Prenatal Tdap vaccine does not increase risk of autism in children

Prenatal Tdap vaccine

We have affirmative and robust evidence that vaccines are not linked to autism, but the moving goalposts of the anti-vaccine religion always provide us with some new scare tactic about vaccines and autism. But now we have some new powerful evidence that prenatal Tdap vaccine is not linked to autism.

The Tdap vaccine, which protects children and adults against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (or whooping cough), is the older child (>7 years old) and adult version, while the DTaP vaccine is the children’s version. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American College of Nurse-Midwives (pdf) strongly encourage expectant mothers to receive a prenatal Tdap vaccine in the third trimester to protect newborn babies.

The CDC recommends the first DTaP vaccine for babies at 2 months, but they are not fully protected until they receive their second dose at 4 months or third dose at 6 months. In the meantime, mothers could contract whooping cough, a bacterial infection that is extremely dangerous to infants and adults, that they pass to their newborn. The vaccine can stop that risk.

Let’s take a look at the new study that shows us, once again, that vaccines, even in an expectant mother, are not related to autism. And the prenatal Tdap vaccine protects the newborn, an important benefit. Continue reading “Prenatal Tdap vaccine does not increase risk of autism in children”

Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority

There are so many annoying issues about the antivaccination cult, that most of us can’t even keep up with it. If only they would provide evidence published in high quality, peer-reviewed journals (yes, a high standard, but if we’re talking about public health, a high standard is required), the fake debate would move into a real scientific discussion. One of their favorite feints against real evidence is to push people, like Tetyana Obukhanych, who appear to have great credentials, but once you dig below the surface, not much is there.

One of the most irritating problems I have with the anti-vaccination movement is their over-reliance on false authorities, where they trumpet the publications or commentary from someone who appears to have all of the credentials to be a part of the discussion on vaccines, but really doesn’t. Here’s the thing – it simply does not matter who the authority is or isn’t, all that matters is the evidence.

For example, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two researchers in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia, have, for all intents and purposes, sterling credentials in medicine and science. However, they publish nonsense research (usually filled with the weakest of epidemiology trying to show a population-level correlation between vaccines and adverse events) in low ranked scientific journals.

Now the anti-vaccine world has a new hero – Tetyana Obukhanych. Continue reading “Tetyana Obukhanych – another anti-vaccine appeal to false authority”

Harvard vaccine study? Not really, more Tetyana Obukhanych nonsense

Harvard vaccine study

I’ve noticed something about the pseudoscience world – they love to “prove” their point by pointing to a Harvard (or some other prestigious university) research study that they believe supports their claims. It usually doesn’t. Now we have something floating around the anti-vaccine interwebs – there’s a Harvard vaccine study that says that unvaccinated kids are not dangerous to other children.

No, Harvard published no such a study. But our favorite false authority, Tetyana Obukhanych, did make these claims, which we have debunked previously. Basically, the new claims in the anti-vaccine blogosphere are related to a letter she wrote in opposition to SB277, California’s law that eliminates personal belief exemptions for vaccines prior to entering school.

Somehow, the anti-vaccine religion has attached itself to her claims and converted it into the Harvard vaccine study. So, I’m going to take a look at this amazing Harvard vaccine study and how Obukhanych is involved with it.  Continue reading “Harvard vaccine study? Not really, more Tetyana Obukhanych nonsense”

Recognizing good and bad science in vaccine research

bad science

Figuring out the quality of sources, that would separate good from bad science, took me a long time. I was sleep-deprived, had postpartum anxiety, and was scared of something I had not previously thought that much about before having kids.

The woman who had been a mentor to me in my career, with whom I had entrusted my life and that of my child through my pregnancy and birth, whispered in my ear a few minutes after my son was born to not let the hospital give him the hepatitis B vaccine. This was the first and last communication we had about vaccination, but filtered through my trust for her it planted a seed of doubt and convinced me at the time there was a good reason to avoid it. Her suggestion that I followed could have cost my son his life, but it took me almost two years to figure out why.

I set out on a path of sleepless nights to figure out what those reasons might be, and the internet can certainly deliver on that front. The problem was, most of what I was reading was misinformation designed to exploit my fears. I wasn’t yet familiar with the idea of confirmation bias or that search engines had a lot of first page hits for poor sources because of the way the search algorithms work. 

