Why we vaccinate–the cost of catching the flu

Syringe with moneyThe tropes of the antivaccination horde would be laughable if it weren’t for the seriousness of the diseases that are prevented by vaccines. Even among those people who vaccinate their children for everything, they’ll make up all kinds of lame excuses for not getting the flu vaccine, all easily debunked. And someone will call you a “dumbass” if you use any of those worthless excuses. 

One of the most annoying tropes of the vaccine deniers is that somehow Big Pharma (even though some vaccines are sold by Baby Pharma) is forcing dangerous, expensive, and highly profitable vaccines on the market because Big Pharma is nothing more than greedy, unethical executives sitting in their huge offices figuring out which Ferrari they’re going to purchase next week. Setting aside the fact that most Big Pharma execs are far too conservative to drive a Ferrari, does this even make any sense whatsoever? 

Let’s get this out first. Big Pharma corporations are generally public, and as such, their shareholders expect them to make profits. But corporations don’t generate profits by turning on a cash printing machine, they must invent, develop and manufacture products, distribute it to the market, and do it well enough to actually generate profits to not only pay their shareholders, but also to invest in the next round of invention, development and manufacturing for the next set of products. Big Pharma has an extremely complex relationship with its market because bringing new products to their customers requires a huge investment in resources (from research to engineering to manufacturing). And Big Pharma has a wide variety of customers including the patient, the physician, the hospital, the insurance company (or government versions of insurance, like Medicare), the government and its regulatory arms, and many others.

Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–the cost of catching the flu”

The Zombie Apocalypse of antivaccine lies–they just won’t die

zombies-vaccinatedThose lies from individuals who push pseudoscience can be likened to zombies. The lies seems to arise out of unscientific, ignorant, and brainless nonsense. The lies keep arising even after scientific skeptics bury them. Of course, the lies are so loud, it really sounds like the groans of the living dead. Oh, and we can’t forget that the goal of these lies is to eat the brains of the innocent people who are trying to understand the real facts about vaccines. Of all of the pseudoscience zombies out there, the vaccine deniers are the worst, because people die from the zombies, much like what happens from vaccine preventable diseases.

There is a particularly annoying and obnoxious vaccine-denying zombie liar who goes by the handle of The PatriotNurse. Now, as you would expect from her name, she is a nurse, but she runs with the anti-government, conspiracy theory loving, pro-gun (and I don’t mean just owning one gun, but having a full armory because of the government and conspiracies) crowd. And she is antivaccination, as you may have guessed. She posted a crazy video on YouTube, which lists out all of the canards and lies of the antivaccine zombies.  

Amusingly, she has disabled comments to this video by stating, “The comments are OFF for many reasons. Foremost is that I refuse to be abused for a contrarian viewpoint that goes against mainstream “Sickcare.” One of the fun things about YouTube is the comments section, where you can cheer for a good music video, or attack someone who posts dumb stuff. But The PatriotNurse refuses to allow her zombie ideas to be shown in the bright light of the day. After watching some of her other videos, I cannot believe someone actually gave her a degree in nursing.

In her vaccine denying, anti-science video, The PatriotNurse uses the standard repertoire of unsupported claims, myths and fairytales that most antivaccinationists use to make their ignorant cases. So, in order of the stupidity of her zombified argument, let me try to chop of its head, and hope the argument doesn’t come back again. Maybe I’m naive about that. Continue reading “The Zombie Apocalypse of antivaccine lies–they just won’t die”

Marijuana and cancer – Sanjay Gupta’s anecdotes are not science

Editor’s note–this article has been updated and included into a multi-part series on marijuana and medicine. Check it out there. 

Unless you were hiking in the Amazon River jungles, with no access to the internet or American TV, you probably have heard that CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, changed his mind about marijuana (or “weed” as he keeps saying). Of course, this has become big news, because he’s such a “respected doctor” (why is that? Because he’s on TV?), and because a few years ago he was vociferously anti-cannabis.

