Over the past couple of the months, this website has published three tragic vaccine stories – each involved the death of a child whose life was taken too early. Each of these grabbed everyone’s heart and made all of us empathetic to the pain of the parents. However, these stories were much more nuanced and complicated than what has been presented in some parts of the internet. And they put some of us in the crosshairs of the anti-vaccine world.
Whenever our side (you know, the pro-science, pro-vaccine side) writes about these stories, people invent strawmen claiming that we are not empathetic or sympathetic to the families whose child had died. Of course, every one of us who writes about these stories is incredibly affected by them. They make us cry. They make us hug our children.
Nevertheless, we still feel compelled to sort fact from fiction. We look at these stories with skeptical eyes, not because we want to attack the parents of these children. Instead, we want to make sure that the scientific facts are not ignored, which could lead to a false narrative about vaccines.
Of course, many of us wish we didn’t have to write these stories. I personally try to ignore them, because the stories are so incredibly complex, and I feel so incredibly sympathetic towards the parents, even if they are pushing an unfortunate narrative about vaccines. Eventually, these vaccine stories become tropes on social media, and, at some point, I feel like an analytical approach to the story is necessary. Which leads to this article – I want to make make it clear what I feel and how I react to these vaccine stories. Continue reading “Tragic vaccine stories – being empathetic while reporting the facts”
I have written extensively about several whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) outbreaks which had reached epidemic levels in areas like the Washington state, which had been considered one of the worst outbreaks in the USA during the past several decades. This whooping cough outbreak has lead to several deaths here in the USA and in other countries such as the UK.
Of course, these outbreaks and epidemics have lead to the “blame game” from the antivaccination cult, because they have claimed that since A) most kids are vaccinated, and B) we’re having this outbreak, then C) either the vaccines are useless or are actually the cause of the outbreak. Seriously. They blame the vaccines.
There have been numerous reports about a whooping cough outbreak in the Reno County, KS area, with about 70 cases of the disease being reported. The report indicates that most of the kids who have the disease were vaccinated. It is unclear who said this, and what are the actual statistics. But for now, we’ll take this at face value.
Since this outbreak will undoubtedly lead to the typical antivaccine rhetoric about the whooping cough vaccines, DTaP or Tdap (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), I decided to search the internet to find the most popular vaccine denialist arguments regarding pertussis vaccinations–then debunk them. Hopefully, this will be useful for those who are observing what’s going on in Reno.
Continue reading “Whooping cough outbreak – science and simple math”
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”
On April 20, 2017, Tucker Carlson from Fox News interviewed Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on his show, and they talked about vaccines. Mr. Kennedy pointed out that this is only his second interview on the topic in ten years, and blamed it on advertising dollars (which, apparently, did not prevent Mr. Carlson from hosting him). So why are RFK Jr vaccine beliefs ignored by the mainstream press?
The reality, however, is that journalists familiar with Mr. Kennedy’s past utterances on vaccines avoid him is because of his history of saying things that are blatantly wrong, and journalists who give him credence may well end up with egg on their face. This interview is a good example.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an environmental lawyer. Best as I can tell he started speaking on vaccines in 2005, with an embarrassingly wrong article posted on both Salon and Rolling Stone that claimed that the CDC was engaged in a conspiracy to hide the fact that the vaccine preservative thimerosal was linked to autism.
After five corrections of the blatant errors in Kennedy’s article, Salon also retracted it, explaining that critics’ exposure of further problems “further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.”
Kennedy has repeated the same grossly inaccurate statements – claiming a conspiracy to hide the fact that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism – since, and has not recanted, most recently publishing a book making the claim ironically named “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak,” and also pushing a challenge to science supporters on the topic, following in the footsteps of holocaust deniers, climate change deniers, anti-vaccine activists, evolution deniers, and others.
In the intervening years studies from all around the world looked at thimerosal in vaccines and did not find a link between it and autism. More recently see publications here and here. The global nature of these studies means that even if the CDC wanted to conspire to hide a link, it wouldn’t be able to, not without controlling the rest of the world. No serious scientific source today really thinks that the tiny amounts of thimerosal in vaccines (and as a reminder, all childhood vaccines, with the exception of multi-dose influenza, contain no, or almost no, thimerosal) causes autism or other neuropsychological problems – or any other serious, long-term harms. But Kennedy does. Because conspiracy.
RFK Jr vaccine statements are hostile, and also very, very extreme. In a famous quote, he said:
They can put anything they want in that vaccine and they have no accountability for it,[…] They get the shot, that night they have a fever of a hundred and three, they go to sleep, and three months later their brain is gone…This is a holocaust, what this is doing to our country.
