Vaccine denial: A case of toddler logic syndrome

A couple of weeks ago, my family was traveling out of town. I was driving and my wife and almost 2-year-old daughter were buckled up in the back seat playing with some toys. My wife pulled out a brand new container of Play-Doh. As my daughter was preparing to pull the lid off to see what was inside, I drove through a section on the interstate where there was a very strong, pungent smell of manure. Everyone in the car (including my daughter) in unison said, “Ewwww!” and for the rest of the trip, every time she opened her Play-Doh, she said, “Ewwww!” even though the manure odor had long passed.

You see, my daughter truly believed that Play-Doh smelled like manure. There was no talking her out of it. Even after the stench was gone, she knew that the whiff of dung began when she took the lid off the container. She correctly correlated the awful stink to the timing of the opening of the Play-Doh, but she incorrectly assigned causation to it. This same flawed “toddler logic” is sometimes used by adults when it comes to assigning causes to certain developmental conditions, especially autism.

Even though many studies have refuted a link between vaccinations and pervasive developmental disorders and the Lancet retracted the fraudulent study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, millions of parents have been duped (often by misinformed celebrities) into believing that vaccines can cause detriment to the health of their children. This is a classic case of toddler logic, where it’s easy to assume that A causes B (that vaccines cause autism) simply because A correlated with B (kids who get vaccines sometimes show symptoms of autism around the same age).

It is much more convenient to just blame vaccines. They are given around the time developmental concerns start to present. The shots are not without pain, are not a pleasant experience, and there’s already a prevailing attitude among Hollywood and even some in the medical community that vaccines could still be possibly linked to autism. Sound evidence to the contrary still doesn’t seem to dispel the myth. In fact, in a survey released by the National Consumers League (NCL) in April 2014, 33% of parents of children under the age of 18 and 29% of all adults continue to believe “vaccinations can cause autism.”

While being skeptical of correlation resulting in causation is good for scientific inquiry, dismissing correlation entirely, as if it cannot suggest causation at all, can be just as risky. Epidemiologists and statisticians hone in on scientific evidence quite frequently by looking at trends in data. There is still much to be learned about autism and its root cause.

It is second nature for us to hang our hat on a simple cause-effect relationship. We see it all of the time in the real world. Yet we do not see the moving parts behind what it takes to go from A to B. Coincidentally, a patient is vaccinated (in the case of MMR, usually at 12 months of age) and then developmental regression or delay is noted. Parents out of fear, frustration, confusion or a severe case of toddler logic syndrome (TLS) are deciding to delay or outright refuse vaccines. There’s no wonder there have been multiple recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and pertussis in the United States.

Note: Toddler logic syndrome, or TLS, is not a real medical diagnosis. I totally made it up.

Justin Morgan is a pediatrician who blogs at Bundoo, where this article originally appeared.

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  • QQQ

    “How Vaccines Harm Child Brain Development – Dr Russell Blaylock MD”

    • PrimaryCareDoc

      Wow. It’s like an anti-vax bingo card! Toxins! Autism! Amish! Autoimmune disease! Pharma! Mercury! Aluminum!

      Actually, I think I got two bingos. What do I win?

    • JR DNR

      We eat lots of formaldehyde every day. Grapes, Pears, and Apples are high offenders.

      Mercury in vaccines is of a type that is hard to absorb by the body, we get more from eating 1 fish that we do from a vaccine.

      If someone wants to avoid Aluminum, there are a lot of better ways to do that (avoid cans/cookware/processed food/deodorant) than avoiding a vaccine.

      Most Amish do vaccinate their kids:
      -Wenger, O. K.; McManus, M. D.; Bower, J. R.; Langkamp, D. L. (2011). “Underimmunization in Ohio’s Amish: Parental Fears Are a Greater Obstacle Than Access to Care”. Pediatrics
      -Yoder, J. S.; Dworkin, M. S. (2006). “Vaccination Usage Among an Old-Order Amish Community in Illinois”. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal 25 (12): 1182–1183

      We know that children born by C-Section or live with pollution are more likely to develop Asthma and Allergies, but there is no correlation between vaccine and asthma/allergies.

      Hep B – I understand the recommendation, but I would want to delay for my only children because I tested Hep B Negative and was vaccinated for it myself. Reasoning: If a mother has Hep B, and has a child, and you immunize them right away… it will prevent the child from developing hep B! The Hep B shot is cost effective, so there is no cost barrier to doing so. Since it’s cost effective and children need it anyways, they do it right at birth to protect all babies equally.

