Vaccine deniers are basically clueless about science. They invent stuff about the immune system, while missing how a vaccine induces a long-lasting immune response. They conflate correlation with causality, an important distinction if you’re going to understand epidemiology. They deny the germ theory of disease, one of the fundamental pillars of modern biology, which states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms. They simply ignore what makes science a logical and repeatable process, called the scientific method, preferring anecdote and cherry-picked data over randomized clinical trials and peer-reviewed systematic reviews.
But one of the more important scientific failures of the antivaccine gang is an unsophisticated lack of understanding of basic mathematics, specifically the measurement of risk. Using 2010 USA numbers only, let’s look at the top mortality risks for children aged 1-14:
- Unintentional injury (motor vehicle accidents, bathroom falls, etc.): 53.75 (out of every 100,000 Americans between the ages of 1-14)
- Malignant neoplasms: 22.33
- Congenital anomalies (commonly called birth defects): 14.25
- Homicides: 11.43
- Firearms (number broken out from the numbers for all homicides): 3.68
- Heart disease: 6.09
- Suicide: 4.85
- Chronic respiratory disease: 3.26
- Influenza and influenza-related pneumonia: 2.87
- Benign neoplasms: 2.50
- Meningitis: 0.58
- Meningococcal infection: 0.25
The average risk for “serious” complications from vaccines range from 0.1 to 1 in 100,000, with the risk of death from vaccines found to be so small, it can be barely measured as a risk. By the way, those of you who think that VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) should be used to estimate risk, the best I could say is that VAERS is pretty much useless, since it cannot establish causality, it is gamed by those with an antivaccine agenda, and the rate of adverse events is frequently below the background rate for these events in a typical populations of Americans. VAERS is an incredibly useful tool to spot potential new adverse events that might arise from vaccination, but the numbers themselves cannot be used to determine risk.
The risk of a serious reaction, like an allergic one, from getting the flu vaccine is less than 0.1 in 100,000, far far less than the actual death rate from influenza at around 2.87 per 100,000. Moreover, meningitis (and meningococcal infection) have risks of death far higher than the risks of vaccines.
The saddest thing about these numbers is that I’m spending so much time defending vaccines, which are as safe as drinking a glass of filtered water and clearly save lives from preventable diseases. The antivaccine activists, who claim to be worried about children, don’t focus on the things that actually kill children. Motor vehicle accidents, some portion of which are probably a result of drunk drivers. Or firearm homicides? Where is the outrage, that young children are dying from gunshots? Or that the risk of a child dying of suicide is thousands of times higher than the infinitely tiny risk of death from vaccines (if it even exists)?
Why is it that these vaccine deniers show incredible outrage over an indefensible belief that vaccines are dangerous, yet not try to stop homicides, especially with guns? Or safer cars? Or something that actually will help kids live longer.?
Actual guns kill more actual kids than the antivaccine myth that vaccines harm actual children. You see, vaccine deniers don’t actually care about children, or they would be yelling and screaming about guns. And drunk drivers. And the lack of mental health care for teenagers.
If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.
Science is built upon the scientific method, which is a logical process of observation, experiment, analysis, and publication. It is simple, but it requires work. Over time, after numerous experiments, nearly always published in peer-reviewed journals, followed by frequent repetition (and sometimes failure) of the experiments and results by other scientists, scientists arrive at a consensus about the evidence that supports a particular set of principles about the science being researched.
As the evidence accumulates and becomes more predictive, it is declared, through scientific consensus, a scientific theory, which is a series of statements about the causal elements for observed phenomena. These theories explain aspects of the natural world. They are predictive. And they can be tested through the scientific method.
Arriving at a scientific consensus is not something that happens overnight–the development of this consensus is rather glacial in pace. That’s a good thing. It keeps out poorly supported ideas, but gives strength to ideas that are supported by a large quantity and quality of evidence. From basic scientific ideas, the scientific method expands or improves these ideas over time. And, one does not simply decide that the consensus is wrong through a debate or argument–changing the consensus requires as much research based in the scientific method, as many peer-reviewed publications and as much critique, repetition, and review as the evidence that built the original consensus.
