I am tired of people discussing the vaccination “debate” or “both sides” of the vaccination discussion. There are not two sides to this issue. There is one side: The facts. And then there is something else that is probably best labeled rhetoric. Rhetoric is a style of writing and speaking that is designed to be persuasive, but may or may not having anything to do with actual facts.

If we want to have a debate about the facts, then let’s make it more fun and less deadly. How about if we debate whether or not the sun rotates around the earth? That might be interesting. Then we could also talk about whether or not we believe in winter and summer, and we would also have to make a reason for solar eclipses. Good times! And no one gets hurt.

But if we are talking about anti-vaccination stances that sound the most like facts, here are some of the best manipulations of the facts that I could find:

  1. They don’t always work. Really? Yes. I know this is true. But since I happen to be all about the facts, I also happen to be a lot about statistics. Would I rather have 100% chance of contracting the measles if I UNKNOWINGLY (this is important) came in contact with someone with the measles, or have a 95% change of NOT getting the disease? Yes, thank you, I will take the 95% chance. This is also the reason that I don’t buy lottery tickets unless I want to throw away money: 99.999999999% chance of losing.
  2. Vaccines expose kids to toxins: Though this has been refuted many, many times with facts, let’s assume for just a minute that there are “toxins” in vaccines. Here are some other things that are toxic. Water. At least one person has died each year from drinking too much water. It’s called over-hydration. Seriously. Look it up. So, shall we all stop drinking water because it can be toxic? No. Just don’t drink too much of it. Or too little. That is also dangerous. Chlorine gas is also toxic and it’s being emitted from swimming pools everywhere right now. Chlorine gas is so toxic, in fact, that it’s been used in chemical warfare. Maybe we should never swim again. Or maybe we should get the facts, which state that the amount of chlorine gas emitted by your pool is safe. It’s been tested. Calling something a toxin does not make it toxic.
  3. Kids can build immunity naturally by getting the disease: Yes, they can. They can also die. The vaccine is the disease. That’s why it works. Vaccines are highly effective because your body is exposed to tiny amounts of THE ACTUAL DISEASE, so that you can build antibodies (natural immunity) to the disease. This is not an argument any more than saying that swimming pool chlorine is a chemical weapon or that you can reattach someone’s severed head using a Band-aid. It’s all about degree. Vaccines expose us to the disease in a very controlled, sterile environment on purpose, so we can develop immunity.
  4. Vaccines are developed by “big pharma” for a profit: Yes! Good job. This is a fact. And we should be glad of it. Most vaccines are developed by large drug manufacturing companies. Doing the type of scientific research necessary and funding the type of clinical trials required by the government to regulate drugs takes A LOT of money. The only companies that can afford this are the big ones with lots of capital. I’m not suggesting that they only operate with the best interest of humanity in mind. They don’t. But considering all the drugs on the market working to extend people’s lives who have diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol, I’d say we’re doing OK. If the objection to “big pharma” is that they make a profit and that is wrong, then I would ask you to consider closing your bank account, ceasing from paying your rent and stop eating, because every time you do one of those activities someone is making a profit. Also, no clothes shopping.
  5. I’m afraid of doctors, needles, things I can’t see, things I don’t understand: Fear is a legitimate emotion, and may be a fact about your experience. When you think about taking your child to the doctor to get immunized, you may become very afraid. Your child is probably afraid, too. Needles hurt. And some doctors are quacks. But if your doctor thinks it’s OK to not be immunized because you are “afraid,” I would get a new doctor and a psychologist. Fear is an emotion, not a fact.

Let me end by saying that I am not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. I don’t even play one in my bedroom. But what I have said can be easily researched and validated in many, many places where facts are available. For example, your local library, your doctor’s office, the Centers for Disease Control web site.

If you think that any parent is happy about having needles stuck in their children, you are dead wrong. We do it because it’s better than the alternative: Dying of a disease that could have been prevented.


Sarah writes with sarcasm about science, gender, feminism and fertility issues on her blog sarahanngilbert.com. She is writing a memoir about her experience becoming a parent. Sarah lives in Denver with her wife, two girls and an ungrateful dog. If she had more free time, she would spend it lobbying the state government to make down vests and flip-flops the official uniform of Colorado. You can talk to her on Twitter @sarahanngilbert.


  1. I interviewed a scientist from the BCCDC on my blog about vaccines and why they are important. I understand people are afraid but it worries me that babies too young to be vaccinated are exposed to life threatening diseases because of fear of autism (the linkage to which has been refuted). I get being skeptical of big pharma but why aren’t people as afraid of big supplement?

  2. I’ll admit when I was a first time mom, I was nervous and afraid when it came time to do vaccinations. Not of autism, but of the 1 in a million chance that there would be some horrible adverse side effect. I felt less afraid with baby #2, but even through the fears I had, I still didn’t hesitate with either of them. I weighed my fear against the potential complications from diseases that my children would be better protected from (and would continue to protect others from, via herd immunity, because while I’ve never seen an iron lung in person, I’ve watched documentaries about polio and that was enough to know that I would never want to.) We’re seeing now that any one of those previously “eradicated” diseases carries the potential to return, and that’s a fucking scary truth.

    • When my youngest was 5 weeks old, she got RSV and ended up in the NICU. Within the next year, they have developed a vaccine for the disease. I will never know how close she came to dying, but I would have done anything to skip that 6 weeks of hell on me and on her.

  3. Thanks for this! People can be so inconsistent, engaging in much statistically riskier behaviors but then digging their heels in on something like this.

  4. Yes! We can discuss whether or not God is real, whether we prefer blue flowers or red flowers but debating whether vaccines work is like debating whether we should breath air.

  5. Can I get an AMEN?!?! Or how about a HALLELUJAH?!?! I’m completely agnostic but it seems so fitting 🙂

  6. I am glad my kids are grown. I hated vaccination time but always complied. I will say I was shocked when my friend’s daughter had a baby and told me the number of vaccinations given to children today. 31 from birth though 6 years old. I’m 59 and think we got a total of 7. I am not saying they are not necessary but was really amazed at the difference. If I am going to be honest, if I were having children today, I would definitely do exhaustive studies as to why so many are needed over and above the obvious one’s. Yes, that’s vague, the “obvious” one’s but I would need the facts on each an every one. I am going to pass this on, it is very informative and as you say, hard to argue the facts!! I appreciate the information.

  7. Pingback: Development of "us vs them" debates - Mothering Forums

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