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Vaccines (once again) Found Safe. Not That Anti-Vaxxers Care…

August 26, 2011 1 comment

The Institute of Medicine has released a comprehensive report on the safety of vaccines. They looked at a wide range of vaccine types and various adverse affects known to be associated, and thought to be associated, with vaccines.

The report looked at claims which were submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which was setup in 1986 to compensate those who were injured by vaccines.

They then looked for a causal relationship between the administration of the vaccine and the adverse effect reported in the claim.

In short, the committee found that most issues with vaccines were rare and mild.

Additionally, evidence favors rejection of five vaccine-adverse event relationships, including MMR vaccine and autism and inactivated influenza vaccine and asthma episodes.

A summary of the report very aptly states:

Despite much media attention and strong opinions from many quarters, vaccines remain one of the greatest tools in the public health arsenal. Certainly, some vaccines result in adverse effects that must be acknowledged. But the latest evidence shows that few adverse effects are caused by the vaccines reviewed in this report.

Of course, this doesn’t sway the staunch anti-vax supporters. Age of Autism, a group which is hell-bent on rejecting any scientific evidence showing that vaccines do not cause autism, had this to say about the study:

The IOM report took two years to produce, mostly behind closed doors, and was paid for by the Department of Health and Human Services, the government agency which is also a defendant against the vaccine-injured in the government’s vaccine court

Their arguments are as predictable as the sun rising in the east. It is a government agency, therefore they don’t accept the research.

If people want to keep their heads buried in the sand that is one thing, but the problem is that it is children who end up suffering when people don’t accept the science behind one of the greatest medical advances in history.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Though that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed.

Measles Outbreak Hospitalizes Four Children

March 31, 2011 1 comment

Yes, and it could have been prevented.

The outbreak happened in the Twin Cities area of Minneapolis. Since measles immunization is highly effective at preventing measles, how is it a that an outbreak like this could have occurred?

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, a recent outbreak of measles in the Twin Cities area was caused in part by former doctor and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield’s influential but fraudulent study suggesting a connection between child vaccination and autism.

So why weren’t the children vaccinated?

Several of the parents informed the Health Department they had avoided the mumps, measles, and rubella (MMR) vaccine out of concerns their children would be at risk of autism.

If you read this blog at all (or any other skeptic blog, for that matter) you know this already. But once more, with feeling…

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM

Not only has Wakefield’s original study been shown be of poor quality, it has also been alleged to be fraudulent. Many larger studies have shown absolutely no correlation between vaccines and autism.

None. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Nil.

Ok, I’m starting to get worked up. It happens when I talk about vaccines especially.

Why? Well usually when a scientist’s outlandish claims get debunked it is an “I told you so!” situation.

But when children (or anyone) get hurt or hospitalized as a result of those outlandish claims, it becomes a “Bang your head against the wall because this could have been prevented” situation.

Maybe we could call this a “Wakefield” situation; a “When Are Kids Ever going to Forgive us for letting Idiots Endanger their Lives with Debunked science” situation.

The reality is starting to set in, as Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University, lays out:

Hospitalizations and deaths have occurred—all preventable, had the children been immunized. In the U.S., some parents withhold vaccines; others stretch out the vaccination schedule, leaving children susceptible to disease for longer than they should.

I don’t know if the damage caused by that original Wakefield paper will ever be fully undone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to undo as much as possible.

Big Skeptical Wins: Andrew Wakefield “Fraud” and Power Balance Bull

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The blogosphere is teeming with articles regarding a couple of recent wins for skepticism. I’ll save the best for last.

The Power Balance Wristband

The first such win is the admission by the makers of Power Balance, a bracelet designed to increase sport performance. How you ask? The website states that

Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.

Sound like bullplop? Well it is bullplop.

Making these kinds of statements was a violation of Australian trade practices. Why? The press release to Australian media by Power Balance says it all:

In our advertising we stated that Power Balance wristbands improved your strength, balance and flexibility.