(more…) «How vaccine deniers abuse the…»
The seasonal flu is associated with an estimated 54,000 to 430,000 hospitalizations and approximately 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually in the USA. So anyone who thinks that the flu isn’t a serious disease, needs to look at those numbers again. People die. And not just the old or sick–healthy people and children are killed by the flu. And let’s not forget about more serious pandemics, like H1N1, that can kill many more people.
We’ve all heard the excuses and myths about the flu vaccines. They’re repeated over and over again not only by those who are vaccine deniers, but more often by average people who just refuse to get the vaccine. This week, a fellow blogger and someone whom I’ve gotten to know over the past couple of years, Tara Haelle, spent numerous hours putting together the Top 25 Myths about the flu vaccine, which she published here. Read it. Please.
So, below is her list of 25 myths about the flu vaccine, with links back to her article (and in some cases, to this blog too) that debunk the myth. After you read this, share it with everyone. Your neighbor who won’t get the flu vaccine. Your spouse. Your parents. Your coworker. And one more person–yourself.
(more…) «Why we vaccinate–debunking flu vaccine…»
Seasonal flu is associated with an estimated 54,000 to 430,000 hospitalizations and approximately 3,000 to 49,000 deaths annually in the USA. It has been reported that influenza infection rates in the community are highest among children–even though influenza is usually a self-limiting illness, severe complications, including pneumonia, encephalitis, myocarditis, and death, can occur in children.
We’ve all heard the excuses and myths about the flu vaccines. They just aren’t true. No, they really really really aren’t true. By the way, Mark Crislip, MD, thinks those of you who make up whiny excuses for not getting the flu vaccine are dumbasses.
Because of the serious consequences of the annual flu, the CDC recommends the flu vaccine for all children aged 6 months. A recent study published in Pediatrics revealed that the flu virus can have significant repercussions for children. The authors described serious complications from the flu for children including deaths. And many of those deaths occurred in children without underlying medical risk factors.
(more…) «Why we vaccinate for the…»
In addition to preventing the infection, the flu vaccination may have a more important benefit for those who get the shot. A new systematic review, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that individuals vaccinated against the flu had a significantly lower risk of a major cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack or stroke, compared with those who received no flu vaccine.
In the meta-review, researchers from the University of Toronto analyzed five published studies and one unpublished study. They then rolled-up the data to investigate the connection between those who were vaccinated against the flu and various cardiovascular events. Altogether, the studies included approximately 6000 patients. Moreover, the patients had an average age of 67, while about one-third had a medical history of heart disease.
The results were dramatic–individuals who were vaccinated against the flu had a 2.9% risk of having a major cardiovascular even with the next eight months. The risk for those who were not vaccinated (or received a placebo) increased by 150% to 4.7%, a statistically significant difference.
Just to be clear, the study did not show that getting the flu virus caused the development of cardiovascular disease. However, patients with diagnosed cardiovascular disease (or who have had cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction) are at a significantly greater risk of another one if they catch the flu. As the authors state, “the greatest treatment effect was seen among the highest-risk patients with more active coronary disease.”
According to the study, less than 50% of people under the age of 65 with high-risk conditions (such as cardiovascular disease) receive the flu vaccine, which puts them at risk of complications like heart attack and stroke. Older individuals, who often have existing health problems, appear to be more likely to be vaccinated, although up to one third still skip their annual flu shot.
One last point–getting the vaccine, whether the patient has underlying cardiovascular disease or not, does not increase the risk of any cardiovascular effects.
We’ve all heard the excuses and myths about the flu vaccines. They just aren’t true. No, they really really really aren’t true. By the way, Mark Crislip, MD, thinks those of you who make up whiny excuses for not getting the flu vaccine are dumbasses. His words, but quite apropos.
