© David Cheskin/PA
A nurse preparing to give a patient a vaccine.
You may have seen an article on WikiHow that's been making the rounds. I don't want to tell you how to feel, but as a parent I found it deeply disturbing.

You see, the article gives step-by-step instructions for "How to Get Vaccinated without Parental Consent."

In other words, it encourages children to subvert their parents' decision to refuse powerful immune-modulating drugs with potentially devastating side effects for their children.

The article, written by an anonymous team of 13, includes such helpful suggestions as "Petition the court for emancipation if your parents are really bad," implying that the "protection" afforded by these drugs is better than the protection of parents who have chosen to say "no, thanks."

Listening Will Change Your Parents' Minds

Step 2 of "Making Plans" would be hilarious if it weren't so chilling.

It contains some unintentionally ironic language: "Try talking to your parents. Explain your own worries, and let them voice theirs. Make sure that it's a two-way conversation, and you show respect for their perspectives (even when they frustrate you). It takes time, and often good listening skills, to change people's minds."

Much as I appreciate the exhortation to "make sure that it's a two-way conversation," I find the implication that "listening" will change a parent's mind rather than the other way around both fascinating and presumptuous. As if a 14-year-old who has gotten most of their vaccine information from the same heavily biased medical establishment that their parents grew up with has somehow done more thinking and research on the subject than those parents — the same parents who, in most cases, have had to drastically revise their own beliefs over the years due to experiences, conversations, and scientific literature that directly contradicted their previously unquestioned beliefs.

I Want to Avoid Shingles

Step 2 also suggests things to say to parents, like "I've read about what shingles can do to the body. I'm scared. I don't want that to happen to me." For anyone who has actually researched vaccines, that statement alone is a groaner.

While chickenpox is very rarely a problem, shingles, a re-activation of the same virus (varicella) is more likely to be painful or even dangerous. But the authors don't mention that minors rarely got shingles before the introduction of the varicella vaccine.

While anyone who has been exposed to varicella virus (naturally or through the vaccine) is theoretically susceptible to shingles, historically, few people other than senior citizens with little-to-no contact with children actually got shingles.

Since the advent of the varicella vaccine, however, the virus is no longer in general circulation and fewer and fewer adults are getting the associated immunity boost. It's not clear yet if it's a result of widespread use of the varicella vaccine, but since the vaccine was licensed shingles cases have been continuously rising in almost all age groups in the countries who vaccinate against chickenpox (including the U.S. , Germany, and Canada) — and such an increase was predicted when varicella vaccination was adopted.

There are two vaccines specifically intended to prevent shingles now, but they are not even approved for children, much less recommended for them.

The more recent vaccine, Shingrix, is a live-virus vaccine. [Edit: A reader has pointed out that I got the shingles vaccines backwards: Zostavax, the older vaccine, is the live-virus one. Shingrix is a "non-live recombinant, AS01Badjuvanted" vaccine. (Don't get me started on adjuvants; that's a blog for another day.) This just goes to prove my frequent refrain: No one gets it all right. Don't take anyone's word for it, not even mine. Read the sources!] As the insert states it is "indicated for prevention of herpes zoster (shingles) in adults aged 50 years and older."

shingrix package insert
The insert also explicitly states that "safety and effectiveness in individuals younger than 18 have not been established."

shingrix package insert
So, I ask you, how exactly is getting vaccinated without parental consent supposed to help a teenager avoid getting shingles?

That recommendation/justification is incredibly reckless, ignorant, or both.

And these people are advising our children?

Start with the Assumption that Your Parents Are Idiots

Step 2 also suggests saying "I understand that people are saying a lot of scary things, and that it can be hard to figure out what's true and what isn't true. I know it must be difficult for you."

Is there a parent on earth who would not gag hearing such a patronizing statement come from their child?

It must be difficult for me, you say?

Yeah, I suppose it was difficult for me forty years ago . . . but since then I've gotten a college education (with a major in physics, by the way), read hundreds of scientific studies, met thousands of people who have experienced severe vaccine reactions, and read a hell of a lot of mainstream material that obviously misrepresents the facts.

So, while I can understand that it would be difficult for a teenager who has only had access to information that is officially sanctioned (i.e., unlikely to lower vaccine rates) to "figure out the truth" — no, it's not particularly difficult for me anymore, thank you very much.

And how exactly does patronizing one's parents "show respect for their perspectives"?

Be Untrustworthy

Step 3 of "Making Plans," though, is the pièce de résistance. The authors baldly state, "You are allowed to lie to your parents," and suggest "you could pretend that you want to know if you're at risk for 'vaccine injury.' "

I just love the quotations implying that vaccine injury doesn't exist, don't you?

But more important is the fact that these anonymous cretins are suggesting that a child be deliberately dishonest, and then they have the nerve to further suggest in Step 6 that it is the parent who is unworthy of trust: "Try asking a school counselor, school nurse, parent of a friend, family friend, doctor, or other trusted adult if they can help out," they say, implying, of course, that the child should not trust their parents.

Step 2 gets much more specific about the lies it is "okay" to tell parents: "If your parents are distrustful, prepare your cover story especially well," the authors say, implying that parents are at fault for being "distrustful" of the child who is now specifically planning to violate their trust.

The logic of this is astounding. It is akin to saying, "If your parents are smart enough to suspect that you are lying to them, then lie better."

Pretending No One Is Ever Really Hurt by Vaccines

Disgusting as all of this is — and it is disgusting no matter what side of this argument you may find yourself on at any particular time — it doesn't even approach the horrors of section three: "Handling Any Aftermath."

