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Posts Tagged ‘Vaccines’

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.

The Adventure of Links: Sept. 13, 2010

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science posts a weekly summary of interesting links. Since this is one of the posts I most look forward to reading, I thought I would start my own version.

Welcome to The Adventure of Links for Sept. 13 2010.

Health

The weaknesses of the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Health Check Program.

Doctors warn against homeopathic “vaccines” which may leave patients vulnerable to fatal diseases.

Yet another study which shows absolutely no association between thimerosal and autism.

Crap about electromagnetic hypersensitivity in the Winnipeg Free Press. Once again, they refuse to interview anyone who actually knows what they are talking about but instead opt for scare tactics to increase readership.

More alternative medicine propoganda from the Huffington Post.

Study suggests that when parents are more accepting of children’s sexual habits, it results in a reduction in teen pregnancy.

Astronomy

Large solar flare from September 8 caught in photos.

The ancient Greeks may have documented Halley’s comet back in 467 BC.

Special relativity could explain the origin of galactic magnetic fields.

Physics

“The Physics of Mud and Hair Gel”

The future of nuclear energy could rest on the use of Thorium for fuel. Thorium is theoretically more energy efficient and less likely to produce materials which could be used in weapons.

How breakfast cereal can help physicists explain the universe.

Australian scientists developing a real life tractor beam. It can only move tiny particles about a meter, but its a start.

Researchers at MIT announce they are creating self-repairing solar cells.

Stephen Hawking said some stuff in the past week which had nothing to do with god, but is much more important to our development as a species.

Fun/Funny

Playboy magazine for the blind.

Ways to reduce the amount of cow farts which contribute to global warming.

The first ever Klingon Opera. Yup, Klingon Opera.

Sony Playstation turns 15 this year. Let us celebrate all the wasted hours I’ve spent on mine.

Vancouver using a 3D image of a girl chasing a ball on the road to get drivers to slow down.

You thought we had put this one to rest, but no. “Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right”, the first annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism is being held in November. I don’t think I’ll go, but I might get myself a mug.

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.

Penn & Teller’s ‘Bulls#$%’ Take on the Anti-Vaxxers!

August 12, 2010 Leave a comment

If you are lucky enough to have Showtime, check out Penn & Teller’s ‘Bullshit’ tonight at 10 pm ET. Here is the episode description:

In the Season 8 finale, vaccination is considered modern medicine’s greatest weapon against disease but thanks to pseudo-science and public gullibility, the debate over vaccination safety rages on.

Gotta love these guys!

You Can Save a Child’s Life Just by Reading This!

June 29, 2010 3 comments

I’m mad. I mean I’m really really REALLY mad!

The anti-vaccine movement has been gaining strength in recent years. This will result in the deaths of young children and infants.

It is already happening.

An epidemic of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) is currently in progress in California. Pertussis is a disease preventable through vaccination. Even though the vaccine is not 100% effective, when enough people get vaccinated the incidence of the disease declines.

Unfortunately, vaccination rates in California have been dropping for several years. We are seeing the largest outbreak of Pertussis in California in over 50 years.

5 infants under 3 months of age have already died.

Why is this happening? Well, in 1998 a British man named Andrew Wakefield was developing an alternative to the Mumps-Measles-Rubella (MMR) vaccine. So, with funding from a law firm (which was suing the current manufacturer of the MMR vaccine), Wakefield performed a study.

He paid 12 children who were attending his child’s birthday party £5 to take a blood sample from them (yes, at the party). He then used these samples to draw a link between the MMR vaccine and Autism spectrum disorders.

This study was poor, the data was faked, and the paper was later retracted by the journal in which it was published. Wakefield was then stripped of his medical license. He moved from the UK to the United States.

There, he got himself a foot soldier: Jenny McCarthy.

I sure wouldn’t mind her on MY team…

She went on Oprah and other TV shows shouting to the rafters that vaccines gave her son autism. These claims were not scientifically grounded.

In the years since, the MMR vaccine and others have been studied and re-studied by labs all over the world. The conclusion is unanimous:

VACCINES DO NOT CAUSE AUTISM.

But sadly, this is not the end of the story. The anti-vaccine movement has gotten very good at being conspiracy theorists. They think the pharmaceutical companies are all behind these studies. This is false.

They claimed it was Thimerosol, an ingredient in the MMR vaccine. Thimerosol was removed, and autism rates have not dropped. They were wrong.

They are extremely proficient at using the ad hominem fallacy by personally attacking those who are trying to get the truth out there. Their attacks are pathetic, ungrounded, and often flat out lies.

They use straw man arguments to attempt to discredit the studies done by real scientists. This is a tactic used by other pseudoscience proponents like those who believe in Sasquatch, Astrology, and Homeopathy. It is misleading and horrible that they would do this.

Let me make this perfectly clear. WE are the good guys. The science guys. The ones who know that vaccines work. WE are the ones trying to save children’s lives.

We are losing.

But we will continue to fight. We will continue to spread our message and save as many children as we can.

You can help. You can read the literature, you can spread the word. You can also go out and get your booster shots. As a population, we can completely eliminate Whooping Cough, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and many others. It is possible.