So, if you have had cardiovascular disease, or are at risk from it (like those who have type 1 or 2 diabetes), then get a flu vaccination no matter what your age is. If you have any other risk factors, like being under the age of 5, pregnant, or other important chronic conditions, get a flu immunization. If you’re a healthy adult, and you’re going to visit your parents or grandparents who could catch the flu from you, get vaccinated, even if they’ve been vaccinated (because there is some small chance that the vaccine didn’t give them full immunity). Just get vaccinated for the flu.
The clinical value of preventing the flu is huge. The mythical risks of getting the vaccine are invisible.
If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.
- Udell JA, Zawi R, Bhatt DL, Keshtkar-Jahromi M, Gaughran F, Phrommintkul A, Ciszewski A, Vakili H, Hoffman EB, Farkouh ME, Cannon CP. Association between influenza vaccination and cardiovascular outcomes in high-risk patients: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 21 October 2013; 310: 1711-1720. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279206.
Madison “Madi” Allen was your typical active and healthy 12 year old girl in St. Louis, Missouri. She was in the 7th grade, playing basketball and soccer. Unfortunately, according to her family’s personal account, things went terribly wrong on a Monday morning back in February of 2011. On that day, Madison and her family’s lives were to be struck harshly.
On the Friday before, she was not feeling well, but decided to go to a friend’s birthday party. However, when she got to the party, she didn’t feel well, and texted her mother to come get her. Throughout the night, Madi was coughing badly, and had a high fever. her mother gave her some over-the-counter medications for the cough and fever. But by Monday morning, she was having trouble breathing, so her mother was going to take her to her doctor’s office as soon as they opened.
Apparently, her mother put Madi in the shower to cool her down before going to the physician, when her mother noticed that Madi’s face was sunken in and her lips were blue. At that point, Madi’s parents made the appropriate decision to bring her to the emergency room.
At the hospital, the doctors put her on oxygen, and determined that she had double pneumonia (both lungs). The treatments at the ER weren’t working, so the ER physicians decided to transfer Madi to a hospital that had more specialists and facilities for her illness. By the time she arrived at the new hospital, she was in respiratory distress, so she was intubated. The physicians then, after consulting with Madi’s parents, placed her into an artificial coma so that they could use powerful antibiotics in an attempt to treat her illness. She wouldn’t be able to speak or interact with her parents for the next 5 weeks.
By 10PM that evening, Madi had 14 different IV’s, her kidneys were failing, and she was on a ventilator. The ER at this second hospital decided she needed to be transferred to a hospital with a pediatric ICU better qualified to handle Madi’s illness, so after putting her on ECMO (essentially, life support for individuals whose heart and lungs can no longer support the patient), she was flown to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Immediately after arriving at the hospital, she went into surgery to begin attacking her disease.
She was on ECMO for two weeks. She was intubated and on dialysis for five weeks. Madi had other related issues and setbacks, spending 5 weeks in the PICU. After that, she spent another month in rehabilitation–eventually she was discharged after 93 days at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
Madi went back to school and played basketball and soccer. She still has a chronic cough caused by the scar tissue that formed her lungs from the infections, which impacts her endurance. She is at risk from pneumonia. And she will likely have all of these issues for the rest of her life.
So what happened? She contracted influenza B (as determined by diagnostic tests), which lead to necrotizing pneumonia (a form of pneumonia that causes substantial necrosis of lung cells, and sometimes even lung abscess) and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans. The CDC has noted an increase in flu and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) co-infections among children who had died or were hospitalized with influenza infection. All of this happened, despite her being a healthy, active young girl. And that year Madi had not been immunized with the seasonal flu vaccine.
For those of you who think that the flu vaccine is dangerous or ineffective? That is just plain nonsense. And you’re a dumbass. And the vaccine is safe. And 3,000 to 49,000 people die every year in the USA from complications from flu, many who are healthy and without other risk factors.
Guess what? Now Madi and her entire family get vaccinated against the flu every year and encourage all their friends and family members to do the same.
If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.