I have no doubt that Dr. Gupta’s “conversion” to being pro-weed is genuine (and that his previous stance of anti-weed was similarly authentic), but we need to weed out what is real and what’s just smoke about his comments. His first major point about cannabis* was that the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) considers marijuana to be a Schedule 1 drug, which is defined as “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

Dr. Gupta thinks this classification is ridiculous, and on the surface, many people, even those who are not devoted pot smokers, would probably agree. However, this is a political discussion, at least in the USA, and it is hardly a medical/scientific one. The chances of any political party having the fortitude to correct this classification is about as close to 0 as you can get, without actually stating that there is a 0 chance. But if Gupta wants to make a big deal of this, or that he’s so self-centered that he thinks he’ll change the mind of politicians, more power to him. But for me as a skeptic, it is not the most important thing he says.

In his article, he mentions a young girl who “started having seizures soon after birth. By age 3, she was having 300 a week, despite being on seven different medications. Medical marijuana has calmed her brain, limiting her seizures to 2 or 3 per month.” This is simply an anecdote of no quality whatsoever. Did he thoroughly investigate her case to determine if the number of seizures actually went down? Do we know that cannabis has anything to do with the change? Is this nothing more than a Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, that just because she consumed cannabis and the seizures decreased does not mean anything about cannabis’ causative properties with regards to this type of seizure. And then, Dr. Gupta continues with the anecdotes by stating, “I have seen more patients like Charlotte first hand, spent time with them and come to the realization that it is irresponsible not to provide the best care we can as a medical community, care that could involve marijuana.” Why do these TV doctors (like Dr. Oz) think that their anecdotes are better than anyone else’s.

Anecdotes are useless because they aren’t controlled, because they are subject to all levels of bias, and because these stories aren’t peer-reviewed. In other words, anecdotes have no value in science-based medicine. Anecdotes do have value in formulating testable scientific hypotheses, but assuming that anecdote=data, and more anecdotes=more data is simply pseudoscientific. I don’t care what Sanjay Gupta writes or says publicly, but providing these stories as “evidence” that marijuana has a medical benefit is essential like telling me that he observed homeopathy (which is just water) working. It’s laughable.

Continue reading “Marijuana and cancer – Sanjay Gupta’s anecdotes are not science”

An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts

bsDear Anti-vaccination Cretins,

I know that your narcissism prevents you from actually participating on most online forums with highly educated scientists, because you couldn’t handle the ongoing mockery and our laughing at your special form of ignorance. But I know you read this shit, so here goes. And remember, I write at an advanced level, and I’m going to use proper terminology for pharmaceutical regulatory issues, so please keep up you dumbasses. 

If you actually have evidence that any of us are shills for any Pharmaceutical Company, please, call the FDA, because paying someone to “shill” for a pharmaceutical company would be a criminal act on the part of the company. Why? Most of the comments made by we individuals on the internet about the superior safety and superior efficacy of vaccines are unregulated and are not within proper pharmaceutical labeling. Someone working for Big pharma could never use the terms “superior” and being paid to say it would be unethical, immoral and illegal. Let me be honest, those cheapskates at Big Pharma couldn’t pay me enough money to be unethical and immoral, let alone risk going to prison for them. Hellllll no. Continue reading “An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts”

Reblog: “10 ‘scientific’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need GMOs”

gmo-cornI don’t generally re-blog articles I’ve read. Sometimes, I might read an article and then do my own take on it. But mostly, I just assume that blog posts should stand on their own merits. But today, I want to make an exception. I ran across an article, “10 ‘reasoned’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need #GMOs” by Dr. Cami Ryan, “a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and an outspoken advocate for agriculture and science.” She does a point-by-point critique of an article, 10 reasons why we don’t need GM foods. The article has been flying across Facebook and Twitter, and before I had a chance to take it down, Dr. Ryan did a much better job. Probably because she’s a shill for Big Agra, and I’m just a stooge for Big Pharma. Anyways, let her clobber the inaccuracies of that article, point by scientific point (since I think GMO refusers are anti-science people, no different than global warming deniers, I changed the title of the blog to include the word “scientific.”:

 

Continue reading “Reblog: “10 ‘scientific’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need GMOs””

Anti-GMO liberals attack Cheerios

cheeriosgmoOver the past week, the left’s version of global warming deniers, the GMO refusers, starting attacking the Cheerios Facebook page. Why? Because apparently, Cheerios, that wonderful cereal manufactured by General Mills, used by parents worldwide to feed their young children, contains GMO grains. “GMO,” or genetically modified crops, which are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). All types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. GMO’s are a major controversy because of the use of DNA recombination-introducing genes from one species into another, which usually provides crops with added advantages, such as resistance to pests. A few months ago, when the thoroughly debunked “GMO corn causes cancer” story hit the interwebs, but that was thoroughly debunked as being bad science, bad research with bad results.

