Samoa measles epidemic – vaccine deniers causing harm to children

samoa measles epidemic

Recently, the Samoa measles epidemic has been in the news, with at least 60 individuals who have died as the result of the virus (as of 4 December 2019). The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented with the extremely safe measles vaccine.

Of course, those of us on the science side are appalled what is going on there. Children (and some adults) have died from a disease that should have been exiled to history books as a result of vaccines. 

Once this Samoa measles epidemic hit the news, the vaccine deniers came out of their putrid swamps to use the epidemic as some sort of condemnation of vaccines. Their twisted logic would be the envy of pretzel manufacturers worldwide.

This article is going to review what’s going on in Samoa. And we are going to take a look at a couple of responses and lies from the usual anti-vaccine pseudoscience. Continue reading “Samoa measles epidemic – vaccine deniers causing harm to children”

Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims

Jim Meehan

An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.

His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.

Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):

  1. The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
  2. Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
  3. Vaccines are dangerous to children.
  4. The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
  5. We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.

Note: Dr. Meehan’s post doesn’t present these claims in that order. I have changed the order because I want to address the claims in a logical order, that is, first his claims about vaccine safety, then the conspiracy theory that underlies them, and finally, his appeal to authorityContinue reading “Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims”

Public health and vaccines commentaries – employment repercussions

public health and vaccines

When employees speak up on matters of public health and vaccines in their free time, those who do not like the speech may retaliate by complaining to their employers, who may be tempted – or feel forced – to act against the employee. But employers should not, and some types of employers – public employers – are likely barred from doing so.

This post considers mostly employees in public institutions – department of health, teaching hospitals, or universities – because these employees have legal protection against sanctions – an employer is likely legally prohibited from acting against them because of speech on matters of public health and vaccines in their free time.

However, the points made about defamation and the policy considerations also apply to private employers, those who can fire employees at will, at least when the employees provide mostly accurate, fact-based information.

These issues can come up in a variety of contexts, some of which the employer may appreciate more than others. One situation is when an employee working for a public institution spends part of his personal time commenting on public health and vaccines issues and informing the public through a personal blog, on which his position is mentioned, or by commenting on social media, Facebook or Twitter.

The employee provides information, corrects misconceptions, and criticizes those offering bad advice or factually inaccurate information, sometimes with strong language. A person so criticized contacts the public institution and threatens to sue for defamation if the blogging does not stop and the statements are not retracted, or if the employee is not otherwise dealt with.

Or, for example, an employee makes a joke about a public health issue – in good or bad taste – in her personal time. People offended complain to the employer, either just criticizing the employee or threatening legal action. In both cases, employers should not take measures against the employee.

First, in most circumstances, there would almost certainly be no defamation case here. Second, limits created by the First Amendment on the ability of public employers (though not private ones) to fire an employee for their speech likely apply here. Finally, there are public benefits from allowing the employee to speak in this manner. Continue reading “Public health and vaccines commentaries – employment repercussions”

The turkey tryptophan myth – Uncle George keeps repeating it

turkey tryptophan myth

Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, the United States celebrates a holiday called Thanksgiving. Part of the tradition, along with watching football (the American version), is eating mountains of food, including a roasted turkey. And this is where Uncle George regales the guests with the turkey tryptophan myth – that is, eating a mountain of turkey, which he claims is high in tryptophan, makes you sleepy.

Because I know the average reader of this blog is pro-science and snarky, I post this article for you to embarrass Uncle George.  And you just know that Uncle George denies climate change and thinks vaccines are dangerous. But let’s get back to that to Thanksgiving and the turkey tryptophan myth.

Only a few countries celebrate Thanksgiving, and just a handful of countries eat turkey in any amount, other than the USA and Canada. Surprisingly, 87% of English holiday dinners will include turkey, a bird that is native to North America. So maybe your British Uncle George will tell the same turkey tryptophan myth during dinner. Or supper, I suppose. 

Anyway, in case you want to impress friends and family, the other places that celebrate Thanksgiving, similar to the USA and Canada, are Liberia (which is populated by descendants of freed slaves who returned to Africa from the US), Grenada (a small English-speaking island in the Caribbean), Puerto Rico (a Spanish-speaking territory of the USA), and Norfolk Island, an Australian territory of like 1500 people.

