Paul Offit MD – debunking the anti-vaccine tropes and myths

Paul Offit

I have long considered Paul Offit MD as one of heroes and leaders of the public discussion of how vaccines save lives, and how they have made the lives of the world’s children healthier and better. Dr. Offit, together with Edward Jenner (the father of immunology), Jonas Salk (discoverer of the polio vaccine), and Maurice Hillman (inventor of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella), should have statues place outside of every pediatric hospital in the country for the number of lives that they have saved.

Unfortunately, since Dr. Offit is considered one of the “leaders” of the pro-vaccine majority, his name has been demonized by the anti-vaccine cult. These people use the Big Lie, a Nazi propaganda technique where a known falsehood is repeatedly stated, then treated as if it is self-evidently true in hopes of swaying the course of an argument in a direction that takes the big lie for granted rather than critically questioning it or ignoring it.

The vaccine deniers constantly repeat untruths about Dr. Offit so that those lies eventually evolve into apparent truths, at least for those who hold onto their pseudoscientific anti-vaccine beliefs.

The problem is, of course, that if you’re a new parent who is confused by what vaccines may or may not do, you’d assume you could not accept anything that Dr. Offit says because of those Big Lies, and many of the ridiculous tropes and memes of the vaccine denialists. And this is sad.

Let’s counter the Big Lie with the Big Facts.

Continue reading “Paul Offit MD – debunking the anti-vaccine tropes and myths”

Polio vaccine causes cancer – just a myth

polio vaccine causes cancer

Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 140 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see an claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.

Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute this claim takes a lot more than 140 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to blast the claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.

And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Killing zombie memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these zombie memes is a full-time job. And, once it’s been debunked, we move back to the first problem again, again, and again.

Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – just a myth”

Polio vaccine – thanks Dr. Jonas Salk for saving so many lives

polio vaccine

Sixty four years ago today, on 26 March, 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine to the public. Polio, by the early 50s, attacked 58,000 people a year, with 1 in 200 contracting permanent paralysis. Polio killed about 3,000 Americans in 1952 alone. We’ve lost the cultural memory of these polio outbreaks – the disease was a scourge to the country, and any word of an outbreak sent parents into a panic as they essentially locked their kids in the house until it passed.

Fast forward to today, and the curse of polio has been eliminated across the planet. Worldwide, the annual number of polio cases has dropped from 350,000 in 1988 to 74 cases in 2015. Yes, 74 cases across the world.

Dr. Salk had worked for three years to develop the polio vaccine – about a year after making the public announcement, on 23 February 1954, the new polio vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Can you imagine doing that kind of testing today? But back in the 50s, with the fear of polio a part of every family in America, I’m sure every parent at those two schools was begging for the vaccine. A bit of a change from our current atmosphere with respect to vaccines.

By 1955, the clinical trials provided strong evidence that the polio vaccine was both safe and effective, and mass vaccinations of American schoolchildren followed. Despite some claims of anti-vaccine activists, the result of the mass immunization effort resulted in an immediate reduction in new cases polio, with concomitant drops in paralysis and death.

Dr. Jonas Salk was considered an American hero. He was treated like a celebrity, not unlike athletes or pop stars of today. He would go out to dinner at a restaurant, and dozens of people would chat with Dr. Salk and thank him for his efforts. I can’t imagine a scientist today receiving such honors from the public.

Salk’s method was to kill (or attenuate) the polio virus, then inject them into a patient. The patient’s own immune system would then develop antibodies to the dead virus, preventing future infection by live viruses. Salk’s first test subjects were patients who had already had polio, and then himself and his family – his belief in the safety and effectiveness of the polio vaccine was that profound.

His research into the polio vaccine was funded by grants from private and public institutions – as a result, Dr. Salk gave away the license to the vaccine for anyone to produce, after it was fully tested.

