Overwhelming weight of scientific evidence demonstrates that vaccines are safe and effective, contrary to claims in video by chiropractor Steve Baker

CLAIM
There are many reasons to not vaccinate, including vaccine toxicity; “Vaccines don’t prevent transmission”; "Vaccinated kids are not as healthy as unvaccinated kids"
DETAILS
Inaccurate: Scientific evidence does not support a causal association between vaccines and toxicity, autoimmunity, or poorer health outcomes. Large well-conducted studies show that vaccines are safe and don't cause toxicity.
Misleading: Baker alleges that a vaccine that doesn’t prevent infection is useless. However, even a vaccine that only prevents someone from developing disease symptoms can also help reduce the spread of the disease as well as disease severity and mortality.
Inaccurate: Clinical trials for diseases with no existing vaccine generally include a placebo group. This is the case for the COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the U.S. FDA, which were assessed for safety by comparison with a placebo group that received saline. In cases where there is a pre-existing vaccine that is safe and effective, using a placebo group is considered unethical because the placebo group would be exposed to a preventable disease. In such cases, clinical trials compare the effect of the new experimental vaccine to the existing one. Baker’s claim that vaccine trials don’t test safety is false.
KEY TAKE AWAY
Vaccines are considered one of the greatest medical achievements. They have eradicated smallpox and reduced global child mortality and long-term disabilities from vaccine-preventable diseases. Besides being effective in preventing the spread of contagious diseases, overwhelming evidence demonstrates that vaccines are safe and don't increase the risk of developmental, neurological, or autoimmune conditions. Vaccines undergo extensive testing for safety and efficacy before they are approved by regulatory authorities, and are continuously monitored even after approval to identify any safety issue. Overall, the proven benefits of vaccination far outweigh the potential risks.

FULL CLAIM: “There’s a lot of stuff there that you wouldn’t drink, you wouldn’t give your kid a shot of thimerosal, aluminum, aborted fetal tissue, chicken eggs embryo...”; “Vaccines don’t prevent transmission”; “There is no such thing as a safety trial with vaccines”; "Vaccinated kids are not as healthy as unvaccinated kids"; "Vaccines lead to autoimmune disease"

REVIEW


On 13 January 2021, the chiropractor Steven Baker posted this video on Facebook, titled “the top five reasons to not vaccinate”. The 15-minute-long video contains several claims regarding vaccine safety which have been debunked many times, including the alleged toxicity of vaccine ingredients and the association between vaccines and autoimmune and other disorders. Baker has previously propagated misinformation about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claim 1 (Incorrect and Misleading):

“There’s a lot of stuff there that you wouldn’t drink, you wouldn’t give your kid a shot of thimerosal, aluminum, aborted fetal tissue, chicken eggs embryo…”

As Health Feedback explained in this earlier review, the claim that vaccines contain purportedly toxic or dangerous ingredients is incorrect and misleading. Scientific evidence shows that vaccine ingredients are safe and do not cause toxicity.

Contrary to what Baker claims, aluminum is not present in vaccines in its elemental form. Instead, vaccines contain aluminum salts as an adjuvant to increase the immune response upon vaccination. This enhances vaccine-induced protection if natural infection occurs in the future. While aluminum salts in excessive amounts may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, the levels present in vaccines are safe and minimal compared to the amount that infants receive in their normal diet[1], as Health Feedback previously explained.

Concerns about thimerosal stem from the fact that it is a mercury-containing compound. However, it is chemically different from the toxic methylmercury present in some fish and seafood. Thimerosal is metabolized to nontoxic ethylmercury and readily eliminated from the body. Therefore, this compound, which serves as a preservative and antibacterial, doesn’t cause toxicity. However, persistent public concern over mercury toxicity led to the removal of thimerosal from pediatric vaccines in the U.S. in 2001. Currently, this compound is only present in certain multi-dose influenza vaccines, also available as thimerosal-free formulations.

Finally, the claim that vaccines contain human fetal tissue and chicken egg embryos is also inaccurate, as Health Feedback previously reviewed here and here. Vaccines don’t contain fetal tissue or embryos. Living cells—such as human fetal cell strains that are derived from fetal cells but are not the same cells from the fetus—are sometimes required in the manufacturing process, for example to grow viruses for the production of vaccines. In the case of some flu vaccines, fertilized chicken eggs are used to grow the flu virus for the vaccine. However, these fetal-derived cells are not part of the vaccines because they are removed during the purification process.

Claim 2 (Misleading):

“Vaccines don’t prevent transmission. What happens and the reasons why the numbers have gone down is because people are no longer reporting the problem because they don’t even know they have it”

Baker claims that a vaccine is not useful unless it prevents infection, which is misleading. According to the definitions from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the primary goal of vaccines is to build a person’s immunity against a disease-causing microorganism to protect that person from the disease. Although a vaccine that can prevent infection would undoubtedly be more useful, even a vaccine that only reduces disease severity and mortality can significantly alleviate disease burden.

Contrary to what Baker claims in the video, some vaccines do prevent transmission. Such is the case of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which completely prevents viral replication in the body[2]. Currently available data is insufficient to determine whether the approved vaccines do reduce disease transmission, as Health Feedback previously pointed out. Baker’s assertion that COVID-19 vaccines don’t prevent transmission is premature and unsupported.

Claim 3 (Inaccurate and Misleading):

“There is no such thing as a safety trial with vaccines, meaning that there is no such things as double-blind placebo trial with vaccines”

Baker also claims that vaccine trials cannot assess vaccine safety because they do not include a true placebo group, an argument which is both inaccurate and misleading.

