RFK Jr and vaccine safety – using a bad study to come to bad conclusions

RFK Jr and vaccine safety

Yesterday, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss explained why most experienced journalists ignore Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s views on vaccines. He gets simple facts about vaccines completely wrong again and again. She was referencing an interview Kennedy had given on Fox News – as a part of that interview, Kennedy misused a small study about the DTaP vaccine (for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough). Unfortunately, RFK Jr and vaccine safety of DTaP has continued – he has doubled down on misusing this study in an article by him published today.

I thought we would take a look at the issues specific to this new version of RFK Jr and vaccine safety – we’ll analyze his comments and then take a detailed look at the published article that forms the basis of Kennedy’s comments. Continue reading “RFK Jr and vaccine safety – using a bad study to come to bad conclusions”

Freedom to ignore French vaccination program – a court case

french vaccination program

Samia and Marc Larère, parents to a three year old and fifteen months old, have decided not to vaccinate them. A criminal charge was brought against them, by the government of France, for not giving their three year old the required vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and polio according to the French vaccination program.

They were charged under two legal provisions–a provision in the Code of Public Health (le code de la santé publique, art. L.3116-4) that imposes a find of 3750 euros and up to six months in jail for those who do not receive, or allow those under their guardianship to receive, mandatory vaccinations, including parents (“Le refus de se soumettre ou de soumettre ceux sur lesquels on exerce l’autorité parentale ou dont on assure la tutelle aux obligations de vaccination prévues aux articles L. 3111-2, L. 3111-3 et L. 3112-1 ou la volonté d’en entraver l’exécution sont punis de six mois d’emprisonnement et de 3 750 Euros d’amende”).

And a provision in the criminal code that criminalizes neglect of parental duties “to the point of risking the health… of a minor child”, with a fine of 30,000 euros and up to two years in prisons as penalty (article 227-17: “Le fait, par le père ou la mère, de se soustraire, sans motif légitime, à ses obligations légales au point de compromettre la santé, la sécurité, la moralité ou l’éducation de son enfant mineur est puni de deux ans d’emprisonnement et de 30 000 euros d’amende”).

The reason the Larères initially gave for declining to vaccinate their child was that they could not give her only the required vaccines–the only available vaccines, they said, had the required vaccines in combination with others, like Hepatitis B and meningococcal, which are not legally required and they were not willing to give the combination vaccine to their child.  Upon further probing, however, the couple admitted they received a vaccine containing only the required vaccines from Sanofi Pasteur, but still refused to vaccinate claiming that the vaccine contained a “toxic product”.

It may have been this vaccine (pdf). It’s unclear which ingredients they were referring to. The product contains a number of ingredients that may be used to raise concern among those unfamiliar with their role in vaccines and the principle that the dose makes the poison. In fact, in the tiny amounts in vaccines (pdf), none of these ingredients is toxic (pdf). Continue reading “Freedom to ignore French vaccination program – a court case”

Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence

There are many canards propagated by the vaccine deniers to support their personal beliefs (really, denialism) about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. One of their more popular beliefs is that vaccines didn’t end many of the deadly diseases, but improved sanitation, healthcare, nutrition or magical fairies (also known as homeopathy) ended these diseases.

There is even a subgroup of these believers who think that the CDC, historians, and everyone else is lying about the epidemics that existed prior to vaccinations–let’s call this group history deniers. They reject the scientific and historical evidence that vaccines saved lives – amazing.

So, is there scientific evidence that vaccines actually ended these epidemics? Yes there is, and it’s unequivocal. Unless you want to embrace historical revisionism, and somehow all of the health care records and epidemiological information was faked, vaccines saved lives – lots of lives. Continue reading “Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence”

The Irish Catholic children’s home scandal–it’s NOT about vaccines

children-at-st-marysThere’s an appalling story out of Ireland that has dominated the news for the past few days. Over a period of 35 years, St Mary’s Mother and Baby Home, a Catholic home for unwed mothers in County Galway (on the west coast of Ireland), apparently buried some children in a sewer system after dying in that home. You might have heard from some irresponsible journalists that over 800 children were buried in the septic tank, without questioning whether 800 bodies could actually be buried in the septic system, and without determining when the home was moved to a County sanitary sewer system, making it impossible to dump dead children in the septic tank. OK, that’s a small point.

According to the individual who actually uncovered this atrocity, Catherine Corless, an academic historian, she claims, through her research of birth records and other information, around 800 children died at this home over 36 years. The Irish Times reports, “between 1925, when the home opened, and 1937 the tank remained in use. During that period 204 children died at the home. Corless admits that it now seems impossible to her that more than 200 bodies could have been put in a working sewage tank.” OK, it’s sad and maddening that 22 children died every year at this home, even if infant mortality rates were substantially higher back then because of malnutrition and vaccine preventable diseases (like measles, mumps, polio, rotavirus and others) that would run rampant through closed quarters like that.

So the first myth we need to debunk is that there are 800 bodies buried in a septic tank–there aren’t. But, like I’ve said, that’s really just a minor point (setting aside the atrocity itself, which we’ll address later), because there are some other issues that have arisen with this story that also need to be discussed honestly. Continue reading “The Irish Catholic children’s home scandal–it’s NOT about vaccines”

Pertussis vaccine reduced length and severity of whooping cough

Except for the evidence that says it's not a failure.
Except for the evidence that says it’s not a failure.

I know, there are just so many tropes and outright lies pushed by the vaccine deniers, it’s really hard for this writer to keep up with it all. But there’s one that has always bothered me, but I didn’t have quite enough evidence to lustfully debunk in my usual manner.