 

 

Continue reading “Anti-GMO liberals attack Cheerios”

2012 Top Ten list for new drug approvals

pharmaceutical researchThe US Food and Drug Administration recently announced (pdf) that it had cleared 35 new drugs during 2012, of which 31 were novel therapies. This is in addition to the literally hundreds of approvals for changes in already approved drugs for changes in packaging, manufacturing, and dozens of other reasons. 

In no particular order, here are the top 10 most interesting of the approvals based on my subjective viewpoint, which includes innovativeness, seriousness of disease, and other random factors. In others, no different in importance than all those end-of-year top 10 movie lists. So here we go: Continue reading “2012 Top Ten list for new drug approvals”

Court says Freedom of Speech applies to Big Pharma Sales Reps

pills and pill bottlesIn a strange decision, the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over  ConnecticutNew York, and Vermont, ruled that a drug sales representative who promotes “off-label” uses of a particular drug is exercising their “freedom of speech.” The Court decided in a 2-1 vote, in United States v. Caronia (pdf), that the criminal conviction of Alfred Caronia, a former sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, be vacated. The case was an appeal of the sales representative’s conviction for promoting an off-label use of the drug Xyrem, which is approved for treatment of narcolepsy. The Court stated that “we construe the FDCA as not criminalizing the simple promotion of a drug’s off-label use because such a construction would raise First Amendment concerns.”

The Court also found that the FDA allows off-label use by physicians, but “prohibits the free flow of information that would inform that outcome,” while “the government’s prohibition of off-label promotion by pharmaceutical manufacturers provides only ineffective or remote support for the government’s purpose.” The Court also ruled that it construes “the misbranding provisions of the FDCA as not prohibiting and criminalizing the truthful off-label promotion of FDA-approved prescription drugs.”  It also stated “that the government cannot prosecute pharmaceutical manufacturers and their representatives under the FDCA for speech promoting the lawful, off-label use of an FDA-approved drug.” Continue reading “Court says Freedom of Speech applies to Big Pharma Sales Reps”

The myth of getting the flu from the flu shot

Obama getting his flu vaccination.

As part of my history in medical industry, I used to train sales representatives on new medical products and procedures. Because these sales reps were in hospitals and physicians offices, many medical companies (yes, Big Pharma), a condition of employment was that they were required to be up-to-date on their vaccinations including the seasonal flu vaccine. Not all companies did this, and not all companies made it mandatory, but there was nothing worse than having a large percentage of the sales force out of commission sick with flu, especially if a new product was being launched. And doctor’s offices did not want sales reps walking into their offices sick either, so it was a good business practice. Exemptions were just not given, because it was a job requirement stated clearly in the written job offer, so they had a choice to not take the job. 

It was ironic that these well-paid, well-educated mouthpieces for Big Pharma would make up the most silly excuses for not wanting the flu vaccination. The number one reason, that I would hear, is that “the flu shot always gives me the flu.” And that’s just not these sales reps who would make up this claim, but apparently in a 2010 CDC poll, 62% of Americans also believe the flu vaccine can actually cause the flu. 

Well, let’s just blow that myth right out of the water:

  • According to the CDC, “No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the flu shot during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe.”
  • In a 2000 study on flu vaccine effectiveness, 2.2% of vaccine recipients vs. 4.4% of placebo recipients had laboratory confirmed influenza illness in 1997-1998. During the next flu season, 1% of vaccine recipients and 10% of placebo recipients had influenza illness. So, the risk of getting the flu is much higher in the non-vaccinated group.
  • According to the ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices), rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness, which may mimic flu symptoms, but last only 1-2 days (as opposed to flu which may last 7-10 days).

So, if you think that the flu vaccine gives you the flu, it really doesn’t. And I’m not the only one saying this:

Get your flu shot. Because, you know, Vaccines Save Lives.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

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. Continue reading “GlaxoSmithKline fined $3 billion by FDA for improper marketing and unethical behavior”