Every time I think I’ve read it all, apparently I haven’t. I was pointed in the direction of someone – the Medical Medium – who pushes pseudoscience online. Worse yet, he mashes together alternative medicine and psychic readings.
Yes, you read that right. Using psychic readings, he then recommends alternative medicine.
Anthony William, who calls himself the Medical Medium, not because he’s right in the middle of medicine, but because he believes he’s a medium, that is, someone who can speak with spirits. I’m sure he has a Ouija Board.
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.
Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the argument from ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.
The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that a technology is absolutely safe.
I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.
Anti-vaccine activists constantly look for any science that seems to support their beliefs about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Lately, they have gravitated to the writings of Peter Doshi, who has made a career talking about vaccines. Although Doshi lacks the credentials in any area of science related to vaccines – immunology, microbiology, virology, public health, epidemiology – the anti-vaccine forces embrace him like he’s a Nobel Prize winning scientist. Which he is not.
Let’s take a look at Doshi’s credentials and what he’s written about vaccines, specifically the flu vaccine.
Argument from Authority
Before we look at Peter Doshi, we need to start by looking how the anti-vaccine crowd depends on authorities, especially false authorities. Vaccine deniers rely upon the Argument from Authority, a logical fallacy which provides an argument from an authority, but on a topic outside of the authority’s expertise or on a topic on which the authority is not disinterested. Furthermore, the works of authorities, no matter how eminent or influential, is always judged by the quality of their evidence and reasoning, not by their authority alone.
Duesberg has also claimed that AIDS in Africa is largely misdiagnosed, and is not really AIDS but merely the accumulated affects of malnutrition and disease. AIDS deniers, like Duesberg, have little or no scientific evidence for their disputing that HIV causes AIDS, they are considered crackpots at best and harmful to the research to treat and prevent AIDS. A true scientific skeptic does not accept the statements of an authority figure just because they are an authority, but on the body of evidence, along with the qualifications, of said authority.
Another example of a false authority, specific to vaccines, is Tetyana Obukhanych, an immunologist who has become the darling of the anti-vaccine forces. The science deniers use Obukhanych’s anti-vaccine words as gospel, more so because she has the authority of a degree in immunology. However, she never did any research to support her beliefs, so the evidence does not support her actually being an expert in the field of vaccines.
Science deniers attempt to create a false equivalence, or even this false democracy of science, by cherry picking some “authority” that supports their point of view. Of course, they ignore the vast majority of “authority” figures who are on the other side of the fence. Once again, one authority person does not outweigh the vast numbers that are usually on the other side of the argument.
All about Peter Doshi
Recently, the vaccine denier zombie memes have resurrected an “authority” named Peter Doshi, who has made a recent career of denying some aspects of vaccinations, specifically flu immunizations. An article in one of the crank online “medical” websites, NewsMax Health, that is being passed around again by the vaccine obstructionists, relied upon some statements by Doshi “of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.”
Promoting influenza vaccines is one of the most visible and aggressive public health policies in the United States, says Doshi of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Drug companies and public officials press for widespread vaccination each fall, offering vaccinations in drugstores and supermarkets. The results have been phenomenal. Only 20 years ago, 32 million doses of influenza vaccine were available in the United States on an annual basis. Today, the total has skyrocketed to 135 million doses.
“The vaccine may be less beneficial and less safe than has been claimed, and the threat of influenza seems to be overstated,” Doshi says. Mandatory vaccination polices have been enacted, often in healthcare facilities, forcing some people to take the vaccine under threat of losing their jobs.
Even when the vaccine is closely matched to the type of influenza that’s prevalent, which doesn’t happen every year, randomized, controlled trials of healthy adults found that vaccinating between 33 and 100 people resulted in one less case of influenza. In addition, says Doshi, no evidence exists to show that this reduction in the risk of influenza for a specific population — here in the United States, among healthy adults, for example — extrapolates into any reduced risk of serious complications from influenza, such as hospitalizations or deaths, among seniors.