It’s getting colder outside, and if you go into any pharmacy, grocery store, chemist, or superstore, you will find literally a dozen or more homeopathic, herbal, or other unproven lotions and potions to prevent or treat the common cold, or rhinovirus. These supplements are a significant part of the annual US$108 billion dollar supplement/nutraceutical industry.
These alternative medicine (so named because there is no scientific evidence supporting their efficacy, let alone safety) products make claims that are so wonderful, many people take them. Then they themselves tell their friends how fast they got rid of their cold. Or that their cold wasn’t as bad after taking the supplement.
The problem is that determine the length and severity of the course of the common cold is entirely subjective. Since the disease is rather mild with few serious complications, it’s hard to determine when it exactly stopped and started, and how bad it was. The common cold tends to resolve itself without external help, but there really isn’t much you can do to make your immune system attack that cold faster.
One of the most ubiquitous pseudoscientific claims that I keep hearing from the junk medicine crowd is that this supplement or that food “boosts” the immune system. These type of claims ignore one basic physiological fact: the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens every day. And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize how complicated the immune system is by claiming that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it science.
And it isn’t that simple.
Using the Graham Coghill’s Science Red Flags, which are indicators of either bad science or unscientific nonsense (and which I’ve used with respect to GMOs), let’s do a quick review of a few outlandish claims of the junk medicine horde. I just cherry picked a few, because their pseudoscience is not the focus of this article. I don’t have that much time to find all the “immune system” rubbish on the internet!
(more…) «Boosting the immune system–sorting science…»
It’s September, and flu vaccines are being delivered to hospitals, physician’s office, health clinics, and government health departments. It’s time for intelligent, reasonable, and rational people to get their flu shots. We’ve dispensed with many of the myths that are cherished by vaccine refusers, and many of us have shown that getting the flu vaccine can improve health outcomes.
A couple of years ago, Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Mark Crislip published A Budget of Dumb Asses which righteously states that healthcare workers who refuse to get a flu vaccine are Dumb Asses. Yes, complete and utter Dumb Asses. Even though this broadside against vaccine deniers is about the flu vaccine, it’s all right to search and replace flu with say meningitis, pertussis, measles or anything. And just because it’s about healthcare workers, it’s all right to replace that with your neighbor, co-worker, or some other anti-scientific antivaccination Dumb Ass.
Crislip starts out his snarky diatribe with a quick preamble about those who refuse to get a flu shot:
I wonder if you are one of those Dumb Asses who do not get the flu shot each year? Yes. Dumb Ass. Big D, big A. You may be allergic to the vaccine (most are not when tested), you may have had Guillain-Barre, in which case I will cut you some slack. But if you don’t have those conditions and you work in healthcare and you don’t get a vaccine for one of the following reasons, you are a Dumb Ass.
One of the many myths of the vaccine denialism movement is that healthcare workers will quit if there is a mandatory vaccination, usually the flu. Many of the healthcare worker vaccine deniers base their opposition to vaccines based on thoroughly debunked lies about vaccinations. Their invented opposition to vaccines is in direction contradiction to their obligation to protect the health of patients. However, more and more healthcare systems are mandating the flu vaccine for their employees.
A four-year analysis of mandatory influenza (flu) vaccinations, which are a condition of employment at Loyola University Health System in Chicago, IL, showed no statistical increase in voluntary terminations of employees. In the first year of Loyola’s mandatory policy (2009-10 flu season), 99.2% of employees received the vaccine, 0.7% (yes, 0.7%) were exempted for religious/medical reasons, and 0.1% refused vaccination and chose to terminate employment with Loyola. In 2012, the last year of the study, the vaccination uptake rate at Loyola remained steady: 98.7% were vaccinated, 1.2% were exempted and 0.06% refused vaccination.
According to Dr. Jorge Parada, study author and professor of medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, reported that ”in reality our numbers were even better than that, of the 5 persons who refused vaccination in the mandatory period, 3 were unpaid volunteers, who later reconsidered, received vaccine and returned to Loyola. The two other persons were part-time staff, each with only 10% time commitment at Loyola…truly reflecting a 0.002 vaccine refusal rate” reports Parada. The study showed that, over the course of four years, less than 15 staff, including volunteers, out of approximately 8,000 healthcare workers in the system, chose termination over vaccination. Loyola has sustained a 99 percent compliance average since adopting the mandatory flu vaccination protocol four years ago.
