Ignoring Context & Lack of Common Sense:  Misusing “infant theoretical 10,000 vaccines at a time”

by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Posted: March 18, 2016

Ignoring Context and a Lack
of Common Sense: Antivaccinationists
Absurdly Misusing Dr. Paul Offit’s
“each infant would have the theoretical
capacity to respond to about 10,000
vaccines at any one time”


Executive Summary

A recurrent concern among parents is that the mounting number of vaccines now administered to babies is a major challenge to the infantile immune system. Leading advocate of childhood immunizations, Dr. Paul Offit, has sought on numerous occasions to reassure parents by emphasizing how robust and effective babies’ immune systems are at responding to the daily threats from the enormous number of bacteria and viruses they are exposed to. He has illustrated this by showing how - in theory - a baby's immune system could cope with the number of epitopes (parts of a microbe recognized by our immune system) represented by 10,000 vaccines at one time. While 10,000 seems like a lot, as Dr. Offit explains, even this number is small compared to the capacity of our immune system and, yet, it is exponentially greater than the epitopes represented by all the vaccines given to children.

Well-organized, well-funded groups have sprung up trying to persuade parents of the alleged dangers of vaccines. Their arguments are mistaken, confused, lacking in scientific rationale and logical cohesion. There is one claim, based on one statement/sentence made by Dr. Paul Offit, repeated umpteen times all over the blogosphere, that I think encapsulates their flawed thinking. This claim takes one sentence out of context, ignoring the entire lead in to it. However, even without the context, antivaccinationist’s use of it contradicts common sense. Rather than doing their homework, they amplify each other in a near hermetically sealed self-reinforcing closed circle.

I believe that there is not a single book or paper that I couldn’t find one or two sentences that I could take out of context in order to prove any point I wish to. The purpose of this paper is to once again explain how our immune systems work, how vaccinations fit in the picture, and to show just how flawed antivaccinationist thinking is.

For those who actually either read Dr. Offit’s article or listened to his talk, it should have been obvious that his “10,000” or “100,000” vaccines, when taken in context, was clearly referring to the number of antigens (the small part of a microbe that the immune system recognizes) that our immune systems can deal with at one time. In fact, the actual quote in his article: “then each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time (obtained by dividing 107 B cells per mL by 103 epitopes per vaccine),” makes it quite clear by including B cells and epitopes per vaccine. If this wasn’t obvious, then for both those who read the article and/or listened to the talk and those who solely read quotes of only the out-of-context sentences, common sense should have made it obvious. First, just using ones imagination should have made it quite clear that one could NOT give 10,000 or 100,000 vaccines to an infant at one time. It would be impossible, whether one gave it as separate injections for each vaccine or even packed 20 vaccines per injection, impossible except for antivaccinationists such as Linda. Secondly, there are only 17 vaccines mandated or recommended for infants and even their administration is staggered. Not even in ones wildest imagination could we jump from 17 to 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000.

Research in vaccine development focuses on the microbes that pose the greatest risk. In fact, there are only 27 currently approved vaccines against distinct pathogens and 19 in development (other vaccines are in early stages of development, various different formulations for the same microbe, or for treatment of cancers). These numbers include vaccines for microbes that don’t exist in the US or UK, only given when traveling abroad, or are not a risk for infants. So, Dr. Offit’s cited 10,000 or 100,000 vaccines doesn’t pass the common sense muster. Reasonably intelligent people would ask what he is talking about? Unfortunately, antivaccinationists, in their fervor to attack anyone who promotes vaccines, in their lack of logic, in their lack of rationality, in their deficient understanding of immunology, microbiology, infectious diseases, historically and currently in the world, in their deficient understanding of epidemiology and in their LACK OF COMMON SENSE, jump at whatever seems to confirm their rigid ideology, display incredibly poor scholarship by not taking even the least time to investigating further. Why should they given that they know they are right.

Stone, a major contributor to Age of Autism, believes that the more antigens per shot the greater the risk. However, besides the fact that even the antigens from 20 microbes would be far below what our immune system is capable of, he is NOT aware that multivalent vaccines reduce the pain from multiple shots and usually the amount of additional ingredients such as stabilizers and adjuvants. In other words, exactly the opposite of his fears.

Monitoring antivaccination websites, it becomes obvious that they represent a near hermetically-sealed self-reinforcing circle. Someone cited Dr. Offits “10,000” vaccines and, without thinking, the antivaccinationists have been repeating it ever since. One example of just how absurd their thinking is.

I welcome parents questioning. Not only do they have the right to; but they should. However, when they do this, they should listen, their questions should not be rhetorical ones, and they should do the research, take the time to learn some of the basics, starting with, perhaps, Sompayrac’s excellent little book, “How the Immune System Works”, not relying on articles found on websites such as Age of Autism, articles deficient in so many ways.

Read Dr. Harrison's full article as a PDF version by clicking here.