A relevant example of an argument associated with fake news is the debate regarding the effect of vaccination on the health of individuals. Several individuals and activist groups have suggested a connection between the administration of vaccines and the occurrence of adverse health effects. For instance, the DTP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine was suggested as one of the causes of a sudden infant death syndrome. Another popular claim that is often included in fake news on the topic is the use of the alleged connection between vaccination and the risk of developing autism. Specifically, a correlation between the administration of the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the occurrence of autism in children was interpreted as evidence of the risks pertinent to the practice.
Interestingly, no plausible hypothesis is put forward that would explain the described effect. Consequently, research that does not support these claims is framed as attempts of the pharmaceutical industry to secure its financial interests. Finally, some anti-vaccine activists raise concerns regarding the complexity of the immunization process. Some suggest that exposure to several vaccines within a short time span may lead to the overload of the immune system and, by extension, increase the risk of developing a disease. It was suggested that the immunized individual was more susceptible to certain immune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes and asthma.
Admittedly, each of these claims has a certain degree of plausibility from a layperson’s perspective. However, according to the scientific community, all of the claims are either misleading or fundamentally wrong. For instance, it was pointed out that the relationship between the DTP vaccine and sudden infant death syndrome could be explained by the timing of vaccination. The first dose of the DTP vaccine is made at the age of two months. At this age, the risk of SIDS occurrence is relatively high. Thus, it would seem logical for a parent of the impacted family to tie the two events together and establish causality in the absence of evidence.
A similar argument was made regarding the connection between vaccines and autism. The observed increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism at an early age, which is considered evidence of the harmful effect of the MMR vaccine, can be better explained by the changes in the screening process. On the one hand, the scope of the autism spectrum disorder-related conditions was greatly expanded in recent years. As a result, a significant proportion of the population that was previously thought to have other conditions is now diagnosed with ASD. Also, the enhancements made in the reporting procedures have resulted in the increase of reported cases, which does not necessarily indicate a respective increase in the actual development of the disorder.
Finally, it has been pointed out that no reliable causal relationship could be established between immunization patterns and the development of autoimmune disorders. Admittedly, the current data on the matter is insufficient for dismissing the claim. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible to perceive it as a confirmation of the claim. As can be seen, the anti-vaccine side of the debate relies on intuitive connections and unfalsifiable assumptions. In contrast, the pro-vaccination side utilizes the scientific method and responsible inquiry to substantiate the arguments.