Robert Redfield named CDC director – what does this mean for vaccines?

robert redfield

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is America’s national public health institute – it is one of the most respected scientific institutions in the world. And the CDC Director, a presidentially appointed position, usually sets policy for public health in the USA, while they have considerable influence over public health worldwide. After the resignation of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald in January 2018, President Donald Trump appointed Dr. Robert Redfield as the new CDC Director.

Despite the fantasies of the anti-vaccine religion and other science deniers, the CDC is staffed by highly educated and trained scientists, public health experts, physicians, and nurses, many of them are officers in the United States Public Health Service. These people are dedicated to the public health of Americans and often spend their lives keep all of us safe from harm from diseases.

The CDC’s main goal is to protect public health and safety through the prevention of disease, injury, and disability not only in the USA but also internationally. The CDC is an independent Federal agency whose dedicated staff stand at the front lines of infectious diseases throughout the world. The agency also focuses on non-infectious diseases, such as diabetes and obesity. Finally, they provide educational activities designed to improve health.

Of course, the CDC matters to me because they are the primary source of information about vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases in the USA and the world. Though the CDC does not control vaccinations, they only set recommendations that states and certain parts of the Federal government (like the military and foreign service officers) generally follow. The CDC follows logical and scientific procedures to make these recommendations.

And now we have a new CDC Director, Dr. Robert Redfield, who at first blush appears to be a reasonable choice for the position. However, I am a scientific skeptic, so I never stop at the first blush. Continue reading “Robert Redfield named CDC director – what does this mean for vaccines?”

CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigns – impacts on vaccines, public health

Brenda Fitzgerald

If I asked the general public about the CDC director, or who that person is (Brenda Fitzgerald), I’d get a blank look. It’s not exactly the most prestigious position in the Federal Government, but if you care about vaccines, cancer, infectious diseases, and public health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is probably one of the more important Federal agencies, unless you buy into thoroughly debunked CDC whistleblower conspiracy theories.

Because most Donald Trump appointees to Federal government department and agencies were filled with incompetent, ethically-challenged, science-denying individuals, his appointment of Brenda Fitzgerald as CDC Director was, more or less, taken by the science and medical community with a sigh of relief. She wasn’t anti-vaccine. She seemed to understand the role of public health in the USA. And she was a doctor. Trump could have done much worse, as we’ve seen in other departments.

The anti-vaccine religion has been bigly supportive of Trump because he had shown some proclivity towards the vaccine denier beliefs. But they ended up crying vaccine tears when Trump did the “right thing” (probably the only time I will write that comment with respect to Trump) regarding several public health posts, including the CDC Director and Surgeon General.

Then it all blew up.

Continue reading “CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald resigns – impacts on vaccines, public health”

Gun control regulations and firearms mortality – UPDATED

Gun control regulations and public health.

Firearms mortality, either murder, accidental or suicide, has always been a public health issue in the USA. There have been several good epidemiological studies that have examined whether gun control regulations and firearms mortality risk are related – and the results are surprisingly vigorous.

From recent epidemiological research, there is some convincing evidence that establishes a correlation between state-level gun control regulations and firearms mortality rates. However, the link is not as black and white as one might wish – the relationship between firearms regulations and mortality depends on the quality of the law.

The nation’s leading public health organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is essentially prevented from analyzing and publishing any epidemiological research that would help us understand what, if any, links there are between gun control and firearms mortality. The Republican dominated congress have done everything they can to prevent the CDC from using any funds to study the issue.

Furthermore, because the CDC cannot (or will not) fund research into gun control, it has lead to a chilling effect on gun control research in academia. According to the Washington Post, “young academics were warned that joining the field was a good way to kill their careers. And the odd gun study that got published went through linguistic gymnastics to hide any connection to firearms.”

But maybe because this public health menace can no longer be ignored, a smattering of well done epidemiological research is being published in very high quality medical journals. Let’s look at one.

Continue reading “Gun control regulations and firearms mortality – UPDATED”

Trump appointed Surgeon General and CDC director – good for vaccines

Trump appointed Surgeon General

Donald Trump’s record on appointments for science and medical positions has been horrific, at best. His choice of Tom Price for Health and Human Services was terrible for healthcare. Anti-science individuals were also appointed to serve as EPA Director and Secretary of Energy. But recently, Trump appointed Surgeon General and will appoint a CDC director, both of whom appear to be good, though not perfect picks.