(more…) «Mandatory flu vaccinations cause healthcare…»
A recent article published in a leading psychiatry journal, JAMA Psychiatry, has shown that pregnant mothers’ exposure to the influenza (flu) was associated with a nearly 4X increase in risk to their child eventually developing bipolar disorder in adulthood. These findings add to mounting evidence of possible shared underlying causes and illness processes with schizophrenia, which some studies have also linked to prenatal exposure to influenza. Bipolar disorder, historically called manic depressive disorder, is a mood disorder where the sufferer can experience episodes of a frenzied state known as mania (or hypomania), typically alternating with episodes of depression. It can be treated with medications and psychotherapy (especially cognitive therapy), but more difficult cases require the individual to be voluntarily or involuntarily institutionalized until the mood changes can be reduced or eliminated.
One of the arguments made by vaccine denialists is that vaccines cause significant increases in nervous disorders, and they point to the vaccine’s Package Insert (PI) as “proof”. Setting aside the misuse of the information in a PI, there seemed to be some evidence that there was a slight increase in the rates of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) following vaccinations, although the risk was far outweighed by the benefit of preventing deadly diseases. Guillain-Barré syndrome is an autoimmune disorder of the peripheral nervous system, where the immune system appears to attack nerves involved in movement, although sometimes it attacks respiration and other functions. Guillain-Barré syndrome is usually preceded by a viral or bacterial infection, such as the flu. It is a serious condition, which often takes several months for full recovery. About 80% of those who contract the disorder recover fully with treatment.
(more…) «No link between vaccines and…»
The 2012-2013 flu season is beginning to wind down from a moderately severe season. Sadly, according to the CDC, 105 children died this season from the flu. And a preliminary review of the data by the CDC found that 90% of those children who died were not vaccinated for this season’s flu. In case that wasn’t clear, over 90 children died from influenza, a vaccine-preventable disease.
This review by the CDC indicated that 60 percent of deaths occurred in children who were at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications, but 40 percent of the children, who had died, had no recognized chronic health problems. The proportions of pediatric deaths occurring in children who were unvaccinated and those who had high-risk conditions are similar to what the CDC has observed in previous flu seasons.
Earlier this flu season, the CDC had strongly recommended that children get the flu vaccine, and those who had never been vaccinated for the flu before, get two doses of the vaccine. And despite the various myths about the flu vaccine, it is extremely effective, it will not give a child the flu, and it has an incredibly high safety profile.
Many of us who discuss medicine know that every medical procedure involves a risk and a benefit. With the flu vaccine, there are few risks, and even those are minor. But the benefit is immense for children. Saving lives. And in my view of the world, saving even one life, one child, is worth it. Parents who don’t give the flu vaccine to their children put them at a small, but significant risk of severe complications to the flu, up to and including death. Maybe next year someone will read this article, and think, “I want to save my child’s life.” I can only hope.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)–United States, 2012-13 influenza season. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012 Aug 17;61(32):613-8. PubMed PMID: 22895385.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Reports About 90 Percent of Children Who Died From Flu This Season Not Vaccinated. March 22, 2013.
The H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 was the second pandemic in recent history that resulted from the H1N1 influenza virus, also known as the swine flu. The first one, known as the 1918 flu pandemic, killed over 50 million people, or about 1-3% of the world’s population at the time. The 2009 pandemic, though not as serious as the one in 1918, probably killed over 500 thousand people worldwide. In the United States, the CDC estimated that between 43 and 89 million people were infected with the 2009 H1N1 flu. They also estimated that of those, about 200-400 thousand were hospitalized, and approximately 12,470 died. The only reason the pandemic wasn’t worse was probably as a result of an effective H1N1 vaccine along with a broad effort to vaccinate those at highest risk of complications.