Well, this sounds provocative. So let’s start at the top. First, let’s look at Doshi’s background. According to a report written for the National Academies of Science (and having absolutely nothing to do with vaccines), Doshi is
…a postdoctoral fellow in comparative effectiveness research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His over-arching research interests are in improving the basis for credible evidence synthesis to support and improve the quality of evidence-based medical and health policy-related decision making. In 2009, he joined a Cochrane systematic review team evaluating neuraminidase inhibitors for the treatment and prevention of influenza. Rather than focusing on publications, the review evaluates regulatory information, including clinical study reports. He received his A.B. in anthropology from Brown University, A.M. in East Asian studies from Harvard University, and Ph.D. in history, anthropology, and science, technology and society from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For those of you who don’t know anything about scientific research (that would be every vaccine denier I’ve met), a post-doctoral fellow is not on the faculty. Yes, he’s at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, but he does not practice medicine, nor does he do any clinical research. He is not a faculty member, and, except for guest lecturing, does not teach medical or graduate students.
As a post-doc, he is doing research which extends from his Ph.D. research at the MIT. Moreover, he doesn’t have a science research background, it appears that his background is in the history of science, a fine field of much interest to many real scientists, but it isn’t hard science, that is developing a hypothesis based upon observations, then testing the hypothesis using the scientific method, and finally publishing it.
On the scale of educational background, Doshi would not qualify as a “scientist”, but people can claim whatever they want. As I’ve said, it’s evidence that matters. All of Doshi’s research are criticisms of vaccines, not based on his personal leadership in a clinical trial, but merely on his opinion. And he seems to enjoy attacking Big Pharma, a trite strawman argument.
So using the Peter Doshi vaccine study as a “proof” that vaccines are bad because Doshi is a leading authority on vaccines and the flu? That isn’t going to fly. Doshi is not even close to having credentials of a real vaccine researcher.
The question is not whether the virus as it currently is constituted is a pandemic threat but whether it will become one. There are many reasons to think this can happen and happen soon. When and i it does, there will be no time to prepare, so waiting to do so is not prudent, although that is what Doshi is advocating. As we have emphasized here many times, and will do again, the way to prepare for an influenza pandemic is to strengthen a community’s social service and public health infrastructure. Concentrating on vaccines and antivirals is not a useful way to prepare because if there is no pandemic (we should be so lucky) it would be wasted and the use of either requires an infrastructure to distribute them. Instead the task before us is one of community mobilization but requires a proper appreciation for the nature of the threat.
Doshi’s view is very unhelpful in that regard, but not because he objects to scaring people as a tactic. I consider it a bad tactic, too. It is unhelpful because it doesn’t do what it should: provide people with a sane appreciation of the risk so they can start to develop the kinds of relationships, structures and orientations that will respond to widespread community illness by encouraging and allowing neighbor to help neighbor.
Worse yet, Doshi has attended crank science meetings, which push an antivaccine agenda without any pretense of using real science. For example, he attended and presented at a meeting sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a renowned vaccine denier group with a laughably obfuscating name. Maybe Doshi isn’t in agreement with NVIC principles of denying vaccines for children, but attending the meeting seems to indicate some level of support.
However, this is what makes science so energizing. Real scientists, who do real work with viruses and who actually have an education in real biomedical sciences, are actually trying to discover a flu vaccine that works better against all types of flu, mainly by trying to uncover the common antigen. This is hard work, not in the purview of pontificating fake-scientists who think that cherry-picking data and publishing it, makes them knowledgeable.
Doshi also vastly overstates the the risks of the flu vaccine while understating the benefits in saved lives. A real epidemiologist might have provided a better analysis of risk versus benefits, a hallmark of understanding evidence based medicine. In fact, a true skeptic weighs the evidence on the risk and benefit sides of the equation, then determines the value of the benefit to risk ratio.
One last thing. Peter Doshi is an HIV/AIDS denier, and has made his “belief” (unsupported by any science whatsoever) public by signing a petition along with some 2000 other scientists, artists, engineers, government lackeys and other individuals with no scientific background in virology and immunology (like Doshi himself).
