Sheep vaccine study – aluminum adjuvants alter their behavior

sheep vaccine study

Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve read a lot of vaccine research studies. Most, published in top journals by real scientists, are worthy of respect. And they provide powerful evidence that vaccines are safe and effective. Of course, there are a handful of studies that are pseudoscientific garbage. Or retracted. But today, I think I’ve seen it all – a Spanish animal research team published a sheep vaccine study that they claim shows that the aluminum adjuvants in the vaccine altered their behavior. And you just know that the anti-vaccine religion will jump all over it as “proof” that vaccines are dangerous. Yawn.

In case you missed it, yes, this is a sheep vaccine study.

To be fair, I have no idea whether these researchers are part of the anti-vaccine religion – it’s possible that they think they’ve found something, but they do rely upon some discredited anti-vaccine tropes and falsehoods as the premise of their studies. Moreover, this article furthers the false narrative about aluminum in vaccines. And we’ll keep seeing it repeated on anti-vaccine Twitter and Facebook posts because the anti-vaccine zealots have nothing else.

The sheep vaccine study by Javier Asìn et al., published in Pharmacological Research, investigated cognitive and behavioral changes in lambs that had received repeated vaccination with aluminum-containing vaccines.

Let’s take a critical look.

Sheep vaccine study results

I’m not going to spend much time with the results, because I find it very troubling that the author’s conclusions are based on a total study of 21 animals, seven in each group. I laugh at clinical trials in humans that don’t contain 1,000 or more patients or epidemiological studies that don’t include a sample population over 100,000. An animal study that includes 21 lambs ranks near at the bottom half of the hierarchy of biomedical research.

The researchers put those 21 sheep into three equal groups:

A. Control group

B. Adjuvant only group

C. Vaccine with adjuvant group

I will get to a criticism below, but based on the small experiment, the authors concluded that:

Animals in groups B and C exhibited behavioral changes: affiliative interactions were significantly reduced and aggressive interactions and stereotypies increased significantly. They also exhibited a significant increase in excitatory behavior and compulsive eating. In general, changes were more pronounced in the Vaccine group than they were in the Adjuvant-only group. Some changes were already significant in summer, after seven inoculations only. This study is the first to describe behavioral changes in sheep after having received repetitive injections of Al-containing products, explaining some of the clinical signs observed in ovine ASIA syndrome.

Aluminum in vaccines

For those of you who are unfamiliar with aluminum in vaccines, aluminum adjuvants are added to vaccines to stimulate the immune response to the vaccine’s antigen – however, they do not induce any immunity to anything by themselves.

Aluminum adjuvants have been used for over 70 years in vaccines without any evidence that they cause harm. Unfortunately, these adjuvants have only become an issue for the anti-vaccine world because they keep running out of real science to support their beliefs about the safety of vaccines.

There are a few key points to be made about aluminum adjuvants:

  1. The amount of aluminum in vaccines (and remember, only a few vaccines have aluminum) is measured in micrograms. The maximum allowable amount of aluminum in a vaccine is 125 µg.  Based on the recommended schedule of vaccines, the maximum amount of aluminum an infant could be exposed to over the first year of life would be 4225 µg (or 4.225 mg). Let’s put this into context – a newborn baby averages body burden of about 384 µg of aluminum. In addition, typical concentrations of aluminum in breast milk (10-49 µg/L), soy-based infant formula (460-930 µg/L), and milk-based infant formula (58-150 µg/L) mean that the dose of aluminum from these sources far exceed the dose of vaccines in just a few weeks. A baby also inhales several thousand micrograms of aluminum per day, unless they live in some bubble with ultra-pure air.
  2. As I constantly mention, the dose makes the poison. And these doses of environmental and vaccine aluminum are far below the minimum risk level for the body burden of aluminum.
  3. Only if you assume that the body cannot clear aluminum (usually only in the case of kidney failure), the cumulative dose of the metal doesn’t actually matter.
  4. There is a trope, pushed by the anti-vaccine world, that somehow injecting aluminum is much different than consuming or inhaling it. This is simply not based on any science known to the biomedical world. The kidneys filter out most of the aluminum salts way before it accumulates. Furthermore, inhaled and ingested aluminum occurs every single day unless your baby doesn’t eat or breathe, whereas the tiny dose of injected aluminum occurs infrequently.

