On 21 June 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a case that examined whether Sanofi-Pasteur’s hepatitis B vaccine caused multiple sclerosis (MS) in a patient. Although the ruling might, on the surface, be considered bad for vaccines, we need to look more carefully at that European court vaccine ruling.
On June 21, 2017 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decided a product liability case (N.W. et al v. Sanofi Pasteur MSD SNC, C-621/15) described by news articles as allowing plaintiffs to be compensated for alleged vaccine harms, even when there is no scientific evidence of a causal connection (in the most extreme versions, “with no proof”). This description is incorrect. More nuanced analyses were provided by Orac and Steve Novella, but I think they, too, did not exactly capture what the decision does. This post explains the European court vaccine decision.
Three take-home points are important:
If there is no scientific consensus as to whether a vaccine causes a particular kind of injury, member state courts can allow plaintiffs to use circumstantial evidence to prove a vaccine injured them. Defendants, of course, can use scientific evidence to counter the plaintiff’s circumstantial evidence. This decision does not mean that science doesn’t matter in the courts or that anti vaccine activists can win even when the science is against them.
Member courts cannot treat circumstantial evidence as creating a presumption of causation. The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the vaccine cause the injury, and each case must be examined on its facts. For example, a temporal connection alone does not automatically mean there’s causation.
In a referral like this, the ECJ does not reexamine the facts. It is answering the specific questions of law, and basing its decision on the description of the facts sent up from below. The ECJ was acting on a mistaken premise that the science, in this case, was unclear. That premise came from the lower courts, and the ECJ did not err in following it: it did not reexamine the facts, and did not decide the case in front of it, it only addressed a specific legal question. In the lower courts that now will be expected to rule according to the ECJ’s decision, Sanofi Pasteur – the defendant – should provide the scientific evidence, and we can hope the court, as did the Court of Appeals who ruled on the case last, will follow it. It’s unclear how the case will end.
This is a complex decision. To explain it, I will start with some background on product liability law and European Union law with respect to the European court vaccine decision. Then I will address this case, and then the ruling itself. If you are short of time you can skip the background and go directly to the case, but I think those who want to really understand this will benefit from it. Continue reading “European court vaccine decision – a legal analysis”
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.
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.”
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.
We generally blame cancer on a handful of things – viruses, like human papillomavirus or hepatitis B, lifestyle choices like smoking or obesity, inherited genes, and the environment, like sunlight. We are under the impression that we can stop cancer just by living better, drinking blueberry kale shakes, or being generally healthy. According to a new study, cancer and random mutations are linked over ⅔ of the time. In other words, no matter how many of those natural health smoothies you drink, cancer might randomly occur.
Generally, when I write about vaccines, it’s about protecting children’s lives from vaccine preventable diseases. That itself is a noble goal for vaccines. But in case you didn’t know, there is also a CDC schedule for adult vaccines, which is as important to adults as they are to children.
Vaccines have one purpose – to protect us and those whom we love from potentially deadly and debilitating diseases. Many of us in the blogosphere have talked about the children’s schedule a lot, often to debunk claims of people who are ignorant of science, and think that the children’s vaccine schedule is causing undue harm. Yeah our intellectually deficient president, Donald Trump, thinks he knows more than the CDC, but that’s a problem shared by many vaccine deniers.
Just in case you were wondering, there is more to adult vaccines than just flu vaccines. There are several other vaccines indicated for adult use, including those adults with underlying health issues like diabetes, HIV and heart disease – unfortunately, the uptake for adult vaccines is depressingly low. Let’s take at the low uptake and the recommended adult vaccines schedule.
Cancer is a big topic around the science and pseudoscience communities. Cancer, which is really like 250 different diseases, is oversimplified. And treatments and preventions range from science based to simply useless (and thereby, dangerous). Preventing cancer deaths – the outcome we all desire – has been studied in detail, and I want to examine what we can do for this disease.
Despite the tropes and memes on Facebook, probably the most pseudoscientific pushing website on the planet outside of Natural News, physicians and real scientists are basically winning the war on cancer. Incidence and mortality are down for most cancers, which I’m sure would surprise many readers.
If you use Google as your source for cancer facts, you’d think that we have a raging epidemic of the disease, killing more people today than just a few years ago. But the facts say something else – cancer death rates declined from 1975 to 2012 in the USA. We are actually winning the war on cancer in the USA.
Researchers have found that cancer death rates, for both men and women, across all major racial and ethnic populations, decreased each year from 2003 to 2012. Furthermore, incidence rates for new cancer cases decreased among men, while remaining stable among women during that same period.