      The problem is these claims all seem so reasonable… when you don’t explain why things are done, or make claims that aren’t backed up with science…

  • doc99

    Oh brother …

    … Blaylock has retired from neurosurgery and has taken up a career opposing science-based medicine and promoting pseudoscience-based medicine and supplements that he sells under the label Brain Repair Formula. He suggests that his supplements can treat and prevent such diseases as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. He asserts that his formula “will maximize your brain’s ability to heal and reduce inflammation.” The rest of the scientific community seems oblivious to these claims, which are not based on large-scale clinical trials. Blaylock also sells hope to cancer patients by encouraging them to believe he has found the secret to prevention and cure.5

    Despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, Blaylock maintains that vaccines cause Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement), Parkinson’s, and autism.4 He puts forth these notions in books and for the politically conservative website Newsmax in a section called The Blaylock Wellness Report.* Despite the fact that the scientific evidence does not support his belief, Blaylock claims that giving children about two dozen vaccinations before they start school is dangerous. The experts at the Center for Disease Control disagree with Blaylock.According to the CDC:

    The available scientific data show that simultaneous vaccination with multiple vaccines has no adverse effect on the normal childhood immune system….

    No evidence suggests that the recommended childhood vaccines can “overload” the immune system. In contrast, from the moment babies are born, they are exposed to numerous bacteria and viruses on a daily basis. Eating food introduces new bacteria into the body; numerous bacteria live in the mouth and nose; and an infant places his or her hands or other objects in his or her mouth hundreds of times every hour, exposing the immune system to still more antigens. An upper respiratory viral infection exposes a child to 4 to 10 antigens, and a case of “strep throat” to 25 to 50.

    Read the whole thing.

  • guest

    Here’s another example of toddler logic:

    “Certain vaccines, like the polio vaccine, the Hib vaccine and the measles vaccine, have been responsible for saving many lives and improving public health. Therefore, all vaccines, even vaccines for benign childhood illnesses such as chickenpox, and illnesses that most babies are not exposed to, such as Hepatitis B, must also be necessary.”

    That statement is absolutely a logical fallacy, but it’s the underlying rationale for the US’s aggressive infancy vaccine program.

    • doc99

      Thanks for weighing in , Ms. McCarthy.

      • guest

        Ah, the ad hominem attack. When you have no argument against the facts or the logic, try getting personal.

    • ChrisKid

      Ah, the strawman. Yes, the basic idea for vaccination against all those diseases is the same, but no one simply assumes that because some vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary, that any and all of them will be.
      Would you like to explain to the families of the 2 or 3 people who used to die every week from chicken pox that it’s a benign disease? How about telling that to the survivors of people who have killed themselves to escape the horrific pain of shingles?
      You do know that HepB can survive on surfaces up to a week, right? You also know, I assume, that some 30% of children who contract the disease have no known risk factors and that children are more likely to have the chronic form of HepB, which is more likely to lead to liver cancer later. Knowing all that, why would you want to leave babies unprotected?

  • Mike

    I’d like to say – you heard it here first. My money is on a key part of the rise in
    autism and other illnesses will eventually be tied to acetaminophen, not vaccines. It was recently linked to the rise in asthma:

    and it’s got that issue that at relatively small overdoses,
    it can cause liver damage.

    People think that mercury in the vaccines are the cause for
    autism? Try this scenario: A child gets a shot. One of the normal side effects will be
    tenderness at the site of injection, a fever, aches, etc (as the body reacts
    mildly to the new intruder / builds antibodies to protect the body in the
    fugure from the live / real virus).

    And when the kid complains, what’s a parent going to
    do? Give them a pain killer. And the accepted ‘safe’ pain killer after
    aspirin was tied to Reyes syndrome?
    Tylenol / acetaminophen!!!

    The parents say ‘after the shot, they became autistic. Maybe. But not because of the shot. But rather because of the pain killer they
    gave afterwards?

    Check this link: the awareness about this acetaminophen -
    autism link is starting:

    • ChrisKid

      “An accompanying editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics emphasizes that the study has found “an interesting observed association,” but that the researchers did not find that acetaminophen causes ADHD. The study authors agree that their results do not show a cause-and-effect relationship.”

  • ninguem

    I think you’re onto something.

    Canned manure spray. Kid misbehaves, spritz the room.

    When I think of the play-doh that I’ve scrubbed out of the carpet over the years, I’d buy a can.

    Problem with my kids I suppose, is the house would smell like Green Acres, pretty much constantly.

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