There simply is no robust, peer-reviewed evidence that the amount of aluminum salts in vaccines are in any way harmful. But that never stops the anti-vaccine religion from making unfounded claims.

ASIA, not the continent

Asin et al. start out their paper by stating that autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvants (ASIA) is an adverse reaction of vaccines. ASIA is a belief, pushed by Israeli immunologist Yehuda Shoenfeld, that certain autoimmune conditions are caused by aluminum adjuvants in vaccines.

However, ASIA has been thoroughly dismissed by most scientists and regulatory agencies. Numerous large case-control and cohort studies, both near the top of the hierarchy of biomedical research, have found no evidence of a relationship between vaccines, especially the HPV vaccine, and ASIA. For example, researchers looked at nearly 300,000 vaccinated and unvaccinated women (reviewed here) and found no link to ASIA. There are many more studies that show a similar lack of causal links.

Thus, before we even start critiquing this paper, the authors start with a bogus hypothesis that is unsupported by real scientific investigations. Unless, of course, you subscribe to anti-vaccine lies, memes, and tropes. Then you probably are a true believer.

Sheep vaccine study critique

Despite the fact that the paper has a couple of discredited claims, about aluminum and ASIA, there are other significant issues with the paper. Let’s review:

  1. The researchers only looked at a total of 21 sheep in 3 groups. Important clinical and epidemiological studies have thousands or even millions of data points. It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine a causal link with such a tiny sample size.
  2. The animals in the two experimental groups, one vaccinated with the typical vaccines given to sheep and the other with just aluminum adjuvant. The animals received 16 vaccine doses within 12 months for a total of 70.861 mg of aluminum. These are the number of doses that a sheep receive over 6-7 years! Furthermore, if you’re prone to comparing sheep to humans, that’s 20X more aluminum adjuvant than a human receives over a year – of course, human infants are smaller. Nevertheless, even though I dismiss any link between injected aluminum and neurological issues, giving 6-7 years of vaccines over 12 months biases the results. In addition, I’m skeptical of the behavioral observations, but it is possible that the serum aluminum levels are so high that it exceeds the safe limit for aluminum.
  3. The study was not randomized or blinded (or they failed to mention it in the methods section). You might think that randomization on matters with humans, but the researchers could have biased the results by the way they treated the sheep.
  4. This study relied upon subjective observations of the sheep’s “behavior” post-vaccination. These are the type of issues that hinder many behavioral and neurological studies – a subjective analysis of change in behavior is almost impossible to quantify. And when there are just 21 animals, it’s almost impossible.
  5. Sheep are social animals and the process of vaccination itself, especially so many over a short period of time, may induce behavioral changes irrespective of any contents of the vaccine, although the control group did receive a placebo injection.
  6. This sheep vaccine study is a primary research article – that means it lacks any supporting data anywhere else. It’s like the old vaccines cause autism canard – one retracted study supported it. On the other hand, literally hundreds of clinical and epidemiological studies along with meta-reviews have debunked that claimed link. That’s why most real biomedical researchers ignore primary animal studies – they pique interest, but rarely form the foundations of science-based medicine. Since we have dozens of studies that show no behavioral changes post vaccination, how much does a very small, very poorly designed sheep study tell us? Next to nothing.
  7. In a 2013 study by the same research group, they observed that around 0.5-1.0 % of animals of a flock exhibit the type of behavioral symptoms, irrespective of vaccination, described in the newer paper – yet they conveniently ignore it. Given the tiny sample size, the lack of randomization or blinding, and other issues, it’s impossible to tell if this is background noise.

I’m done here

The anti-vaccine religion has pounced on this study, which doesn’t surprise me or any other pro-science person out there. Dr. Bob Sears (the California pediatrician on probation for some issues about vaccine exemptions) and the crackpot science denier Robert F Kennedy Jr have tried to abuse this pathetic study to further their pro-disease for children beliefs.

This sheep vaccine study barely rises to the level of bad evidence – it provides us with nothing useful about the discussion regarding aluminum in vaccines. Moreover, there is overwhelming evidence, as shown in so many powerful peer-reviewed studies, that there simply is no link between aluminum adjuvants and anything.

