One of the things that drive pro-science types crazy (amongst a few hundred things, but still let me proceed) is when someone who seems to be rational about a scientific idea, then drop a bomb that they accept something so pseudoscientific, you have to wonder about everything else that person accepts.
I know people who argue vociferously for the fact of evolution, then claim that astrology predicts the future. Or someone who will accept everything in science, but claim that vaccines are dangerous. My personal favorite are those who proclaim widely that global warming deniers are crazy lunatics, then try to convince us that GMO crops are dangerous, using the same exact tactics and lack of science as the global warming deniers.
I began to wonder where my readers stood on the four major scientific consensuses (I assume that’s the plural of consensus, but it looks weird) that I discuss regularly here. They are:
- Evolution, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- Anthropogenic (human caused) global warming, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- Vaccinations (the safety and effectiveness of vaccines to prevent disease), which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
- The safety of GM (genetically modified) foods, which is supported by the overwhelming consensus of scientists throughout the world.
See what I did there?
In this week’s poll, a double version, first, just vote on how many of these four key scientific principles you accept. Then second, choose which ones you reject. Easy!
Read that title again. Yes, 42,000 deaths are prevented by vaccines every year in the USA. That is not a trivial number, but of course, I refuse to believe that saving even 1 life is a trivial number.
In a study recently published in Pediatrics, authors Zhou et al. reported that for children born in 2009, vaccinations prevented 42,000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease. In addition, vaccinations brought us a net savings of US$13.5 billion in direct medical and non medical costs which include those costs associated with treating an initial infection as well as costs associated with complications and sequelae of diseases; direct nonmedical costs include travel costs, costs for special education of children disabled by diseases, and costs for other supplies for special needs. In addition, vaccines saved Americans over US$68.8 billion in total societal costs, which include items such as lost wages.
(more…) «Vaccines prevent 42,000 children’s deaths…»
Despite a constant stream of scientific articles, blogs, and news reports that vaccines are not only safe and effective, but have saved millions of lives, there remains a stubborn block of about 5-10% of Americans who continue to refuse to vaccinate their children. Worse yet, there are clusters of areas, often wealthy and better educated, with much higher rates of vaccine denial–areas which can be ground zero of serious outbreaks or epidemics of vaccine preventable diseases.
(more…) «Vaccines are safe and effective–vaccine…»
One of the enduring zombie tropes of the antivaccination cult is that pathogens aren’t dangerous because the disease is not dangerous. Through a complicated, and thoroughly unsupported by evidence, revision of immunology to fit their needs, they think that kids with healthy immune systems don’t require vaccines, because their super immune systems, strengthened with homeopathic water and a handful of vitamins, will never succumb to diseases. In their arrogance, and pseudoscience beliefs, they think their kids have superior immune systems that can only be harmed by vaccines.
Of course, their beliefs are unsupported by anything in science, just putting children at harm. Plus we have evidence of how avoiding key vaccinations do put children at danger.
For a little background, meningitis is a disease caused by the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord known as the meninges. The inflammation is usually caused by an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The disease may develop in response to a number of causes, usually bacteria or viruses, but it can also be caused by physical injury, cancer or certain drugs. While most people with meningitis recover, it can cause serious complications, such as brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities.
(more…) «Why we vaccinate–saving children’s lives…»
Here we go again. A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published 6 months ago) that may, or may not, indicate that plant DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream. You just know what they’re going to say next.
This will now be all about genetically modified foods.
In case you’ve ignored this area of pseudoscience, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs); of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. Based on some of the worst science available, anti-GMO cultists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Of course, there is actually no science supporting the anti-GMO claim, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment.
(more…) «GMO foods transfer DNA to…»
And more evidence that HPV vaccinations saves lives. Despite what Diane Harper says.
A study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, examined the rate of HPV related cervical abnormalities in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated women in Denmark. The study covered women reported information after the licensure of the HPV quadrivalent vaccine in 2006.
As a review, the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, also known as Gardasil (or Silgard in Europe). The vaccine prevents infection by human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease, its subtypes 16 and 18 not only cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers, but they cause most HPV-induced anal (95% linked to HPV), vulvar (50% linked), vaginal (65% linked), oropharyngeal (60% linked) and penile (35% linked) cancers. The viruses are generally passed through genital contact, almost always as a result of vaginal, oral and anal sex.
(more…) «HPV vaccinations reduces risk of…»
Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, a human enterovirus, that spreads from person to person invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Because polio has no cure, the polio vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading.
The United States last experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s, prior to the introduction of the polio vaccine 60 years ago. Today, polio has been eradicated from most of the planet, as the number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases.
