When This Anti-Vaccine Image Went Viral, a Medical Expert Responded — and it Was Amazing

When This Anti-Vaccine Image Went Viral, a Medical Expert Responded — and it Was Amazing

When an anti-vaccination Tumblr user posted this ill-informed image circling scary-looking words on the box of a dose of flu vaccine with the caption "DO NOT GIVE OR GET ANY VACCINATIONS FOR YOURSELF OR  YOUR KIDS………..", someone who actually understood medical terminology and how vaccines work responded. And it was glorious.

Below is the full post from Tumblr user blu-toth, who claims to be a home health care worker (later confirmed by PolicyMic):

Ok, lets break this down nice and simple.

Formaldehyde is from the purification of the vaccine. 99.9% of which is removed. The reason it doesn't give a dosage is the ammount is so minuscule that it can't be measured without going into picograms. That's one trillionth of a gram. You breathe in more formaldehyde by driving down a busy road than in a vaccine.

Thimerosal is NOT elemental mercury, It is a molecular compound made up of carbon, hydrogen, mercury, sodium, oxygen, and sulfur. This is used as a preservative for the vaccine. Thimerosal is used in a variety of other things, like tattoo ink, facial creams, nasal sprays. It's toxic to humans only in fairly large quantities but highly toxic to aquatic born organisms like infectious bacteria. In short, it makes sure you don't get salmonella from a stray bacteria from the chicken embryos.

As for the dosage of the Thimerosal. That is the most laughable point in this post. It says 25 mcg, that's micrograms, or one millionth of a gram. To put this in perspective, a dollar bill weighs roughly 1 gram, the average human eyelash is around 80-90 micrograms. The box also says that it contains a 5ml (milliliter/cc) vial which leads me to my next point.

A little simple math and we find out that 25 mcg = 0.00003 ml and a little more math we find that 0.00003 ml is 0.00006% of 5 ml. Let me put this another way. By the age of 5, an American child weighs about 50-55lbs and their body contains 55 mcg of Uranium. I don't see any kids running around with radiation sickness, so I think they're safe with a preservative in them.

TL;DR: This is like saying you don't want your child eating their baked birthday cake because raw eggs were used to make it and you don't want your child getting salmonella from it.


What's wrong with these people? Vaccines remain incredibly safe, despite the anti-vaccination movement's poorly informed, ill-founded ramblings. But nothing, not even hard scientific data or the complete eradication of diseases like polio in India, can change anti-vaxxers' minds. One side has a near-monopoly on scientific evidence and proven results, while the other has nothing more than paranoia and overblown claims of risks. So why has the anti-vaccination movement gotten widespread enough to endanger public health?

"You don't need to get every listener to believe that vaccines are actively dangerous," wrote the Washington Post's Alexandra Petra. "You just need to create an atmosphere that suggests there is room for doubt and debate. Then sit back and watch the vaccination rates drop."

Can we change their minds? And among those who are already anti-vaccination, it's incredibly difficult to get them to get them to vaccinate their kids.

"People think, 'what are they trying to convince me?'" explained Dr. Brendan Nyhan, who studied different methods of trying to sway anti-vaxxers' minds. "The 'don't worry, don't worry, everything is safe' approach is not often effective, because they think 'why are they trying so hard to reassure me that everything is safe?'"

Dan Kahan of Yale Law School's Cultural Cognition Project says that we shouldn't even give anti-vaxxers the luxury of comparing them to climate change deniers or other controversial topics, because doing so might create "cultural polarization over vaccine safety among diverse people who otherwise all agree that vaccine benefits are high and their risks low." In other words, don't drag issues we're already fighting about into this. Anti-vaxxers are a special brand of crank that don't need wider influence or other topics to latch onto.

Blu-toth's approach seems best: calmly explain the science and don't give an anti-vaxxer the luxury of debate.