There are so many tropes and myths about cancer, but the two most frustrating is that cancer rates are increasing, and that Big Pharma and oncologists make more money by not providing real treatments for cancer – there’s more profit in giving out evil chemotherapy rather than a good blueberry kale shake. Unfortunately for the cancer-woo pushers, but good for science, the facts are we might actually be winning the war on cancer – sure we are a long way from never seeing cancer again in our lifetimes, but we’re doing better than we were 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago.
Except for liver cancer bucking the trend. We’ll look into that too.
I’m certain that the reason for the lower cancer incidence and mortality rates are complicated. It’s possible that people are starting to embrace the handful of science-based preventions to cancer – like reducing smoking. It’s also better medications from Big Pharma. And better science-based treatment options for cancer. Cancer treatment has evolved massively in just 3-4 decades. I’m sure if you spoke to an oncologist today, and queried him about techniques from the 1970s, he or she would just cringe.
Let’s look at the report that gave us this data. And maybe we can put to rest some of the memes about cancer ravishing modern humans.
For me, the “Big Four” of science denialism are climate change, evolution, vaccines and genetically modified crops or food. There are a few others, and some actually tie into the Big Four, like denying the scientific fact called Germ Theory, which states that some diseases are caused by microorganisms. Antivaccination forces embrace wholeheartedly the denial of Germ Theory.
But rarely can you get a two for one deal, where two key sciences can be denied in one fell swoop. However, I found one.
A small technology venture, called Applied Biotechnology Institute (ABI) in San Luis Obispo, CA, a lovely small city along the Central Coast of California, has developed a method to genetically modify corn to produce medically useful proteins. They are focused on specialized enzymes, sweeteners, and vaccines.
One of their more interesting products, and not really the focus of this article, is a specialized enzyme that cleaves off a part of the pre-insulin molecule to create actual insulin. The enzyme is required in the final production step of human insulin, itself produce from genetically modified crops and bacteria. By the way, genetically engineered human insulin saves millions of lives every year world wide–on the other hand, genetically engineered organisms have harmed no one, as far as science can tell. Continue reading “Vaccines from GMO corn–science deniers everywhere faint”
Dr. Langer-Gould and her colleagues conducted a nested case-control study, a type of case-control study that more carefully matches control risk factors, using that data from Kaiser. The authors identified 780 cases of CNS ADS and 3,885 control group patients; 92 cases and 459 control patients were females between the ages of 9 to 26 years, which is the indicated age range for HPV vaccination.
The researchers found that there were no associations between HepB, HPV or other vaccines and an increase risk of MS or CNS ADS, even up to three years post-vaccination. Just to be clear, vaccination of any type was associated with an increased risk of CNS ADS within the first month, but this association disappeared after one month. The researchers suggested that vaccines (like any infection) could accelerate the transition from a subclinical to clinical autoimmunity (including MS) in patients with preexisting autoimmune disease. In other words, any challenge to the immune system, whether from vaccines or from any of hundreds of infections, would have accelerated the autoimmune disorder. Let me repeat–the vaccination was irrelevant, it could have been any infection that caused it during those initial 30 days.
According to the research, “there were no associations between HepB vaccination (odds ratio [OR], 1.12; 95% CI, 0.72-1.73), HPV vaccination (OR, 1.05; 95% CI, 0.62-1.78), or any vaccination (OR, 1.03; 95% CI, 0.86-1.22) and the risk of CNS ADS up to 3 years later.”
They concluded that, “our data do not support a causal link between current vaccines and the risk of MS or other CNS ADS. Our findings do not warrant any change in vaccine policy.”
Once again we find that vaccines are not associated with with serious neurological conditions. And the HPV vaccine, as I’ve written on numerous occasions, is incredibly safe and effective in preventing several types of cancer. This is another study in support of the safety of HPV vaccines.
The New York assembly is considering A497, a bill that would allow adolescents to receive treatment – including allowing teenagers to choose HPV vaccines for prevention of those infections – against a sexually transmitted disease without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge or consent. The goal is clearly a laudable one; to insure teenagers don’t leave themselves at risk of sexually transmitted diseases or neglect treating one because they are worried about their parents’ reaction.
Several other states have passed such laws. They are consistent with long-established laws granting greater decision-making authority to minors with regard to reproductive health and contraception. Phillips disagrees. He sent a letter to NY State legislators arguing that the bill violates federal and state laws and should not be enacted. Not so. Here is why. Contrary to his claims: Continue reading “Allowing teenagers to choose HPV vaccines – constitutional”