Predicting US measles outbreak – vaccine uptake and international travel

The locations of the current US measles outbreak (or epidemic) was predicted by researchers in an article recently published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The amazingly prescient predictions were not based on magic, but on a scientific analysis of two factors – the vaccination rate and international travel tendencies by county in the United States.

And the statistical website, Five Thirty-Eight, took the predictions and listed out what happened during this US measles outbreak. The predictions were spot on.

Time to look at this study and its predicted results.

Continue reading “Predicting US measles outbreak – vaccine uptake and international travel”

Dangerous US measles epidemic hits 1022 cases – blame anti-vax -UPDATED

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services have reported that the ongoing measles epidemic has, as of 6 June 2019, has resulted in 1022 cases. This makes 2019 (which is just 5 months old) the worst year for measles since 1992, when there were 963 cases for all 12 months. 

At this rate, we can expect well over 2000 measles cases for 2019, making it the worst year since the major measles epidemics of the late 1980s. 

In 2000, the CDC had stated that measles was eradicated in the USA. But as a result of fears and misinformation about the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, vaccination rates have dropped allowing measles to again attack children. Continue reading “Dangerous US measles epidemic hits 1022 cases – blame anti-vax -UPDATED”

New York ends vaccine religious exemptions – protecting us from measles

vaccine religious exemptions

Sometimes, there’s excellent news with the fight to end vaccine-preventable diseases. On 13 June 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (see Note 1) signed a bill whereby the state of New York ended vaccine religious exemptions.

As a result of this new law, New York joins California, Arizona, Mississippi (yes, Mississippi), West Virginia (ditto), and Maine as the only states that do not allow religious exemptions, that is, allowing parents to claim that their religious beliefs are not compatible with vaccinations.

Since there are no mainstream religions that are opposed to vaccines, I have always found that this type of exemption was bogus and an excuse for parents to formalize their pseudoscientific beliefs. This put children at risk of dangerous and deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.

For New York, the removal of the religious exemption is critical. The center of the current US measles epidemic, which has struck over 1000 individuals, seems to be in the ultra-orthodox Jewish population in the state who have abused the exemptions. This gave us an unvaccinated population, concentrated in a small area, that was susceptible to a highly contagious and dangerous disease.

vaccine religious exemptions
Protecting New York from diseases. Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Anti-vaccine nutjobs, like Jim Meehan and Del Bigtree, using disgusting tropes like claiming that mandatory vaccinations are like the Holocaust, have tried to fan the flames of the anti-vaccine dogma by making the religious exemptions to vaccination as some religious liberty issue.

Of course, the legislative process to get this bill passed was not easy. According to an article in the New York Times:

The tension over the issue was readily apparent in the Capitol on Thursday as hundreds of angry opponents — many with young children and infants — pleaded with lawmakers to reject the bill, sometimes invoking the will of God, other times their rights as parents. The show of raw emotion affected even supporters of the bill.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Long Island Republican, framed the bill as “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.” He added, “It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life.”

vaccine religious exemptions
Protecting New Yorkers. Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

As the vote came to a head, emotions were high:

As the Assembly vote slowly came in, the speaker, Carl E. Heastie, was forced to come to the floor and count votes, calling recalcitrant members to coax the bill toward the 76-vote threshold needed for passage. Several prominent Democrats, including the chairman of the health committee, Richard N. Gottfried, bucked Assembly leadership and voted no. In the end, it narrowly passed, 77 to 53.

As soon the vote count was called, shouts of “shame” — and more colorful invective — erupted from the Assembly gallery, where opponents had gathered to watch the proceedings. Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry attempted to restore order, but the screams continued; unable to stop the shouting, Mr. Aubry took the chamber into recess as furious opponents headed into Capitol hallways.

The only shame that I see are recalcitrant legislators not voting to protect the health of children.

vaccine religious exemptions
Syracuse University protected from diseases. Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

Nevertheless, the pro-science, pro-children, pro-health side won. And Governor Cuomo signed it into law.

This is how we stop the measles epidemic and save the lives of innocent children. Vaccines save lives.  So thanks – New York eliminates vaccine religious exemptions!