In a case study that will be presented at the 2014 American Academy of Neurology meeting, researchers report the discovery of a polio-like syndrome has been found in a cluster of children from California over a one-year period. This outbreak isn’t a result of anyone’s refusal to be vaccinated against polio, since all of the children in this study had been previously vaccinated against the poliovirus.
(more…) «Polio-like illness emerging in California»
On February 23, 1954, the polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, commenced clinical testing at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Five thousand children in those two schools were vaccinated against polio, which was the start of a massive clinical trial that would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California (see Understanding Viruses).
Just before the introduction of the vaccine in the mid-50′s, regular polio outbreaks occurred everywhere, even developed countries like the USA and northern Europe. The virus is transmitted through fecal matter, so swimming pools, improper sanitation (like washing after using the bathroom), babies diapers and other sources moved the virus. Almost all of the transmission was through casual contact, not improper sanitation (at least since the advent of a modern sanitation system in the USA starting in the late 1920′s). About 95% of individuals infected are asymptomatic (pdf), so they appear healthy but are shedding viruses to infect other people.
Of the 5% who are symptomatic, about 10% of them eventually progress to the paralytic version of the disease. In other words, approximately 0.5% of those infected were paralyzed. One of the tropes of the anti-science/anti-vaccine world is that this is a small number. Except it isn’t. Out of 5 million children who might be infected every, approximately 25,000 children a year might progress to the paralytic version of the disease, and some of them would die. That would be a massive stress to our current healthcare system, our public schools, with many consequences to our world. Big Iron Lung might be happy.
If one takes a look at what the polio vaccine has done worldwide, the numbers are even more staggering. The number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases. Think of all of the children no longer condemned to machines to allow them to breathe or braces to allow them to walk. All because of a vaccine that was first used just 60 years ago.
We live in a wonderful world of health. We live healthier and more productive lives from all of the advances in modern healthcare, but one advance rules above them all–vaccines. I know that almost all antivaccination cultists would drop their lies and have their children protected against these diseases if they knew how horrifying the diseases were. I was born after vaccines were prevalent, but there were many classmates who had various levels of paralytic disease from polio. That was sad that they were born on the cusp of a prevention.
Thank you Jonas Salk. You were a good man, and you saved lives. And we can actually count how many lives you saved. Let’s celebrate what you did for humanity.
- Aylward RB. Eradicating polio: today’s challenges and tomorrow’s legacy. Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 2006 Jul-Sep;100(5-6):401-13. Review. PubMed PMID: 16899145.
- van Panhuis WG, Grefenstette J, Jung SY, Chok NS, Cross A, Eng H, Lee BY, Zadorozhny V, Brown S, Cummings D, Burke DS. Contagious diseases in the United States from 1888 to the present. N Engl J Med. 2013 Nov 28;369(22):2152-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJMms1215400. PubMed PMID: 24283231.
Nearly every year, at the start of the legislative season, Republicans in state legislatures think it’s their right to push their anti-science (and other right wing social engineering ideas). And 2014 is no different, with Republican legislatures trying to force anti-evolution (usually combined with anti-global warming) laws on the students of their state. In general, they haven’t been so successful, but when Republicans embrace a bad idea like anti-science laws, they try until they win.
The 2013 state legislative year was relatively successful for the pro-science forces, with all legislation offered in Republican dominated states failing to come to a vote or getting rejected in committee.This followed a relatively unsuccessful (for the anti-science Republicans) 2012 legislative year (with the notable exception of Tennessee’s Monkey Bill).
Conservative Republicans continue to attempt to bring unconstitutional anti-evolution (and pro-creationism) legislation to the top of their agenda in many states. The current forms of anti-science legislation attempt to allow teaching creationism (or more subtle forms, like intelligent design), usually combined with climate change denialism, and, strangely, anti-human cloning (which is not exactly a serious line of research today). But whatever the general anti-science bent of the legislation, it has always been clear that promoting creationism is the goal.
(more…) «Antievolution legislation update–catching up on…»
Attempting to explain the immune system in 1000 words or less is impossible. At least I thought it was impossible.
Despite what the anti-science community believes about the immune system, it is way more complicated than some of the simple explanations I’ve read on the internet. It took me around 5000 words just to give my audience a basic review of immunology article, and I still shake my head.
I had to take several years of immunology courses, just to get my science degrees, and I know I just scratched the surface. The problem is that the immune system is a complex interactive network of organs, blood, cells, proteins, factors, messengers and numerous other biological parts. If you tried to draw lines of interaction between these constituent biological parts, it would look like an airline flight map, with a nearly infinite number of interconnected activity.
That’s why I laugh hysterically whenever someone says “eat more broccoli, it boosts the immune system” because the immune system is so complicated, you could may be able to make one part of it work better, but if all the other parts remain the same, nothing has changed. In fact, the human immune system works pretty well almost all of the time, unless there is some chronic condition that suppresses it.
