The vaccine study you’ll never see

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts or comment threads that say we don’t have any studies to prove that the CDC’s vaccine schedule is safe or effective.|

As a pediatrician, the first time I read that, I was surprised. But now, I think I know what they mean.

I think they mean that we haven’t done the best study. Those of us in the scientific and medical fields frequently demand well-designed studies — like double-blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trials — so why not apply that same requirement to vaccines? Why hasn’t anybody ever done that study?

The study design would be pretty simple, really. All we would need is two groups of kids. They’d need to be big groups — maybe a couple of million kids in each one. We would randomly divide the kids so that the groups would be as similar as possible except for the thing we’re testing. We’d have the same percentage of newborns, preschool kids, and older children in each group. The groups would have similar numbers of children with immunodeficiencies, on chemotherapy, or with other medical problems.

We’d have to separate the groups geographically. I know, that may be inconvenient … but it’s for science. We don’t want them benefiting from “herd immunity” (if that’s even a thing). Maybe we could borrow a couple of those rectangular states in the middle of the country. And because we need to establish a clear boundary, we’re going to build a wall and make Mercola pay for it.

Now to the vaccine part: our “intervention.” Group A would follow the CDC’s immunization schedule, which allegedly protects children from a long list of diseases (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Hemophilus influenzae type B, pneumococcus, polio, rotavirus, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, human papilloma virus, meningococcus, and influenza). We’ll see how true that really is.

Group B would go to all the same doctor’s visits, and they would think they were getting vaccines, but really, they would be placebos. Just a syringe with some saline. I know, it seems mean to stick the kids for nothing, but if we’re going to do this study, let’s do it right. We can’t have the parents figuring out which group their kids are in.

That’s pretty much it. We want them to live life as normally as possible. The children in each group will go to daycare together, hang out together at school, and do whatever it is that teenagers do these days. There will be sneezes, snot, and sex. We’ll give fecal-oral transmission a chance to do it’s thing. Somebody will step on a rusty nail. It’s going to be a germ fest because, well, that’s just life.

Every few months, we’ll organize trips during which the children in our study can ride on airplanes or visit theme parks with children from other countries. Because in the real world, these exposures happen.

Then we’ll just spend the next few decades observing. I wish it didn’t take so long, but to do the study right, we’re going to need some time. Time for things like liver failure or throat cancer to develop. Time to wait for things like subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (a complication of measles infections that causes severe neurological damage, sometimes decades after the infection). Time for the little girls to grow up, get pregnant, and have children with severe birth defects because of congenital rubella infections. If the study is too short, we’ll miss out on a lot of important data.

We’ll also look for side effects from the vaccines. We could set up a system where anybody can report anything they feel might possibly be related to a vaccine. Of course, we can expect to see some reported side effects in both groups, purely because of timing. And that’s good, because we don’t want to miss anything, even if it means wading through some suspicious claims of vaccines causing car accidents or drownings, or turning someone into the Incredible Hulk. We’ll have to look for patterns, because a single report isn’t all that reliable — and if we are giving vaccines to millions of kids, we should see actual side effects show up more than once.

When we look back at the data, it will be important to remember that just because a child has a seizure a few days after getting a shot doesn’t mean the shot caused it. That’s where the placebo group really helps.

The placebo group shouldn’t have any side effects — nothing significant, anyway. Sure, some of these kids will have autism, allergic reactions, or other problems — because, well, these things happen — but we’ll know it isn’t because of the vaccines. We would compare the rates of these side effects to those in the vaccine group. If the rates of, say autism, are the same in the vaccine group as the placebo group, we could conclude that vaccines don’t cause autism.

And then, finally, once we’ve collected decades of data from each group about how many children get these diseases, how many have serious complications, and how many die…we can try to guess which group was which.

Hopefully, you’ve realized (if you didn’t already) why we haven’t done this study — and why we never will. Vaccines prevent disease — in your child, your child’s friends, and people who can’t be vaccinated. Vaccines save lives. No, we don’t have a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial comparing our vaccine schedule to placebo. But we do have some pretty convincing evidence. Check it out for yourself.

Chad Hayes is a pediatrician who blogs at his self-titled site, Chad Hayes, MD.

Image credit: Chad Hayes

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