Vaccine Evangelists, Apostates, and Apologists: Part 1 — The Evangelists

By Jordan Henderson

This essay series is a deep dive into the vaccine conflict: the preaching of the Vaccine Evangelists, the refutation of that preaching by the Vaccine Apostates, and the protection of the Vaccine Evangelists by the Vaccine Apologists.

Evangelists preach and promote the faith.

Apostates have abandoned the faith and may work to actively undermine it.

Apologists defend the faith.

Here’s what’s happening – Vaccine Evangelists preach, and have long been preaching, the doctrine of Salvation Through Vaccination in which they credit vaccines as having brought us deliverance from the high mortality rates, especially among infants and children in the 19th and early 20th centuries, caused by massive yearly numbers of deaths attributed to infectious diseases.

Vaccine Apostates have debunked, and continue to debunk the Vaccine Evangelists’ sermons.

Vaccine Apologists have the task of damage control and containment. The apologists do not directly defend the central misconception put forth by the Vaccine Evangelists, this misconception being that vaccines played a primary role in causing the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease in general, and many major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates. And they also imply and sometimes directly preach the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them.

The Vaccine Apologists are simply excellent at subtle misdirection; it can be difficult to identify and easy to miss what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Rarely do the Vaccine Apologists directly acknowledge the central misconception being preached by the Evangelists at all, because to do so would emphasize that such a misconception is, indeed, being preached. They instead indirectly indicate that no such misconception is preached; they do this by insisting that anyone who debunks this misconception (the Vaccine Apostates) is attacking a strawman. This implies that such a misconception exists only in the arguments of the Vaccine Apostates, and is not actually promoted by Vaccine Evangelists.

In other words the Vaccine Apologists don’t directly defend the preaching of the Vaccine Evangelists, they instead protect the evangelists by rerouting the conversation with red herrings, accuse the Vaccine Apostates of attacking strawmen, and act as though the Evangelists haven’t been saying the things they’ve been saying.

So then, the first order of business to keep the conversation honest and in accordance with reality, is to demonstrate, that yes, Vaccine Evangelists, absolutely do, quite frequently, promote the belief that vaccines played a primary role in causing the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease in general, and many major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates. And they also imply and sometimes directly preach the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them. (Which I will sometimes refer to in this series simply as “The Belief in Question” and “Central Misconception” for short)

Therefore, this first installment of this essay series is centered on an exhibition (collection of noteworthy examples) of Vaccine Evangelists preaching the aforementioned belief. We’ll get to this exhibition right after some introductory words and forewarnings, analogies to assist in understanding the dynamic at play here, and clarification of some basic terminology that will be important for the reader to keep in mind throughout this essay series.


This essay is long format. If you are short on time, bookmark this, and come back to it on a free evening or afternoon and read it while sipping a nice beverage. Or take it one section at a time – this is a good spot to break.

I’ll provide a handy table of contents of this first installment in this essay series, right here, at the beginning, so that you may see what you will be getting into if you proceed (which I hope you do).

Table of Contents (of Part 1. of this essay series)

1 – Introduction (You are here)

2 – Analogies for Understanding the Basic Interplay of Vaccine Evangelists, Apostates, and Apologists

  • Vaccine Preaching and Defense as a Bait and Switch Confidence Game
  • Introduction to Motte and Bailey Doctrines
  • How Vaccinationists use the Motte and Bailey to Great Effect

3 – Terminology – Mortality, Death, Morbidity, Notification of Incidence

4 – Exhibition of Vaccine Evangelists Preaching the Faith:

  • The Graveyard Gambit: Exhibits A Through D, and More!
  • Bait and Switch Preaching: Exhibits E Through H
  • The Lifespan Lecture: Exhibits I Through L

5 – Road Map

6 – A Couple Ideas for those Who Would Like to Support This Work

7 – Building the Collection (of Vaccine Evangelism)

Elephant in the Room – drawing in charcoal and conté on paper, by the author.

(2) Analogies for Understanding The Basic Interplay of Vaccine Evangelists, Apostates, and Apologists

In this section, two analogies are provided. The first analogy of Vaccine Preaching and Defense as a Bait and Switch Confidence Game is followed by a few caveats. It’s a good analogy for the dynamic that it describes, BUT it also implies petty criminality and that is where the analogy breaks down, so that is why I put some caveats in.

The second analogy is the Motte and Bailey. I first provide an excerpt from the developer of the analogy describing what a Motte and Bailey is, then I describe how the analogy applies to what Vaccine Evangelists and Vaccine Apologists are doing.

Vaccine Preaching and Defense as a Bait-and-Switch Confidence Game

The Bait – The belief that vaccines played a foremost role in causing the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates. And they also imply and sometimes directly preach the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them.  – that’s the bait (promoted by the Vaccine Evangelists who are wittingly or unwittingly the con men — that is, they sell people a false story that gives them confidence to buy into the belief).

