One of the little pleasures of being involved in skepticism is that one can be sure of having mind-numbingly stupid, and dangerous, pseudoscientific propaganda being brought to your attention.
The one that has compelled me to write this post appeared on Natural News, and the only thing that could be worse than the “research” described in the article is some of the mind numbingly stupid comments that appeared in the thread that followed. Said article is here http://www.naturalnews.com/036220_vaccinated_children_disease_allergies.html#ixzz1yFQ4eOZN
The purpose of my post is to expose some of the flaws in the article, which has been lapped up eagerly by some of those who seem to have commented later.
The main claim of the article is that all the studies cited show that chronic diseases are 200-500% more common in vaccinated children than unvaccinated ones (and already the dubious headline sneaks in the upper estimate of a flawed figure).
The survey they talk about, that was supposedly set off by a “classical homeopathist” (as opposed to what exactly?) compares volunteers who answer surveys on various anti-vax sites against data from the German KiGGS study. Anybody with elementary training in epidemiology can see the immediate problem this poses – to facilitate a direct comparison between two variables or two groups that vary by a single factor, all other factors need to be randomised so they appear in similar frequencies in both populations. The only thing that can be legitimately compared to the vaccinated children in the KiGGS cohort is the unvaccinated children in the KiGGS cohort, and when this was done, the results debunked the very premise of the drivel in question. ( KiGGS original paper can be found here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057555/ )
“The prevalence of allergic diseases and non-specific infections in children and adolescents was not found to depend on vaccination status.”
and worse for the anti-vaxxers, they did find a statistically significant difference in the occurrence of vaccine-preventable illnesses. (See graph below)
Note that a p-value of less than 0.05 is a statistically significant result, and in all the other analyses carried out, there was no statistically significant results indicating that allergies and chronic illnesses are higher in vaccinated people.
Now, having taken care of the excuse for a study that seeks to compare data against the KiGGS study, let us look at some of the others that have been quoted by the article in question.
 The IAS survey they refer to has no P.values, meaning that it is impossible to verify if the differences they found were statistically significant or not. Of course, the study itself is moot in light of large scale meta-analyses that have found no evidence that vaccinated children have higher rates of chronic conditions, infectious or otherwise. See the discussion section of the KiGGS paper for associated literature that showed no evidence for such a link.
 The study in Christchurch they refer to (Kemp et al) could not rule out differential reporting as a cause of differences.
To quote http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9345669
“These findings do not appear to be due to differential use of health services (although this possibility cannot be excluded) or con-founding by ethnicity,socioeconomic status, parental atopy, or parental smoking.”
Of course, yet more meta-analyses have found no statistically significant link at all between vaccination and asthma http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/120/5/e1269.short
While one or two studies have pointed to a link between whole-cell pertussis vaccine and increased risk of allergy, there are acellular vaccines available, and with re-emergence of whooping cough, partly with the increased prevalence of unvaccinated children, death by whooping cough is not an option.
Some of the egregious piffle on the site, such as trying to insinuate there is some sort of stupid conspiracy theory against the Bachmair “study”, which was the first thing I dealt with for flaws in study design because people daren’t compare the health of vaccinated against unvaccinated children really takes the cake. The studies that led to the replacement of whole-cell pertussis vaccine with acellular vaccines all appeared in conventional scientific journals, and by insinuating that studies funded by the WHO are somehow biased, the article makes potentially libellous accusations, as well as committing the fallacy of poisoning the well.
If they can produce proper data and get it published, they will have something valid to contribute to discourse on vaccines, otherwise they can, and should, sod off in my humble opinion.
As for Obukhanych, maybe she would be well advised to go back in history and examine the efficacy of the smallpox vaccine, which obviously was in action long before big pharma, the favourite punching bag in the wet dreams of every anti-vaxxer was around. More recently, one can point to solid evidence that vaccines work, even in extremely high-risk populations, even when examined using double blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trials, like this http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM198010093031501
Vaccines clearly reduce the occurrence of the diseases they are designed to immunize people against. And that, it would appear, is the end of that.
And finally, for O’Shea’s “grassroots survey”, even schoolchildren can carry out more rigorous, well-controlled research http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/7/2/168 , there is clearly no standardization involved in asking parents of unvaccinated children to compare their own kids with vaccinated children of friends and family, especially because anti-vaxxers, as evident from the bilge that characterises the comments on that thread, might hold the belief that their children are somehow healthier a priori, and in the absence of rigorous data-collection, this can introduce bias.
That is all from me in this post.
PS – I’ve found more evidence that Pertussis vaccination is NOT associated with atopic disease, but there is a link between the disease itself and asthma.