At least the authors mention the potential for a few days of "mild side effects," but nowhere do they discuss what to do if those side effects are not "mild." Nor do they suggest what to do when their parents inevitably receive the doctor's bills or the insurance company's explanation of benefits. That's because by that time the authors will have achieved their objective. Why should they care what happens next?

Adolescence is hard. It's even harder when complicated by neurological issues, as it so often is these days. (Keep an eye out for the upcoming TMR book on Autism and Puberty.) Successfully navigating adolescence in today's world requires a great deal of open communication between parent and child. That goes triple when there are serious health concerns.

What are children supposed to do if, as a result of going behind their parents' backs, they develop encephalitis (a known side effect of all pertussis and MMR vaccines)?

Or Guillain-Barré syndrome (a polio-like paralysis and known side effect of flu vaccines)?

Or rheumatoid arthritis, thrombocytopenic purpura, type 1 diabetes, or any one of the other more than 100 other autoimmune conditions reported after vaccination?

vaccine injury table influenza

Vaccine Injury Table—Influenza Vaccines
vaccine injury table autoimmune

Vaccine Injury Table—Rubella and Measles Vaccines
How is the parent who has been kept in the dark supposed to handle the mysterious, sudden disability of a previously athletic teenager?

And when does the child break down and tell the truth about what was done to them? In the emergency room with doctors mystified by brain swelling "out of the blue"? Or months later when attempting to relearn how to walk or talk? Or never because an anaphylactic reaction took them by surprise and they didn't make it to an emergency room?

None of this is covered in the article. That's because the authors don't care at all — I was tempted to put that far more crudely — what actually happens to the kids who follow their terrible advice.

What to Do If You Are Caught Lying

But the authors do give three suggestions to use as justifications for one's actions if a parent does find out what their child has been up to:
  1. "I read about meningitis, and how quickly it can kill someone. It was scary. I don't want to live with that fear hanging over my head. I know that you may not approve. I did this to give myself peace of mind."
  2. "I'm autistic. I can't be turned autistic twice. But I could die of polio, and I'd really rather not."
  3. "I want to be a mom someday. Vaccine-preventable diseases can kill a baby in the womb. I did this to protect my ability to have children in the future."
I'm going to go over all three of these because our young people deserve better than this overt emotional manipulation. They deserve to know the truth about the risks they face.

1. Real Meningitis Risks

Meningitis can indeed kill quickly. That's why it's vitally important to know the symptoms of a serious bacterial meningitis infection (sudden fever, headache, and stiff neck) and get help immediately. However, it is also true that bacterial meningitis is very rare with only about 2,600 cases per year in the whole country, 70% of which are in children under 5. That leaves approximately 780 cases for all the older children this WikiHow is aimed at and young adults. There were 73.7 million children aged 0-17 in the U.S. in 2017, about 20 million of which are under 5. That means that an older child's risk of contracting bacterial meningitis is significantly less than 1 in 6,844.

None of the available vaccines covers all types of bacteria that can cause meningitis, and all of the vaccines have "serious adverse event" rates of at least 1% in teens — which means that they are at least 68 times more likely to get sick enough for a hospital visit from just one dose of vaccine than they are from meningitis itself. In order to protect yourself to the fullest extent possible by vaccination (there are lifestyle things you can do to reduce the risk as well), you would have to get six doses altogether of three vaccines, one of which is not even recommended for all teenagers — and you could still die of meningitis!

The truth is, much as we would all like for our "peace of mind" to be able to prevent any risk of infectious disease, it is simply not possible. And vaccinations used to avoid infection can — and often do — have very serious consequences.

2. I'm Already Autistic and I'm Afraid of Polio

This blatant attempt to exploit the autistic population is more than a little infuriating.

First off, no, you can't "die of polio" — unless you're traveling internationally on your own as well as vaccinating on your own. No one has even had a case of non-vaccine-strain polio in this country since the 1970s.

Secondly, you can indeed worsen the neurological issues associated with autism through vaccination. If you don't know that autoimmunity runs rampant in the families of children with autism, you should. It is irresponsible and shameful to exploit medically vulnerable teenagers in this fashion.

3. I Want to Have Children Someday

Bad as numbers one and two are, three may be the worst of all.

Yes, "vaccine-preventable diseases can kill a baby," but science is indicating that it may be the immune activation associated with the illness rather than the illness itself that is the problem — immune activation of the very sort that vaccination induces. In addition, one particular vaccine may be causing high rates of infertility in young women who receive it.

Needless to say, none of the authors' suggestions is going to make life bearable for either a child injured by a round of illicit vaccines or a parent who has been lied to about — and must deal with — said injury. But that's not their problem; their only concern is to increase vaccination rates because they side with the CDC and pharmaceutical companies.

We all know that the CDC and pharmaceutical companies would like to increase uptake for each and every vaccine out there, regardless of the risks to any particular individual. We also know that they are by no means beyond using propaganda and emotional manipulation to achieve that end, even if it comes straight from the Nazi playbook.

But in an era of rampant immune-mediated chronic illness and low rates of infectious disease mortality, that is lousy public health policy.

And teaching children to be dishonest and violate their parents' trust is lousy for everything else.

If we care about our children's health — and we want them to care about it as well — it's up to us parents.

We need to do everything we can to make sure that our children are not vulnerable to the kind of blatant propaganda being promulgated by the management team at WikiHow.

To do that we need to nurture our relationships with our kids right now, even when it's hard — no, especially when it's hard — making sure they understand the value of honesty and trust, when it comes to both their lives and our society as a whole.