(more…) «A nerdy explanation of the…»
One of the consistent tropes of the antivaccination cult is that vaccine preventable diseases are not that dangerous, so why take the risk (mostly minor, although not in the cult’s mind) for little benefit. Except for one tiny issue–vaccine preventable diseases kill. Recent studies have shown that an average of approximately 30,000 adults die of these diseases every year, about 95% of the total deaths from vaccine preventable diseases.
Researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver surveyed USA physicians regarding adult vaccine delivery. The results and analysis were recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers found that rates for adult vaccination remain quite low.
Some of the more interesting results from the study were:
- Only 62% of adults above the age of 65 received the pneumococcal vaccine.
- Only 65% of adults in the same age group received the flu vaccine.
- This group is at high risk of death from pneumonia and flu, and in fact, deaths from these diseases in this age group, makes up a significant portion of vaccine preventable deaths in this group.
- Physicians also reported significant barriers to providing vaccines to adults including stocking vaccines (pediatric offices are better equipped for vaccine storage) and reimbursement from insurance companies. In addition, some patients cannot afford the cost of the vaccines if they are not reimbursed by a third party payer. According to the study authors, “Physicians in smaller, private practice often assume more risks from stocking expensive vaccine inventories and may be particularly affected by these financial barriers.”
- The authors noted the Affordable Care Act addresses the cost barrier to vaccination for privately insured patients by requiring insurers to cover recommended vaccines with no co-pay when delivered by in-network providers.
Setting aside the embarrassment that the USA doesn’t make vaccines easier to get for those who cannot afford them, it is clear that the low rates of adult vaccination has lead to higher rates of vaccine-preventable illnesses and death. Saving 30,000 lives through proper vaccination and following the new adult vaccine schedule (see figure below) will help reduce that number quickly.
The authors concluded that,
Vaccines provide an important but underutilized opportunity to reduce the burden of vaccine-preventable disease among adults. Although primary care physicians appear motivated to ensure that patients are up to date on vaccinations, many barriers exist. Implementation of system changes, including adopting practices that improve communication between primary care physicians and alternate vaccinators, more widespread use of effective tools (IISs and clinic decision support systems), and removing policy-related barriers, could improve adult vaccination in the United States.
Vaccines really do save lives.
- Hurley LP, Bridges CB, Harpaz R, Allison MA, O’Leary ST, Crane LA, Brtnikova M, Stokley S, Beaty BL, Jimenez-Zambrano A, Ahmed F, Hales C, Kempe A. U.S. Physicians’ Perspective of Adult Vaccine Delivery. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014 Feb;160(3):161-170. DOI:10.7326/M13-2332.
- National Vaccine Advisory Committee. A pathway to leadership for adult immunization: recommendations of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee: approved by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee on June 14, 2011. Public Health Rep. 2012 Jan-Feb;127 Suppl 1:1-42. PubMed PMID: 22210957; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3235599.
Guest blog by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss. Dr. Reiss is a Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, CA. Dorit writes extensively in law journals about the social policies of vaccination. Originally published on 7 February 2014, pdated on 16 February 2014.
In November 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health published the results of a survey examining people getting an exemption from school immunization requirements. The survey found that most people getting an exemption – 54.9% – explained their reasons to be “philosophical” or personal belief, including concerns about vaccine harms, a preference for natural immunity, and a belief they could protect their children in other ways.
The problem is that New Mexico does not offer a personal belief exemption. It offers a religious exemption and a medical only. In other words, these people got their vaccine exemption using an exemption that did not reflect their real reasons.
Our host, the Skeptical Raptor, invited me to describe an article I wrote on this that is forthcoming in the Hastings Law Journal. The article argues that:
- People lie to get a religious exemption.
- Our jurisprudence makes preventing such abuse very hard. And with good reasons.
- Because the religious exemption is so prone to abuse, we should remove it.
(more…) «Religious Exemptions for Vaccination–Abuse and…»
Since humans were first able to communicate with one another, there probably was someone there trying to sell a great new medical advancement. The Stone Age Grok probably would sell you an herbal cure for your broken leg that would cost two goats and a flagon of Stone Age mead. Not being a psychiatrist, and not playing one on the internet, I can only speculate that humans are always searching for the easy cure, the easy treatment, and there are other humans ready to fulfill that market need with magical beliefs.
And if you think that things have changed since Grok, the Stone Age Big Herbal salesmen, was around, you’d be wrong. Instead of goats, it’s money. And instead of cures for broken legs, it’s AIDS vaccines.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about a crowdfunded company, Immunity Project, that claims it had developed a paradigm-shifting new HIV/AIDS vaccine, that they will sell for free. To put it lightly, I was highly skeptical, not only of the the science behind this magical vaccine, but also of their business strategy, which would require them to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to sell the vaccine at $0. The principals of the company very politely hit back at me on Twitter and on the comments section of the original article, asking me and others to read their white paper (pdf), which appears to be nothing more than an advertising piece about their company and their ideas.