Why do the anti-vaccine use this terrible sheep vaccine study to support their claims? Because they’ve got nothing else. Nada. Squat. Zilch.

Citations

Aluminum in vaccines – new paper dismisses anti-vaxxer claims

aluminum in vaccines

Trying to have a reasonable discussion with the anti-vaccine religion is usually very difficult. To these militants, scientific evidence is unimportant – well, unless it’s a cherry-picked article from an obscure, predatory journal that has been retracted. Part of the problem is the moving goalposts of the anti-vaccine arguments. First, it was mercury (no mercury in vaccines). Today, the argument is that aluminum in vaccines is dangerous. What next, the water in vaccines causes something because of reasons?

A new paper published recently provides solid evidence that the tiny amount of aluminum in vaccines is biologically irrelevant. Not that a peer-reviewed paper in a top journal would convince most anti-vaccine zealots, since they have a pre-conceived conclusion, and only accept evidence that supports their beliefs. By the way, that’s the very definition of pseudoscience. Continue reading “Aluminum in vaccines – new paper dismisses anti-vaxxer claims”

Anti-vaccine James Lyons-Weiler writes about aluminum and autism

James Lyons-Weiler

Here we go again. Another anti-vaccine pseudoscientist publishes a paper that calls into question something about vaccines, and the anti-vaccine religion genuflects in their general direction. The anti-vaccine side has nearly zero evidence supporting their claims, so they have to cling to anything they can get. And a new article from James Lyons-Weiler continues that tradition.

The anti-vaccine religion is littered with these false authorities that have few credentials or experience in vaccines, yet, because of a “Ph.D.” after their name, the anti-vaxxers make it appear they speak for millions of scientists. There’s Tetyana Obukhanych, a former immunologist who has published no peer-reviewed articles about vaccines, who has denied all of her scientific education and training, and who makes egregious and simplistic mistakes about vaccines in all of her proclamations.

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic are multiple-retracted “researchers” who shill for the anti-vaccine religion by publishing weak and easily critiqued research that doesn’t even stand up to the tiniest of criticism. We’ve often speculated as to why the University of British Columbia, where they do their “research,” hasn’t ended their relationship.

Look, I’m not impressed by credentials and degrees. I don’t care if someone is a janitor or a Ph.D. in immunology at Harvard University. If you deny established scientific consensus based on your whims, cherry picking evidence, or rhetoric, you have nothing. You bring nothing to a scientific discussion. If you want to overturn the scientific consensus on vaccines then you better be an expert in the area of vaccines, and you better have a broad, robust body of evidence that shows problems with the scientific consensus.

Now, it’s time to look at this new false authority in the land of vaccines, James Lyons-Weiler. Is he another false authority and pseudoscientist? Or does his new paper give us something new to examine about vaccines? Yes. No. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine James Lyons-Weiler writes about aluminum and autism”

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, oft-retracted anti-vaccine shills

Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic

I often put together articles that are indexes of all of my articles on a particular subject – I have ones on the cunning fraud Andrew Wakefield, the safety and effectiveness of HPV vaccines, GMO facts, and legal and public policy articles about vaccines from Dorit Rubinstein Reiss. I produce them as a one-stop resource on important topics that have been posted on this blog. After my recent article about the 4th retraction from the team of Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, two “researchers’ who push pseudoscience and misinformation to support their anti-vaccine conclusions, it is time to give them their own index article.

I use these index articles to help the reader. If you link to this article, you can click on it to see the list of articles by the Skeptical Raptor that covers important topics. Now, one could argue that Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic aren’t exactly important – no their “research” fails to meet the minimum standards of quality scientific research, and that’s recognized by the frequency of retractions and the low quality of their research.

Of course, I use them personally because this feathered dinosaur is ancient, and sometimes forgets what was written in the past. Of course, I’ve written over 1100 articles over more than 6 years, so there are many times I say, “oh I wrote that?”

Anyway, let’s give you all the fun information about Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic.  Continue reading “Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, oft-retracted anti-vaccine shills”

Anti-vaccine pseudoscience – more bad science on autism and aluminum

anti-vaccine pseudoscience

You’ve got to hand it to the anti-vaccine pseudoscience activists – they are nothing if not dedicated to their religious beliefs. And like the so-called “creation science” religion, which tries to “prove” their evolution denialist beliefs with pseudoscience published in creationist journals, the anti-vaccine religion tries to “prove” that vaccines are dangerous with bad science, pseudoscience, and misinterpreted science.