We admit that there is no credible scientific evidence that supports our claims and therefore we engaged in misleading conduct in breach of s52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

If you feel you have been misled by our promotions, we wish to unreservedly apologise and offer a full refund.

Big time win for the skeptical movement, since they were instrumental in bringing about this admission from Power Balance.

So that’s great. But this one is awesome!

Andrew Wakefield

Our dear friend Doctor Andrew Wakefield, whose study linking vaccines to autism (retracted study, btw) sparked an anti-vaccine movement and a huge public health risk, is in the news again. If you have read my blog before, you know that I am not his biggest fan.

Although he has had his medical license stripped and paper retracted by the Lancet, the anti-vaccine movement persisted, painting Wakefield as some kind of martyr; hung out to dry by Big Pharma for trying to tell the “truth” about vaccines.

Well yet another blow has been struck against this movement, and its a doozy.

Journalist Brian Deer has written a feature in the British medical Journal BMJ accusing Wakefield of falsifying his data by altering the medical histories of all the subjects in his study.

After seeing the data, the father of one of the children in the study said

His misrepresentation of my son in his research paper is inexcusable. His motives for this I may never know.

The piece is well written and documents Deer’s investigations into Wakefield’s research. I encourage you to read the whole text, but here are the key points:

  • Three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not have autism diagnosed at all. Only one child clearly had regressive autism

  • Despite the paper claiming that all 12 children were “previously normal,” five had documented pre-existing developmental concerns

  • Some children were reported to have experienced first behavioural symptoms within days of MMR, but the records documented these as starting some months after vaccination

  • In nine cases, unremarkable colonic histopathology results—noting no or minimal fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations—were changed after a medical school “research review” to “non-specific colitis”

  • The parents of eight children were reported as blaming MMR, but 11 families made this allegation at the hospital. The exclusion of three allegations—all giving times to onset of problems in months—helped to create the appearance of a 14 day temporal link

  • Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for planned litigation

     

So basically, he lied. He’s a dirty rotten liar-liar-pants-on-fire.

But what was his motivation? From the CNN news article:

Deer said Wakefield “chiseled” the data before him, “falsifying medical histories of children and essentially concocting a picture, which was the picture he was contracted to find by lawyers hoping to sue vaccine manufacturers and to create a vaccine scare.”

According to BMJ, Wakefield received more than 435,000 pounds ($674,000) from the lawyers.

Wakefield continues to defend himself by playing the fall-guy to Big Pharma:

Wakefield dismissed Brian Deer, the writer of the British Medical Journal articles, as “a hit man who has been brought in to take me down” by pharmaceutical interests.

The evidence against Wakefield was already overwhelming. But this story has hit the news media hard. It is a huge blow to the anti-vaxxers. Why do I think this? Well what did the anti-vaccine movement’s and Andrew Wakefield’s most prolific and outspoken public relations person, Jenny McCarthy, say about this story?

Actress Jenny McCarthy, founder of Generation Rescue and whose son also has autism, declined to comment on Wednesday’s developments

Your friends are abandoning you Andrew Wakefield. The truth is finally starting to become clear to everyone. You have duped a generation of mothers into thinking that vaccines cause autism, and children have died because of it.

Got My Flu Shot!

December 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Army recruit receiving vaccine. Via Wikimedia Commons

Yup, in a couple weeks I will be immune to 3 forms of the flu virus, including H1N1. Jealous?

My work set up an in-house vaccination clinic today. I had a nice chat with the Nurse (Helen) about how much snow there is back in Ontario where I went to school (close to 1 meter, about 40 inches!).

She also told me that quite a few people in my office have made appointments to get the shot, which made me happy, since if you read this blog at all you know that vaccines have gotten a bad rap lately.

But in Canada, the flu sends over 20,000 people to the hospital every year, and between 2000 and 8000 people die of the flu every year.

Since I am a healthy 26 year old, even if I got the flu I should be fine within a week. But if I were to give the flu to a child or elderly person, or someone who could develop complications due to the flu, I would be putting their life at risk.