The Switch – Once the vaccinationists know that you have seen the historical mortality data, the Apologists switch the claim from the Evangelist’s grandiose stories about vaccines having brought us deliverance from those frighteningly high mortality rates of the past, to the much less impressive but easier to defend claim that- Vaccines frequently correlate with reductions in notifications of incidence. That’s the switch.

Cooling the Mark Out – Cooling the Mark out, as elucidated in Erving Goffmans 1952 paper on confidence games, is the role of a conman’s accomplice in calming down (cooling) the victim (the mark) of a confidence game, after the mark realizes they’ve been cheated.

If Vaccine Apostates threaten the reputation of vaccines by debunking the central misconception promoted by the Vaccine Evangelists, then people who believed that misconception are understandably going to lose trust, and wonder how else they may have been deceived about vaccines. Loss of trust in formerly trusted institutions that promoted this message (governments, medical establishments) or failed to debunk it, and frequently promoted it (news media) would also be a logical consequence.

So someone needs to cool the mark out. This is where the Vaccine Apologists come in. They treat it as absurd to believe that anyone was promoting the misconception to begin with. They misdirect and misconstrue the arguments of the vaccine apostates; they dig for the weakest examples of apostate arguments and present them as the strongest. Above all they avoid any acknowledgment that the central misconception of the doctrine of Salvation Through Vaccination is widely preached and believed. By ignoring the existence of the misconception, they can treat it as though the Vaccine Apostates debunking the misconception are fighting a strawman based on the presumption that the misconception being debunked doesn’t exist, or isn’t widely put forth.

Forgive me for continuing to heap on the analogies, but the Vaccine Apologists cool the marks out by gaslighting them; that’s what most of what they are doing really boils down to, gaslighting (leading someone to believe that they are deluded for believing as true something that is in fact true). Here is an example of the Vaccine Apologists’ gaslighting in a nutshell:

“I don’t know why you thought that vaccines played a primary role in the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that we would be overwhelmed with a tsunami of suffering and death if we stopped vaccinating, basically no one has been saying or suggesting or insinuating that. Stop deluding yourself. Stop fighting strawmen.”

Caveats for the Analogy of Vaccine Preaching and Defense as a Bait-and-Switch Confidence Game

Bait and switch confidence games are a useful analogy here, as the same basic elements of a confidence game can be seen in the preaching and defense of vaccines. BUT confidence men and confidence tricks bring to mind petty criminals. Broadly speaking, I regard neither Vaccine Evangelists nor Vaccine Apologists as petty, nor do I regard them as criminals – hence these caveats.

No doubt they (vaccine, evangelists, and apologists) have many motivations. It is likely that a great many of the Vaccine Evangelists genuinely believe the gospel that they are preaching. And the Vaccine Apologists, I suspect, are practitioners of Noble Lies (lying on behalf of the “greater good”) and Paternalistic Deceptions (deceiving someone for “their own good”); they “know” that the benefits of vaccines vastly outweigh the risks, and if they need to protect a misconception, or gaslight you, in order for you to accept that, then it is for the greater good of ensuring widespread vaccination.

I doubt many of them are frank enough with themselves to acknowledge that they are engaging in paternalistic deception and noble lies. It would be unrealistic to expect vaccinationists to regularly own up to this, but occasionally they do (emphasis mine):

“In death certificates given by us voluntarily, and to which the public have access, it is scarcely to be expected that a medical man will give opinions which may tell against or reflect upon himself in anyway. . . . In such cases he will most likely tell the truth, but not the whole truth, and assign some prominent symptom of disease as the cause of death. As instances of cases which may tell against the medical man himself, I will mention erysipelas from vaccination, and puerperal fever. A death from the first cause (vaccination) occurred not long ago in my practice, and although I had not vaccinated the child, yet, in my desire to preserve vaccination from reproach, I omitted all mention of it from my certificate of death.”

– Dr. Henry May, medical officer of health, (the intermediary sources where I have encountered this quote by Henry May are Dissolving Illusions – Bystrianyk and Humphries and Vaccination a DelusionAlfred Russel Wallace. The original sources for this quote are the Ipswich Journal of 1876 and the Birmingham Medical Review, Vol III., pp. 34, 35)

Introduction to Motte and Bailey Doctrines

The Motte and Bailey Doctrine is an analogy developed by the philosopher Nicholas Shackel to describe a certain rhetorical maneuver. Shackel describes the Motte and Bailey as follows:

“A Motte and Bailey castle is a medieval system of defense in which a stone tower on a mound (the Motte) is surrounded by an area of pleasantly habitable land (the Bailey), which in turn is encompassed by some sort of a barrier, such as a ditch. Being dark and dank, the Motte is not a habitation of choice. The only reason for its existence is the desirability of the Bailey, which the combination of the Motte and ditch makes relatively easy to retain despite attack by marauders. When only lightly pressed, the ditch makes small numbers of attackers easy to defeat as they struggle across it: when heavily pressed the ditch is not defensible, and so neither is the Bailey. Rather, one retreats to the insalubrious but defensible, perhaps impregnable, Motte. Eventually the marauders give up, when one is well placed to reoccupy desirable land.