From a purely non-political standpoint, those of us on the science side wanted a few basics in the new Surgeon General and CDC director:

  1. Have a respectable medical and/or public health background.
  2. Provide full-throated support for immunization programs
  3. Don’t belong to the right wing Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), which has radical ideas about health care, Medicaid, Medicare and just about any modern healthcare strategy.
  4. Don’t have unscientific ideas about HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika virus, and many other contemporary issues in public health.

Sure, it would be nice for our national public health advocates to remind the country that accidental gun deaths is a public health issue, but that’s never going to happen in the current political environment.

Let’s take a look at who President Trump appointed Surgeon General and who he will probably appoint CDC director. Continue reading “Trump appointed Surgeon General and CDC director – good for vaccines”

Vaccine informed consent – mandates and liability

vaccine informed consent

Several people have asked me whether having school mandates is in tension with the idea of vaccine informed consent . The answer is no. While school mandates have some effect on parental autonomy, the doctrine of informed consent should not be conflated with autonomy.

For a somewhat different reason, imposing sanctions on those who do not vaccinate is also not a violation of informed consent. Continue reading “Vaccine informed consent – mandates and liability”

Mumps outbreaks in 2016 – highest number in over a decade

mumps outbreaks

Over the past few years, there have been outbreaks of diseases we all assumed had been eradicated – chicken pox, measles, and, more recently, mumps. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 4,000 mumps cases in the USA in 2016. Mumps outbreaks may be the new normal thanks to clusters of unvaccinated kids.

The mumps vaccination program started in 1967 – before that there were about 186,000 cases reported each year (and that number might be low because of underreporting). Once mumps vaccinations were commonplace, the incidence of the disease fell by over 99%. For those who think that better sanitation or whatever caused decreases in diseases, I think that 1967 is fairly recent, and it’s clear that the vaccine itself started the precipitous drop in mumps outbreaks. Since the start of the vaccine era, annual mumps cases in the USA hovered below 1,000 during most years. But over the last 10 years, there has been a noticeable uptick in annual cases, with a high of over 6,000 cases in 2006.

Let’s examine the mumps outbreaks and see what may be the cause. Spoiler alert – expect Andrew Wakefield’s name to appear.

Continue reading “Mumps outbreaks in 2016 – highest number in over a decade”

CDC director Thomas Frieden resigns – time for a Trump appointment

CDC director Thomas Frieden

CDC director Thomas Frieden has announced his resignation from his position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency’s main goal is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability across the world. And our favorite anti-science president-elect, Donald Trump, will appoint his successor.

The agency focuses its attention on infectious disease control partially through advocacy for vaccines. The staff of 15,000 scientists, researchers, physicians, and US Public Health Services commissioned officers, are dedicated to investigating infectious diseases, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention, and public health educational activities – all are designed to help improve the health of Americans and people across the world.

CDC officials are often the first responders to ground zero of dangerous infections. They are generally the first scientists who determine the proper course of treatment for novel diseases, while monitoring its spread across a geographic area. They are warriors in the fight against diseases across the world, including Zika virus and many others.

A significant part of the CDC’s mission involves attacking public health problems globally. In today’s interconnected world, a disease that shows it’s ugly head in an isolated village in the Amazon can be transported to a major city in another country in less than 36 hours. This take money. And this takes manpower.

Let’s take a look at the career of CDC director Thomas Frieden, and the potential consequences of a Donald Trump appointee to the position.  Continue reading “CDC director Thomas Frieden resigns – time for a Trump appointment”

HHS nominee Tom Price and a radical right-wing physician organization

Tom Price HHS nominee

Recently, president-elect Donald Trump nominated Georgia congressman Tom Price to be Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS). Price is a medical doctor whose impact on politics has been almost exclusively based on his unwavering opposition to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Once Trump was elected, along with a Republican Senate and House, most of us in healthcare knew that Obamacare was probably doomed. I don’t think it will be easy for the Republicans, now that they’re in power, to actually dismantle Obamacare, especially some of the more popular provisions such as elimination of the pre-existing conditions as a disqualification for receiving health insurance.

Also, there are over 20 million Americans who have taken advantage of health insurance from Obamacare, and I think it would be almost impossible for the Republicans to cut them off. But I may be delusional about the limits of Republican dislike of poorer Americans.

