Andrew Wakefield is innocent – another vaccine denier trope and myth

andrew wakefield is innocent

The “Andrew Wakefield is innocent” trope that is rising again among the anti-vaxxer zombie claims being pushed recently. Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss critiques this claim in a 7-year-old article. I guess if the anti-vaccine loyalists can bring back old myths, we can bring back the solid refutation of them. This article also shows why Andrew Wakefield isn’t innocent whatsoever.

On March 7, 2012, Judge Mitting of the British High Court of Justice quashed the British General Medical Council (GMC)’s finding that Professor John Walker-Smith was guilty of serious professional misconduct. On November 21, 2014, for the umpteenth time, an anti-vaccine activist linked to the decision regarding Walker-Smith as evidence that Andrew Wakefield is innocent when the GMC found him, too, guilty of serious ethical violations.

The problem with this claim is that it is incorrect.

While others have examined the issue, it might be worth examining the decision closely yet again, since several tropes that Andrew Wakefield is innocent continue to come back to life.

Let’s start by examining the charges brought against Wakefield and Walker-Smith, using a side by side comparison of each charge. Continue reading “Andrew Wakefield is innocent – another vaccine denier trope and myth”

Anti-vaccine Informed Consent Action Network requests emails

On January 7, 2020, my school informed me that it received a new Public Records Act request for my emails, this time from the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), a well-funded anti-vaccine organization headed by Mr. Del Bigtree. The request was submitted via the law firm of Siri and Glimstad in New York, though it was not signed by Aaron Siri, a lawyer who represented groups fighting vaccines in the past.

They were also involved in an aggressive 9-hour deposition against a vaccine expert who agreed to support, pro-bono, a father seeking to vaccinate his young daughter (the father recently won his appeal). The request was signed by Attorney Allison Lucas; but since one of the requests was for emails with the word “Siri”, it is fair to see Attorney Siri as relevant, whether or not he was directly involved. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine Informed Consent Action Network requests emails”

Merck whistleblowers – mumps vaccine lawsuit motions and updates

merck whistleblowers

The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 7 – the Merck whistleblowers myth. 

In August 2010 Stephen A. Krahling and Joan A. Wlochowski (“the relators”), former Merck virologists and often called “Merck whistleblowers,” filed suit in the name of the United States – a so-called qui tam action, where the prosecution shares any fines or penalties with the two virologists  – against Merck.

They claimed that by faking effectiveness testing, Merck misled the United States government as to the effectiveness of the mumps component of its  MMRII vaccine (a vaccine that protects individuals against mumps, measles, and rubella). In 2012  a clinic and two MDs filed a class action against Merck claiming a violation of the Sherman Act – monopolistic, anti-competitive behavior resulting from the fraud – and violation of various state laws. (U.S. v. Merck and Chatom v. Merck). The suits were handled together. Continue reading “Merck whistleblowers – mumps vaccine lawsuit motions and updates”

Nick Catone son dies tragically – blaming vaccines with no evidence

Nick Catone

The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 8 – the tragic and heartwrenching death of Nicholas Catone.

I thought about not republishing this article, but it was read by nearly 100,000 people last year. And, as tragic as the story is, we don’t want it to be a cause for parents to maybe refuse vaccinations. 

On May 12, 2017, the son of retired UFC fighter Nick Catone, Nicholas Catone, by all accounts a healthy, sweet, happy, child, died in his sleep. It’s horrible to lose a child, and I want to start by extending my condolences to the family.

Sadly, I can’t stop there. His parents blame vaccines. The story is being spread in mom groups and understandably scares moms from vaccinating. But Nicholas’ tragic death is not a good reason to refuse vaccines. First, the alleged link to vaccines is extraordinarily weak. There is no good reason to blame vaccines for the boy’s tragic death. Second, even if this was linked to vaccines – and there’s no evidence of that – it’s still safer to vaccinate. Continue reading “Nick Catone son dies tragically – blaming vaccines with no evidence”

Legal challenges to stricter school vaccine mandates rejected by NY court

school vaccine mandates

On December 3, 2019, Judge Denise Hartman, from the New York Supreme Court in Albany (see Note 1), rejected a claim challenging the removal of the religious exemption from school vaccine mandates.