For my original purposes the desirable but only lightly defensible territory of the Motte and Bailey castle, that is to say, the Bailey, represents philosophical propositions with similar properties: desirable to their proponents but only lightly defensible. The Motte represents the defensible but undesired propositions to which one retreats when hard pressed.

Diagnosis of a philosophical doctrine as being a Motte and Bailey Doctrine is invariably fatal. Once made it is relatively obvious to those familiar with the doctrine that the doctrine’s survival required a systematic vacillation between exploiting the desired territory and retreating to the Motte when pressed. Clearly, the diagnosis is not confined to philosophical doctrines: others may suffer the same malady.”

You can read more of Shackel regarding the Motte and Bailey here.

Remember: The Motte is territory that can be defended but is undesirable; the Bailey is the desired territory, but not very defensible. The practitioners of the Motte and Bailey doctrine spend their time occupying the prize territory – the Bailey, when they can. But if pressed they retreat from the hard-to-defend Bailey into the much less desirable, but more defensible Motte. There they stay until the attack subsides, at which point they leave the cramped Motte and retake the desired Bailey.

How vaccinationists use the Motte and Bailey to Great Effect

The Bailey for vaccinationists is the belief that vaccines played a primary roll in the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious diseases, and many major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates; and also, the corollary belief that these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them.

This is highly desirable rhetorical ground to occupy. If this belief were true, then the benefits of vaccines would be truly “miraculous” as the vaccinationists are fond of saying. Anyone who believes this is likely to believe that vaccines are a no-brainer, and the tolerance for risk in vaccines would be relatively high due to the belief in such an enormous benefit.

No wonder then that vaccinationists like to promote this belief. But this belief is the Bailey; when subject to careful scrutiny it is not defensible at all.

Once pressed, the vaccinationists retreat into the Motte, the defensible but not very desirable position. The Motte, for vaccinationists, is that the introduction of widespread vaccination against certain diseases has frequently correlated with a reduction in notifications of incidence for that disease. This is much more defensible territory.

But vaccinationists do not enjoy being confined to the Motte and watching Vaccine Apostates remove from vaccines the immense undue credit that vaccines enjoy. In other words, the vaccinationists need to drive the Vaccine Apostates out of the Bailey, and the sooner the better.

How do vaccinationists drive the Apostates out of the Bailey? Similar to the other analogy (vaccination as a bait and switch confidence game) the Vaccine Apologists accuse anyone who storms the Bailey of attacking a strawman, thereby implying that the vaccinationists had never been trying to occupy the Bailey to begin with, that they had never been promoting the belief in question.

(3) Terminology: Mortality, Death, Morbidity, and Notification of Incidence

Most of the historical mortality data directly contradicts the preaching of Vaccine Evangelists. The morbidity data on the other hand, is often times more favorable, or at least less unfavorable to them – though unfortunately for them it doesn’t support the central misconception of the Doctrine of Salvation Through Vaccination that they preach. We’ll be looking at these matters in greater detail but for now let’s briefly go over definitions:

Mortality is death; mortality data is death data; mortality data sorted by cause is data of deaths sorted by recorded cause of death.

Morbidity is incidence (someone having the illness in question); morbidity data is generally a generous way of saying data on notifications of incidence (reported incidence of the illness), which is usually a subset of the actual incidence (a large unknown quantity of which goes unreported).

Experiencing an illness, which might be very mild, and may not result in any lasting complications (morbidity), is very different from experiencing death (mortality), which means the end of your earthly visit and the defunction of all the bodily functions of your physical body. There is no “mild death.”

Morbidity might lead to mortality or it might not even remotely head that way; these are two potentially and often radically different conditions. Morbidity could refer to just about any condition, including something very temporary, that results in something just shy of excellent health, but is still a literal lifetime away from death.

Despite these great differences, the words mortality and morbidity sound very similar and both invoke the idea of death because of the uses of the word morbid in everyday English.

To avoid confusion, I will most often use plain English death in place of mortality, and notification of incidence in place of morbidity.

You will still see Mortality and Morbidity when I quote others, or when I decide to use them anyway because it is clear by context that death or notification of incidence is being discussed.

We’ll get into mortality and morbidity data in greater detail in Part 3 of this essay series, but for now keep in mind that this is a very important distinction, and these two data types are very different in many ways: mortality (death) data is more consequential, more complete, and more widely available over greater periods of time. Morbidity (notification of incidence) data is less consequential, much less complete, available for much more limited time periods, and for many of the most crucial time periods, morbidity data isn’t available at all, as we will see.

Why is this so important? If Vaccine Evangelists preach that vaccines played a primary role in causing the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease in general, and many major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates. And they also imply, and sometimes directly preach, the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them, then they need the mortality data to support that belief.

Morbidity data would be icing on the cake of that belief, but the belief is indefensible to begin with if the mortality data doesn’t support it (in which case there is no cake to put the icing on).

