Updated 6 November 2013
One of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), founded by Bill & Melinda Gates using their vast Microsoft wealth. I have always favored capitalism, and believe there is no particular moral code associated with accumulating wealth. It is, however, wonderful that they have decided to use their wealth to help humanity.
Because they are strong supporters of vaccines, they have become one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works. These attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.” For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I think I want to call this corollary “Offit’s Law,” named for Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or even “Gate’s Law.”
An vaccine denier, Sayer Ji, whom I have criticized in the past for his anti-science rants about the immune system, has placed the Gates Foundation firmly in his ignorant pseudoscientific crosshairs of criticism. Ji wrote an article, Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups, which is a bit fear-mongering, a bit of pseudoscience, and a bit of conspiracy theory lunacy. Ji has previously made a completely insane claim that vaccines “subvert evolution”, which was effectively ripped into tiny little pieces and incinerated by Orac a few months ago. Essentially, Ji brings out the Naturalistic Fallacy (he does this over and over with the immune system), a fallacy that presumes that how the world “is” should then be used to state how it “ought” to be. Ji stated that we interfered with “evolution” through the use of vaccinations. Orac disabused Ji of his crackpot beliefs:
Ji’s article is the naturalistic fallacy on megadoses of steroids. To him, science isn’t just subverting Nature (with a capital “N,” again!) but it’s producing vaccines that are allegedly going to permanently alter us to make us no longer “human.” Vaccine scientists and doctors are somehow “callous lack of regard for three billion years of evolution,” as though evolution could never be improved upon. What is medicine, after all, if not interfering with evolution. Antibiotics interfere with evolutionary selection in that they save lives that might otherwise have been lost, allowing reproduction that might never have happened. So does surgery, a whole host of medicines, and a number of other treatments. That’s the idea.
Unless you believe in creationism, or it’s cousin Intelligent design, evolution is not a guided process that has some planned endpoint. Natural selection is is not some special process to guide evolution; it is the gradual, non-random process by which biological traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers, usually as a result of environmental pressures. Medicine can be a positive environmental pressure. Ji is an amateur biologist, who apparently either does not understand evolution, or is intentionally ignorant of it.
Ji, in his continuing attack on what he believes is “transhumanism” of medicine (that is, using technology to improve the human condition), claims that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded numerous grants that offend his anti-science, antivaccination, naturalistic sensibilities. Here’s some of the real science that is sponsored or funded by the BMGF, that Ji thinks is leading humanity to a transhumanistic existence, even if it makes us healthier with more productive lives:
- Synthetic Lymph Nodes: Steven Meshnick and Carla Hand of the University of North Carolina in the U.S. will develop a bio-compatible, biodegradable polymer device that can be placed under the skin to introduce vaccines and antigens to the immune system. The device will attract immune cells and trigger their proliferation as well as act as an adjuvant at the site of injection. If successful, the device could help boost immune response to new and existing vaccines.
- Needle Free Vaccination Via Nanoparticle Aerosols (pdf): Vaccine delivery systems that target specific areas of the body that can be potentially effective against some types of infection. For example, inhaled vaccines may better guard against respiratory diseases, such as tuberculosis, and those that commonly infect the tissues of the nose and throat, such as diphtheria. The research is being done by a multidisciplinary team using materials science technologies combined with infectious disease, device, and toxicology expertise to reformulate tuberculosis and diphtheria vaccines into aerosol sprays that can be inhaled. The team’s ultimate objective is to develop a cell-based BCG vaccine for tuberculosis and a protein antigen CRM 197 vaccine for diphtheria in the form of novel porous nano particle aggregate (PNAP) aerosols.
- Plant-Produced Synthetic RNA Vaccines (pdf): Alison McCormick of Touro University, California in the U.S. will test the ability of a low-cost plant-based synthetic biology method to produce a combined viral protein epitope with an antigen RNA expression system for use in an RNA malaria vaccine. Using plants for this viral transfection system could make RNA vaccine production scalable and cost effective.