As of today, I’ve written a dozen or so articles about Christopher Shaw and   Lucija Tomljenovic, contemptible University of British Columbia anti-vaccine pseudoscience extremists. Shaw and Tomljenovic are well known for pushing garbage science to further their anti-vaccine religion. Of course, their “scientific articles” keep getting retracted, despite being published in low ranked journals whose standards rarely exceed “please use a good spell checker.”

Now, we have a new article trying to push the myth that somehow the tiny amounts of aluminum in vaccines are related to autism. Of course, we have hundreds of real scientific articles published in real scientific journals which have demolished the myth that vaccines cause autism. But these persistent anti-vaccine pseudoscience pushers keep trying. Because one of the central tenets of pseudoscience is to have a pre-ordained conclusion, and find any evidence, irrespective of quality, to support it.

So we’re going to take a look at this new “article.” I always examine anti-vaccine “research” from two perspectives – first, I take a look at the author(s), the journal, and other factors that might have an impact on our critique of the study. Second, I then critique the scientific data, methods, and conclusions.  So, here we go, into the fray. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine pseudoscience – more bad science on autism and aluminum”

Aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – another attempt for something, anything

aluminum adjuvants

Here we go again, another attempt to link aluminum adjuvants in vaccines to something, despite the lack of real evidence for anything. Recently, an attempt by the disreputable pair of anti-vaccine researchers to show a link between aluminum adjuvants and autism was retracted by the journal.

Several researchers have proposed a systematic review (which are considered to be the pinnacle of the hierarchy of biomedical research) to determine if there are any links between aluminum adjuvants in vaccines to some medical condition. Read that carefully – this paper does not provide any new evidence, it is merely a description of their reasons for looking at aluminum along with the meta-review protocol.

Mostly, I’d ignore these type of papers, because they aren’t providing us with any new information about vaccines. But in this case, I wanted to point out a bunch of flaws in their reasoning, which seems to indicate a high degree of bias. Therein is the problem – systematic reviews are powerful tools in science-based medicine, but many of these systematic reviews are filled with a large amount of bias. And this study is starting from a very biased point of view. Continue reading “Aluminum adjuvants in vaccines – another attempt for something, anything”

Anti-vaccine paper retracted – Shaw and Tomljenovic lose again

Anti-vaccine paper retracted

A few weeks ago, I wrote a critical analysis of a paper by Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic published in Inorganic Biochemistry that tried to convince us that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines caused autism. Predictably, it’s another anti-vaccine paper retracted by another journal.

Shaw and Tomljenovic have quite a history in retracted anti-vaccine articles. Last year, they wrote an article about aluminum adjuvants in the HPV vaccine – it was retracted, and eventually republished almost word-for-word in an inferior journal.

According to Retraction Watch, Inorganic Biochemistry’s editor, John Dawson of the University of South Carolina, stated that:

The paper by Shaw and co-workers is being retracted jointly by the authors and the editor.

Yup, another anti-vaccine paper retracted. Of course, the article was roundly criticized in numerous posts across the skeptical universe soon after it was published. For example, the piercing Orac wrote in his blog,

given Shaw and Tomljenovic’s history, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of this study as well…

At best, what we have here are researchers with little or no expertise in very basic molecular biology techniques using old methodology that isn’t very accurate overinterpreting the differences in gene and protein levels that they found. At worst, what we have are antivaccine “researchers” who are not out for scientific accuracy but who actually want to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism….If this were a first offense, I’d give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt, but this is far from their first offense.

Orac called the paper, “antivaccine pseudoscience.” Not that anti-vaccine is anything but pseudoscience.