These petitions, like a similar one for evolution deniers, are feeble attempts to show support for the denialist side of the discussion. First of all, science is not a democracy, it is not subject to a vote. Science relies on evidence published in peer reviewed journals. Second of all, if we eliminate all of the non-scientists from the list (goodbye Peter Doshi, because you’re no scientist), we’d have a list of a couple of hundred scientists who would make up less than 0.01% of research biologists, meaning if science were a democracy, these deniers would lose in an awesomely huge landslide.
Real vaccine authorities
Of course, there are authority figures in vaccines who have the background, education and expertise that should be appreciated and have provided evidence that overwhelms the biased and evidence-lacking beliefs of non-authorities like Doshi.
Think about that for a minute. A real scientist doesn’t pontificate about helping humanity with fake science, he actually does something about it, and is directly responsible for saving nearly a half a million lives every year. If I were responsible for honoring heroes for saving children’s lives, Paul Offit and Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine, deserve statues in front of every hospital, every medical school, and every city in the world. They are real heroes, who saved millions upon millions of children’s lives.
But despite credentials that are worthy of being considered one of the top scientists on the planet, Offit is vilified, hated and despised by the antivaccine cult. It’s hard to determine the particular reason for this hatred, except that he invented a vaccine, which saved those half a million lives every year, so obviously (to the lunatic fringe) he is completely corrupted by Big Pharma. Instead of seeing the Appeal to Authority fallacies they have with their non-scientists inventing garbage science about vaccines, the vaccine deniers jump all over the Argumentum Ad Hominemto attack Offit. Laughable and pathetic.
Here’s the point: we have evidence that supports the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, almost all vaccines. The evidence is based on clinical trials that are large, well-controlled, and published in peer-reviewed journals. They have been included in well-written systematic reviews. These studies have also been published in important peer-reviewed journals.
And unless you like cherry-picking evidence to support your belief, rather than reviewing all of the scientific evidence and see what conclusion it would support, the antivaccine authority figures lack any standing. The weight and quality of the “evidence” presented by antivaccine so-called authorities is simply too weak to even consider, and it falls far short of evidence presented by the pro-science vaccine supporters. In other words, the vaccine “authorities” are actually authorities about vaccines.
The Peter Doshi flu vaccine study isn’t worth much, but if you’re going to use it as your argument for authority–it’s not going to work.
The documentary claims that there is a conspiracy by the CDC to hide the link between MMR and autism, even though the documents supposed to support that conspiracy do not support such accusations. In spite of the fact that even if the CDC wanted to hide such a link, it couldn’t control studies done in other countries looking at the issue (and finding no link). It makes untrue statements about vaccine testing, like falsely claiming that vaccines are not tested in combination.
In addition, in several cities, the Vaxxed team – discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield, his collaborator Polly Tommey, and producer Del Bigtree, and occasionally others – followed certain screenings with a question and answer session. In those sessions they made false claims that could mislead parents away from protecting their children by vaccinating.
The Vaxxed team claimed that preventable diseases were not prevented by vaccines. Among other things they claimed that vaccines were both ineffective and unsafe, ignoring abundant research showing the opposite: modern vaccines are extremely safe and effective.
Del Bigtree falsely described the hepatitis B vaccine – that protects against a virus that can cause liver disease and cancer – as “injecting a sexually transmitted disease”, potentially scaring parents off protecting their children against this dangerous infection. Finally, the Vaxxed team warned listeners against seeing pediatricians, because they can’t be trusted (see here and here for more of their misrepresentations and misinformation).
If a viewer watches Vaxxed and listens to the team’s advice, decides not to vaccinate based on this misleading information, and their child gets a preventable disease and is harmed by it, can they sue for money damages in torts?
Listen to the radio for a few minutes. Or watch late night television for a bit. Through the commercials hawking insurance with talking geckos, promoting treatments for erectile dysfunction, and, exhibiting the coolest, fastest, most fuel efficient car, you will run across the reason for all that ails you–your failure to use colon detoxification to fix your problems.
I am a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.