Here’s a news report from the day that Dr. Salk announced the vaccine:

 

 

By losing our shared memories of diseases like polio, mumps, diphtheria, and many others, many of us have been lulled into a false sense of security about vaccine preventable diseases. We think that somehow our children are superior to the children of 50 years ago, when there’s really no evidence of that. Our children would succumb to these diseases in just the same rate.

You might think that we have better medicines to treat these diseases, but in some cases we don’t. Once polio takes a hold of a young child, the risk of paralysis and death skyrockets compared to children who don’t have polio. If we eliminated all of the vaccines, the diseases that would raves our country would overwhelm our healthcare system in unimaginable ways.

When I was a child, I lined up to get our vaccines at the age they were required – in school. The school nurse would gather all the 7th graders, and we’d get our polio shots or whatever was required for that grade. Only a couple of kids didn’t get them, and it was because they cried when they saw the needle. It’s too bad that we don’t back to a system where the school took care of the kids health like that.

Dr. Salk is a hero. He gave us a vaccine that saved an unimaginable number of lives all across the world. Many other vaccines have done the same. Don’t forget that.

The polio vaccine saved lives. And we can show it.

Antivaccine hate speech – Canadians ought to be insulted

antivaccine hate speech on Paul Offit

The antivaccine hate speech is a fundamental strategy of their vaccine denialism. I’ve spoken about it before, but the vitriolic attacks on Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, a frequent contributor here and a renowned expert on vaccines and law, any time she speaks about vaccines has moved into the surreal.

Although I lack no statistics per se, I’d say that the anti-vaccine hate speech has focused on a few individuals – Professor Reiss, Dr. Paul Offit, Brian Deer, and in a group just slightly below, important skeptics like Dr. David Gorski and some chap named Orac.

Just as an aside, there used to be an amusing trend on Wikipedia whereby pseudoscience-pushing editors would accuse various editors of being the real Dr. Gorski. One of my sockpuppets was accused of being that, which made me laugh. I am not, nor have I ever been, David Gorski. Though I admit my ego is gratified to be thrown into the same conspiracy theories with an esteemed researcher and physician, even if it’s proposed by tinfoil hat wearing lunatics.

But the crazies have become, if this is possible, crazier. Stay tuned. Continue reading “Antivaccine hate speech – Canadians ought to be insulted”

Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the polio vaccine

Let’s celebrate the birthday of the polio vaccine

© Time Inc. Celebrating Dr. Jonas Salk conquering polio.

On February 23, 1954, the polio vaccine, developed by Jonas Salk, commenced clinical testing at Arsenal Elementary School and the Watson Home for Children in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Five thousand children in those two schools were vaccinated against polio, which was the start of a massive clinical trial that would eventually involve 1.8 million children, in 44 states from Maine to California (see Understanding Viruses).

Just before the introduction of the vaccine in the mid-50’s, regular polio outbreaks occurred everywhere, even developed countries like the USA and northern Europe. The virus is transmitted through fecal matter, so swimming pools, improper sanitation (like washing after using the bathroom), babies diapers and other sources moved the virus. Almost all of the transmission was through casual contact, not improper sanitation (at least since the advent of a modern sanitation system in the USA starting in the late 1920’s). About 95% of individuals infected are asymptomatic (pdf), so they appear healthy but are shedding viruses to infect other people.

Of the 5% who are symptomatic, about 10% of them eventually progress to the paralytic version of the disease. In other words, approximately 0.5% of those infected were paralyzed. One of the tropes of the anti-science/anti-vaccine world is that this is a small number. Except it isn’t. Out of 5 million children who might be infected every, approximately 25,000 children a year might progress to the paralytic version of the disease, and some of them would die. That would be a massive stress to our current healthcare system, our public schools, with many consequences to our world. Big Iron Lung might be happy.

If one takes a look at what the polio vaccine has done worldwide, the numbers are even more staggering. The number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases. Think of all of the children no longer condemned to machines to allow them to breathe or braces to allow them to walk. All because of a vaccine that was first used just 60 years ago.