(4) Exhibition of Vaccine Evangelists Preaching the Faith

I am going to provide a broad selection of examples of vaccinationists promoting the belief in question.

This type of vaccine evangelism is so common and so extensive, that we can divide it into distinct genres. (Uncharitably speaking, we will be looking at categories of vaccinationist tropes and clichés.)

Providing these examples is an important step if we want to make further gaslighting efforts difficult for the Vaccine Apologists. Making extensive documentation of the Vaccine Evangelist preaching a key part of this essay series will assist us in removing plausible deniability from Vaccine Apologists and in making it more difficult for them to cool the marks out (the bait and switch analogy), or deny that they were ever trying to occupy the Bailey (the Motte and Bailey analogy). I know this sounds harsh, but really it is all for the Vaccine Apologists’ own good: we are helping to keep them intellectually honest and removing from them the temptation toward further gaslighting and misdirection on this matter.

We will look at three prominent genres of Vaccine Evangelist Preaching in this exhibition. They are; The Graveyard Gambit, Bait and Switch Preaching, and the Lifespan Lecture.

The Graveyard Gambit: Exhibits A Through D and Links to more Vaccine Evangelist Graveyard Lectures.

Our first example of Vaccine Evangelism is what I call The Graveyard Gambit.

The Graveyard Gambit category of vaccine evangelism involves pointing to gravestones in old cemeteries where the preponderance of headstones belonging to children and infants bears witness to the frighteningly high rates of child and infant deaths attributed to the infectious diseases that were so very common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And then saying:

“See! See! This is what happened before vaccines, this is why we need vaccines.”

This is one of my favorite genres of vaccine evangelism: they’re not demanding that we make a leap of faith by insisting that we trust the experts, or follow the science. Here, the vaccinationists are making a real argument as opposed to an appeal to authority, or an appeal to conventional wisdom. With the Graveyard Gambit they bring forth a literally down-to-earth argument, centered on rock-solid, concrete evidence, that any one of us can verify for ourselves by a simple stroll through just about any of many an old cemetery.

I appreciate this, I really do. Not to mention that I love the evocative and melancholy aesthetic of the vaccine evangelist’s graveyard lectures; it’s a beautiful genre of Vaccine Evangelism.

While the graveyard gambit does not prove what vaccine evangelists think it proves (as we will see later in this essay series), it is a fine example of the preaching and acceptance of the belief that vaccines played the primary role in the drastic reduction of deaths attributed to infectious diseases in general, and specific major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And they also preach the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable effects if we stopped vaccination against them.

So without further ado, let’s immerse ourselves in this lovely array of vaccine evangelist graveyard lectures through the perusal of Exhibits A through D.

Exhibit A

Exhibit A is comprised of excerpts from Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shotsby Dr. Ari Brown is a pediatrician educated at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School. The Immunization Action Coalition turned an excerpt of her book, Baby 411, into this vaccine-information handout Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shots.

You can find this handout all over the web through various vaccine-advocacy sites and pediatricians’ websites, and especially through government websites, which recommend it as a source of science-based information about vaccines to be given to vaccine-hesitant parents. Washington State Department of Health lists this handout in their resources for encouraging parents to vaccinate and so to does Health.Alaska.Gov, and the Minnesota Department of Health and the health departments of Colorado, and Missouri and New York, and many counties and county health departments within the states too, such as Lewis County WA on their list of science-based materials to give to vaccine hesitant parents, and Stanislaus County California, and Douglas County Wisconsin, and . . . you get the point; it’s popular with government health agencies in the USA at both the state and county level.

But just in case they all decide to clean up their act and take it down, or alter it; I accessed these websites on May 9th and May 15th, 2023 and here is a Web Archived version of the handout.

And now for the excerpts from Clear Answers and Smart Advice About Your Baby’s Shots:

“Consider a bit of history: in the 1890s, people would have seven or eight children in their families and only half of them would survive childhood. Just go to an old graveyard sometime and look at the ages listed on the headstones. Many of the diseases that killed those children are now prevented by vaccination. It’s a fact: vaccinations have increased the life expectancy of our nation’s children. That’s why our grandparents and parents embraced vaccines. {…… } Doubt the effectiveness of vaccines? Just take a look at the sharp decline of illness and death rates from these diseases since 1950. Here is the link if you want to check it out:* Rather amazing, no? Diseases that used to kill thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) now only harm a handful of people – thanks to vaccines.”

* The link Dr. Brown shared appears to be broken, and oddly enough the redirect only takes me to Appendices A through D, but not E on the CDC’s website. Anyways, it can be found elsewhere; here is a link to the Appendix E with reported cases and deaths, saved on another website.

Exhibit B

In this next exhibit we have excerpts from a 2019 article published in the Indianapolis Business Journal, by Dr Richard Feldman “a family physician, author, lecturer and former Indiana State Department of Health commissioner for Gov. Frank O’Bannon.” The article title is Old cemeteries show lives cut short before vaccines (accessed May 9th 2023).