We just need YOUR help.

Vaccines and Autism: Lies and Fear Mongering

June 1, 2010 1 comment

Fear sells.

It doesn’t matter how bad the horror movie is: Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw XII (or whatever one they are on now), all terrible. And all of them kill (pun intended) at the box office.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love watching disembowelments as much as the next guy. But even those who like these movies admit they are poorly crafted, poorly acted, and poorly written.

So that is all well and good when it comes to entertainment, but when people use fear to promote bad science, then it pisses me off. Pisses me right off.

There is no greater example of this right now than the Anti-vaccine movement. These chuckleheads (that’s me cleaning up my language) have been fear mongering for years now, scaring parents into thinking that vaccines are linked to autism.

Let me say this loud and clear. Vaccines are NOT linked to autism. There is NOT A SHRED of scientific evidence which links vaccines to autism.

Now a bit of history, as this is the first time I’ve discussed this on this blog.

In 1998, a man named Andrew Wakefield published a study in a prestigious scientific journal called The Lancet. This study reported bowel symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders. Wakefield used anecdotal evidence from the parents of these children to draw a causal link between the receipt of the Mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the onset of autism.

This study was riddled with bad science. You can read a great debunking of the paper here, but the end result was in February 2010 the Lancet formally retracted the paper, stating that

“…it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al. are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

In May 2010, Wakefield had his medical license revoked in the United Kingdom, and is no longer allowed to practice medicine.

Unfortunately, none of this has swayed his supporters. He has moved to the United States and is now being portrayed as a martyr, wronged by the government and his peers. He is also profiting quite nicely from the whole debacle, having just written a book supporting the anti-vaccine movement (you can read a great skeptical review of the book from Science-Based Medicine).

But the real truth is that he is a douche. No nice way of putting that one.

So that is the history, what about the science? Well there have been many studies looking for the supposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine. For a small sampling of these studies, see ‘Further Reading’ below.

At first it was thought that it was the Thiomersol, an ingredient in the MMR vaccine. Thiomersol is an organomercury compound used as a preservative in the MMR vaccine. Although no scientific evidence found a link between Thiomersol and autism, fears of a link lead the FDA to remove Thiomersol from the MMR vaccine in 2001. It was predicted by the anti-vaccine movement that a decrease in the rate of autism diagnosis would be seen. However, cases of autism continue to increase despite the removal of Thiomersol.

It was also thought that the “large” number of immunizations given to infants at a young age overloaded the immune system, leading to negative effects such as autism. However, a recent study reveals that there is no benefit to any alternative immunization schedules. In fact, children are constantly exposed to many more antigens on a daily basis than they are exposed to in a round of vaccines.

There are lots of tidbits such as that these which completely disprove the Anti-Vaccine arguments. Yet they refuse to accept the scientific evidence and vaccination rates all over the world are dropping.

This has led to an increase in diagnosis of measels and pertussis all over the world. These diseases can be fatal in infants, and unfortunately, incidence of these and other preventable diseases will continue to increase if the anti-vaxxers get their wish.

This HAS to stop. Children are dying. Parents are scared. And for no reason whatsoever. I know it is tough not to listen to Jenny McCarthy, but she is not a scientist. Listen to your doctor. Listen to the scientists.

Let’s get something straight about Jenny McCarthy. She is misinformed. She is misguided. She has been duped by bad scientists (read: douchebags). But she is a mother, and her child has been afflicted with an illness. Can we really blame her for overreacting? She truly believes she is fighting for children, and in the end, we are all on the same side. Nor do I blame parents for being apprehensive about getting their children vaccinated.

So who are the enemies? Who are the bad guys in this story? Well, Andrew Wakefield for one. The media is another. Picture yourself watching TV. On one channel is an unattractive scientist in a white lab coat, holding up a black and white graph and saying “Look, vaccines don’t cause autism!”. Now change channels. There is pretty Jenny McCarthy with a tear in her eye, saying how she watched the “life go out” of her child’s eyes as he was inoculated (she has since changed her tune about this, now saying it was a gradual transition in her child’s behaviour). Obviously McCarthy will make more of an impact. This is the fear they use to try to sell their story. Clearly, they have no science to back it up, so they need to use fear. Rarely do studies that contradict the Vaccine-Autism link get top billing. But anything that will instill fear in a parent will get the lead story on the evening news.

Now, we may not be able to win this fight overnight. But we can make whatever difference we can. Tell your friends and family that vaccines are safe. If you are a new parent, please read about the safety of vaccines. It will take some effort to find the good information, but you can find it.

Further Reading

Honda H, Shimizu Y, Rutter M (2005). “No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study”. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 46 (6): 572–9.

Doja A, Roberts W (2006). “Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature”. Can J Neurol Sci 33 (4): 341–6.

Mrozek-Budzyn D, Kiełtyka A, Majewska R (2010). “Lack of association between measles-mumps-rubella vaccination and autism in children: a case-control study”. Pediatr Infect Dis J 29 (5):397-400.

Miller L, Reynolds J (2009). “Autism and vaccination – the current evidence”. J Spec Pediatr Nurs 14 (3):166-72.