Notes

  1. When I was in graduate school, studying real biomedical science as opposed to anti-vaccine pseudoscience, I was a canvasser for Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo who was subsequently elected governor of New York. Thus, I was 0.000047% responsible for this bill. You can thank me by buying me a beer.



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Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims

Jim Meehan

An anti-vaccine doctor from Oklahoma, Dr. Jim Meehan, wrote an online post about why he would no longer vaccinate his children. It’s pretty clear that his post is not so much a discussion of his own children (most of whom are adults) as an attempt to deter other parents from protecting their children from preventable diseases. His post is basically a set of claims trying to convince parents that vaccinating is very dangerous.

His claims are nothing new – they are strictly out of the anti-vaccine playbook. But the post has received some attention in the anti-vaccine world and was shared several thousand times, likely because many people treat an MD as an authority on the subject. So I decided to take a few minutes to explain why his claims are not good reasons to reject expert opinion and not protect children from disease.

Dr. Meehan’s claims fall into several categories (which will be discussed individually below):

  1. The diseases we vaccinate against are not dangerous, and it’s okay, even good, to encounter them naturally.
  2. Vaccines have toxic ingredients.
  3. Vaccines are dangerous to children.
  4. The science behind vaccines is corrupt because the pharmaceutical industry controls it and then corrupts it.
  5. We should listen to him because he is a doctor and knows what he is talking about.

Note: Dr. Meehan’s post doesn’t present these claims in that order. I have changed the order because I want to address the claims in a logical order, that is, first his claims about vaccine safety, then the conspiracy theory that underlies them, and finally, his appeal to authorityContinue reading “Dr. Jim Meehan anti-vaccine rant – examining his claims”

Maine vaccine exemption bill – eliminates all non-medical exemptions

maine vaccine exemptions

As a result of the ongoing measles epidemic, a lot of states are restricting or removing non-medical vaccine exemptions. Recently, the Maine vaccine exemption bill was signed into law. It eliminates all personal belief exemptions for children attending school, though it still allows for medical exemptions.

Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss recently wrote about the new Maine vaccine exemption bill. She described that the Maine House initially approved the bill, but added back religious exemptions which are abused by anti-vaccine parentsno mainstream religion in the world is opposed to vaccines

Eventually, the Maine House agreed to the language in the Senate version, which eliminated religious exemptions, and it was sent to Maine’s Governor Janet Mills, who signed it into law on 24 May 2019.

The Maine vaccine exemption bill is similar to strong pro-vaccine laws in California, Mississippi, and West Virginia that limit so-called “personal belief exemptions,” that is, vaccine exemptions that are for any reason other than medical contraindications.

Maine Vaccine Exemption
An iconic photo of the Maine coastline. And protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. Photo by Keith Luke on Unsplash

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Maine House Representative Ryan Tipping, said:

As we hear more reports of measles and other preventable diseases in Maine and across the country, it has become clear that we must act to ensure the health of our communities.

The abuse of these personal belief exemptions has led to a decrease in vaccination rates, which brings the rate below the level necessary to maintain herd immunity – that is, a sufficiently high enough percentage of individuals who have been vaccinated that prevent the disease from spreading to unvaccinated individuals.  

Opponents of this law are promising a court fight as they have done in California (and losing every single time). They are trying to present an argument that removing religious exemptions are an infringement of “religious liberty.” However, numerous Supreme Court decisions, such as Prince v Massachusetts and Jacobson v Massachusetts, give the state quite a bit of latitude to protect its citizens and, especially, its children.

Maine vaccine exemption
Maine lobster. Nothing to do with vaccines. Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

According to another article by Professor Reiss,

Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, the “religious liberty” argument is extremely weak, especially, as I mentioned above, there are no mainstream religions that oppose vaccines. In fact, most strong support them because they protect the lives of children.

At any rate, let’s congratulate Maine for strengthening vaccine laws. And for keeping religion out of a medical decision. Irony intended.



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Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree – not credible on vaccines

Over the past few months, Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree, who formerly worked on the show The Doctors, has made numerous statements about vaccines and vaccine safety. His claims about fraud by the CDC have been addressed in the past, and the evidence doesn’t support his beliefs. But the claims he makes about vaccines go beyond the movie, and he makes an effort to present himself as an authority on the issue.

