Anti-vaxxers love their false authorities, such as the infamous Tetyana Obukhanych. They also love to invoke Dr. Diane Harper as the authority of choice with regard to HPV vaccines. Obukhanych is truly a false authority, but Dr. Harper is much more complicated.
Because vaccine deniers lack any scientific evidence supporting their unfounded beliefs about vaccines, they tend to rely upon unscientific information like anecdotes, logical fallacies, misinterpretation of data, or false authorities to support their case about the lack of safety of vaccines.
The so-called “lead Gardasil researcher,” Dr. Diane Harper, a former “consultant” to Merck and GSK, had some responsibilities in the clinical trials for their HPV vaccines. But the claims about whether Dr. Harper supports or dislikes those vaccines are substantially more complicated than what the anti-vaccine zealots would like to claim about her.
Amusingly, every few months the social media haunts of the anti-vaccine crowd explode with claims that Dr. Diane Harper, lead Gardasil researcher, hates HPV vaccines.
Let’s take a look at the story and see what we find.
Even though dogs have access to a Lyme disease vaccine, there has not been a vaccine available for humans for 18 years. But that’s about to change, considering how much the tick responsible for the disease has spread.
Just to be clear, vaccine manufacturers do not value dogs more than humans for a Lyme disease vaccine. In reality, the blame for why there isn’t a Lyme disease vaccine can be placed right where some of you expect it to be – loud-mouthed, misinformed anti-vaccine zealots who lacked any scientific evidence supporting their claims.
Of course, the issues with the original Lyme disease vaccine happened in the mid-1990s, and the internet was in its infancy (hello AltaVista). But there were people pushing the same narrative that we hear about the cancer-preventing HPV vaccine – they claimed, without any scientific evidence, that the Lyme disease vaccine was actually worse than the disease itself.
That certainly sounds familiar!
But a new Lyme disease vaccine might be on its way fairly soon. That means adults and children can run in the grass, go hiking, and generally enjoy the outdoors without worrying about this debilitating disease.
Now, it’s clear that human nature is such that when one takes a position, say on vaccines, they kind of lock in on it, despite the evidence. And the vast majority of unbiased, non-cherry-picked evidence leads to only one simple conclusion – vaccines are relatively safe and effective. A truly open-minded person, say a scaly extinct dinosaur, examines and re-examines their position in light of all of the evidence.
But it’s not just science where the anti-vaccine crowd gets it all wrong. I’ve written before about vaccine profits – if Big Pharma were as evil and nefarious as the science deniers claim, then vaccines would slowly disappear from the market. Why? Because the industry would make boatloads more money selling everything else to hospitals and physicians to treat long-disappeared vaccine-preventable diseases.
And there’s more. I completely overlooked the major problem with huge epidemics, which don’t exist today – there are insufficient hospital beds in all developed countries (and it goes without saying, it’s worse in poorer countries) to care for the hundreds of thousands or millions of kids who get sick. Every new bed in a hospital probably sends $1 million in revenues to Big Pharma (or more broadly Big Medical, which includes devices, equipment, and other products). The windfall to Big Medical/Big Pharma would be so huge that if ending vaccination were a real thing, I’d be going long in Big Pharma stocks, and waiting for the delivery of my brand new shiny Ferrari.
Related to the ignorant anti-vaccine education on Big Pharma profits, their utter lack of understanding about personal finance and investing is almost laughable. Especially, since it’s one of their core ad hominem attacks on several pro-science writers. Let’s look at one.
If you go to your veterinarian to get the Lyme disease vaccine for dogs, just make an appointment and your family pooch will be vaccinated against this serious disease. If you go to your pediatrician to get the Lyme disease vaccine for your children, give up now. It’s simply not available.
Is it because Lyme disease is more serious to your dog than your children? Nope. Is it because Big Pharma makes more money from dogs than humans? No. Is it because the Lyme disease vaccine is safer for a dog than in a human? Again, no.
Enough with the guessing game!
The blame for why there is a Lyme disease vaccine for dogs but not one for children can be placed right where some of you expect it to be – anti-vaccine activists. This was in the mid-1990s, and the internet was barely usable without Google to help us, but there were people pushing the same narrative that we hear about the cancer preventing HPV vaccine – the Lyme vaccine was worse than the disease. Let’s take time to look at this story.