“During the 20th century, the average life span increased by 30 years due to advancements in public health. Much of this resulted from the massive program to vaccinate all children for various diseases, including smallpox (eliminated entirely from the world due to vaccination), measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough. There are also now immunizations against Haemophilus influenzae, meningococcal disease, pneumonia, influenza and rotavirus. {. . .

. . . }When I encounter vaccine hesitancy, I ask parents to go to an old cemetery. They will see an astonishing number of tombstones of children, many of whom died of vaccine-preventable diseases today. The deaths of young, healthy people were just an unfortunate fact of everyday life. It is easy to take vaccines for granted since their very success, the elimination of diseases, makes their value invisible. It’s hard to appreciate what one does not experience.”

Exhibit C

In Exhibit C we have excerpts from an interview of Stanford immunologist Mark Davis, PhD, who directs the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. These excerpts are from Stanford Medicine’s publication Scope, and they are recapping the interview and provide these transcripts in this 2015 article titled A discussion of vaccines, “the single most life-saving innovation ever in the history of medicine” (Web Archive Version Here). So let’s see what our Stanford immunologist friend, has to say on the matter.

“Davis, who directs the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, harked back to the time when cemeteries were filled with the graves of young children who fell victim to diseases such as measles and mumps that were virtually wiped out with the advent of vaccines. In the pre-vaccine era, about half of all children died of infectious diseases that are readily preventable today, he noted.

“One day I wandered through Union Cemetery in Redwood City, which started around 1850,” he said. “What was telling about the earlier graves is how many graves you have where they are two large headstones for the mother and father and a lot of little headstones for the children who died in infancy from measles and mumps and all these diseases that had also vanished with childhood vaccination but that are now coming back because people say, ‘I’ve heard something bad about these vaccines. So we are not going to give them to our kid.’

“As to whether California should require parents to vaccinate their children, Davis was adamant on the subject:

I wouldn’t want unvaccinated kids in a classroom with my kids. I think it’s a danger. These are decisions made by parents that could affect the health of their children for the rest of their lives… The government is totally correct to say you should not kill your child, you should not starve your child, you should not beat your child, and you should not deprive your child of vaccines.”

Exhibit D

The Daily Telegraph (An Australian newspaper) launched a campaign, No Jab No Play, in 2013 to pressure the government into adopting greater sanctions against the unvaccinated, such as withholding tax rebates from parents of unvaccinated children. As part of their crusade against the unvaccinated, the Daily Telegraph published articles extolling vaccines. The excerpts in this exhibit are from the Daily Telegraph’s 2016 article No Jab No Play: Graveyards tell countless stories of how now-preventable diseases stalked children.

“The success of Australia’s immunisation program has led to a collective amnesia about the diseases that once stalked our children: diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, polio and smallpox.

NSW (New South Wales) graveyards are crowded with the saddest of reminders: the graves of babies and children wiped out by vaccine-preventable diseases in the 19th and 20th centuries, when hundreds of infants died each year.

In 1863, there were 15,679 births and 6653 infant deaths in Sydney. Infant mortality (children under five) was a staggering 57.5 per cent of total deaths.

A quarter of child deaths were caused by diseases such as diphtheria and measles, according to a report by the Registrar-General of Births Deaths and Marriages, presented to Parliament in 1864.

Parents lived in constant fear of outbreaks, said Sydney University professor of population and health Peter Curson, author of a history of Australia’s infectious disease history Deadly Encounters.

“The measles epidemic of 1867 was the most severe childhood epidemic of the 19th century; 13,000 caught it and 70 per cent were under five. Some 800 children died in Sydney,” Prof Curson said.”


We thought this would be an easy story to do: go to a NSW graveyard, find headstones dedicated to children who died of polio or whooping cough, and tell the story of the epidemics that once stalked our children.

We wanted to prove to anti-vaccine parents — or those who forget to get jabs for their kids — that smallpox, polio and diphtheria could become terrifying monsters once again if we let our guard down.

. . . Anti-vaccination types claim that improved infant mortality is thanks to better sanitation and nutrition. But the truth is plain when you examine the figures.

Diphtheria killed 4073 people in Australia between 1926 and 1935. The vaccine, introduced into school-based and infant immunisation programs in the 1930s, saw deaths plummet to just 44 between 1956 and 1965. Tetanus killed 625 people in 1945-55 but the vaccine, introduced in 1945, has resulted in zero deaths since the 1970s.

Immunisation expert Robert Booy said with the introduction of each vaccine, Australia saw “fantastic, sudden reduction in disease”.”

Graveyard Gambits Galore

We could go on; there are many more examples of the Graveyard Gambit category of Vaccine Evangelism. But the four we have just reviewed, from a pediatrician, a physician, an immunologist, and a crusading newspaper, respectively, is plenty.

For those who want more, however, I’ll just drop some links to sources of more graveyard lectures.

There are various op-eds and letters to the editor in newspapers pointing to old gravestones and extolling vaccines, such as:

in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which walks you through old cemeteries and points to 19th and early 20th century gravestones of children whose deaths were attributed to infectious diseases.