As has been shown in few studies, the vaccine against whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), either  DTaP or Tdap (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), isn’t as effective in providing long-term protection as our expectations, based on other vaccines. Although the antivaccination cult has misinterpreted and misstated the actual numbers, an analysis of the data from the Washington State pertussis epidemic in 2011-2012 provided us with the following information:

  • Ages 5-9 unvaccinated or under vaccinated children are 6 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated. 
  • Ages 10-13 unvaccinated or under vaccinated are 25 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated. 
  • Ages 14-18 unvaccinated or under vaccinated  are 6 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated.

In other words, not getting the vaccine made it easier to get infected with whooping cough. Continue reading “Pertussis vaccine reduced length and severity of whooping cough”

Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924

vaccines-vs-microbes

For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.

#10. This article was published on 3 December 2013, and has had over 5000 views. It’s one of my favorite because it shows, with scientific evidence, that the trope pushed by the vaccine deniers that better sanitation, food, and medicine reduced the mortality from these diseases. But we know it’s the vaccines, and we have brilliant science to support that fact.

One of the tropes of the antivaccination world is that vaccines didn’t stop diseases. They give credit to everything from modern medicine to better food to better sanitation. Some of the credit they give is ironic since many vaccine deniers hate most aspects of modern medicine and believe that food was better 100 years ago. You can never get enough of the contradictions and hypocrisy of the antivaccine crowd.

I think it becomes easy to dismiss the value of vaccines in ending widespread disease because almost anyone writing today about vaccines has no memory of ubiquitous and deadly epidemics of diseases. We’re almost at a point in our culture that if Twitter doesn’t report it, it didn’t happen, so infectious diseases are something that happened back when humans lived in caves, prior to the advent of social media. I happen to have been born right near the end of widespread epidemics of infectious diseases, so I don’t remember any epidemics personally, though I recall a few classmates in high school who had a few effects from polio and other diseases. Culturally, we have forgotten our past with respect to diseases. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924”

How vaccines saved millions of lives

Infographic: How People Died In The 20th Century

 

Over 5.2 billion people died in the 20th Century. Although the 20th Century ended a mere 13 years ago, from a statistics standpoint, we know we will probably die of different diseases (and other less natural causes) than our forebears. The causes of death evolve over time as medicine improves, science ameliorates risk, lifestyles change, environments shift, and politics reshape our world. British data journalist David McCandless (of Information is Beautiful) created this fascinating infographic based on a project, commissioned by the Wellcome Trust, a U.K. charity devoted to human health, called Death in the 20th Century, which shows us, graphically, the leading causes of mortality from 1900 to 2000, worldwide. 

Some of the numbers are shocking. Humanity is the cause of nearly 1 billion (or just short of 20%) of the deaths in the 20th Century. These numbers include war, murders, religious intolerance, suicide, and other deadly crimes that humans perpetrate against one another. Maybe the 21st Century will knock that number down, though I doubt any of us are optimistic given the way this century has started.

But the most interest information is in the Infectious Disease section. Nearly 1.7 billion people have died from infectious diseases. Some of the more interesting numbers are:

In the 21st Century, the numbers of deaths from these diseases will probably be in the few thousand worldwide. Why? Because of vaccines. Not better sanitation. Not better health care facilities. But because of vaccines.

And in the 21st Century, as more vaccines are developed and brought to market, many of these infectious diseases will be less of a problem. 

Vaccines saves lives. Literally hundreds of millions of lives.

Use the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

How vaccines have reduced diseases in one easy graphic

Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.
Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.

If there was any doubt about the success of vaccines this graphic shows it clearly. We can eliminate confounding variables such as improved sanitation, since many of these diseases (if not most) are not dependent upon the quality of sanitation, and are merely transmitted from individual to individual. We can eliminate the improvement in health care (other than the obvious one of the accessibility of vaccines) because improved health care wouldn’t prevent most of these diseases.

As a result of vaccines, we have eliminated polio, smallpox and diphtheria in the United States. Many other diseases, measles, mumpsrubella, tetanus, and  Haemophilus influenzae type b, are nearly eliminated. Though some people in the antivaccination world would make you believe that these diseases are not serious (the pox party is a perfect example of this belief), most of these diseases have known serious consequences for a statistically significant portion of those who get the disease. These adverse consequences may be as minor as hospitalization to as serious as life long chronic health issues or death.

In approximately one generation, modern medical science has radically changed the risks that children face to these diseases. For that, we parents should be grateful

Vaccines Save Lives.

Visit the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

 

Key citations:

 

Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth

There are so many silly memes that have arisen from the anti-vaxxers, all of which have been thoroughly debunked. Everything from the well-worn (and worn-out) “vaccines cause autism” fable, quashed here, to the “these diseases aren’t dangerous”, which, of course, couldn’t be farther from the truth. One of the more annoying of the tales pushed by the vaccine denialists is that vaccines aren’t tested thoroughly before being used on unsuspecting infants. I do not know where this started, or why it started, but like much in the anti-vaccination world, it really doesn’t matter. It just passes from one person to another across google, and individuals with no research background hold this particular belief as if it were the Truth™. Continue reading “Debunking the “vaccines aren’t tested” myth”

Whooping cough: Kansas outbreak grows (update)

Tdap vaccine. ©CNN, 2012

On June 11, it was reported that the recent outbreak of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) in Johnson County, Kansas, has grown by 65 cases to a total of 175 cases since the beginning of the year. The Johnson County health department has issued a warning (pdf) about the outbreak, requesting that children and adults get the vaccine and to be aware of symptoms. To prevent the spread of the disease, the health department is requesting that people who are being treated for the disease with antibiotics stay home for 5 days, and those we are refusing to be treated, stay home for 3 weeks. Continue reading “Whooping cough: Kansas outbreak grows (update)”