib and superficial style of so much reporting on the Wakefield affair; and
            2. The source isn’t considered “credible.” As we all know, the fad today is to sort things into what we judge as “credible” and “not credible,” and doing so allows us to make snap judgments and avoid careful reasoning– or any thinking at all, for that matter. Simply decide and toss.

          • David Bell

            1) What facts? You link is an incredibly long piece of smear intended to denigrate Brian Deer and the BMJ. For actual facts, not to be confused with beliefs being substituted for facts, see below:


            2) Don, every human being with the tiniest shred of sense evaluates credibility regarding sources. I can produce a dozen sites claiming the moon landing was a hoax; each purporting to have “the facts” proving this irrefutably. The problem is the purported facts have been debunked many times over by credible sources.

            The fact that you think credibility is a “fad” is truly sad.

            For the record, you dismiss the work of every credible medical association on the planet because you define “credible” as telling you what you want to hear; and if they claim millions upon millions have been involved in a decades long conspiracy, bonus.

          • Don Dalton

            We have one simple line is the Godlee piece you link to that tells us that Godlee doesn’t know what she’s talking about: “Over the following decade, epidemiological studies consistently found no evidence of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.” Given the context, this line is clearly intended to be part of the proof of Wakefield’s fraud in the 1998 paper. Yet the 1998 paper made no such claim: it didn’t even come close to making that claim. Will anyone bother reading the paper to see for themselves? That might be the first tiny step in discovering what’s really going on.

            I could go on, and on. I invite people to take the time and to read my link for themselves. Brian Deer is a shameless fraud, and the BMJ and GMC went along with it for their own reasons. Wakefield spoke up; Wakefield had to be silenced. Wakefield is not letting himself be silenced: good for him.

          • David Bell

            Wakefield has spent decades fraudulently claiming vaccines cause autism. Not a shred of evidence exists to support this claim. Any piece regarding Wakefield can and should point out this basic fact.

            Your smear against repeatedly honored investigator Brian Deer aside; every credible medical association on the planet that has reviewed Deer’s work affirms his conclusion.

            “Wakefield is not letting himself be silenced”

            This line tells everyone all you need to know about your comments. Wakefield was never silenced, he was publicly shown to be a fraud.

            Please make a note of the difference.

      • Interesting point, if we’re protecting the herd, should some people not be allowed to have children to protect the sanctity of the herd?

  • Lauren Norford

    I saw Andrew Wakefield speak many years ago (in 1998) before he published his article in the Lancet. What I heard him say about his findings that day is that among a certain percentage of children that have what is informally called “leaky gut” syndrome (kids who have lots of food sensitivities, struggle with bowel and gut difficulties in general) there seemed to be a problem with the MMR vaccine kind of tipping them over into neurodevelopmental disorders. The setting event was these preexisting gut issues. His hypothesis at that time was that there was a small percentage of children that are potentially more at risk in receiving MMR as a combined vaccine—and that it would be better and less risky for these particular children with these gut issues to receive the components of the MMR separately and spaced somewhat differently than is typically recommended. He did not EVER say in his speech that the “MMR vaccine caused autism,” he said what I have shared above. I have wondered ever since then if his research was intentionally misrepresented. What would it be like if his suggestion was taken seriously—that maybe this SMALL subset of children—just be on a different MMR schedule? What is so scary about that? And what would be wrong with researching whether there is ANY interplay between these pre-existing gut sensitivities and the challenge of that particular vaccine? The question shifts from ‘does MMR cause autism’ to ‘does the regular MMR schedule unnecessarily challenge children with a pre-existing leaky gut syndrome such that they should take the components of MMR separately and on a separate schedule to prevent unnecessary neurodevelopmental disorders?’ I worry that the extremes people always go to get in the way of actually decent scientific questions.

  • Don Dalton

    We forget that the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was set up in 1986 as a “no fault” program to compensate those who were injured by adverse vaccine effects, including death, and including encephalopathy (neurological damage.) It is the height of ignorance and “denial” to now turn around and say that severe vaccine harms are a “myth.” and

    We, the people, need to know the truth about vaccines, and we, the people, need to be able to make informed choices. Parents have every right to be concerned that a vaccine that protects against a relatively minor disease, such as measles, might cause a severe reaction in their child. A parent has every right to say: “no, I don’t want this for my child. If you want it, go for it. I don’t want it.” We, as a society, cannot say to that parent: you must take this, because your child is less valuable than that child over there that might be infected if your child gets measles, even though, if that child is immunocompromised, then that child should as a matter of principle avoid contact with other children, and if any other parent wants his/her child protected, then they are free to vaccinate.

    We parents have a right to say: hands off!!

    Encephalopathy due to the MMR is listed in the Vaccine Injury Table!! What don’t we get about this?