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Home » Debunking RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 2

Debunking RFK Jr and Brian Hooker’s book “Vax-Unvax” – Part 2


This article, part 2 of a series of 4 debunkings of a new book, “Vax-Unvax: Let the Science Speak” is written by Frank Han, M.D., an academic board-certified pediatrician/ pediatric cardiologist. He splits his time between cardiac imaging (Nuclear, CT, MRI, and echocardiography), inpatient cardiology, and outpatient cardiology. He primarily cares for cardiology patients of all ages with congenital heart disease and is dedicated to educating pediatric residents and medical students.

Dr. Han first became aware of and interested in the incursion of pseudoscience into his chosen profession while completing his pediatric residency at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and saw it explode during the COVID pandemic. He has since focused his efforts on spreading the joy of science literacy and teaching patients how to take charge of their health while navigating the tricky online world of medical information. Dr. Han has no conflicts of interest to disclose and no ties to the pharmaceutical industry. He can be found on Twitter as @Han_francis. The comments expressed by Dr. Han are his own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of OSF Medical Center, or the University of Illinois College of Medicine.

As I did in Part 1 of this series, I will focus on one chapter of the book “Vax-Unvax: Let the Science Speak,” by Robert F Kennedy Jr and Brian Hooker. Part 2 will focus on CHAPTER 2 – “Health Outcomes associated with the Vaccine Schedule.”

Debunking chapter 2 of “Vax-Unvax”

The authors spend a lot of time explaining how the two Mawson studies explain concerning associations of increased medical conditions with more vaccination. However, what they don’t say is that the studies that were done were plagued with so many statistical mistakes that the study was virtually guaranteed to find the association that they found (never mind the convenience sample of 666 people who were largely homeschooled families).

The authors of Vax-Unvax complain that rebuttals did not directly address the arguments head-on – but David Gorski, MD, has done us the great service of picking apart both papers here. At one point the papers even find that preterm deliveries are not associated with neurodevelopmental delay – this particular association in pediatrics is so strong that it is a significant warning sign that this paper did not find that association.

The next study quoted is this one, “Analysis of health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated children: Developmental delays, asthma, ear infections and gastrointestinal disorders“. Its multiple problems are explained here.

The next study quoted is this one, “Relative Incidence of Office Visits and Cumulative Rates of Billed Diagnoses Along the Axis of Vaccination“. The biggest problem with the study is that it invents a metric without any evidence they tried to prove it really measures what it says they measure. A concept that is standardized across both the natural and clinical sciences, is that before you decide on a metric, you, the researcher, must provide some proof that it works.

For example, if you designed a brand new type of ruler, you must prove that it does its job accurately. You may not promote your new ruler on faith. This is essentially what the paper authors are doing. Next, they assume that their population is generalizable to the general population – having antivax families in your clinical practice most definitely does not generalize to the average pediatric practice. Why? Being antivax fundamentally predisposes you not to seek out medical care from traditional Western medicine physicians.

The author attempts to “protect” against this by calculating days of care in the vaccinated versus unvaccinated, which was quantified as the number of days from visit one till the end of the patient’s time at the clinic, and even managed to realize that vaccinated patients stay with their physicians for a longer number of days! When you have an ecologist who has no clinical experience, you can get these kinds of statistical analyses that have absolutely no grounding in the reality of clinical medicine. Lastly, they make no effort to think through why every other study should find more vaccine-preventable diseases in the unvaccinated versus vaccinated (citation CHOP Vaccination Center).

Next, they try to cite “The Vaccine Friendly Plan” as reasons to believe there are better health outcomes for the unvaccinated. Conveniently, this author has already debunked the vaccine-related claims in that book.

vax unvax

Debunking “Vax-Unvax” — Paul Thomas

Next, they try to defend Paul Thomas regarding his medical board suspension and paint it as retaliation for his views. This is a classic anti-vaxxer tactic – they try to misrepresent primary source material in trying to get their point across. His actual actions were much more severe – he repeatedly wilfully misled parents, failed to provide the standard of care for a patient with an actual tetanus infection, and tried to dissuade families from polio vaccination by claiming they cause autism. Paul Thomas is so antivax that he caused that child with tetanus to be intubated and hospitalized in the intensive care unit because he was so negligent.

Debunking “Vax-Unvax” — vaccinated vs unvaccinated

Next, they try to quote the “The Control Group Pilot Survey of Unvaccinated Americans” as another authoritative study on the vaccinated versus unvaccinated. See my prior debunk of Chapter 1, on what studies have been done with regards to the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated. This study being quoted is so terrible that the authors think vitamin K is intended to prevent phenylketonuria (it is intended to prevent brain bleeding in the newborn), and that vitamin K contains aluminum adjuvants. This is a failure of really simple middle school-level English reading comprehension; the ingredients of the vitamin K injection are readily available.

Debunking “Vax-Unvax” — aluminum

Lastly, they finally quote a study with reasonably decent methods! Unlike all the previously cited authors, Daley et al. do thoughtfully sit down and try to write a study dealing with some major confounding variables. The Daley et al study on The Association Between Aluminum Exposure From Vaccines Before Age 24 Months and Persistent Asthma at Age 24 to 59 Months attempted to look at whether or not aluminum exposure in vaccines had any correlation with a diagnosis of asthma from 2-5 years of age.

One of the results they found was a hazard ratio of slightly more than one, for asthma when the patients were exposed to some vaccines containing aluminum adjuvant. As is typical, the antivaxxers love this study because it backs up their preconceived notions (FYI science doesn’t work that way).

The major difficulties with taking this study as the “final word”, though, are that (1) the effect size is small, (2) they did not control for environmental aluminum exposure, (3) they did not control for environmental pollutant exposure, and (4) they did not control for breastfeeding history.

Small effect size means that the degree of influence on the future diagnosis of asthma, as calculated in the study, was just a little bit greater than 1, meaning just a little bit greater than no effect. Aluminium is the 3rd most common element on the Earth, and so dietary aluminum exposure could have accounted for their results. Environmental pollutants and breastfeeding have strong correlations with being more, and less likely to receive an asthma diagnosis (citation AAP asthma guidelines).

Conclusion

Most of the studies cited by the authors are so terrible, that an audience member reading the book might worry about their basic ability to read English. On a more scientific level, the authors fail at the basic tenets of scientific investigation, such as validating a measurement tool and remembering to justify conclusions that are wildly at odds with the scientific consensus. If the reader wants to hear from people who know what they are doing, the reader is encouraged to visit the CHOP Vaccine Center to look at data on actual health outcomes after vaccination. The most basic benefit is less vaccine-preventable disease.

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