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Michael Simpson

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!

Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound

For the past five years, there have been large outbreaks of infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) in chickens in Australia. ILT is a highly contagious herpesvirus, and one of a group that includes herpes and chickenpox. The chickens become very ill with red and swollen eyes, along with sneezing, coughing and gasping, while occasionally producing a bloody nasal discharge. Mortality is quite high, and surviving chickens produce fewer eggs, which, of course, is very bad for chicken farmers.

The diseases are usually prevented by a vaccine against ILT. Many vaccines against viruses, including the ILT version, contain live attenuated viruses (LAV), which are viruses that have reduced virulence, though still alive, so that the immune system recognizes it to develop an immune response. Attenuation takes an infectious agent and alters it so that it becomes harmless or less virulent.Read More »Chicken vaccine viruses recombine in wild, anti-vaccine conspiracies abound

Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the anti-vaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, is reporting that a small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, is running into public resistance to testing a genetically modified mosquito that may stop the spread of the species of mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the Florida Keys. Dengue fever is a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most important transmitter or vector of dengue viruses in North America.Read More »Anti-science hysteria vs. dengue fever

Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2800 cases

The Washington State Department of Health has reported (pdf) that the current whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) epidemic has hit 2883 cases, over 10X more than the 210 cases reported at the same time last year. The epidemic seems to have peaked a few weeks ago, although concerns will remain as children return to school in the autumn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pertussis (whooping cough) can cause serious illness in infants, children and adults. The disease usually starts with cold-like symptoms and maybe a mild cough or fever. After 1 to 2 weeks, severe coughing can begin. Unlike the common cold, pertussis can become a series of coughing fits that continues for weeks. In infants, the cough can be minimal or not even there. Infants may have a symptom known as “apnea.” Apnea is a pause in the child’s breathing pattern. Pertussis is most dangerous for babies. More than half of infants younger than 1 year of age who get the disease must be hospitalized. Approximately 1-2% of infants who are hospitalized from pertussis will die.Read More »Whooping cough update: Washington state epidemic exceeds 2800 cases

Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe

It’s ironic that those who discuss the benefits of vaccines are world-class scientists and physicians. Dr. Paul Offit. The good doctors at Science Based Medicine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And, of course, mountains of scientific evidence.

The anti-vaccine crackpots have Jenny McCarthy, the ex-playmate loudmouth. And Amy Farrah Fowler. Or Charlie Sheen. But now, Rob Schneider, whose career seems to have peaked 10 years ago playing misogynist roles in movies targeted to teenage males, a notoriously thoughtful group, has stepped into anti-vaccine pontificating. His particular brand of ranting is against California’s AB2109, which will allow parents to exempt their children from life-saving vaccines only after consultations with a healthcare provider. Right now, all a parent has to do to get a philosophical exemption to a vaccination is sign a letter. That’s it. No informed consent as to the risks to their child from these childhood diseases nothing. AB2109 does nothing more than require a signature of a physician that they discussed the exemption with the parent. I’m sure the anti-vaccine movement will publish lists of physicians who are opposed to vaccines who will gratefully sign the document for any parent who wants to put their children at risk.Read More »Third rate movie stars and the anti-vaccine lunatic fringe

GlaxoSmithKline fined $3 billion by FDA for improper marketing and unethical behavior

Recently, the US Department of Justice ordered the pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to pay $3 billion in criminal and civil liabilities in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history. Basically, GSK was caught promoting several drugs for unapproved uses, failing to report safety data, paying kickbacks to physicians, and price reporting. Let’s look at the fraud charges one by one.

Unapproved uses (or off-label uses). By law, pharmaceutical companies are only allowed to market drugs according to what is stated in their package labeling which is approved by the FDA. Off-label uses are the practice of prescribing pharmaceuticals for an unapproved indication or in an unapproved age group, unapproved dose or unapproved form of administration. Physicians are legally allowed to prescribe drugs off-label (as long as it is not contraindicated), but the pharmaceutical company cannot directly or indirectly influence off-label use. In most cases, off-label use isn’t dangerous, nor is it particularly unethical.

GSK was accused of unlawfully promoting Paxil, an antidepressant, for treating patients under the age of 18, even though it lacked FDA approval for pediatric use. GSK participated in “preparing, publishing and distributing a misleading medical journal article that misreported a clinical trial of Paxil that demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of depression in patients under age 18, when the study failed to demonstrate efficacy.” What was most troubling was that GSK did not balance its study with data from two other studies in which Paxil failed to demonstrate efficacy in treating depression in patients under 18. Typical of this type of marketing, GSK sponsored dinners, lunches, spas, and similar types of programs to promote the off-label use of Paxil in children. It’s also important to note that Paxil includes a “black box warning“, the strongest FDA warning for a pharmaceutical product, that states that antidepressants make increase suicidal ideation and behavior in patients under 18.Read More »GlaxoSmithKline fined $3 billion by FDA for improper marketing and unethical behavior

The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement

There are many reasons to loathe the anti-vaccine lunatics. Their decisions are based on pseudoscience and uninformed opinions. They listen to uneducated individuals instead of researchers who spend their lifetimes trying to understand the nuances of vaccines, the immune system and infectious diseases. They look for nonexistent conspiracies to such a point that they sound like a schizophrenic undergoing a psychotic break. They pretend to be interested in their children, and you almost want to believe them, but their conclusions are based on so little evidence, you begin to think that it’s all about the hype rather than the children.

Read More »The best reason to detest the anti-vaccine movement

Whenever someone uses “Allopathy”, turn on the skeptical radar

While catching up on my favorite blogs (and nearly giving up after reading the 300th one regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare), I ran across Liz Ditz’s short and to-the-point Why I Dislike the Term “Allopathy” on I Speak… Read More »Whenever someone uses “Allopathy”, turn on the skeptical radar