Alas, we can't say for sure because Bialik chose not to clarify. She wrote in part:
I almost always listen to my editor. But I rebelled last week. You see, she asked me to write in response to someone on the internet who was speaking disparagingly about me regarding my personal (and rarely publicly discussed) decisions about vaccines. She wanted me to respond. I said no.Since Bialik has a real doctorate in biology, perhaps she deserves the benefit of the doubt. What we do know is the comment section following her post quickly degenerated into a jamboree of discredited anti-science spiels and claims of vast conspiracies. Follow below and we'll talk more about the itty-bitty microbes and great big lies that play a part in this bustling corner of the anti-science racket.
Anti-vaxxar refers to anti-vaccination, a group of people who believe, despite all recent studies and evidence, that vaccines don't work and/or are a lethal threat. In the modern form it started about 20 years, borne of the concern that childhood vaccines were responsible for the onset of autism. It was worth looking into as the two were correlated: the first signs of autism often appear right around the same time children are first innoculated.
That link has since been well investigated. From time to time some suggestive evidence would appear, but it could never be independently verified, while studies showing no link were confirmed over and over. The evidence quickly mounted that vaccines were safe. The final nail in the coffin came about 10 years ago, when it was discovered that one of the few credible researchers purporting a link had cooked the data. But pseudoscience can gain a life of its own, divorced from facts or evidence. An entire anti-vax profession had developed, it now depended on hyping the danger to sell books and generate page views. This professional class of anti-vaxxars spun ever more elaborate conspiracies and ominous consequences to explain away the growing body of evidence against them and short circuit skepticism in the minds of frightened parents, and they haven't stopped since.
One of the most pernicious and more recent lies is that not only are vaccines useless or dangerous for the recipient, it is the vaccine that's causing the disease! The government is in cahoots with the drug companies, intentionally tailoring vaccines to keep the disease active, because it's good for business! The evidence for this whopper usually consists of claims that an outbreak of one disease or another disproportionately includes patients who were vaccinated—even though simple arithmetic shows the attack rate in unvaccinated populations is much higher—therefore it must be caused by the vaccine.
To put that gem of ignorance in terms even the average wingnut can grasp, it's like saying gun owners get shot by bad guys all the time, so having a gun offers zero protection. For the rest of us, it's like arguing you might as well leave your car keys in the ignition and the doors wide open, because locked cars get stolen every day.
We don't have to argue about whether or not vaccines are safe or effective. Simply expose a vaccinated and unvaccinated population, chimps, rats, people, to the pathogen and compare infection rates. Or compare the two populations for signs of side effects. That's exactly what researchers do when developing and testing any drug, vaccines included. And boy howdy, they do a lot of testing and comparing.
Records of reported infection rates, ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated during or in the absence of an epidemic, and related morbidity and mortality rates rank among the most robust data sets in all of science. We're talking about hundreds of millions of people in virtually every nation on Earth, stretching back for decades, to the dawn of modern medical science in some cases, right into present day. Look at the graph at the top of this post: what happened to polio about 60 years ago?
In the early 1950s the first prototype polio vaccines were developed. By 1954 one was considered safe enough to be tested on a million children. On April 12, 1955, millions of Americans were listening in when Dr. Thomas Francis took the podium in a room packed by media to bursting to announce the results. Author Paul Offit describes what happened next:
By the time Thomas Francis stepped down from the podium, church bells were ringing across the country, factories were observing moments of silence, synagogues and churches were holding prayer meetings, and parents and teachers were weeping. One shopkeeper painted a sign on his window: Thank you, Dr. Salk. 'It was as if a war had ended'.Polio is just one disease among many that has been methodically studied and, eventually, rendered preventable. That collective research points to one crystal clear conclusion: vaccination ranks with antibiotics and modern sanitation, arguably the all-time top three lifesaving inventions, as measured by the number of lives spared. The reason? In the past, time and time again, now preventable infectious disease reigned as the number one killer, a voracious Grim Reaper with an especially insatiable appetite for the lives of children.
Perhaps it's finally time for the intellectually honest to accept the current state of the science, helping to isolate the unscrupulous who refuse to do so in the process. Those who have been taken in deserve our compassion, not our contempt and not humilation, those who still insist on putting their children and their neighbors in peril might well benefit from an intervention of sorts. But make no mistake, the people in hot pursuit of a quick buck and a fleeting moment of fame who are pushing this lethal, anti-science nonsense deserve neither.