Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

crosby-mumps-2Yesterday, I posted an article about the recent mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, which has hit 13 players (there’s no official number, it varies depending on the source) including one of top stars of the league, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A fourteenth player, also on the Pittsburgh team, may also have the virus, depending on the test results that come back for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has been “put in isolation” by the team.

If this outbreak happened in the general American population, it would get some local news, but since there are just a few hundred cases of mumps in the USA in any given year, not many of us would be writing about it. But since it’s happening in a popular sport (technically the fourth most popular sport in the USA, but number 1 in Canada), it gets more focus.

While writing the story about this outbreak yesterday, I ran across a lot of social media myths that vary from truly odd and scary to plain misinformation. I thought it would be useful to quash some of the most annoying bits of misinformation. Continue reading “Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science”

Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity

MMR-vaccine-mumpsIn a previous article, from our vaccine legal expert, Dorit Reiss, we learned that there’s a whistleblower lawsuit against Merck regarding the possibility that the company may have engaged in some inappropriate actions in determining the effectiveness of the MMR vaccine (for mumps, measles and rubella), specifically the mumps component of the vaccine. As Reiss stated, despite the suit (and recent ruling which just whether the case could go forward) being a boon to the antivaccination crowd, so far no facts have actually been presented.

In essence, the whistleblowers claim that Merck, the manufacturer of the MMR vaccine, through either direct falsification or poor study design, may have overstated the effectiveness of the mumps component of the vaccine. Merck had been claiming that the vaccine was approximately 95% effective (meaning at least 95% of children given the vaccine were protected against the disease).

So let’s be clear about this so-called whistleblower lawsuit–no evidence has been presented, and that evidence hasn’t been cross-examined. And one more thing–courts do not decide science, it’s not their role. Science is not a debate, it is a cold evaluation of evidence. And in science, the weight of the evidence is both in quality and quantity. Unless you’re a complete anti-science cult member, whatever this court decides, whatever malfeasance was practiced by Merck, whatever the whistleblowers have to say, the scientific evidence tells us that the mumps vaccine component is highly effective and extremely safe. Continue reading “Mumps vaccine effectiveness and waning immunity”

Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity

active-immunityIf you hang out in various vaccine discussions, you will hear all kinds of odd, unscientific ideas about the immune system of infants. One of the major issues is a substantial oversimplification of the immune system (of adults and infants), mostly thinking it’s one “thing,” ignoring the complex physiology of the immune system which is an almost infinite number of interactions between cells, proteins and factors, organs, blood, fluids, and other physiological systems.

Generally, the popular assumption is that the infant immune system is weak, making those children more prone to viral or bacterial infections. The antivaccine crowd uses this belief to either state that vaccines won’t work or might actually harm the immune system, along with some overstated magical properties of human breast milk to prevent infection.

But according to a new study, led by Dr. Brian Rudd of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University, published in the Journal of Immunology, the immune system of newborns and infants is actually stronger than an adult’s immune system. Unfortunately, it has a short “memory.” Continue reading “Infant T cells don’t remember pathogens–causes weaker immunity”

Ursula K. LeGuin is Not an Anti-Vaxxer–Or Why the Omela Argument Fails

Guest blog by Stacy Mintzer Herlihy. Ms Herlihy is a New Jersey based writer, mother of two daughters, Champion for [email protected] and the co-author of the book, Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives.

ursala-k-le-guinUrsula K. LeGuin is one of great voices of contemporary science fiction. I love her so much I once named a cat in her honor. UrseCat was a grouchy but gloriously pretty long hair we adopted from the North Shore Animal League. Much to Ms. LeGuin’s gracious delight, I brought Miss Ursula Cat to meet the writer when she showed up for a reading in midtown Manhattan.

So it was to my utter shock and disbelief, that I opened up a book with a clear anti-vax agenda and found that it was organized around one of her very best stories. The book in question is Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children by Louise Kuo Habakus, Mary Holland and Kim Mack Rosenberg.

In Ms. LeGuin’s much lauded story, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, we are greeted with a society where all is well but for one particular fact. A single child must be always kept in misery in order for the city to function and for the citizens of the society to be happy. Most citizens learn to cope with fact and accept it. However, some people walk away from the Omelas and from utopia. Continue reading “Ursula K. LeGuin is Not an Anti-Vaxxer–Or Why the Omela Argument Fails”

A nerdy explanation of the vaccine immune response

Your immune system. Well, a tiny part of it.
Your immune system. Well, a tiny part of it.

Attempting to explain the immune system in 1000 words or less is impossible. At least I thought it was impossible.

Despite what the anti-science community believes about the immune system, it is way more complicated than some of the simple explanations I’ve read on the internet. It took me around 5000 words just to give my audience a basic review of immunology article, and I still shake my head. 

