The anti-vaccination movement and resistance to allergen-immunotherapy

Doesn’t cause autism.

Sometimes, there are consequences to a pseudoscience movement that goes far beyond the immediate goals of that movement.  I have written many times about the anti-vaccination lunacy, but almost always it’s about the immediate consequences of not vaccinating children (and sometimes adults):  infection and the consequences of that disease, up to and including death.  Then I realized that it’s possible that anyone who buys into the anti-vaccination foolishness may also reject other injectables, such as contrast agents used in imaging.  

Contrast agents (sometimes called contrast media) are injected to enhance the visualization of medical imaging; it is mostly used in CT/X-ray scanning, but there are contrast agents for MRI’s and ultrasounds.  The X-ray contrast agent relies upon an iodine atom which is bound to a complex organic molecule; the iodine diffracts the X-ray, allowing it to show up on the X-ray image.  The contrast agent, because it is a large molecule, stays in the blood vessels, so it is a critical drug for imaging cardiovascular disease.  From an adverse event perspective, contrast agents are far more serious than a vaccination, mainly because of the iodine atom, and some people have an allergy to it, but also from the large bolus that’s injected.  So far, I haven’t seen huge websites that write about contrast agents, even though there is real evidence of serious reactions to the contrast (though even then, the benefits of finding a stenosis in coronary artery or a 1mm cancerous lesion in the liver far outweigh the risks).

Allergen immunotherapy is another medical technique that uses injections, and appears to have been a targeted by misinformation from the anti-vaccine crowd.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the technique, it is a method where increasing concentrations of an allergen is injected into a patient with a goal of eventually inducing immune tolerance to that allergen.  Those who are are allergic to anything from cat dander to mold spores have benefited from this therapy.  For those who are suffering from certain allergies to the point of being debilitated, allergen immunotherapy is pretty close to a miracle.  It is not an easy procedure, since it requires a relatively large number of injections over a long period of time (the exact timing and number of injections depends on a bunch of factors, too numerous to list).

 Last year, an article was published which provides some guidance to allergy specialist in dealing with the anti-vaccination movement, The anti-vaccination movement and resistance to allergen-immunotherapy: a guide for clinical allergists by Jason Behrmann, Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol. 6(1): 26, 2010 (download the pdf version).  Right at the beginning, Behrmann states the problem caused by the anti-vaccination lunatics:

This article questions whether growing public anti-vaccine sentiments might have the potential to spill-over into other therapies distinct from vaccination, namely allergen-immunotherapy. Allergen- immunotherapy shares certain medical vernacular with vaccination (e.g., allergy shots, allergy vaccines), and thus may become “guilty by association” due to these similarities. Indeed, this article demonstrates that anti-vaccine websites have begun unduly discrediting this allergy treatment regimen. 

The author the reviews the anti-vaccine movement and how it has affected vaccinations in a detail that I haven’t read before.  In fact, I find that this article is going to be a substantial reference to deal with the anti-vaccination movement in the future.

Some of the blog posts and other internet postings that Behrmann uncovered in his research is like the anti-vaccine Hall of Fame roster of comments:

… after reading this report and reading there might have been bacterial contaminant in the H1N1 vaccine makes me wonder if there could have been bacterial contaminant in the allergy shots.

A subsequent entry on the same blog employs scientific jargon and claims that allergenic extracts contain the notorious “autism-causing” preservative, thimerosal:

… if your son received an allergy shot from a multi dose vial, he(sic) more than likely had thimerosal in it. By weight thimerosal is 40.7% mercury. Mercury is a neurotoxin and can affect many areas of your body.

Vaccines are the direct cause of the food allergy epidemic. Why are the manufacturers of vaccines allowed trade secret protection for vaccine ingredi- ents? Why is peanut oil considered safe to inject along with aluminum based on studies where children eat the oil or based on the skin prick test? IT ISN’T THE SAME!! The fatal food allergies are directly caused by vaccines!! The evidence is there.

“Allergy shots are often called “vaccines” because (1) they are injected and (2) the intention of both is to confer immunity.”

… allergy shots must stop after 3 to 5 years and at that time the doctor has to decide whether to continue them or not. That would suggest that the cumulative effect of getting allergy shots compromises immune function in some way or has other side effects.”

Both allergy shots and vaccines have risks for allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. The risk is higher and more common with vaccines (for obvious reasons).

…[IT] therapy only lessens the severity of the allergy response and creates other side effects (headaches, skin conditions, additional allergies).”

Neither vaccination or allergy immunotherapy addresses the underlying organ weaknesses and immune system problems that make the person susceptible to infections and allergic reactions.

What bacterial contaminant in H1N1 vaccine?  What allergy shot confers immunity?  What vaccine causes allergic reactions?  IT therapy only lessens the allergic response?  Organ weaknesses?  Immune system problems?

The logical failure is amazing. Anyways, Behrmann concludes:

In this article, it is suggested that additional challenges originating from the growing anti-vaccination movement might also encourage certain patients to oppose allergen-immunotherapy as an appropriate treatment strategy. A reasonable first step in countering this challenge is to prepare allergy specialists for this possibility and provide methods on how to respond to predictable patient fears. Only if clinicians are knowledgeable in vaccines and the anti-vaccination movement will they be prepared to engage in dialogue with an anxious patient and thus, dispel unreasonable associations assumed between allergy treatments and vaccination.  

From my perspective, if only all clinicians were knowledgeable about the anti-vaccination movement, we’d be better off.  Nevertheless, please read the article, it has a lot of information for those of us who deal with the anti-vaccine gang.

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!