It took me some time to figure out that Google is the confessional of our anxieties, the most commonly typed in fears get boosted, and higher quality links with more technical language tend to lag behind as we often don’t know what keywords will give us the answers we are looking for. If we think of the internet as a library, it would be like if register adjacent tabloids and flyers handed to you on the street by conspiracy theorists were filed in the most prominent shelf spaces amongst the reference books.

Quality information is available, but it can take some digging to get to it. As a result, I got a lot more scared before I learned how to better interpret the quality of what I was finding. I eventually learned to type whatever scared me alongside “+criticism” or “+debunked” if I wanted to find a different perspective on a topic. Doing that is how I stumbled upon Skeptical Raptor’s well-cited breakdowns of things I had been reading that had me all twisted up in knots. Learning to use Google Scholar for searches also helped to cut through the noise when I was looking for actual research.

I feel a lot of regret for the time I left my child vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases because of fear, and hopefully some tools I found along the way to help me evaluate sources might be helpful for other parents who find themselves facing the same stress. Continue reading “Recognizing good and bad science in vaccine research”

Courts and science – talc and glyphosate probably do not cause cancer

courts and science

I’ve written about this many times before – courts do not get to decide what is good or bad science. Although courts and science may not necessarily be incompatible, attorneys, juries, and judges are generally not trained in scientific research, scientific methods, scientific publications, and/or scientific reasoning.

Two relatively recent cases are strong evidence that courts and science can be quite incompatible. In the first case, a jury ordered pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) to pay US$4.69 billion in damages to 22 women who claimed that the company’s talcum powder products caused ovarian cancer. In the second case, a jury ordered chemical manufacturer Monsanto to pay US$289 million to a janitor who claimed that Round-Up (glyphosate) caused his terminal cancer.

The problem with both of these cases is that there is, at best, some weak, unrepeated scientific evidence that supports their claims. However, if you refrain from cherry-picking articles on PubMed, you’ll find that the vast majority of research either doesn’t support their claims or even shows that there are no links between talc or glyphosate and cancer.

Let’s take a look at the science in both of these cases, and then, let’s find out why courts and science are not necessarily compatible. And remember, this isn’t a recent problem – an American court once rejected evolution during the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. So science has been skeptical of the involvement of courts and science for a very long time. Continue reading “Courts and science – talc and glyphosate probably do not cause cancer”

Ten thousand years of GMO foods – making inedible edible

Ten thousand years of GMO foods

One of the tropes of the anti-GMO movement is that nature does it better for food, a logical fallacy. In other words, they believe that our ancestors’ foods are somehow better than our GMO foods. Of course, this belies the fact that there are over ten thousand years of GMO foods – it’s really not something that showed up during the last century or so.

People seem to endow “nature” with a special status that is ridiculous. Evolution proceeds along a random process where environmental changes select for certain mutations over time (and yes, I’m oversimplifying the process), which is called natural selection. Moreover, there are random mutations that just occur that provide no benefit to the organism, although they might in the future because of some environmental change.

Nature has no goal. It has no guidance. It has no underlying value of good or evil. Unless you believe that some higher being controls it, and at that point, you’re a creationist, claiming that “nature” is better than the alternative is basically ridiculous.

So, we’re going to talk about how genetic modification has moved from the early days of waiting for a random, beneficial mutation to the modern world of genetic modification.

Continue reading “Ten thousand years of GMO foods – making inedible edible”

Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science

solid gmo scientific consensus

Over and over, I’ve read comments on the internet (obviously, my first mistake) that there is no GMO scientific consensus regarding whether genetically modified organisms (generally crops or food) are safe for humans, animals, and the environment. Well, that’s simply not the case.

Furthermore, there are even claims that GMOs are not necessarily productive or provide higher yields, and so-called organic foods are healthier (they aren’t) and are better for the environment. Again, that’s not necessarily the case.

Let’s look at anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change since it also has this huge controversy over whether there’s a scientific consensus. Over 97% of published articles that expressed a conclusion about anthropogenic climate change endorsed human-caused global warming. If that were a vote, it would be a landslide that would make dictators jealous.

According to Skeptical Science, it’s even more than that:

We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.

The consensus is so clear, outside of vocal, loud and junk science pushing individuals and organizations, that many scientists call it the “Theory of anthropogenic climate change,” which would mean it’s at the pinnacle of scientific principles, essentially an unassailable fact.