So I could be saving myself a few days of feeling like crap, or I could be saving someone’s life. And it only took a few minutes of my time.

Canada’s National Immunization Poster Contest Winners!

December 7, 2010 Leave a comment

The 9th Canadian Immunization Conference is being held right now in Quebec City.

The goals of this conference include reviewing new vaccinology science, developing immunization strategies for the country and “increase opportunities for networking, partnership and collaboration in the immunization field.”

They also have a poster contest for Grade 6 students across the country. I think this is a great way to teach kids the value of immunization and that vaccines are truly one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time, saving literally millions of lives.

Here are a couple of my favourites…

 You can see the rest of the awesome posters here.

Score One For the Good Guys!

November 25, 2010 1 comment

Every so often, a victory comes along that reminds me why we do this.

Blogging about science and skepticism can be tough. You wonder “are we really making a difference?”

Yes, we are.

The anti-vax group SafeMinds.org tried to purchase ad time to show a “PSA” trying to convince people not to receive the flu shot containing any mercury-based preservatives.

Let’s not kid ourselves. This group is anti-vax, and trying to sneak their message in under the guise of being “pro-safe vaccines” as opposed to “anti-vaccines”.

There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that vaccines containing mercury are associated with health problems. Further, there is no evidence that links any adverse health effects to the fetus by administering the flu vaccine to pregnant women, as the SafeMinds ad contends.

Yet the fear mongering continues. If this ad had run, vaccination rates would have dropped. This is a large health risk and puts young children and the elderly in particular danger.

However, a glimmer of hope. AMC refused to show the ad in their theatres, as was announced by SafeMinds.org

SafeMinds was notified late yesterday afternoon that AMC Theaters has decided to block the SafeMinds Public Service Announcement (PSA) on influenza vaccines with mercury. The PSA alerts parents and pregnant women of the presence of mercury in most influenza vaccines and the ample availability of mercury-free alternatives. The CDC has declined to give a preference for the mercury-free versions, so it is important that the public is aware of its options. AMC’s advertising representative had reviewed and approved the PSA to run in AMC cinemas over the Thanksgiving weekend. A small group of vocal vaccine proponents dismissive of mercury concerns learned of the PSA and bombarded the AMC website, leading to the company’s decision to prevent its release. SafeMinds thanks its supporters who viewed the PSA and contributed to its efforts to educate the public to avoid unnecessary mercury exposure. Mercury in all forms is dangerous, especially to the developing fetus and infants, as referenced on the PSA website www.safemindsflu.org. SafeMinds will continue its mission to educate the public on this important healthcare topic.

More info on the whole situation can be found on SkepChick and Science-Based Medicine.

This is a big win for the good guys. Fear of vaccinations is a major threat to public health, particularly children. So we will continue to fight, and hopefully we will see more wins like this one.

CNN Gets It Right With Article on Vaccines and Autism

September 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The state of science reporting and science journalism is pretty dismal. And in the past few years, there have been few better examples of this than the reporting on the Vaccine/Autism “debate”.

Vaccines DO NOT cause autism. This has been known in the scientific community for a long time, and I’ve blogged about it before. But every so often a story will come up in the news which gives equal representation to the scientists who know vaccines are safe, and the quacks and conspiracy theorists who believe they are evil.

But CNN actually impressed me yesterday. They reprinted an article which was originally posted on Parenting.com concerning the vaccine/autism debate.

The article gave a clear history of the issue, reviewed the scientific evidence and gave a sound conclusion: that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.

My only problem with the article is the title: “The End of the Autism/Vaccine Debate?” I’m not a big fan of that question mark. If you are going to do an article which debunks the whole “vaccines cause autism” notion, you may as well make that clear in the title. You will still garner lots of attention, and your position will be made clear from the get-go.

But thats me being nit-picky. The article is good, and the fact that it got reprinted on CNN is a step in the right direction. With cases of whooping cough on the rise in the United States and the proliferation of misinformation by the anti-vaccine movement, we need more articles like this to get public attention.