I had to take several years of immunology courses, just to get my science degrees, and I know I just scratched the surface. The problem is that the immune system is a complex interactive network of organs, blood, cells, proteins, factors, messengers and numerous other biological parts. If you tried to draw lines of interaction between these constituent biological parts, it would look like an airline flight map, with a nearly infinite number of interconnected activity.

That’s why I laugh hysterically whenever someone says “eat more broccoli, it boosts the immune system” because the immune system is so complicated, you could may be able to make one part of it work better, but if all the other parts remain the same, nothing has changed. In fact, the human immune system works pretty well almost all of the time, unless there is some chronic condition that suppresses it. Continue reading “A nerdy explanation of the vaccine immune response”

Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science

chiropractic-assholeThere are a lot of antivaccination websites and blogs out in the interwebs and blogosphere. To address them all would be a full-time job, and since I have a low-level position in a Big Pharma company polishing gold bars and mopping the floors of the giant vaults of cash, I’m compelled to ignore most of what’s written out there, picking and choosing only the most egregious ones to deconstruct and critique. Most of the antivaccination sites vary between stating lies, passing along lies or myths, or providing a total misinterpretation of real science–it really is not worth my time to critique. Because I’ve got to focus on keeping the Big Pharma cash piles nice and neat.

However, every once in a while, there is a vaccine denying post that far exceeds the stupidity and ignorance of even the worst misinformation about vaccines. In this case, a chiropractor wrote a 5000 word screed about vaccines, which had few, if any, accurate comments about vaccines, immunity, clinical trials, or medicine. Seriously, this article sets the standard of ignorance and anti-science idiocy.  Continue reading “Shocking news–antivaccine chiropractor ignores science”

Save children from risks–vaccinate and keep them away from guns

child-gun-deaths-01_0Vaccine deniers are basically clueless about science. They invent stuff about the immune system, while missing how a vaccine induces a long-lasting immune response. They conflate correlation with causality, an important distinction if you’re going to understand epidemiology. They deny the germ theory of disease, one of the fundamental pillars of modern biology, which states that many diseases are caused by microorganisms. They simply ignore what makes science a logical and repeatable process, called the scientific method, preferring anecdote and cherry-picked data over randomized clinical trials and peer-reviewed systematic reviews. 

But one of the more important scientific failures of the antivaccine gang is an unsophisticated lack of understanding of basic mathematics, specifically the measurement of risk. Using 2010 USA numbers only, let’s look at the top mortality risks for children aged 1-14:

  • Unintentional injury (motor vehicle accidents, bathroom falls, etc.): 53.75 (out of every 100,000 Americans between the ages of 1-14)
  • Malignant neoplasms: 22.33
  • Congenital anomalies (commonly called birth defects): 14.25
  • Homicides: 11.43
  • Firearms (number broken out from the numbers for all homicides): 3.68
  • Heart disease: 6.09
  • Suicide: 4.85
  • Chronic respiratory disease: 3.26
  • Influenza and influenza-related pneumonia: 2.87
  • Benign neoplasms: 2.50
  • Meningitis: 0.58
  • Meningococcal infection: 0.25

The average risk for “serious” complications from vaccines range from 0.1 to 1 in 100,000, with the risk of death from vaccines found to be so small, it can be barely measured as a risk. By the way, those of you who think that VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) should be used to estimate risk, the best I could say is that VAERS is pretty much useless, since it cannot establish causality, it is gamed by those with an antivaccine agenda, and the rate of adverse events is frequently below the background rate for these events in a typical populations of Americans. VAERS is an incredibly useful tool to spot potential new adverse events that might arise from vaccination, but the numbers themselves cannot be used to determine risk.

The risk of a serious reaction, like an allergic one, from getting the flu vaccine is less than 0.1 in 100,000, far far less than the actual death rate from influenza at around 2.87 per 100,000. Moreover, meningitis (and meningococcal infection) have risks of death far higher than the risks of vaccines. 

The saddest thing about these numbers is that I’m spending so much time defending vaccines, which are as safe as drinking a glass of filtered water and clearly save lives from preventable diseases. The antivaccine activists, who claim to be worried about children, don’t focus on the things that actually kill children. Motor vehicle accidents, some portion of which are probably a result of drunk drivers. Or firearm homicides? Where is the outrage, that young children are dying from gunshots? Or that the risk of a child dying of suicide is thousands of times higher than the infinitely tiny risk of death from vaccines (if it even exists)?

Why is it that these vaccine deniers show incredible outrage over an indefensible belief that vaccines are dangerous, yet not try to stop homicides, especially with guns? Or safer cars? Or something that actually will help kids live longer.?

Actual guns kill more actual kids than the antivaccine myth that vaccines harm actual children. You see, vaccine deniers don’t actually care about children, or they would be yelling and screaming about guns. And drunk drivers. And the lack of mental health care for teenagers.

If you need to search for accurate information and evidence about vaccines try the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.