Let’s Teach Olivia the Truth About Vaccines

Of course passing SB277 in California (the bill that ends the personal belief exemption) does not end discussions about vaccines or about the best way to raise immunization rates in every community and every school. In fact, there’s a legitimate debate we should still have about how to legislate vaccine requirements.

What isn’t legitimate, however, is a newly-released YouTube video that frames the discussion about the legislation (and the hoped-for referendum to repeal it) in terms of all the anti-vaccine tropes one fictional girl could throw at us.

The video features a young, partially vaccinated girl named Olivia. Olivia tells us that SB277 is bad and unfair, but–like many children–she is ill-informed about vaccines. One can only assume that Olivia’s parents have read scary things on the internet or taken her to see a charlatan-pediatrician who peddles books and supplements along with medical advice. In fairness to Olivia, I’d like to take the time to correct some of her misstatements.

1. We give too many vaccines at once (or at all).

Parents often worry about how many vaccines their children are given, despite the fact that vaccines today contain thousands fewer antigens than they did when I was a child. In fact, even though vaccines might make a child come down with a fever or feel sluggish for a day or two, each one contains only a handful of antigens and challenge the immune system much less than the thousands of germs a baby encounters while eating, breathing, and generally being alive. If Olivia’s parents are worried about too many vaccines, they might want to put her in a bubble because germs (and the other ingredients in vaccines) are literally all around her always.

2. Parents have the Constitutional right not to vaccinate their children.

I am not a Constitutional lawyer, but I’m going with no. And the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agrees. Just this year, they rejected a challenge to New York’s law that mandates all children be vaccinated for school.

3. Children receive 49 doses of 14 vaccines. And that’s a scary big number.

Olivia’s parents are upset that vaccines prevent 14 disease in children before they reach the age six. These are the diseases that used to maim and kill children–diseases like diphtheria, polio, Hib, and even chickenpox.

Unfortunately, Olivia’s parents have also taught her to add wrong. Looking at the CDC schedule, I count 29 doses of vaccines (and 37 if you count the yearly flu vaccine). How are the anti-vaxxers getting 49 doses? I think they are counting each component of each vaccine separately. For example, they are counting the MMR as three vaccines.

Still, even counting boosters as separate vaccines is sort of silly. Boosters help strengthen immunity (or catch those who didn’t mount full immunity the first time). Except in the case of the yearly flu vaccines, boosters are not new vaccines and do not present brand new challenges to the immune system. So the real number to be concerned over is 14, and the number 14 signifies the diseases you are working to protect your children from.

4. The Disneyland measles outbreak wasn’t a big deal because only a few kids got sick.

In other words, the herd is robust enough for Olivia to hide within that no one should ask her parents that she contribute to it. Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson brilliantly pointed out the success story behind the Disneyland measles outbreak: most people were vaccinated, so it wasn’t worse. But Disneyland pointed out a crack in herd immunity and showed us that if we allow more children to hide in the herd, the strength of the herd could disappear and more of those children could get sick–especially consider how infectious measles is.

5. No one has died from measles.

Besides this Washington woman, who should have been able to rely on herd immunity to keep her safe but couldn’t.

And though her death is billed the first in 12 years, Dr. Ianelli has found other measles deaths in the U.S., including those who have died from the horrifying SSPE complication that can occur years after measles infection.

6. Herd Immunity in California is fine.

I argued before that while herd immunity might be high across the country or the state, the statistic that really affects the individual child is the vaccination rate where the spend the majority of their time in close proximity with germy people: their classroom and their school. And sometimes those rates are really, really low. In fact, the Atlantic highlighted during the outbreak that some communities in Los Angeles have immunization rates as low as the South Sudan.

7. The government claims that vaccines are 100% safe.

What? Where did Olivia’s parents hear this? Everything I have seen from the government and from pharmaceutical sources shows that vaccines are not 100% anything, but that the risks of not vaccinated are far larger than the risks of vaccinating. Here’s a little quote from the CDC not saying that vaccines are 100% safe:

Vaccines are the best defense we have against infectious diseases; however, no vaccine is actually 100% safe or effective for everyone because each person’s body reacts to vaccines differently.

8. Thousands people are injured by vaccines.

The original source of this is Dr. Bob Sears, and he is using VAERS to add up reported adverse events, even though the VAERS website itself states that anyone can report anything on VAERS (including turning into the Incredible Hulk) and that those reports do not prove that vaccines caused the event.

PolitiFact analyzed Sears’ numbers and allowed him to comment, but concluded that this claim is “Mostly False.”

9. Vaccine Court has paid out thousands of settlements.

I call this the “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” argument since courts are never definitive proof of anything. Vaccine Court (NVICP) provides a valuable service to the very few families who suffer suspected vaccine-related injuries. However, the burden of proof for winning a settlement is very low, and the court may compensate cases that are not genuinely caused by vaccines.

But let’s assume for a moment that all the cases settled in Vaccine Court (NVICP) are caused by vaccines? Even those numbers show how amazingly safe vaccines are. As Allison Hagood explains:

If you included all adult vaccinations, and counted number of injections rather than number of vaccinated persons, you’d get something that probably looks like 99.9999999999999999% of child and adult vaccinations resulting in no serious adverse events.

10. Hundreds of vaccines are currently being developed.

The insinuation Olivia is making is that soon, children will be required to get hundreds of vaccines before entering school. The truth is, though, that very, very few vaccines under development ever make it to mark. Developing a new vaccine is very difficult, and most fail to show effectiveness and safety at some point and the work on them ceases.

But what of these vaccines under development? They include vaccines for Alzheimer’s, HIV, and pancreatic cancer. These are not vaccines that will be added to the childhood schedule.


Once again, the anti-vaccine movement is trying to push policy by promoting misinformation and obfuscation. Policy debates ought to have facts at their center. Pushing through a referendum with misinformation is par for the course for anti-vaxxers, and that’s why they are being given fewer seats at the policy discussion table.


2 thoughts on “Let’s Teach Olivia the Truth About Vaccines

  1. Not convinced you people have an agenda, call me what u want I stand with the Olivia of this world there is too many money hungry corporations out there her stand to gain from these projects. You people hide too much information from the public justifying statistics that clearly show concerns with the vaccines you punch into our children,. The HP immunistion program (homeopathyy) by far has not only solid evidence of their vaccines being superior to the rubbish of conventional vaccines but also provide detailed cases, I see nothing in comparison. All of a sudden there seems to be similar pressure adopted in other countries to immunized, pandemic attempts to discredit HP program, one can only ponder what’s really going on why are people being punished for making there own minds up, we are not robots . I will home school my child the present school system is designed to build robots .


    • “You people hide too much information…” Who are “you people”? The 95% of parents who vaccinate their children? And from whom are we hiding this information? How did the hiders of said information collaborate to decide how to hide the information? And if the information is being hidden, how do you know about it?

      As for homeopathy, the entire thing is a sham. Homeopathy is predicated on magical thinking–that water can “remember” some things but not others (like raw sewage or dead fish). Vaccines are based on scientific evidence. Homeopathy cannot work because it is literally just water, and homeopathy is untested and unregulated. Vaccines are tested and continuously monitored, and all the information about the testing and monitoring is available to the public.

      The people actually being punished are the children. Those whose parents who purposely leave them vulnerable to disease because they would rather believe scary things they have read on the internet over actual experts in the field. And the children who are vulnerable and cannot be vaccinated are also punished.


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