Double-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trials are indeed considered the gold standard for evaluating the safety and efficacy of a new intervention. In this type of study, researchers randomly allocate participants to either the treatment or the control group, and assess the safety and efficacy of the treatment by comparing the outcomes in both groups. This design allows researchers to control for confounding factors, such as differences in disease incidence or comorbidities, which could otherwise be wrongly associated with the treatment.

Comparison with an unrelated vaccine doesn’t allow researchers to fully measure the changes relating to safety and efficacy that are induced by the vaccine being tested, whereas a saline placebo doesn’t present the same problem. However, a saline placebo can raise ethical concerns in some cases, and may not be suitable for helping researchers determine whether a new vaccine is better than the existing one[3]. As the World Health Organization explained in a 2013 report documenting an expert consultation on the use of placebos in vaccine trials:

“Testing a new vaccine against placebo is scientifically and ethically fraught when the hypothesis being tested is whether an experimental vaccine is more efficacious than one already in use in the same or in other settings”.

In short, when an effective vaccine against a disease already exists, the use of a saline placebo group is considered unethical because it would leave this group of participants exposed to a preventable disease[3]:

“Use of placebos is clearly unacceptable when an effective (or partially effective) and safe vaccine exists and is currently accessible in the public health system of the country in which the trial is planned, and the risk to participants of not receiving the current vaccine cannot be mitigated adequately.”

In this case, the control group often receives the preexisting vaccine for that disease, which also allows researchers to directly compare the safety and efficacy of the new vaccine candidate with the previous one.

However, using a placebo group in vaccine trials is ethically acceptable when no efficient and safe vaccine for the disease exists, based on the concept of clinical equipoise. This is the case for COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were also evaluated for safety by comparison with saline placebo groups[4,5].

Baker claims that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trials used the meningococcal vaccine as a control. This is inaccurate as it was the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine trials that used the meningococcal vaccine as a control. Using an actual vaccine as a control as opposed to a saline solution helps the trial remain unblinded, because participants will experience similar side effects in the vaccine and the control groups. In this way, the placebo group is not revealed to scientists or participants due to the lack of vaccine side effects. At the same time, it benefits the participants from the control group by protecting them against another disease. However, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine trials also included a saline placebo group in one of the trials[6].

Claim 4 (Inaccurate):

“There is no liability for the companies, you cannot sue them. But yet, they have a special court, and that special court to date has paid four billion dollars in damages”

To encourage vaccine research and manufacturing and ensure vaccine supply, the U.S. National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA) created the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in 1988. This program allows both petitioners and the court to avoid complicated litigation by giving financial compensation to individuals who may have suffered an adverse event related to vaccination.

However, it is still possible for individuals to sue vaccine manufacturers in spite of the NCVIA under certain circumstances, as Health Feedback explained in this review. Baker misinterprets the billions of dollars paid by the VICP as proof that vaccines caused harm to thousands of people. This reasoning fails to acknowledge that the VICP resolves petitions using a no-fault policy, which means that petitioners don’t need to prove that the vaccine caused the adverse event to receive compensation. Therefore, VICP settlements in no way serve as evidence that vaccines are unsafe.

The U.S. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) collects information about adverse events that occur after vaccination, serving as an early warning system to detect possible safety issues. As this CDC webpage explains, VAERS data show that up to 90% of the VICP coverage involves minor and transient reactions such as fever, soreness, or minor allergic reactions.

Claim 5 (Unsupported):

“Vaccinated kids are not as healthy as unvaccinated kids”

One of the arguments often used to discourage vaccination is that unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated ones. As Health Feedback explained here and here, this claim is unsupported and based on flawed studies with serious methodological problems. In contrast, several well-designed studies comparing health and developmental outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated children found no association between vaccines and increased risk of developmental disorders, non-specific infections, or allergies[7,8]. Studies also showed that vaccinated children performed better on cognitive tests compared to unvaccinated children[9,10].

Claim 6 (Unsupported):

“Vaccines lead to autoimmune disease”

Numerous studies excluded any causal link between vaccines and the development of autoimmune diseases. A 2020 Cochrane Review of 138 studies showed no evidence of an association between MMR vaccination and asthma, bacterial or viral infections, cognitive delay, type 1 diabetes, dermatitis/eczema, and hay fever[11]. The Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia also summarized the scientific evidence showing that vaccines are not associated with a higher risk of asthma or allergies and neurodevelopmental disorders[12].

In summary, vaccine candidates are rigorously tested for safety during clinical trials before they are approved for use in the general population. Even after approval, they continue to be monitored by public health authorities. Scientific evidence demonstrates that vaccines aren’t associated with developmental or autoimmune diseases. Vaccines are safe and effective. The benefits provided by vaccines outweigh their risks.

Additional notes

In the video, Baker also mentions collaborations with Andrew Wakefield and Paul Thomas. Wakefield is the author of the now-retracted study published in 1998 in The Lancet linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, which fuelled vaccine hesitancy. In 2010, the British General Medical Council (GMC) struck Wakefield off the U.K. medical register for “serious professional misconduct”.

The Oregon Medical Board suspended Thomas due to concerns that his practice “would pose an immediate danger to the public and to his patients”. The Oregon Medical Board’s order determined that Thomas used his medical license “to solicit parental ‘refusal’ of full vaccination for their children, thereby exposing them to multiple potentially debilitating and life-threatening illnesses, including tetanus, hepatitis, pertussis (whooping cough), rotavirus, measles, mumps, and rubella.”

UPDATE (10 March 2020):
This review was updated to include a quote from a 2013 Expert Consultation on the use of placebos in vaccine trials published by the World Health Organization.

REFERENCES

Published on: 21 Jan 2021 | Editor:

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