The Australian author Greg Beattie discusses in detail an Australian show, Norman Swan’s The Health Report (Radio National – ABC), directed by a respected pediatrician which walks you through an old cemetery, and reads out the inscriptions of the gravestones of children to demonstrate the high child child mortality rate of the time, and credits vaccines as having saved us from that situation. You can read about this in Beattie’s excellent book Fooling Ourselves on the Fundamental Value of Vaccination. (we’ll be looking at some of Beattie’s stellar work later in this essay series).

There are of course blog posts centered around the graveyard gambit, such as A grave reminder of the importance of vaccines which begins by elucidating children’s headstones from the 1860s, or Lessons from a Kansas graveyard: What a 1903 outbreak of diphtheria can teach us today. The author of which concludes her piece with:

“When I hear of someone arguing against the benefits of vaccinations, I want to say, ‘Before you make up your mind, let me show you something.’ Then I want to take them out to a local cemetery. ‘This,’ I want to say, ‘This is why we have vaccines.’”

The Graveyard Gambit even crops up in an article that has nothing to do with vaccines and is actually about tombstones, not vaccines, but the reporter can’t resist a little vaccine hype too; this FOX23 article Maine tombstones tell sobering family stories of epidemics past where the reporter explains the high death rates which the tombstones testify too, like so:

“These were times before vaccines, ventilators, antibiotics or any real understanding of disease transmission. There was nothing to stop deadly bacteria and viruses from marching through whole families.”

All right, I promised we were done with the graveyard lecture for now, so I’ll fulfill that promise. Let’s look at some other genres of vaccine evangelism.

Ah, but wait, a beta reader of this essay left me this note at the end of this section,

“Are you going to refute the Graveyard argument here or later? You refute the Bait and Switch in the same section where you introduce it.”

Good question. The answer is – later, next essay. All these exhibits of Vaccine Evangelism, can be and have been debunked, by sharing the historical, deaths by cause of death, data. We will look at that in detail in the second part of this series (Part 2. Apostasy). 

Bait-and-Switch Preaching: Exhibits E Through H

Our next category of Vaccine Evangelism is Bait-and-Switch Preaching.

We can discuss the strategy being employed in these bait and switch vaccine evangelism examples momentarily, but for now just enjoy this exhibit of them, and see if you can pick up on what they are doing before I point it out.

Exhibit E

Childhood Killers (their subheading choice, not mine)

Diphtheria and measles killed thousands of children each year before their respective vaccines were developed. Since the diphtheria vaccine began to be widely used in the 1930s, and the measles vaccine in the 1960s, cases of both diseases dropped precipitously. Today, cases of diphtheria are less than one per year in the United States, and cases of measles occur mostly among the unvaccinated.” – from the diseases page of (Archived Version Here) which is by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Exhibit F

“Measles was one of the top killers among infectious diseases worldwide until a vaccine was developed in 1963. Even as recently as 1980, before global vaccination efforts began in earnest, an estimated 2.6 million children worldwide died from measles each year. It is also one of the most contagious of vaccine-preventable diseases: Nine out of ten people exposed to it will become ill without immunity from a vaccine or a prior infection, and each case yields 15 to 20 more in a non-immune population. After the U.K. and the U.S. introduced the vaccine, cases plummeted. One dose provides 95% protection against the disease; the second boosts that to 98-99%.” Two Countries, One Deadly Disease, a PBS article from 2014 (internet Archive Version Here)

Exhibit G

“Whooping cough vaccines became widely available in the 1940s. Before then, about 200,000 children got sick and about 9,000 died from whooping cough each year in the United States. After vaccine introduction, whooping cough cases reached an all-time low in the 1970s.”CDC DTP Vaccine page (accessed april 17th 2023)(Web Archived Version Here).

Exhibit H

“Diphtheria was once a major cause of illness and death among children. The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Starting in the 1920s, diphtheria rates dropped quickly in the United States and other countries that began widely vaccinating. Due to the success of the U.S. immunization program, diphtheria is now nearly unheard of in the United States. In 2019, countries reported more than 22,900 cases to the World Health Organization, but many more cases likely go unreported.”CDC’s DTP page (accessed April 2023) ( Web Archived Version Here)

Bait-and-Switch preaching, just like the Graveyard Gambit, is meant to convey the idea that we can thank vaccines for these diseases no longer being the killers they once were. But Bait-and-Switch preaching is deniable. They don’t technically say that the vaccines are responsible for the drastic reduction in deaths attributed to these diseases between then and now, they simply give the idea that it is so. They are out preaching in the Bailey but they are already preparing their retreat back into the Motte if challenged.

So how do they give this idea while maintaining some technical deniability?

They start by talking about how bad cases and deaths were before the vaccine. This gives you the impression that they are addressing the impact of the vaccine on both cases and deaths.