That’s how science is done. And I use the hierarchy of scientific evidence to weigh the quality along with the quantity of evidence in reaching a conclusion. I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience – they generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, that’s the opposite of good science.
Unfortunately, today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media, can be overwhelming. Sometimes we create an internal false balance, assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate, when there isn’t one.
I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful and nuanced articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I know science is hard. It’s difficult. Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science. Unfortunately, there are too many people writing on the internet who think they are talking science, but they fail to differentiate between good and bad evidence.
But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is one of the leading activists on the anti-vaccine side. Yes, she’s a real physician – she’s actually a DO, an osteopath (see Note 1). Despite her medical education and training, she is a science denier on many levels. Not only does she hate vaccines, ignoring the wealth of science supporting them, but also she denies a lot of basic scientific principles.
For example, Tenpenny denies the Germ theory of disease, which states that infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms. Germ theory is one of the basic foundations of biology – denying it implies either she doesn’t know anything about biology, or she has a vast body of evidence to overturn a scientific theory. My guess it’s the former, rather than the latter.
Instead, Sherri Tenpenny believes that diseases are due to toxins flooding the body, and germs subsequently jumping into the toxin-damaged tissues. Let’s be clear, there isn’t a stitch of evidence supporting this idea. Of course, once Tenpenny denied Germ theory, she would find vaccines to be useless. The vaccines aren’t actually protecting against disease in her mind.
Does Dr. Sherri Tenpenny have any training, education or background in infectious diseases, immunology or microbiology which would lead one to think she has a clue about all of this? Not as far as anyone can tell. She’s board certified in osteopathic neuromuscular medicine (AOBNMM) and the woo-based integrative and holistic medicine (ABIHM). Again, there is absolutely no indication that she actually has any kind of research, training or educational background in anything to do with vaccines, infectious diseases or epidemiology. She fails basic science here.
In a recent post in the anti-vaccine website, Vaxxter, Tenpenny pretends she’s Jesus (as in the Christian myth) telling a parable on how she tries to pass out information on the evils of vaccines – but that her claims are rejected by “close-minded” pro-vaccine types. Like me I suppose.
Shall we take a look? Sure, it’s a good day to debunk some anti-vaccine nonsense.
Sherri Tenpenny and Jesus
To be honest, doesn’t directly compare herself to Jesus. But she comes really really close.
Jesus often told stories called parables to teach a lesson through an example. Many of you may be familiar with the Biblical story, “The Parable of the Sower.” For those who don’t (and there are many faiths here, so many may not), here is a summary of The Parable of the Sower. I always keep this in mind as I am sowing seeds of information about vaccines (emphasis mine).
In essence, this parable attempts to assert that the seeds of faith (the word of Jesus, I suppose) can’t take root everywhere. But where it does grow, the rewards will be abundant. As an atheist, I find all of this to be ridiculously obtuse, but she’s the one claiming to use the parable to spread the seeds of her anti-vaccine information.
Let’s examine this.
The Parable of the Sower of Vaccine Seeds
So, Sherri Tenpenny, the Jesus of vaccines, says the parable fits into her dogmatic religion of the anti-vaccine. She’s the savior in this metaphor, I suppose.
Let’s take a look at them one by one.
1–Some seeds never have a chance. There will always be skeptics and “know it alls” who believe in the Religion of Vaccination and can never hear the information. Try as you might, they will never hear. Like the hard soil, their mind is closed. Save your energy. Move on.
She says that we’re close minded? I don’t think that means what she thinks it means. A close minded person has established a conclusion, evidence be damned. An open minded person (yours truly is one) only comes to a conclusion after weighing all of the highest quality evidence. In fact, the seeds of science never have a chance with Tenpenny and her ilk, because they believe in the Religion of Anti-vaccination, a faith based group. They ignore all the high quality evidence to stick stubbornly with the pre-conceived conclusions demanded by their religious faith.
The evidence for the efficacy and safety of vaccines is mountainous. But like creationists, another science denying religion, anti-vaccine-ists (yeah, I did that) rely upon anecdotes, misinterpretation, logical fallacies, and all of the other tools of the science denying crowd to close their mind to real science and evidence. So Dr. Tenpenny, look at yourself in the mirror. Seeds of knowledge, truth and science have no chance with your closed mind.