Setting aside healthcare insurance, what else may be impacted by Tom Price? Well, the Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for many of the important health care institutions that matter to me and my readers. Some of the major institutions under the HHS umbrella are:

  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – the nucleus of biomedical and health-related research in the USA. Much of the research at NIH, which has an impressive world-wide reputation, serves as the foundation of much of what we know about human health and disease.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – if you are a reader of this website and blog for the past 5 years, you know I, and many others, have tremendous respect for the CDC. It functions as the frontline, first responders if you will, for any disease that appears in the world. It is made up of some of the leading scientists, public health specialists, and thought leaders in healthcare, who give their careers to help humanity. And, of course, they set vaccine policy for this country. The CDC has tremendous influence on public health across the globe.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the primary regulator of pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food, diagnostics, supplements, and many other areas, it is one of the most powerful agencies in the world for protecting the health of consumers.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – the federal agency that administers the Medicare program along with advising the states on Medicaid and other public health care programs.

Tom Price will have significant influence on much of the science of medicine, let alone the financing of health care in the USA. There is one thing in Price’s background that give us some significant insight as to how he’ll run his department – let’s just say, it’s not good. Yeah, none of us of would have predicted this.

Continue reading “HHS nominee Tom Price and a radical right-wing physician organization”

Prevent Zika virus with GMO mosquitoes – Frankensquito returns

Prevent Zika virus – female

Over the past few months, the Zika virus, a mosquito borne disease that is passed from the mother to the developing fetus, has become the focus of a lot of attention because of the danger it poses to the fetus. There are no vaccines or treatments for the virus, so the best we can do is stop the carrier, two species of the Aedes mosquito. Probably the best way to prevent Zika virus spread is with genetically modified mosquitoes, the Frankensquito.

Even though mosquitoes are the main way to be stricken with the Zika virus, it is even crazier than that. Men and women who contract the disease can then transmit it sexually to their partners. So even those who are nowhere near the Zika carrying mosquitoes may be at risk of getting the virus.

Recently, there have been numerous cases of Zika virus infection in  south Florida, and, because of the lack of effective preventative vaccines and treatments, public health officials have looked at other methods to prevent Zika virus. The most effective way is to eliminate the carriers of this virus, mosquitoes.

I have written several articles about these GMO mosquitoes, but that had been with regards to preventing Dengue fever, also a dangerous mosquito carried disease. But just like the “outcry” with the Frankensquito and Dengue fever, we’re hearing almost the same nonsense with respect to Zika virus. Let’s look at the scientific facts, with the hope that some will see the importance of prevention.

Continue reading “Prevent Zika virus with GMO mosquitoes – Frankensquito returns”

Water fluoridation benefits and risks – a systematic review

Water fluoridation has become a fairly common public health practice, as communities across the world accepted the evidence that fluoridated water is relatively safe and reduces cavities (known properly as dental caries). Several decades ago, it became a part of the public health strategy in many communities.

However, as fluoride became more available, especially in the forms in toothpaste and various mouthwashes, it has become time to review water fluoridation benefits and risks – especially as it becomes one of those “things” that cause concerns with the public.

As I’ve mentioned literally a few hundred times in this blog, the very highest level of research is a meta (or systematic) review, which tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence relevant to a particular question or hypothesis in medicine. Systematic reviews of high-quality randomized controlled trials are critical pieces of evidence that forms the basis of science-based healthcare.

Systematic reviews are best when they select hundreds or even thousands of research studies over decades of clinical studies, eliminating studies with bias (or pointing out the bias), and combining data from the best of the best. Now it’s time to look at one of the newer meta-reviews regarding water fluoridation benefits and risks from the Cochrane Collaboration, probably the premiere group that produce systematic reviews.

Using data from a wide variety of resources (from clinical trials to peer-reviewed studies to recommendations from public health organizations), the Cochrane Collaboration attempts to find the best and least biased data to answer a question. In case you’re wondering who is this “Cochrane,” they are either a group of brilliant scientists trying to provide better data for medicine or dentistry. Or they’re a cabal of evil wizards, hiding from the world in a dungeon in one of Big Pharma’s creepy castles in New Jersey. My guess it’s the former. Continue reading “Water fluoridation benefits and risks – a systematic review”