Then they talk about the rate falling after the vaccine was introduced. When they talk about the rate falling after the introduction of the vaccine, they either drop deaths, and now mention only cases or they use an ambiguous word like “rate” (Exhibit H) which could refer to both cases and deaths, but they could also deny that. This all happens in the span of a single paragraph and leaves the reader with the impression that they just said that deaths and cases dropped quickly after the introduction of the vaccine. But when you look carefully you note that they either switched to only cases and dropped deaths, or they employed enough strategic ambiguity that you can’t actually tell if they are talking about cases, deaths, or both. You have to parse these statements with a fine-toothed comb to see where they are setting up their escape route into the Motte if challenged in the Bailey.

The Lifespan Lecture: Exhibits I Through L

Our third exhibit of Vaccine Evangelism is examples of the Lifespan Lecture.

The lifespan lecture involves stating, or strongly implying, that vaccines played a primary role in the increase in life expectancy from what it was in the past, generally the 19th or early 20th century.

In the most detached-from-reality-version of the lifespan lecture, vaccines alone are mentioned. A slightly less grandiose, but still mostly reality free version of the lifespan lecture involves crediting the improvement in life expectancy to several primary factors – vaccines, along with, usually antibiotics and sanitation or hygiene. So the Lifespan Lecture places vaccines either among the foremost, or as the foremost reason for the improved lifespan.

Exhibit I

No exhibit of vaccine evangelism would be complete without a sermon or two from Dr. Paul Offit (Dr. Offit is a Vaccine Evangelist extraordinaire; he is hailed as an expert in immunology, virology, and vaccines. He co-developed the rotavirus vaccine, he appears on TV stations and documentaries extolling vaccines, he writes books promoting vaccines, and he writes forwards and endorsements of other people’s vaccine advocacy books). Offit has a pretty clear number in mind for just how many years of the increase in lifespan from the early 1900s is thanks to vaccines – 30 years. To demonstrate that this claim is no mere mistake of Offit’s attributable to say, foggy thinking from a bad day, or a lost night of sleep, I’ll provide multiple examples of Offit making this claim.

Offit’s “Vaccines have increased our lifespan by 30 years” claim, case example 1:

“Narrator: They’re hailed as medicine’s greatest triumph, conquering small pox, polio diphtheria, and more.

Dr. Paul Offit: If you look at vaccines over the past hundred years, they’ve increased our lifespan by 30 years.”

– Those are the opening words of the 2017 PBS Frontline documentary The Vaccine War.

Offit’s “Vaccines have increased our lifespan by 30 years” claim, case example 2:

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dr. Offit, you have heard our show today. Can you talk about why you feel vaccines are so important?

PAUL OFFIT: Well, because they’ve saved our lives. If you look at how long we lived, say, a hundred years ago, we lived 30 years less long—less long then than we do today. So, the reason—the main reason for that is vaccines.

– Offit being interviewed on Democracy Now in 2015 on their show – Inside the Vaccine War: Measles Outbreak Rekindles Debate on Autism, Parental Choice & Public Health

Offit’s “Vaccines have increased our lifespan by 30 years” claim, case example 3:

Offit’s been making the 30 year claim since at least 2010, as in this 2015 PBS Frontline article which is a transcript of interviews with Offit from 2010, titled Dr. Paul Offit: “A Choice Not To Get a Vaccine Is Not a Risk-Free Choice”

“Measles would cause 100,000 people to be hospitalized, primarily children, and between 500 to 1,000 to die. Rubella was a very common cause of congenital infection, meaning that the mother would be infected while the baby was still in the womb, resulting in about 20,000 cases every year in the United States of birth defects such as those that involve the eye, the ear and the heart. It was a terrible time. We lived 30 years less … than we do now, in large part because we didn’t have the vaccines that now can save our life.”

Offit’s “Vaccines have increased our lifespan by 30 years” claim, case example 4:

After listing out various alleged triumphs of vaccines, Offit concludes;

“In short, because of vaccines, we live 30 years longer than we did a hundred years ago”

– From the updated forward of the book Vaccinated: From Cowpox to mRNA, the Remarkable Story of Vaccines by Paul Offit. Offit wrote the updated forward in 2021, and it was published in the 2022 publication of the book.

And now, some non-Offit commentators:

Exhibit J

“Lifesaving vaccines have drastically increased longevity for United States citizens. Today, populations live almost twice as long as they did a century ago.” Public Health Initiatives and Life Expectancy: Immunizations (accessed May 15th Archived Version Here) Published in 2021 by the Master of Health Administration at Regis College.

Exhibit K

“Vaccines have dramatically increased life expectancy over the last 100 years, radically reshaping our communities, our economy, and the way we live our lives. As vaccination has become more widespread, the memory of the devastating impacts of infectious disease has faded, and the diseases that vaccines guard against seem less threatening. Misinformation and a lack of understanding about vaccines have also seeded doubts about their efficacy and necessity.”Vaccination: More than just your health (accessed May 19th 2023) From a Harvard University Blog, published in 2018 and written by Madeleine Jennewein who the website lists as “a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the Virology program at Harvard University.”