2–Some seeds of truth will start to grow because the truth is exciting and their interest starts to sprout.
3–Some seeds start to grow, but the truth is quickly choked by the weeds. Family members in healthcare, social media friends, community nay-sayers crush the spirit of the growing seedling. Discouraged and literally choked out, the seeds of truth die.
This is where my job starts. I need to get rid of those weeds of science denialism with a good dose of Truth™ glyphosate. Just about anyone who supports vaccines does the same – they get rid of the weeds of doubt, misinformation and bad science so that open-minded parents will realize how valuable vaccines are to the health of their children.
4–But a few seeds of truth will take root, and grow…and grow..and grow. Some who heard the truth about vaccine hazards immediately embraced and understood it. Their resolve grew the more they studied. They joined a like-minded community for personal support. The seeds planted within this person grew into a massive plant.
Yes, there are many, over 90%, who have heard the truth about vaccine hazards and immediately rejected the nonsense spread by Sherri Tenpenny. Then they vaccinated their children. To abuse this parable (or Tenpenny’s version of said parable), the massive plant of like minded people who accept science and knowledge, and understand who is and isn’t speaking the truth have made sure their children are protected against vaccine preventable diseases.
To be frank, Jesus Tenpenny’s version of the parable of the sower fits more for her sycophants and followers rather than for the “pro-vaccine” side. Because the parable is about faith and accepting the teachings of a god, while rejecting science and evidence.
Science isn’t about faith and blind acceptance. Sure, I am not an astrophysicist, so I tentatively accept what Neil DeGrasse Tyson says about Pluto being a planet or not, because he presents evidence, and he’s not ridiculed by the vast majority of astrophysicists. But if further evidence appears, supported by brilliant scientists say he’s wrong about Pluto, I’d rethink my position. But on vaccines, I’ve done the research, not as an amateur accepting by faith the statements of others, but as an expert in several biomedical sciences who can read the thousands of studies supporting vaccines. The evidence leads me to the conclusion about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, not “faith.”
In the USA, a licensed physician may be either an MD (medical doctor) or DO (doctor of osteopathy). DOs attend osteopathic school, rather than medical school, and are generally taught evidence based medicine. Its roots are somewhat based in medical woo, but that’s more historical than current philosophy. A DO must go through the same training process as an MD – they have to compete for the same internships, residencies and fellowships as MDs. Currently, it’s really hard to tell the difference between and MD and DO with respect to your own health care.
As a vaccine supporter, I get accused of being a shill for Big Pharma all the time. My basement is filled with gold bars shipped to me in remuneration for my services to the corporate hooligans – wait. No basement, no gold bars. On the other hand, Big Supplement, those companies who make money off of people who think that if they take this one vitamin to prevent all cancer, makes a a ton of money selling this junk medicine to unwary and unsophisticated consumers.
Let’s take a moment and look at the differences between Big Pharma and Big Supplement. The former has to work hard and provide evidence of what its drugs do, while the latter basically can sit around and throw darts at various claims, then randomly assign those claims to some new or old supplement.
The benefits of omega 3 fish oil has always been intriguing to me, because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful to improving health, especially cardiovascular health. Omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in fish, as it is produced by the phytoplankton that is the primary food source of much of the prey for larger fish and bio-accumulates up the food chain. However, for humans, there are other sources of omega 3 oils including walnuts and edible seeds, eggs, and other non-fish foods.
Epidemiological studies done in the late 1980s seem to indicate relatively low death rates due to cardiovascular disease in Inuit populations with high seafood consumption. These results began the rush to consume omega 3 supplements, and created a booming supplement industry.
However, since publication of those initial studies, much research has been done on seafood and heart disease. And the results don’t give much credence to the cardiovascular benefits of omega 3 fish oils as a useful supplement.