The only thing I thought that was on Norfolk Island was the Norfolk Island pine. Apparently, American whaling ships would stop there and celebrate the holiday

For Americans, the holiday celebrates white English settlers arriving in North America. The tales usually include some peaceful sharing of food between the white settlers and Native Americans (a nice myth without much actual historical support) prior to the first winter.

Canada’s backstory on Thanksgiving is much more complicated, including ships getting stuck in ice and other legends – it is very Canadian.

In both Canada and the USA, the celebration includes several tonnes of food (per person) which a roast turkey. Other foods may include mashed potatoes, yams (sweet potatoes), other meats, pies, corn, stuffing, and more food. It is a high-calorie meal of epic portions!

Just because this is my blog, let me state one simple fact – pumpkin pie is garbage. I hate that thing.

Generally, everyone, after finishing this dinner, would want to take a long nap. Thus, we find the origin stories of the turkey tryptophan math. However, the science of eating, sleeping, turkey, and tryptophan doesn’t support this myth. Not even close.

Well enough cultural history. This is a science blog, let’s talk about the science that debunks the turkey tryptophan myth. And because I think Uncle George is a blowhard. 

Continue reading “The turkey tryptophan myth – Uncle George keeps repeating it”

Reduce cancer risk in 12 easy-ish steps – number 3 is “get your vaccines”

reduce cancer risk

I have railed against pseudoscientific charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to reduce cancer risk (or even cure it). Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks or keep them from even growing in your body.

Of course, none of their claims are actually supported by robust science. On the other hand, real science has 12 evidence-based methods to actually prevent cancer.

But what about those memes that say that supplements prevent cancer? Nope, they don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for a while).

What about avoiding GMO foods because they cause cancer? Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers.

Oh, one more thing – bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are only a few things that can be done to manage your overall risk of cancer.

The “how to reduce cancer risk list” has been codified by the World Health Organization’s  (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that are called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s look at cancer and the methods to reduce cancer risk.

Continue reading “Reduce cancer risk in 12 easy-ish steps – number 3 is “get your vaccines””

Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds

Del Bigtree Andrew Wakefield

On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety.

The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well-grounded.

This post will shortly describe the background to the letter from Dr. Wharton, then provide some of the highlights. I do, however, encourage people to read the full letter, available here (pdf), for themselves, to understand many vaccine safety issues. Continue reading “Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds”

Lori Matheson refuses vaccines for child – Michigan court says no

Lori Matheson

On November 21, 2019, the Court of Appeals in Michigan rejected the appeal of Lori Matheson against a trial court order ordering her to give her daughter more time with her father, to vaccinate her daughter according to the recommended schedule, and to choose a new pediatrician for the child in collaboration with her father. The court found that it’s in the child’s best interest to be vaccinated.

This is a dispute between the divorced parents of a now four-year-old child (whose name is omitted for her privacy) about her care and custody. Vaccines are only one of the issues in dispute, the one I will focus on (since that is my area). Continue reading “Lori Matheson refuses vaccines for child – Michigan court says no”

Gardasil 9 safety – more published evidence supporting the HPV vaccine

Gardasil 9 safety

Two new articles (plus an editorial) published in Pediatrics reinforce the evidence supporting Gardasil 9 safety. I have been writing about the safety of the cancer-preventing HPV vaccines for years, and it’s clear that it’s settled science.

Of course, I’m here to review any new articles about Gardasil 9 safety, because the evidence supporting it has become overwhelming. Nevertheless, HPV vaccine uptake has remained stubbornly low, around 49% in the USA as of 2017. 

Let’s start with a quick review of HPV and HPV vaccines. Continue reading “Gardasil 9 safety – more published evidence supporting the HPV vaccine”

October 2019 ACIP public comments – anti-vaccine complaints, part 2

2019 ACIP public comments

This is part 2, the 2019 ACIP public comments, of Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss’ review of the recent Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting. Part 1 can be found here.

There were 18 people slotted for the October 2019 ACIP public comments. Because more people signed up for comments than could fit in the hour allotted for it, they used a lottery to determine who will comment (note that in addition, the committee offered unlimited opportunity to comment in writing).

However, six of these people did not attend the meeting, so there were 12 commenters in all. Three of them were pro-vaccine, two members of the Immunization Action Coalition – LJ Tan and Julie Murphy – and one, a pediatrician from Oklahoma, Dr. Eve Switzer.

Nine of the 2019 ACIP public comments were from anti-vaccine individuals. Continue reading “October 2019 ACIP public comments – anti-vaccine complaints, part 2”