Exhibit L

“Our children are so much more likely to live a long life now. At the turn of the 20th century median age of survival was in the 40’s and now Americans, on average, live into their 70’s and beyond. No one disputes that it is antibiotics and vaccines coupled with sanitation that have made the most impact on our profound increase in survival.” – The Link Between Vaccines and Optimism – 2014 by Dr Wendy Sue Swanson (pediatrician) on her website.

(5) Roadmap

This concludes the first installment, Part 1. of this essay series. As mentioned in the introduction, the principal purpose of this first essay was to present the Exhibition of Vaccine Evangelists Preaching the Faith. Now we have firmly demonstrated, that yes, Vaccine Evangelists absolutely do promote the belief that vaccines played a primary role in causing the drastic decline in deaths attributed to infectious disease in general, and many major diseases in particular, that occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, especially as this relates to the plummet in infant and child mortality rates. And they also imply and sometimes directly preach the corollary belief that, these diseases would return with comparable devastation if we stopped vaccination against them.

Where to from here? I present below a schematic of the next installments of this essay series, up to Part 7.

Part 2. Apostasy – Part 2. will be an overview of Vaccine Apostates storming the Bailey and debunking the Vaccine Evangelist preaching (preachings, such as all the exhibits we reviewed in this first installment).

Part 3. The Red Herring: A Tour of the Motte – Just what the title implies; a walkthrough of the relatively undesirable but more defensible vaccinationist stronghold (notification of incidence data) to which they retreat when the Vaccine Apostates storm the Bailey, and an explanation of how Vaccine Apologists use incidence data and off topic questions, as red herrings to redirect the conversation away from the historical death data.

Part 4. Historical Death Data from the European Mainland – Yes, precisely that.

Part 5. The Platitude of Vaccines and Water – An exhibition featuring another distinct and popular genre of vaccine evangelism, and some interesting considerations about factors which could actually have been primary players causing the drastic reduction in death attributed to infectious diseases, and which put this genre of vaccine evangelism (the platitude of vaccines and water) into context (highlighting its implausibility).

Part 6. The Apologists – An introduction to multiple Vaccine Apologists, with point-by-point dissection and counter criticism of their arguments.

Appendix A. The Apologists Continued – Introduction to even more Vaccine Apologists, a whole slew of them, with point-by-point dissection and counter criticism of their arguments. These are older works of vaccine apologists, and it is not strictly necessary for the reader to read this appendix, it might just be published on my Substack and not part of the main series.

The reason for continuing the dissection of Vaccine Apologists in an appendix into older works of apologetics is to create a documented, broader base from which to analyze themes in Vaccine Apologist strategies in Part 7.

Part 7. The Vaccine Apologists’ Playbook – An analysis and review of the principal strategies employed by the Vaccine Apologists.

An Intermission Followed by Part 8 and Beyond – Part 8 and beyond will be a small set of essays focused primarily on unearthing, and presenting in graph format for efficient comprehension, sets of particularly interesting historical mortality data that have yet to be brought into the English-speaking sphere of the vaccine conflict, but should be. Rest assured; this essay series will not be spun out any further than the space needed for the most impactful information that I have to share on this topic. Important but less crucial aspects will be placed in appendices to keep the main essay series concise

(6) A Couple Ideas for Those Who Would Like to Support This Work

To those who would like to support my work, I offer the following three suggestions, any one or combination of which would be most helpful:

  1. Making a small single, or recurring donation to me through the donation page on my website (or a paid Substack subscription), or making a purchase of a small print, mug, or greeting card, through my art prints website.
  2. Making a single or recurring donation to one of the independent media outlets who publish my work, and without whom few would see my work online to begin with.
  3. Supporting this work by getting the word out; sharing this article, and or sharing other notable works by me or the independent media outlets who bring my work to your attention. This increases our reach and makes us happy to know that our work is benefiting more people.

(7) Building the Collection (of Vaccine Evangelism)

If you are alive today, and don’t live under a rock, then you have most likely encountered, and no doubt will continue to encounter, Vaccine Evangelism comparable to the exhibits we reviewed in this essay.

If some of the Vaccine Evangelism that you encounter strikes you as particularly noteworthy, so much so that it should be included in future exhibitions of Vaccine Evangelism, share it! Please consider either placing the examples in the comments of this essay for the benefit of all or email them to me for consideration in forthcoming exhibits.

Easily referenced, easy to share, exhibitions of vaccine evangelism, with many examples in one place, and categorized by genre, will be, I predict, a useful tool for analyzing Vaccine Evangelism, jeopardizing the vaccinationist’s strategic vacillation between a Motte and Bailey, and increasing the difficulty of Vaccine Apologists in employing gaslighting and misdirection to cool the marks out.

That’s all for now, see you at Part 2. Apostasy

Jordan Henderson lives in Washington State in the Northwest of the United States. He works in oil paints, and charcoals. A portfolio of his works can be viewed at either of his websites: Original PaintingsFine Art Prints

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