I thought we would take a look at the issues specific to this new version of RFK Jr and vaccine safety – we’ll analyze his comments and then take a detailed look at the published article that forms the basis of Kennedy’s comments.
RFK Jr and vaccine safety – the article
RFK Jr’s article about vaccine safety was published in Collective Evolution, a pseudoscience-pushing website that has articles about the sun exploding soon and aliens circling the moon. No, I’m not joking, Kennedy thinks his outlandish claims about vaccines fit well next to an article about alien structures on the moon.
But let’s get to what he’s saying about the DTaP vaccine:
Now a team of Scandinavian scientists has conducted such a study and the results are alarming. That study, funded in part by the Danish government and lead by Dr. Soren Wengel Mogensen, was published in January in EBioMedicine. Mogensen and his team of scientists found that African children inoculated with the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) vaccine, during the early 1980s had a 5-10 times greater mortality than their unvaccinated peers.
In the primary analysis, DTP-vaccinated infants experienced mortalities five times greater than DTP-unvaccinated infants. Mortalities to vaccinated girls were 9.98 times those among females in the unvaccinated control group, while mortalities to vaccinated boys were 3.93 times the controls. Oddly, the scientists found that children receiving the oral polio vaccine simultaneously with DTP fared much better than children who did not. The OPV vaccine appeared to modify the negative effect of the DTP vaccine, reducing mortalities to 3.52 times those experienced among the control group.Overall, mortalities among vaccinated children were 10 times the control group when children received only the DTP.
The data suggest that, while the vaccine protects against infection from those three bacteria, it makes children more susceptible to dying from other causes.
If this were true, it would be one scary study. However, does this study actually make that claim? Stay tuned, we’ll get to it.
Kennedy, then, comes to this conclusion:
In 2014, The World Health Organization (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) conducted its own literature review of the potential non-specific effects (NSEs) of several vaccines, including DTP, and found that the majority of studies reported a detrimental effect of DTP (Higgins et al., 2014; Strategic Advisory Group of Experts of Immunization, 2014) due to its penchant for increasing susceptibility to unrelated infections. SAGE recommended further research.
Moreover, Mogensen and his colleagues observe that the studies reviewed by SAGE probably underestimated the lethal effect of the DTP vaccine because of unusually high mortality in the control groups, ”Unvaccinated children in these studies have usually been frail children too sick or malnourished to get vaccinated and the studies may therefore have underestimated the negative effect of DTP”. The Mogensen study sought to avoid this pitfall by using controls selected by birthday and by eliminating underweight children and orphans from both the study group and the control group. It included only children who were breastfed. All the infants were healthy at the time of vaccination. Nevertheless, the Mogensen authors point out that, even in their study, the unvaccinated children had slightly worse nutritional status and travelled more – biases that would tend to increase mortality. They conclude that, “The estimate from the natural experiment may therefore still be conservative.”
Evidence supports a high degree of confidence in the estimate of the effect that incidence of serious adverse events following whole cell pertussis vaccination is low. From the reviewed articles, there is no significant risk of serious adverse events following administration of wP (see Note 1).
Severe adverse events are extremely rare. TTCV using various presentations have demonstrated to be safe to use in immunocompetent individuals of various age and population groups including infants, children, adolescents, adults and pregnant women.
In other words, SAGE has never said that there’s a detrimental effect of the DTP (or DTaP) vaccine on children, adults, or anyone. In summary, SAGE has been very positive, with regards to vaccine safety and adverse events, not even close to the narrative pushed by Robert F Kennedy Jr.
But let’s take a look at this Danish study pushed by RFK Jr.
RFK Jr and vaccine safety – the study
The study, published in EBioMedicine, by Dr. Soren Wengel Mogensen et al. studied the mortality rate of children after vaccination with DTP from 1984-1987. The children received the vaccine during quarterly weigh-ins in Guinea, Africa. Here are some of the issues with the study:
It was published in a rather obscure journal. This alone does not give us an indicator of the quality of the paper, but if we really had data that showed us there was a concern with the DTaP vaccine, an important part of the childhood vaccine schedule, it should have been published in a higher quality journal, maybe one that focuses on vaccines, such as the journal Vaccine. Generally, I have found that publishing in obscure journals results from not finding a place in a major journal, mostly as a result of the weakness of the data.
