The $150,000 Vaccine Challenge

At the request of a correspondent from the Quackwatch Healthfraud discussion list, I recently got embroiled in a debate with a couple of anti-vaccinationists in the pages of an Amish community newspaper, Plain Interests, published in Millersburg PA. They followed the usual pattern: they told the same old lies, they told partial truths distorted out of all recognition, and they omitted all those other truths that contradict their beliefs. Then they both challenged me to take all the recommended baby vaccines adjusted for weight to “demonstrate that vaccines are safe and effective.” If I refuse to do this, they say it will show that vaccinators are dishonest and that I’m afraid of my own medicine. They said I could win $150,000 by taking the challenge.I did a little investigating. There is indeed a published challenge by Jock Doubleday, although the exact amount of money currently offered is unclear. His challenge reads:

The offer will continued to increase $5,000 per month, in perpetuity, until an M.D. or pharmaceutical company CEO, or any of the 14 relevant members of the ACIP (see below), agrees to drink a body-weight calibrated dose of the poisonous vaccine additives that M.D.s routinely inject into children in the name of health. The mixture will include, but will not be limited to, the following ingredients: thimerosal (a mercury derivative), ethylene glycol (antifreeze), phenol (a disinfectant dye), benzethonium chloride (a disinfectant), formaldehyde (a preservative and disinfectant), and aluminum.

According to Ratbags, this offer is bogus:

For some years, anti-vaccination liar Jock Doubleday has had a bogus challenge where he supposedly offered $20,000 to any doctor who would drink a concoction of vaccine components. Any doctor who took him up was soon made aware that there was no way of proceeding, and Doubleday himself admitted this when he said that he didn’t want to be responsible for the deaths of anyone who drank the mixture. The amount of money now supposedly on offer is $75,000, but the amount doesn’t matter because Doubleday has no intention of giving anything to anybody. The “challenge” exists simply as a way of derogating doctors by claiming that they are too frightened to accept the offer. There is no money, there is no challenge. I think Doubleday and his supporters are lying both about his intentions and the reactions of doctors. I happen to know several doctors who contacted Doubleday and offered to accept his challenge. In every case something was found to be wrong with the application. An anti-vaccinator wrote to Doubleday in early 2001 to ask him how the challenge was going. Part of his reply was:
“There are two possible candidates, but they may turn out to be hoaxes. In any event, I don’t foresee them really following through. A person would have to be of unsound mind, and I don’t particularly relish the idea of sending a person of unsound mind (or any person, for that matter) to heaven before his or her time.”
At the time I said: “He’s already making excuses about why he won’t be paying anyone anything. He’ll refuse to go ahead because of his unwillingness to hurt someone (“first, do no harm”) and, a year from now, the anti-vax mythology will be talking about how nobody took up the challenge”. Was I right?

I found another challenge from Viera Sheibner . Responding to an article by Simon Chapman, he says:

If vaccines are such a blessing I challenge Simon Chapman to appear on television and allow himself to be injected with all baby vaccines, adjusted to his body weight by a doctor of my choice and in my presence.
The vaccines to be administered to Simon are as follows:

  • DtaP: 3 doses within 4 months
  • Hib (any conjugates): 3 doses within 4 months
  • OPV or IPV: 3 doses within 4 months
  • Hep B: 3 doses within 1 month of each other.

Someone has already taken a greater challenge by ingesting 1,400 times as much mercury as a child gets from vaccines. Nobody is saying these toxins can’t cause harm. But remember, the poison is in the dose. There is no evidence that the amounts in children’s vaccines have harmed them, and any effects of larger amounts in adults would really be irrelevant. It would be just as irresponsible to assume that something was safe for children just because adults had taken it with impunity. But the really stupid thing is that Doubleday’s challenge involves taking orally the constituents that are injected during vaccination.

I declined the challenge for two reasons:

  1. I have already taken a greater, more meaningful challenge by giving my two precious daughters all the recommended vaccines, as well as taking them myself. In the Air Force, I got a number of other vaccines that are not in the recommended schedule, like yellow fever and cholera. I get my flu shot every year. I have demonstrated to the satisfaction of any reasonable person that I’m not afraid of vaccines.
  2. It wouldn’t do a bit of good, because it wouldn’t prove that the vaccines are safe. If I took the challenge and had no adverse effects, it wouldn’t persuade a single anti-vaccine activist to change his mind and vaccinate his children. They would make excuses like “well, maybe it didn’t hurt her, but my children might be more susceptible” or “maybe it didn’t hurt her, but it hurts other people,” or “it did hurt her and she’s lying about it” or “it might not have caused problems yet, but it might have a delayed effect later on,” or of course, “she just swallowed them, but vaccines inject them directly into the child’s body which must be worse.” Such a trial would not be good science: it would not be science at all, but only a meaningless testimonial from one person. The truth does not emerge from publicity stunts on TV; it emerges from carefully designed scientific studies. These people are not about to let even good evidence change their minds because their unwillingness to vaccinate is not based on evidence and reason but on a belief system.

My challengers both think there is something wrong with the fact that the same vaccine dose is given to people of different weights. One of my challengers said “the one-size fits all approach is very unscientific and dangerous.” I don’t think I need to explain to the readers of this blog how totally wrong-headed this is. These people are so ignorant of science that one of them said foreign protein contaminants in vaccines can change our genetic structure!

Apart from other considerations, isn’t it logically inconsistent for these folks to give any importance to the results of one casual demonstration on one person after they have already rejected the demonstrations of controlled scientific trials on many thousands of people?

If someone could offer a challenge with the prize being the silencing of all anti-vaccine propaganda, then I might think it was worthwhile.

As a footnote: a letter to the editor in the same issue said that “In Pennsylvania there are 500 vegetables – children who are helpless and need to be tended like vegetables as a result of taking the flu shot.” Where did that misinformation come from and how could anyone believe it? To put just the numbers into perspective, during the Swine flu vaccine scare of 1976, a total of 500 people in the entire country developed Guillain-Barré syndrome – and most of them recovered completely.

This article was originally published in the Science-Based Medicine Blog

Dr. Hall is a contributing editor to both Skeptic magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer. She is a weekly contributor to the Science-Based Medicine Blog and is one of its editors. She has also contributed to Quackwatch and to a number of other respected journals and publications. She is the author of Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the textbook, Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions.

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