Judge Hartman has previously, in a careful decision upheld on appeal, rejected plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction on stricter school vaccine mandates. In this decision, she provided a well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis of the constitutional issues.

Judge Hartman found that the change in the law in New York was based on public health, not hostility to religion, and fits well within the extensive precedent upholding mandates without requiring a religious exemption.

This lawsuit was the strongest, best-argued challenge to the New York law on religious freedom grounds. Unless plaintiffs appeal, this is likely the end for any serious chance opponents had at overturning the law, and even on appeal, their chances are likely low. Continue reading “Legal challenges to stricter school vaccine mandates rejected by NY court”

Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims

Jim Meehan

An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.

His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.

Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):

  1. The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
  2. Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
  3. Vaccines are dangerous to children.
  4. The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
  5. We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.

Note: Dr. Meehan’s post doesn’t present these claims in that order. I have changed the order because I want to address the claims in a logical order, that is, first his claims about vaccine safety, then the conspiracy theory that underlies them, and finally, his appeal to authorityContinue reading “Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims”

Public health and vaccines commentaries – employment repercussions

public health and vaccines

When employees speak up on matters of public health and vaccines in their free time, those who do not like the speech may retaliate by complaining to their employers, who may be tempted – or feel forced – to act against the employee. But employers should not, and some types of employers – public employers – are likely barred from doing so.

This post considers mostly employees in public institutions – department of health, teaching hospitals, or universities – because these employees have legal protection against sanctions – an employer is likely legally prohibited from acting against them because of speech on matters of public health and vaccines in their free time.

However, the points made about defamation and the policy considerations also apply to private employers, those who can fire employees at will, at least when the employees provide mostly accurate, fact-based information.

These issues can come up in a variety of contexts, some of which the employer may appreciate more than others. One situation is when an employee working for a public institution spends part of his personal time commenting on public health and vaccines issues and informing the public through a personal blog, on which his position is mentioned, or by commenting on social media, Facebook or Twitter.

The employee provides information, corrects misconceptions, and criticizes those offering bad advice or factually inaccurate information, sometimes with strong language. A person so criticized contacts the public institution and threatens to sue for defamation if the blogging does not stop and the statements are not retracted, or if the employee is not otherwise dealt with.

Or, for example, an employee makes a joke about a public health issue – in good or bad taste – in her personal time. People offended complain to the employer, either just criticizing the employee or threatening legal action. In both cases, employers should not take measures against the employee.

First, in most circumstances, there would almost certainly be no defamation case here. Second, limits created by the First Amendment on the ability of public employers (though not private ones) to fire an employee for their speech likely apply here. Finally, there are public benefits from allowing the employee to speak in this manner. Continue reading “Public health and vaccines commentaries – employment repercussions”

Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds

Del Bigtree Andrew Wakefield

On January 18, 2018, Dr. Melinda Wharton, Acting Director of the National Vaccine Program Office in the Department of Health and Human Services, sent Mr. Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccine activist, and producer of the anti-vaccine film Vaxxed, a response to questions he raised about vaccine safety.

The response is a very informative description of the substantial efforts regarding vaccine safety, and can and should reassure parents that there is abundant data – and many monitoring mechanisms in place – to examine and address vaccine safety, and that the expert consensus that vaccines are very safe is well-grounded.

This post will shortly describe the background to the letter from Dr. Wharton, then provide some of the highlights. I do, however, encourage people to read the full letter, available here (pdf), for themselves, to understand many vaccine safety issues. Continue reading “Del Bigtree vaccine safety complaints – HHS Vaccine Program responds”

Lori Matheson refuses vaccines for child – Michigan court says no

Lori Matheson

On November 21, 2019, the Court of Appeals in Michigan rejected the appeal of Lori Matheson against a trial court order ordering her to give her daughter more time with her father, to vaccinate her daughter according to the recommended schedule, and to choose a new pediatrician for the child in collaboration with her father. The court found that it’s in the child’s best interest to be vaccinated.

This is a dispute between the divorced parents of a now four-year-old child (whose name is omitted for her privacy) about her care and custody. Vaccines are only one of the issues in dispute, the one I will focus on (since that is my area). Continue reading “Lori Matheson refuses vaccines for child – Michigan court says no”