The study looks at the mortality rate after the vaccine used at that time, which, as I mentioned, contained the whole-cell version of pertussis. That vaccine was pulled from the market and replaced with the acellular version. The reasons for changing the vaccines are complex, but it was partially because of the higher rate of minor adverse events with the wP version of the pertussis vaccine. On the other hand, there is no evidence that the wP version caused more deaths than the current aP version.
The study only examined 1057 children, which is a tiny number in any epidemiological study that tries to compare one group to another to examine a potential effect. Many case control studies that examine vaccine effects (either effectiveness or adverse events) use 100,000 to several million patients.
The number of deaths that was used in the study was tiny, sometimes only 1 death in a population group (like female unvaccinated children). Because they used such small numbers, unintentional bias could occur.
The deaths were not categorized. Were they auto accidents, violence, or other mortality events that absolutely have nothing to do with vaccination. With such small numbers analyzed, it’s possible that unrelated mortality could have given results that could change dramatically with just a handful of unrelated deaths. Unless you can convince me that vehicle mortality is somehow related to vaccination status.
Ironically, the study showed that there was decreased mortality with the children who received oral polio vaccine (separate from the DTP vaccine). If we accept this statistically suspect small sample as unbiased (which we can’t), the overall results are positive with a full vaccination. It kind of contradicts the RFK Jr and vaccine safety narrative.
It’s difficult for me to accept the viability of this study on just about any level. At best, at the very best, we can accept this study as an observational one which could, if not contradicted by better studies, form the basis of a hypothesis about the DTaP vaccine.
And that leads me to another critical point. Robert F Kennedy Jr cherry-picked a study that supports his beliefs about vaccine safety, the antithesis of real science (hence, Kennedy chose the pseudoscientific Collective Evolution for his article). If we look at larger studies more broadly, what can we say about the safety profile of the DTaP vaccine?
Here’s a Danish study that included over 805,000 children looking at various outcomes to getting multiple antigen vaccines, such as DTP or DTaP, came to this conclusion:
These results do not support the hypotheses that multiple-antigen vaccines or aggregated vaccine exposure increase the risk of nontargeted infectious disease hospitalization.
In plain speak, there is no data to support RFK Jr and vaccine safety issues – with respect to these vaccines, there was no difference in non-targeted (that is non-diphtheria, -pertussis or -tetanus) infections in the vaccinated vs. non vaccinated groups. This is much more robust data than the study upon which Kennedy relies for his belief set.
Acellular vaccines have fewer adverse effects than whole-cell vaccines for the primary series as well as for booster doses.
Thus, the authors found no vaccine related mortality for either vaccine, which completely and utterly contradicts Kennedy’s belief about the safety of the DTaP vaccine. If we’re going to cherry pick, let’s choose the studies that actually are well designed with good statistics and outcomes that can reject or accept a hypothesis. Kennedy’s study does neither.
Not only does RFK Jr use research that has no relevance to the modern DTaP vaccine, but also he relies on a weak, small, and poorly designed study. Furthermore, the study he uses is clearly of lower quality than other, more powerful and robust studies, which show that there is no mortality concerns with the vaccine.
Kennedy’s cherry picked study simply fails to provide us with any quality evidence that we should be concerned about the modern DTaP vaccine. None. Only in a world of pseudoscience, where a weak, one-off study has more value than better designed and populated studies, can we cherry pick bad evidence to dismiss one of the most useful vaccines in the armamentarium of diseases preventing weapons.
RFK Jr and vaccine safety? Yeah, he’s wrong. Badly wrong.
wP, or whole cell pertussis vaccine, is no longer used in the USA. We use aP, or acellular pertussis, in our DTaP vaccine. At the time of the vaccination of the children in the study, the whole cell version was used.
The diphtheria vaccine doesn’t protect directly against the bacterial infection but against the toxin produced by the diphtheria bacteria which causes the symptoms of the infection.