Robin Barker on why the anti-vax movement is flawed

Kinderling News & Features

Robin Barker is the acclaimed author of parenting guides The Mighty Toddler and Baby Love. 

Anti-vaxxers – activists whose aim is not only to refuse to vaccinate their own children but to persuade all parents to do the same - have always been around. In 19th century they claimed that the smallpox vaccination would ‘turn children into cows’.

Examples of anti-vaxxers’ half-truths, myths, pseudo-science and scare tactics

It’s all about ‘Big Pharma’ profits
Vaccines are not profitable and only account for 2-3% of pharmaceutical business.

Foster conspiracy theories
These include;

  • Vaccination is a way of controlling the populace. 
  • Vaccination is a money-making scam for doctors, governments, ‘big pharma’.
  • Doctors know that vaccines are harmful but keep it secret.
  • Vaccination is a violation of human rights.
  • Vaccination programs sponsored by Western countries in developing nations are a cover for spying operations.

Promote documented vaccine damage from the past
There have been well-documented problems/tragedies associated with vaccines in the past, the polio vaccine in particular. A defective polio vaccine in the US in the 1950s caused 40,000 cases of polio in which 200 children suffered varying degrees of paralysis and 10 died. This was a terrible tragedy however the Cutter incident (as the defective vaccine is referred to), led to effective regulation and manufacture of vaccines that today is unmatched by any other drugs.

While it is essential to be open about past vaccine damage and the reasons for it, there is a big difference between acknowledging tragedies associated with the struggle to provide safe, effective vaccines, and scare-mongering that completely ignores the enormous benefits vaccination has given us.

It is irresponsible to present information about past problems, in the way anti-vaxxers do, by implying that the original risks still exist and that all vaccines are unsafe.

Cherry pick from the lists of side-effects in vaccine information

All drugs/medications whether prescription or over-the-counter, whether injected, inhaled, applied or inserted can have side-effects. Vaccines are no exception, and by law, all possible side effects must be provided with the drugs.

Promote the completely disproven claim that the MMR vaccine puts children at risk of autism
Anti-vaxxers present the author of the fraudulent paper that purports to show a link between MMR and autism, deregistered doctor Andrew Wakefield, as a hero/martyr.

Briefly, Wakefield’s study looked at twelve children only (some of whom were recruited via an anti-vax activist), it was never replicated, he falsified data, he failed to declare a conflict of financial and other interests that had a direct bearing on his study and he did unnecessary invasive procedures on the children without ethical approval, damaging a few of them.

In contrast there have been five impeccable studies on 1.25 million children to see if there is any link between the MMR and autism. There is no link.

Draw comparisons between state-sponsored vaccination programs and Nazi doctors’ evil experiments

Examples of common assertions of anti-vaxxers

Improved nutrition and sanitation mean vaccines are no longer necessary

Better nutrition, sanitation, education and higher standards of living help vaccines work better but if herd immunity drops things can suddenly get a lot worse regardless of impeccable nutrition and sanitation.

Natural infection is better for kids
The risks of vaccination have been shown repeatedly in millions of children for decades to be statistically very much safer than catching the disease. This includes the so-called ‘harmless’ diseases like measles, mumps, chickenpox.

Vaccination causes diseases to spread by ‘shedding’ viruses
A loopy theory claiming children are infectious following vaccination thus able to transmit the disease to others.

Actual viral transmission following vaccination applies only to live virus vaccines and is an extremely low risk in certain exceptional circumstances.

Vaccination ‘weakens’ babies’ immune systems
Vaccination strengthens immune systems by preparing them and boosting them to fight potential infections.

Vaccination doesn’t work|
Children do sometimes get the disease they are vaccinated for. This is more likely to happen when the herd immunity drops – whooping cough and measles, for example – and even (rarely) when the herd immunity status is strong. If this happens the disease is short-lived and milder, and the child is at far less risk of the serious side-effects that come with the disease.


Anti-vaxxers suffer from the moral illusion that the choice not to vaccinate is a ‘personal’ one when, in fact, non-vaccinators rely on others to keep their (non-vaccinated) babies/children safe, an indefensible moral position.

Listen to Kinderling Conversation:

Beneath their sweet refrain of love and peace and truth to power (whatever that means), there lies a litany of veiled threats, abuse and bullying as Catherine Hughes, spokesperson for vaccination after her four-week-old Riley died of whooping cough, has had to endure.

If their deeply-held beliefs were to somehow gather momentum and influence most parents to choose not to vaccinate, the childhood death and disability rate would soar, bringing a return of the devastation and grief experienced by our great-grandparents, which would expose the fallacy of their beliefs.

As this will hopefully never happen, they can never be held accountable for spreading their despicable message. Unlike scientists, anti-vaxxers are free to lie and misrepresent their claims without serious complications.

Sadly, anti-vaxxers never have to take responsibility for their actions. They are protected by the very thing they rail against (vaccination), and the good will and good sense of most of the people in the communities in which they live.