Sunday, 31 October 2010

Vaccine Awareness Week?

You may not know, it, but this week is Vaccine Awareness Week.

Okay, I jest. Here in Canada, National Immunization Awareness Week this year was the last week in April (as it is every year, it so happens). If you live in the United States, you have a whole month dedicated to awareness on vaccines and immunization.

So whose idea is it to have a 'Vaccine Awareness Week' in the fall? Well, at least in North America, it appears to be a collaboration between Joseph Mercola, an online purveyor of quackery and pseudoscience, and the National Vaccine [Dis-]Information Center, an advocacy organization (the fact that they would collaborate with Mercola on a project like this speaks volumes).

Canada and the United States have healthy cultures of mass immunization: we tend to have excellent rates of pediatric immunization, and respectable rates of adult immunization. The purpose of 'Vaccine Awareness Week', based on its propagators, is to fulfill the ends of the loosely-organized anti-vaccine movement. In short, contra the purpose of the official immunization awareness weeks, this week is dedicated to agitating against mass immunization.

As a regular reader of the Science-Based Medicine blog, I have decided to dedicate my initial posts on this blog to assist in working against the objectives of the anti-vaccine movement.

I intend to post on each day of this week:
  • On Monday, November 1, I intend to summarize the science behind vaccines and to discuss the concept of anti-vaccination (as compared to mere non-vaccination).
  • On Tuesday, November 2, I intend to discuss the harms caused to ongoing scientific inquiry, to other individuals, and to anti-vaccine activists themselves by the adoption of anti-vaccine positions.
  • On Wednesday, November 3, I intend to describe the double standards that the anti-vaccine movement applies whilst in contention with the established position on vaccines.
  • On Thursday, November 4, I will review the conflation between autism and anti-vaccine activism (the 'Anti-Vax Nexus'). In contemporary discourse, autism is one of the driving forces behind anti-vaccine sentiment.
  • On Friday, November 5, I will descibe possible responses to anti-vaccinationism, at the levels of policy, of scientific inquiry, interpersonal relations, and self-reflection.
  • On Saturday, November 6, (the final day of this Awareness Week), I will look back on the week and link to deconstructions of anti-vaccine material published during this period.

Disclosure: As might be obvious from the above, I am not a disinterested observer. I am unabashedly and unashamedly in favour of mass immunization. Based on the weight of the current evidence, I conclude that vaccines are a superior medical intervention in terms of preventing disease mortality and morbidity, and reject claims otherwise made by anti-vaccine activists. I hope you will find, dear reader, that this week's posts will demonstrate that my position is justifiable.

I would like to point out at this time that there is no monolithic or coherent anti-vaccine movement per se, merely a loosely-connected network of parents, activists, purveyors of 'alternative' medicine (usually quackery of some kind or another). The use of the term movement by myself is intended to be a shorthand for this aggregate.

Also, it is worth noting that the majority of anti-vaccinationists are both sincere and well-intentioned (although some, most particularly merchants profiting from anti-vaccine sentiment, are in all likelihood neither). My chief concerns with the movement are that it espouses positions which are both factually incorrect and anti-social and that the consequences of its desired policy endpoints (reduction or even abolition of mass vaccination programmes) are dangerous.

If you are inclined, please share these posts and related ones to your friends and family, reminding them why mass immunization is important. You can share them on Facebook or other social media, on your own weblogs, and on Twitter (if sharing these posts on Twitter, please share them on the #vaxfax hashtag).


  1. Is it just me, or is it a bit depressing that an entire month is needed to raise awareness about vaccination and its importance for national health? Even a whole week is too much, really.

  2. Never mind, I should read the whole post before commenting; I thought the 'awareness times' were on behalf of vaccination.