Immunity Project is relying upon crowd funding (or sometimes called crowd sourcing) to raise startup (or angel) money to get their company going. This money is raised online from a broad community of “investors” who contribute usually smaller amounts of money than would be a big time investor (corporate or private capital). Their goal is to raise enough money to get the concept into clinical trials and eventually to sell it for free.
(more…) «Crowd funded HIV vaccine–more junk…»
Updated and revised article originally published on 24 April, 2013.
One of the cherished strategies of the vaccine deniers is to use the package insert (called a Patient Information Leaflet in EU countries and Instructions for Use in the case of medical devices) to “prove” that vaccines are dangerous. Spend anything more than a couple of minutes in discussion with an anti-vaccinationist, and you’ll get a reference to a particular vaccine’s package insert (PI) as “proof” that it is dangerous, contains dangerous stuff, or is just plain scary.
There are a lot of myths about what PI’s are and aren’t, and what information in them may or may not be useful. It’s time to look at what a PI is and what it really says.
What is a Package Insert?
All of you have probably seen a package insert–it’s a multiple page document that is included with all real medications (as opposed to unregulated alternative medicine), whether prescription or over-the-counter (OTC). Depending on the type of drug, the PI can be 30-40 pages long, although most are printed on one huge sheet of very thin paper, so that it can be folded tightly and placed in each box that over-packages the drugs container (vial, bottle, etc).
In general, package inserts are part of what is called the “labeling” of the drug, which means all the verbiage that pharmaceutical company may say about the drug. It is not just the printing on the vial or box, the word encompasses almost everything said about the drug, including advertising, PI’s, and yes, the box and printing on vial.
You will hear FDA regulators and individuals in pharmaceutical companies refer to “labeling” all of the time. Labeling is strictly regulated, because it establishes the claims made about the drug or device, how it is to be used, and other pertinent information. Even what sales reps say to physicians in a sales call is covered by the drug’s labeling.
In the USA, the Food and Drug Administration has established very strict rules in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) on what can be and cannot be stated in the package insert. There is very little variance in format or quality of information from one PI to another one even for very different classes of drugs. Amusingly, the regulations even state the type and size of font used in the PI.
(more…) «Vaccine package inserts–debunking the myths»
Recently, I saw a question on Quora, in which the author asked, “Do you believe in treating cancer with natural regimens?” In a landslide, the best answer, which is chosen by the readers, was one written by a UCLA medical school graduate and Fellow in Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine, Dr. David Chan. In other words, Dr. Chan is a cancer expert who actually spent 10-12 years of his life gaining an education in treating cancers (instead of like 30 minutes Googling junk medicine).
(more…) «Do you believe in treating…»
According to a new market research report (a very expensive report hidden behind a paywall), estimate that the total vaccine market will grow from its current worldwide value of approximately US$30 billion to approximately US$100 billion in 2025. That’s an annual growth rate of approximately 10-15% for the sector compared to a 5-7% annual growth rate for all other pharmaceuticals. Still, in 2025, the total worldwide market for pharmaceuticals will be nearly US$800 billion and for medical devices (largely owned by pharmaceutical companies) nearly US$700 billion, which still makes vaccines a small part (about 7%) of the total medical products business.
(more…) «Big Pharma will make a…»
Vaccine deniers, especially in the USA, use the passive data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), a system where individuals can report supposed adverse events post-vaccination, to “prove” certain adverse events. The data is considered to be “passive” because the individual reports can be made online, by fax or by mail–real causal events may be underreported and hyped, imaginary issues with no causality, can be over-reported. However, without medical investigations of causality between the vaccination and the claimed adverse events that are reported to the VAERS database, the data have no real value.
Frankly, VAERS can be gamed by those with nefarious intentions. In reality, VAERS is a feel-good system for those who think that there’s a link between vaccines and something terrible, but without an active investigation, the data is just above the level of being totally meaningless. Most epidemiologists know it is valueless. Even the VAERS system itself says that the data cannot be used to ascertain the difference between coincidence and true causality.
Furthermore, there is a background rate for mortality (death) or morbidity (abnormal medical condition), across all causes, irrespective of whether an individual is vaccinated or not, and unless you understand the background rate, the vaccine “mortality” rate has no scientific meaning. In fact, we could provide data that shows anything might cause any adverse medical event, like playing video games leads to prostate cancer, but we would have no evidence of any type of causality whatsoever.
(more…) «Reports of vaccine related effects…»