Not only is this untrue, but it’s highly offensive to children with autism to say their brain is gone, as is the comparison to the holocaust. Unsurprisingly, science supporters were dismayed by Kennedy’s claims – denied by the Trump transition team – that President Trump offered him the position of leading a vaccine commission.
Continue reading “RFK Jr vaccine beliefs – why experienced journalists don’t take him seriously”
About two years ago, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed SB277 into law, which mandated that all school age children must have all vaccines appropriate for their age before they could enter private or public schools. The law nearly eliminated the ability to get personal belief exemptions (PBE), which allowed parents to object to vaccinations for almost any reason. The new law does allow for medical exemptions, that is, children who have some medical condition that contraindicates a vaccine may be exempted from these rules. As a result of this law, it was predicted that the California vaccine uptake for school age children would increase substantially, while reducing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases.
Those of us who have been keen observers and supporters of SB277 were hoping for the best – that the vaccination rate in the state would show increases quickly. And it did.
Data released this week (pdf), from the California Department of Public Health, showed an exceptional increase in the percentage of California’s kindergarteners who were fully vaccinated (for their age group) – it rose from 92.8% to 95.6%. But, there’s even more astonishing data underneath that. With the advent of the new law, 97.3% of California’s kindergartners have received both MMR vaccinations, up from 94.5% in 2016 and 92.6% in 2014. The same was shown for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine – it went from 94.2% in 2015 to 96.9% in 2016. There should be cheering in the streets of California for the success of SB277.
The increase in vaccine uptake for all mandated vaccines is dramatic – not only does it show that SB277 has stemmed the overuse of personal belief exemptions that was slowly reducing California vaccine uptake, but it also has increased that uptake to levels far above historical. This graph illustrates how well the law has worked in a short period of time:
The best part of the law is that it’s increasing vaccine uptake in areas of the state where the overuse of PBEs was pushing the vaccination rate down. Most California’s counties have vaccination rates above 95%, which is considered the level at which the herd effect for measles vaccinations prevent the rapid spreading of the disease. Furthermore, only 4 relatively small counties in California have rates below 90%.
California state Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who is also a pediatrician and who was one of the primary supporters of SB277, tweeted out “Great News.” Obviously he’s ecstatic with this data on California vaccine uptake across the state.
Dr. Pan was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, and said,
Measles certainly hasn’t gone away. We need to be sure to have our immunization levels high enough. The fact that this class and the state overall has now achieved this level is one further step to restore the community immunity we had before.
He also noted that the data shows the significant increase in very young children, kindergartners. He mentioned that there are still significant number of older children who are not vaccinated because of the lax requirements in previous vaccine laws, which made PBEs very easy to get. SB277 also requires 7th graders to be completely up-t0-date on their vaccines, so all children should eventually be caught up with their vaccines. Unfortunately, many students who have passed that 7th grade vaccination checkpoint may be insufficiently vaccinated. Or not vaccinated at all.
The University of California (UC) system has stated that it will require vaccines for all new enrollees at its 10 campuses (along with the UC Hastings College of Law which has decided to comply with the UC requirements). Like the state law, it eliminates all personal belief exemptions, but does allow medical ones. Eventually, this mandate will cover the over 230,000 students in the system.
The anti-vaccine forces have tried several tactics to block implementation of the new law. Opponents of SB277 filed a lawsuit last summer claiming the law violated California children’s right to an education under the state’s Constitution. A judge denied their demand for an injunction against the law – the plaintiffs eventually withdrew their case. These opponents also failed to gather enough signatures last year to put a referendum on the November ballot to overturn the law.
There are reasons to cheer all of this news out of California regarding immunization rates. But that’s just one state, albeit the largest and arguably the most influential state in the country. Other than California, only two other states have laws that have eliminated personal belief exemptions for immunizations – Mississippi and West Virginia, both of which have high vaccine uptake. And the easy availability of personal belief exemptions have lead many states to have vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine that are far below the 95% target. This graphic shows which states have significant deviations from the 95% standard for MMR vaccine (thanks to BuzzFeed News):
Sadly, it may not be possible for a lot of states to copy California’s success with vaccines. One of the worst performing states for the MMR vaccine is Colorado, and, according to BuzzFeed News,
Vaccine advocates in Colorado are envious of their counterparts in California. “We are watching California very closely, and kudos to them for getting that bill through,” Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, told BuzzFeed News.
She believes it would be very difficult to enact similar legislation in Colorado, which has libertarian conservatives who reject government mandates on vaccines, as well as liberal enclaves like Boulder where many parents seek out alternative health care and see vaccines as a tool of Big Pharma.
Libertarian conservatives and liberals on the same side of the fence on vaccines? The problem with both groups is that they ignore the health of children just to be “politically virtuous” about vaccines. Except they are scientifically and medically wrong.