Mr. Bigtree’s statements are consistently inaccurate, suggesting he is not a good source of information about vaccines. It’s impossible to address every single wrong claim Mr. Bigtree has made about vaccines, of course. But these problems should demonstrate that Mr. Bigtree’s claims about vaccines cannot be relied on. Continue reading “Vaxxed producer Del Bigtree – not credible on vaccines”

Testing vaccines for cancer – another anti-vaxxer myth with no credibility

testing vaccines

If you’re spending more than a nanosecond reading idiotic memes from the anti-vaccine religion, I’m sure you’d see the old the package insert says that FDA doesn’t require testing vaccines to determine whether they cause cancer or not. It still makes me laugh how much authority the anti-vaxxers give to package inserts, but that’s another story for another day.

Oh wait, it is another story that I told. You know, the old argument by vaccine package insert fallacy. It’s a fun one, it’s helpful in dismissing the bogus claims that the anti-vaxxers make using package inserts.

Like all zombie memes from the vaccine deniers, this one keeps disappearing then returning every few months. And now with the current measles epidemic in the US and other areas, it’s arisen from the graveyard of debunked vaccine myths to haunt the internet. 

And it’s time to debunk it once again. Continue reading “Testing vaccines for cancer – another anti-vaxxer myth with no credibility”

Yes, vaccine herd immunity works – scientific evidence supports this fact

herd immunity

This piece is a summary of Herd Immunity and Immunization Policy: The Importance of Accuracy, published in v. 94 of the Oregon Law Review.

As a bit of background, in an article that was published in the Oregon Law Review in 2014, authors Mary Holland and Chase E Zachary claimed that school immunization mandates are inappropriate because they reject the concept that herd immunity works.

This article will explain why Holland and Zachary’s analysis or immunization mandates and herd effect is simply incorrect. And let’s be clear – there is a legitimate debate about whether school immunization mandates are appropriate, policy-wise, as a response to non-vaccination.

Unlike vaccine science, the appropriate policy to handle non-immunization is not agreed upon, and the data on what is the right way to get people to vaccinate is anything but clear (though some things are clear – for example, harder to get exemptions lead to higher vaccination rates). But the debate needs to be premised on accurate facts – not on misuse of legal terms and incorrect scientific data. Holland and Zachary’s article does not provide that. Continue reading “Yes, vaccine herd immunity works – scientific evidence supports this fact”

2019 measles epidemic still going strong – the MMR vaccine stops it

2019 measles epidemic

As of 10 May 2019, the CDC has reported 839 cases in the 2019 measles epidemic – the vast majority of these individuals were unvaccinated. As a result, this year is the worst for measles in the USA since 1994, just prior to the startup of the Vaccines for Children Program (VCP) that provides free vaccines to US children.

VCP was passed into law as a consequence of another measles epidemic, from  1989-91, that resulted in over 55,000 reported cases of measles, 11,000 measles-related hospitalization, and 123 deaths. It’s amazing what vaccines can do. Continue reading “2019 measles epidemic still going strong – the MMR vaccine stops it”

RFK Jr vaccine denialism – other Kennedys think he’s wrong

rfk jr

We have written a lot about Robert F. Kennedy Jr in these pages. The vaccine denialism of RFK Jr is a regular topic here, and let’s just say we are not a fan of his.

We’ve written about RFK Jr and CDC patents – he’s wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and serious journalists – they ignore him

We’ve written about RFK Jr and Senator Richard Pan’s recent election to the California Senate – Senator/Dr. Pan won

We’ve written about RFK Jr attacking the esteemed Dr. Paul Offitabsolutely wrong

We’ve written about RFK Jr and his bad science – he was wrong again

And let’s not forget that RFK Jr begged the anti-vaccine President of the United States, Andrew Wakefield’s good friend, Donald Trump to make him the head of some idiotic vaccine safety commission – never happened. Continue reading “RFK Jr vaccine denialism – other Kennedys think he’s wrong”