Other bloggers, like The Mad Virologist, who is also an expert on DNA analysis, and the Blood Brain Barrier Scientist, who writes about the blood-brain barrier and heavy metal music, jointly analyzed the paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic. They did a masterful job in looking at some of the technical errors and other issues with the paper. I won’t pretend to summarize what they write, so I’ll use their own summary:

Based on the methods that were used in this paper, Shaw et al. went too far in declaring that aluminum adjuvants cause autism. But there are six other key points that limit what conclusions can be drawn from this paper:
1) They selected genes based on old literature and ignored newer publications.
2) The method for PCR quantification is imprecise and cannot be used as an absolute quantification of expression of the selected genes.
3) They used inappropriate statistical tests that are more prone to giving significant results which is possibly why they were selected.
4) Their dosing regime for the mice makes assumptions on the development of mice that are not correct.
5) They gave the mice far more aluminum sooner than the vaccine schedule exposes children to.
6) There are irregularities in both the semi-quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot data that strongly suggests that these images were fabricated. This is probably the most damning thing about the paper. If the data were manipulated and images fabricated, then the paper needs to be retracted and UBC needs to do an investigation into research misconduct by the Shaw lab.

Taken together, we cannot trust Shaw’s work here and if we were the people funding this work, we’d be incredibly ticked off because they just threw away money that could have done some good but was instead wasted frivolously. Maybe there’s a benign explanation for the irregularities that we’ve observed, but until these concerns are addressed this paper cannot be trusted.

Also, a lot of criticism occurred on PubPeer, a website devoted to a kind of extended peer review of published papers. The commenters were harsh. Oneclaimed that there was a “clear and deliberate” removal of control results in the paper. And many others either hinted or outright stated that DNA gel bands were duplicated, photoshopped or taken from a 2014 paper by Shaw and Tomljenovic (and published in a journal that’s not even indexed on PubMed).

Added to all of this is that the primary author has left the University of British Columbia, where Shaw and Tomljenovic do their “research,” taking all of the data with her. I don’t mean to be cynical, but I will be – yeah right.

As an aside, I don’t know why the University of British Columbia continues to house Shaw and Tomljenovic. They have had their “research” utterly discredited by the World Health Organization. They have had papers retracted. And when they do publish, they’re in low ranked, low impact factor journals. Finally, their “research” is supported by some of the most profoundly anti-vaccine sponsors in the world.  Frankly, the only good Shaw and Tomljenovic do for the anti-vaccine world is to allow those of us who are pro-science/pro-vaccine lots of fodder in embarrassing the anti-vaccine world.

So there we go. Another Shaw and Tomljenovic anti-vaccine paper retracted, and will probably be republished in the Journal of Homeopathy Vaccines (no, it doesn’t exist). By the way, I won the betting pool on when it would be retracted. Hopefully, the shills pay me for winning.

Citations



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Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED

aluminum causes autism

Every morning I wake up with the vain hope that the vaccine deniers will give up on the thoroughly debunked vaccines-cause-autism tropes. And every morning I’m disappointed. Today’s trope is that vaccine aluminum causes autism. Despite the claims, there still is no evidence.

Two of our favorite anti-vaccine shills, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, have been the subject of scathing reviews numerous times by the feathery dinosaur. And they’re back again, using bad science, trying to convince the world that aluminum in vaccines is somehow linked to autism.

Well, let’s take a look at research, but don’t expect a different result when I last looked at a Shaw and Tomljenovic article about aluminum in vaccines. Which was retracted. Continue reading “Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED”

Toxic vaccine chemicals – the dose makes the poison

toxic vaccine chemicals

If you spend any amount of time on the internet researching science and pseudoscience, you’ll find alarming claims about toxic or poisonous substances in our foods, vaccines, air, water, and so much else. And then you’ll find a lot of people (myself included) who try to present science-based evidence that there are no toxic vaccine chemicals.

Generally, the pseudoscience argument proceeds along the lines of “this unpronounceable chemical is going to cause cancer.” Or there’s mercury in our vaccines that will cause autism.

But what the science deniers are pushing is based on a lack of knowledge about how toxicology, or the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on living organisms, determines what is or isn’t toxic.

Paracelsus, a 16th century Swiss German physician, alchemist, astrologer, is traditionally thought to have founded the discipline of toxicology, an important branch of medicine, physiology, and pharmacology. Paracelsus wrote one of the most important principles of toxicology:

All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison.

In other words, if you’re speaking about substances in foods or vaccines or anything, the most important principle is that the dose makes the poison (or toxin). Everything that we consume or breathe is potentially toxic, but what is the most overriding principle must be the dose. Continue reading “Toxic vaccine chemicals – the dose makes the poison”

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

Jim Meehan

Recently, 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.

The claims used to do so 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 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”