So let’s give an ovation for hard working politicians of California, who decided that the health of the state’s children was the paramount consideration for vaccinations. Dr. Pan and many other state legislators decided that the most effective way of increasing the California vaccine uptake was to reduce the availability of personal belief exemptions. And they were right – California’s immunization rate has increased appreciably because of SB277.
Vaccines save lives.
The issues with the pertussis vaccine waning effectiveness has been circulating for several years. There have been a number of well-designed studies that have provided evidence of the issues with the pertussis component of the DTaP or Tdap vaccine (which also provides immunization against tetanus and diphtheria, both dangerous diseases).
According to current research, individuals who have been vaccinated against whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), with either the DTaP (version for usually for children) or Tdap vaccine, lose protection against whooping cough in some time period after being vaccinated.
A new article, published in Pediatrics, written by Nicola P Klein et al., examined children who received the Tdap vaccine in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California (KPNC) health care plan, a vertically integrated managed care system which closely tracks patients after vaccination. Their data provide important information about the strategies for the vaccine going forward.
Continue reading “Pertussis vaccine waning effectiveness – the facts”
There is really only one reason to vaccinate – protecting everyone, especially children, from dangerous vaccine preventable diseases. We have eliminated smallpox. We have almost eliminated polio.
And we had almost made measles extinct, until the myth that the MMR vaccine (to prevent mumps, measles and rubella) caused autism, started by one of sciences greatest fraudsters, the defrocked Mr. Andy Wakefield. It’s a myth that’s been thoroughly and definitively debunked.
One vaccine preventable infectious disease that we’ve been unable to conquer is whooping cough (caused by the bacteria, Bordetella pertussis), also known as pertussis. Pertussis is a relatively dangerous infection, the disease itself has serious consequences for children and adults:
- 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
- Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
- 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
- 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die
Whooping cough can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria). The vaccines can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.
As with all medical procedures, there are some adverse effects with the pertussis vaccines. Moderate adverse effects from the vaccine occur in about 1 in 10,000 (or even fewer) injections. The most severe effects, which may or may not be causally related to the vaccine since the rate is so low, are in the range of 1 out of a million doses.
One out of one million doses of the vaccine cause a serious adverse event (maybe). Compare that to the 1-2 out of 100 will die of the disease. Unless you flunk math, there is no rational reason to avoid the vaccine. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate – pertussis and epilepsy are linked”
During this past week, a 25 day old baby in Santa Barbara, CA died from pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough (caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria). The disease can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), which can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.
According to the California Department of Public Health, infants who are too young to be fully immunized or those who are not vaccinated are most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. In 2014, 66 of the pertussis hospitalizations cases were children four months of age or younger. Two infants have died of pertussis in California during 2014. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–to protect our children from pertussis”
I make it a point to update this blog with the most current CDC analysis of vaccine uptake in the USA for kindergarten children (usually around 5 years old). Generally, the numbers have stayed stable, at around 95% vaccinated, although there is high variance from state to state, and locality to locality. The weakness in the vaccination uptake in the USA is that some areas may approach 100% vaccinated, but then other areas may be 50%, which makes those areas with low vaccine uptake susceptible to a quick spread of diseases that are not endemic to the USA (such as measles, polio, and others) through that unvaccinated population.
Given the 95% vaccine uptake rate, it begs the questions of why I push so hard for vaccination–because I want to protect the lives of children, and those 5% who aren’t vaccinated are at risk of serious disease and even death. And vaccines are the safest way to protect a child–protect them from death.
Nearly 55% of the readers of this blog are not American (a couple of years ago,this blog got a regular reader from Iran, which meant that all countries were represented amongst this blog’s readers). I have been accused of being a bit American-centric, but at the same time, I was also curious about vaccine uptake worldwide. Continue reading “Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014”
One of the important hypotheses of vaccination is to make sure that all family members or others who may encounter a newborn child be vaccinated, especially since many vaccinations are not indicated for infants for a couple of months after birth–those newborns are very susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases until they themselves are vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine (which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria).
This protective “cocoon,” especially important with whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), theoretically blocks the transmission of the disease to a newborn by creating a protective circle of vaccinated individuals around the newborn. A teenage sibling could catch the disease and accidentally infect the infant. Pertussis is bad enough for a teenager, but it can be deadly to a baby.
Even though the evidence for cocooning is growing, there are some flaws to the idea that are still being investigated in various parts of the world. One of the concerns is that asymptomatic carriers of pertussis (who have been vaccinated) might transmit the disease through a cocoon. However, scientists have known that the current version of pertussis vaccine, called acellular pertussis, isn’t as effective as it should be, but it is still better than not vaccinating. Much better. But that is a potential hole in the protective cocoon that needs to be understood better through research. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–so mom will protect her newborn baby”
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