- Profitable Vaccine Distribution In Emerging Markets (pdf): Lisa Ganley-Leal and Pauline Mwinzi of Epsilon Therapeutics, Inc. in the U.S. will test the hypothesis that selling vaccines through medicine shops in emerging markets can lead to profits for both vaccine developers and the small business owners. Demonstrating profitability may lead pharmaceutical companies to invest greater resources in vaccine development and distribution and develop local partnerships for profitability strategies.
- Genetically Programmed Pathogen Sense and Destroy: Saurabh Gupta and Ron Weiss of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. proposed creating sentinel cells that can detect the presence of a pathogen, report its identity with a biological signal, and secrete molecules to destroy it. This project’s Phase I research demonstrated that commensal bacteria can be engineered to detect and specifically kill the model bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In Phase II, Gupta and Weiss will engineer the human microbiota to specifically detect and destroy the gut pathogen Shigella flexneri, which is responsible for high mortality rates in children.
- Vaccine in a Salt Shaker: A New, Safe, Low-Cost Approach: Shiladitya DasSarma will lead a team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore in the U.S. to develop an inexpensive, safe, and effective oral vaccine against invasive Salmonella disease using gas-filled bacterial vesicles. The project seeks to produce a salt-encased, shelf-stable vaccine requiring no refrigeration for distribution worldwide.
- A Humanized Mouse Model to Evaluate Live Attenuated Vaccine Candidates: To develop new vaccines against some of the world’s biggest killers, including HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, scientists must be able to evaluate promising candidates. Some of the most promising potential vaccines, are made from weakened live versions of the infectious agent. As a result, they cannot be studied in human trials unless researchers can be confident that the weakened vaccines will be safe. Dr. Flavell and his colleagues are working to genetically engineer laboratory mice whose immune systems are similar enough to humans to permit testing of vaccines against diseases that disproportionately affect people in the developing world. This is simply an amazing piece of research that can speed up research time for vaccines, while giving us better data as to the safety and efficacy of new vaccines.
- Bacillus-Fermented Natto as Edible Vaccines for the Developing World: Michael Chan of the Ohio State Research Foundation in the U.S. will develop an engineered strain of bacteria used to ferment beans in traditional Asian and African diets, to display an antigen from the Tuberculosis bacterium. The engineered bacillus will then be used to make the traditional Asian dish natto, which can serve as a kind of oral vaccine to elicit a strong immune response. If successful, this strategy can be used to introduce a variety of disease antigens through culturally accepted foods.
There is nothing there that should scare anyone. What is wrong with making vaccines easier to deliver? Cheaper? Making them safer? The salt shaker vaccine would be easier to transport and store in the tropics. These projects are being used to help attack diseases that are endemic to the most poor countries, where if we could eliminate them, the quality of life would increase incredibly. However, Ji can’t help but pontificating on the Appeal to Nature fallacy:
You will notice from the examples listed above that all of these funded projects involve the development of proprietary (read: potentially profitable) and as-of-yet unproven technologies, and which will require the transformation and/or alteration of a natural process or substance. Also, many of the grant disbursements have gone towards contraception. This appears to diverge from the GCGH’s mission statement of “improving health in the developing world,” insofar as it is focused on reducing population in the developed world, rather than supporting the health of those already living, in need of help.
Oh that’s laughable. Which of those projects is supposed to “reduce the population of the developed world?” In fact, each of those projects, if the work, will make those people live better, safer, longer lives. Maybe the proper question should be why is Ji so opposed to trying to help these people? Is it that Ji is so filled with hate of Gates, or these poor people, that he’d rather eliminate these projects and let them suffer? That’s what it appears to me.
Moreover, Ji also continues with his naturalistic fallacy, his dislike of anything that isn’t natural. I’m sure that a plant RNA vaccine somehow ranks higher on the Ji’s bad scale than a vaccine produced in a mammal. Or something like that. But according to Ji’s transhumanistic and evil vaccines, the only good immunity is one where you survive measles or polio or whooping cough, and obtain the immunity the natural way. Because that’s evolution. Of course, that’s NOT evolution, because it’s just a complex immune response, and since the immune response is not transferred to the next generation, means it’s not explained by the scientific fact of evolution. Unfortunately, explaining evolution to Ji is simply not within the goal of this blog. He’s apparently not bright enough to understand evolution.