We live in a wonderful world of health. We live healthier and more productive lives from all of the advances in modern healthcare, but one advance rules above them all–vaccines. I know that almost all antivaccination cultists would drop their lies and have their children protected against these diseases if they knew how horrifying the diseases were. I was born after vaccines were prevalent, but there were many classmates who had various levels of paralytic disease from polio. That was sad that they were born on the cusp of a prevention.

Thank you Jonas Salk. You were a good man, and you saved lives. And we can actually count how many lives you saved. Let’s celebrate what you did for humanity.

Visit the Science-based Vaccine Search Engine.

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Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out by clicking here.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly difficult to thoroughly and completely debunk pseudoscientific myths. The first problem is that individuals choose to accept a meme or a Tweet as factual without using any critical thinking skills (for example, not even clicking on the link to the original article to determine the veracity of it). The second problem is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Which means we skeptics have to debunk it again and again and once more, again.

I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers).

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine causes cancer – myth debunked”

Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update

This article has been substantially updated with more information. Please check it out.

Vaccine myths are annoying, not just because they are dangerous to the public health, but because they are like the diseases prevented by vaccines, because the myths keep returning to infect the public, just when you’re not watching. It’s bad enough that social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) continuously send out this pseudoscientific myths, but it’s the ersatz “news” sites that do the same. They retread old myths as if they are “breaking news”, which requires we skeptics and pro-science writers to jump out like a vaccine trained immune system to thoroughly destroy these antivaccine myths.

I have long ago accepted that there are just ignorant and plainly delusional people who will buy into any pseudoscience that shows up on their radar screen, without utilizing a single neuron for critical analysis. However, I also understand that there are people on the fence about vaccines (or any other issue with a pseudoscience counterargument), who will appreciate a thorough debunking of ignorant lies.

For example, I wrote an article a while ago about some nonsense meme on Facebook that contended that eating ripe bananas cured cancer because the bananas contained a protein called tumor necrosis factor (TNF). It was based on some “Japanese scientific study,” which took significant effort to find. After a critical and thorough reading of the article, I concluded that: the study made no claim that bananas made TNF, AND even if bananas did, you couldn’t ingest enough bananas to get a bioactive dose of TNF, AND even if you could, you wouldn’t absorb any TNF through the digestive tract, AND TNF doesn’t do what the meme writer thought it does (TNF is badly named, and does not directly attack cancers). In other words, the myth lacks any truth, except, maybe that bananas are yellow.

This is by far the most popular article I’ve ever written with probably close to 100,000 page hits. The reason is that every 2-3 weeks, the myth about bananas arises out of the background noise of the internet, people (unknown to me) use my article to debunk the banana myth in the comments section, and the myth slowly dies. But it never really completely dies. It’s only 99% dead. It’s a zombie which keeps coming back to life.

Thus, the best we skeptics can do is keep debunking these social media fables and tall tales, and move along to refuting the next one in line. At least I can save time by not having to write the article again, we can just update with any new information and re-debunk (yes, I have the absolute right to invent words). Continue reading “Polio vaccine does not cause cancer–update”

An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts

bsDear Anti-vaccination Cretins,

I know that your narcissism prevents you from actually participating on most online forums with highly educated scientists, because you couldn’t handle the ongoing mockery and our laughing at your special form of ignorance. But I know you read this shit, so here goes. And remember, I write at an advanced level, and I’m going to use proper terminology for pharmaceutical regulatory issues, so please keep up you dumbasses. 

If you actually have evidence that any of us are shills for any Pharmaceutical Company, please, call the FDA, because paying someone to “shill” for a pharmaceutical company would be a criminal act on the part of the company. Why? Most of the comments made by we individuals on the internet about the superior safety and superior efficacy of vaccines are unregulated and are not within proper pharmaceutical labeling. Someone working for Big pharma could never use the terms “superior” and being paid to say it would be unethical, immoral and illegal. Let me be honest, those cheapskates at Big Pharma couldn’t pay me enough money to be unethical and immoral, let alone risk going to prison for them. Hellllll no. Continue reading “An open letter to antivaccine conspiracy nuts”