Along with the vaccination program, comprehensive safety surveillance was initiated to monitor for adverse events. This program identified a small increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome following the H1N1 vaccination. In paper published this week, researchers did a meta-analysis of the data from the monitoring program to quantify the level of risk.
(more…) «Slight risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome…»
Today, the British Medical Journal published a retrospective study, by Elizabeth Miller, that analyzes the risk of narcolepsy in children and adolescents in England who received the 2009 A/H1N1 pandemic flu vaccine (Pandemrix) from October 2009 through mid-2010. This study followed up on the observations seen in Finland and other countries that there was some increased risk of narcolepsy in children a few months after receiving the vaccine.
As background, narcolepsy is a chronic neurological disorder caused by the brain’s inability to regulate sleep-wake cycles normally. Individuals with narcolepsy often experience daytime sleep patterns, but the disorder should not be confused with insomnia. It is not caused by a mental illness or psychological problems. It is most likely affected by a number of genetic mutations and abnormalities that affect specific biologic factors in the brain, combined with an environmental trigger during the brain’s development, such as a virus. It may also be a result of an autoimmune disorder. At this time, there is no cure for narcolepsy, but it can be successfully treated by medications and other therapies.
Roughly 70% of individuals who have narcolepsy have a comorbidity of cataplexy, a sudden and transient episode of loss of muscle tone, often triggered by strong emotions.
(more…) «Pandemic flu vaccine and narcolepsy–an…»
This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an interim report on the effectiveness of this season’s flu vaccine in the United States. Because these reports will be cherry picked for data by vaccine denialists (and may cause vaccine supporters to worry about their support of this particular vaccine), I want to look at the data carefully, and make sure we understand what is exactly reported.
According to the CDC, this year’s flu season is pretty serious in the USA. Current data, shows that about 4.6% of patient visits to health care providers are for influenza like illnesses (ILI). Thirty states and New York City are now reporting high ILI activity; an increase from 24 states last week. Additionally, 10 states are reporting moderate levels of ILI activity. Forty-eight states reported widespread geographic influenza activity for the week of January 6-12, 2013. This increased from 47 states in the previous week.
Although there has been a slight drop-off in ILI visits over the past couple of weeks since the peak in early January, the CDC continues to identify this season as a “moderately severe” one, and supplies in some areas have tight supplies of the flu vaccine.
(more…) «Tamiflu-does it work»
The CDC is reporting that influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now observing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI). ILI reports are approaching levels that usually seen during moderately severe flu seasons. Of course, the CDC continues to recommend vaccinations for the flu, and antiviral treatment if appropriate.
According to Dr. Joe Bresee, Chief of the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch in CDC’s Influenza Division, “While we can’t say for certain how severe this season will be, we can say that a lot of people are getting sick with influenza and we are getting reports of severe illness and hospitalizations. Anyone who has not already been vaccinated should do so now. And it’s important to remember that people who have severe influenza illness, or who are at high risk of serious influenza-related complications, should get treated with influenza antiviral medications if they get flu symptoms regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Also, you don’t need to wait for a positive laboratory test to start taking antivirals.”
(more…) «The 2012-13 flu season getting…»
Yesterday, I wrote about the CDC reports regarding pediatric deaths from the flu. Those were just numbers, but there are real kids and real parents of those kids who constitute those numbers.
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) reported about the death of an elementary school child from the flu. The child was healthy, so it wasn’t that the flu increased some risk factor because of an underlying disease.
According to Maine’s CDC Director, Dr. Sheila Pinette, pediatric flu deaths are not common in the state. She stated that flu can be fatal in people who are elderly or have a compromised health status, but this elementary school child was believed to be healthy. Dr. Pinette wants everyone to get vaccinated against the flu, unless the vaccine is medically contraindicated (which is very very rare). According to the MPBN article, “that’s an expansion from previous CDC recommendations that focused on the young, the elderly, and health care workers.”
(more…) «A child dies from the…»