As I’ve written before, there are precious few ways to prevent cancer. But one of the best cancer prevention strategies is the HPV vaccine, which can prevent numerous cancers such as cervical, oral, penile and anal, all serious, and all dangerous. Maybe we should just rename Gardasil to “HPV cancer vaccine,” which could make everyone sit up and notice.
The HPV vaccination rate remains depressingly low in the USA. According to recent research, 39.7% of adolescent girls aged 13-17 received all three doses of the vaccine in 2014 up from 37.6% in 2013. HPV vaccination rates among teen boys are much lower than for girls, 21.6% in 2014 up from 13.4% in 2013.
There are probably a lot of reasons for the low HPV cancer vaccine uptake rate, so I thought I’d go through the most “popular” ones, debunking them one by one.
Hopefully, the reader can use this article as a checklist of the tropes and myths of the anti-Gardasil crowd with quick answers to them. Maybe you’ll convince one person to get their son or daughter vaccinated against HPV related cancers.
Because vaccine deniers lack any scientific evidence supporting their unfounded belief system about immunizations, they tend to rely upon unscientific information like anecdotes, logical fallacies, misinterpretation of data, or Italian provincial courts to make their case about the lack of safety of vaccines.
It’s rather easy to debunk these claims, but because of the nature of the internet, old news is recycled as “brand new,” requiring a whole new round of blog posts to discredit the misinformation. It’s impossible to recall one single instance where a vaccine refuser made a statement about vaccines that was not, in fact, rather quickly debunked. Not one.
One of the latest ones involves a so-called lead Gardasil researcher, Dr. Diane Harper, a former “consultant” to Merck (and GSK, who manufacturers Cervarix, a bivalent HPV vaccine), who apparently had some research role in the clinical trials of the HPV vaccines. But what are the facts?
Of course, a fairly large group of people, including some who are pro-science (read, pro-vaccine), will fall into the arms of their favorite flu vaccine myth, and then refuse to get the flu vaccine. Given the dangers of the flu, and given the loss in productivity, income, and lives, you’d think that the flu vaccine would be near the top of health care needs for the average person.
There’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.
On 22 November 2013, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine against H5N1 avian influenza was approved for use should the virus threaten to become epidemic in human populations. GSK’s Influenza A (H5N1) Virus Monovalent Vaccine, Adjuvanted, has also received regulatory approval in Europe and Canada under the brand names, Pumarix™ and Arepanrix™ H5N1, respectively. Though it is not available for commercial use, the vaccine will be added to the national stockpile and distributed by public health officials if such an epidemic were ever to arise.
“This vaccine could be used in the event that the H5N1 avian influenza virus develops the capability to spread efficiently from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of disease across the globe,” said Karen Midthun, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Vaccines are critical to protecting public health by helping to counter the transmission of influenza disease during a pandemic.”
The evaluation of safety compared approximately 3,400 adults 18 years of age and older who received the vaccine to about 1,100 adults who received placebo in a multi-center study (a type of study that can be ethically performed when the risk of the preventable disease is expected to be near 0 during the time of trial). The most common side effect reported during the clinical studies among the vaccine recipients was injection site pain. Muscle aches, headache, fatigue and injection site redness and swelling were also common, but no serious side effects were observed. To determine the effectiveness of the vaccine, the immune response was evaluated in about 2,000 of the vaccinated adults. The results of the study established that approximately 91% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 64 years and 74% of individuals 65 years and older who received the two-dose regimen developed sufficient levels of antibodies that would prevent infection by the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the H5N1 influenza has relatively rare. The CDC has reported that more than 600 human H5N1 cases have been reported to the World Health Organization from 15 countries in Asia, Africa, the Pacific, Europe and the Near East since November 2003. Approximately 60 percent of individuals with documented H5N1 disease have died. Evidence has shown that the virus is highly pathogenic by causing a deadly pneumonia. In addition, there are several studies that have shown that H5N1 can be easily transmitted to humans from avian species through respiratory droplets.
The new vaccine, approved for use in people over the age of 18 who are at increased risk of exposure to the virus, is the first US-approved H5N1 vaccine that contains an adjuvant to boost the body’s natural immune response to the virus, and despite ongoing debate over the safety of such adjuvants, the new vaccine is “the first to show it can confer protection in the event of a pandemic,” Reuters reported.
This vaccine will save lives, many lives, in case of an avian flu epidemic.