Continue reading “Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science”

Gardasil effectiveness – yes, HPV vaccine does protect you against cancer

Gardasil effectiveness

Although I have no poll numbers sitting in front of me, and certainly no scientific peer-reviewed research, I just have a feeling that if you scratch the surface of an anti-vaccine activist, you will find that if they could hate one vaccine, it would be Gardasil. And one of the arguments will be all about Gardasil effectiveness – they claim it doesn’t actually prevent cancer.

When you couple their false claims about the dangers of the vaccine with the claims about the lack of Gardasil effectiveness, you’d probably agree with the anti-vaccine crowd. Despite these false claims, HPV vaccine uptake has slowly grown in the US and other countries.

I’ve written nearly 200 articles about the HPV cancer-preventing vaccine, but most of those are focused on debunking myths and confirming the safety of the vaccine. I’m going to focus on a quick primer about Gardasil effectiveness in preventing cancer. Stay tuned for some interesting science. Continue reading “Gardasil effectiveness – yes, HPV vaccine does protect you against cancer”

Cervical cancer rate declines after introduction of HPV vaccine – new evidence

cervical cancer rate

One of the misinformed tropes of the anti-vaccine world is that there is no evidence that the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine actually reduces cancer rates. Given that the vaccine was only introduced in the last 10 years, it would take time for researchers to study this issue. But now, we have more evidence that the cervical cancer rate declined after the introduction of the HPV vaccine in the USA.

We have robust evidence that the HPV vaccine actually stops HPV infections, which are linked to several types of cancer. Over the past few years, a number of published articles have provided us with powerful evidence that the HPV vaccine is significantly reducing the cervical cancer rate.

Although there is a myth that the HPV vaccine is just to prevent cervical cancer, I expect, over the next few years, there will be new research that shows reductions in other cancers, in both women and men, as a result of the introduction of the vaccine. Moreover, the effect of the vaccine on males may take longer since the vaccine was recommended for males only a few years after it was introduced.

This year, a solid systematic review, the most powerful research in the hierarchy of biomedical science, along with other studies, have been published that provide strong evidence that the HPV vaccine reduces the cervical cancer rate. Now we have a new study to add to the body of science supporting the effectiveness in preventing cancers of the HPV vaccine. Continue reading “Cervical cancer rate declines after introduction of HPV vaccine – new evidence”

Italian vaccine mandate – Senate may delay implementation until next year

Italian vaccine mandate

On Monday, the Italian Senate passed a large bill that, among other things, delayed the implementation of the Italian vaccine mandate passed in 2017 until the 2019-2020 school year. This short post explains what this means – and does not mean.

In response to a large measles outbreak in Italy that killed about 1:1000 (around 8 in the past year) and hospitalized thousands, the Italian government then in power passed a law that mandates that children 0-6 be vaccinated with ten vaccines (before that, four were required) before attending daycare or school. It also imposed fines on parents of children 0-16 who were not vaccinated with these vaccines.

In the 2018 election, two anti-establishment parties joined the coalition government. One, the 5 Star Movement, includes people who are openly anti-vaccine. It’s not clear to what extent their anti-vaccine views affected their election results, but among other things, the party promised to roll back the Italian vaccine mandate.

As a first step, the new health minister allowed parents to self-certify vaccines for the 2018-2019 school year – to declare whether or not their children were vaccinated (in a sense, rewarding dishonest anti-vaccine parents over honest ones). 

The new Italian Senate law included many things, but the most important issue is that they delayed the implementation of the mandate for the school year 2019-2020. Importantly, the law will not become effective until it passes Italy’s lower house, which is on recess until September 11, 2018, so it will not apply in the school year 2018-2019.

During the current year, the mandate still applies, as does the self-certification decree, probably. But if it becomes law, it will mean that the law is not applicable the following year, giving the new government a chance to try and overturn the mandate completely. 

Naturally, medical societies – as well as politicians from other parties – are concerned about the repeal of the Italian vaccine mandate.

The measles outbreak, which was the impetus for the original law, is still going strong. In fact, the CDC has issued a level 1 travel warning for Italy because of this ongoing outbreak.

Several people in Italy have died recently from the measles, and many were hospitalized. Almost all the cases are in the unvaccinated, including those too young to be vaccinated. This is not a great time to roll back the Italian vaccine mandate intended to protect children and contain the outbreak.