And what is wrong with profitable, as Ji insinuates? Companies need profits to fund the next level of research and development. In fact, some of these technologies will reduce the cost of developing new vaccines. Creating a new mouse model that could evaluate a vaccine will vastly reduce the cost testing new vaccines in the future. Ji is incapable of being consistent in his complaints.
But in Ji’s ad hominem fallacies against Gates and his foundation, he has gone overboard to misinterpret a couple of quotes that, although clumsily stated, did not say what everyone thinks it says. It’s apparent that Ji is intentionally and blatantly misconstruing this statement from Gates:
So it’s an absolute lie that has killed thousands of kids. Because the mothers who heard that lie, many of them didn’t have their kids take either pertussis or measles vaccine, and their children are dead today. And so the people who go and engage in those anti-vaccine efforts — you know, they, they kill children. It’s a very sad thing, because these vaccines are important.
The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent.
In both cases, Gates was stating the obvious. With better healthcare, including broader availability of vaccinations and medicines including contraceptives, the birthrate can go down, meaning we can reduce the death rate, increase lifespan and allow people to live longer, healthier with a better quality of life. Unless you’re a complete idiot, with an agenda to lie and and create an ad hominem argument (I’m looking at your face Ji), Gates was not even implying eugenics, mass murder, or anything so heinous in either statement. Maybe Ji and the anti-vaxxers are just insulted that Gates is doing something noble and helping people who have lived in dreadful conditions for so long that the anti-science crowd can’t understand how a wealthy man has decided to do good for the planet. Maybe Ji and the anti-vaxxers just are so committed to their anti-scientific beliefs that they cannot believe that maybe science can help humanity. Ji is just kind of a pathetic little man.
But Ji’s article is rather funny too. Apparently Bill Gates has awarded a grant to Seth Kalichman, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Connecticut, entitled “Establishing an Anti-Vaccine Surveillance and Alert System,” whose goal is to “establish an internet-based global monitoring and rapid alert system for finding, analyzing, and counteracting misinformation communication campaigns regarding vaccines to support global immunization efforts.” Goodie. Hopefully, it’ll be on the internet, saving myself a lot of time over coffee seeing what idiotic things are being written by the antivaccination league. Including Ji’s rantings I suppose.
Of course, if you didn’t know, but in the Venn Diagram of denialism, conspiracists, and other whackaloons, there is some spot where they all overlap at some point. That means that the leap of faith between truthers (who think that the CIA, Israel, the Army, or some combination thereof blew up the World Trade Center on 9/11), chemtrail conspiracy theorists (people who believe that the contrails you see following jets are actually sprays that are trying to poison us), or name your conspiracy AND that Anti-Vaccine Surveillance is probably pretty small. And it is vanishingly small:
- Mothering.com–Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups. “A grant to a PSYCHOLOGIST to fund propaganda???? That’s downright chilling.”
- NaturalNews–Dirty tricks: Bill Gates to target anti-vaccine advocates with smear campaign.
- Jon Rapporport’s Blog–DIRTY TRICKS ALERT: BILL GATES WILL SMEAR AND SLIME ANTI-VACCINE ADVOCATES.
- Age of Autism–Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Anti-Vaccine Surveillance Alert.
Shouldn’t we lobby Donald Trump to take the opposite view and also fund another University to monitor the Internet and give out anti vaccine information? Isn’t that playing with a level field? Isn’t that encouraging debate rather than discouragig it?
Well, Donald Trump has been yelling that a long time that vaccines cause autism. Maybe he wants to make Jenny McCarthy wife number 6 or 7 or 8 (I never know where he’s at). In case you think that Donald Trump has any standing on this topic, vaccines do not cause autism, this case is closed.
A good full throated support never hurts. VACCINES SAVE LIVES.
If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.
- Bhan A, Singer PA, Daar AS. Human-animal chimeras for vaccine development: an endangered species or opportunity for the developing world? BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2010 May 19;10:8. doi: 10.1186/1472-698X-10-8. PubMed PMID: 20482820; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2890684.
- Gupta S, Bram EE, Weiss R. Genetically Programmable Pathogen Sense and Destroy. ACS Synth Biol. 2013 Jul 2. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23763381.