Purdue warns students without measles immunization

Entrance to Purdue Mall

In light of the measles outbreak at the Super Bowl, Purdue University has taken a very aggressive step in requiring that their students provide documentation that they have received their measles vaccinations.  Purdue is a state university in Indiana, and as such, is covered by state immunization regulations for public school students.  Of course, standard immunization covers measles.  If the student doesn’t comply, “a hold will be placed on their academic records and they will not be able to register for classes.”  That’s tough! Continue reading “Purdue warns students without measles immunization”

Worldwide progress in measles control–vaccines get credit

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commonly known as the CDC, this week published Progress in Global Measles Control, 2001-2010.  In 1980, there were over 2.6 million deaths worldwide from the measles virus.  Though measles is considered by many people as innocuous, it is, in fact, a relatively dangerous infection with a variable prognosis.  For vast majority of sufferers, there are few complications, but for some, even healthy individuals, it can be debilitating or even fatal.  Notwithstanding, I have always wondered why the anti-vaccination gang is willing to risk the possible death of their children by refusing to inoculate them, in light of very few risks or side effects of the vaccination itself.  I digress.

From the Vaccination Action Coalition.

[pullquote]The number of measles cases dropped to around 340,000 in 2010, a nearly 66% decline from 2001.[/pullquote] Continue reading “Worldwide progress in measles control–vaccines get credit”

WHO | 10 facts on immunization

WHO | 10 facts on immunization.

  1. Immunization prevents an estimated 2.5 million deaths every year.  Immunization prevents deaths every year in all age groups from diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), and measles. It is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.
  2. More children than ever are being reached with immunization.  In 2010, an estimated 109 million children under the age of one were vaccinated with three doses of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine. These children are protected against infectious diseases that can have serious consequences like illness, disability or death.
  3. An estimated 19.3 million children under the age of one did not receive DTP3 vaccine.  Seventy percent of these children live in ten countries, and more than half of them live in WHO’s Africa and South-East Asia regions.
  4. Over 1 million infants and young children die every year from pneumococcal disease and rotavirus diarrhea.  A large number of these deaths can be prevented through vaccination.
  5. Public-private partnerships facilitate the development and introduction of vaccines.  For example, a new vaccine which prevents the primary cause of epidemic meningitis in sub-Saharan Africa, meningococcal A, MenAfriVac, was introduced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger last year. At the end of 2011. Cameroon, Chad and Nigeria are vaccinating more than 22 million individuals with the vaccine which has the potential to eliminate the leading cause of meningitis epidemics in Africa.
  6. The supply of influenza vaccines has been significantly expanded.  The expansion has been possible as a result of WHO supporting the efforts of vaccine manufacturers to produce and license influenza vaccines in 11 developing countries.
  7. Global measles mortality has declined by 78%.  Global measles mortality has been reduced from an estimated 733 000 deaths in 2000 to 164 000 deaths in 2008, thanks to intensified vaccination campaigns.
  8. Polio incidence has been reduced by 99%.  Since 1988, polio incidence has fallen by 99%, from more than 350 000 cases to 1410 cases in 2010. Only four countries remain endemic – Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan – down from more than 125 countries in 1988.
  9. Annual deaths from neonatal tetanus have fallen.  Neonatal tetanus deaths have declined to an estimated 59 000, down from 790 000 deaths in 1988.
  10. Immunization provides an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures.  Immunization not only protects children from vaccine-preventable diseases. It also serves as an opportunity to deliver other life-saving measures, such as vitamin A supplements to prevent malnutrition, insecticide-treated nets for protection against malaria and deworming medicine for intestinal worms. In addition, the benefits of immunization are increasingly being extended across the life course to include adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis, and cancers that occur in adulthood.

Has there been a more successful human medical effort in the history of man?  No.

Good job vaccine denialists

The anti-vaccinationsts have had a lot of success in Europe recently.  According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, they report these rather gloomy statistics for measles during the Jan-Oct, 2011 time period:

  • France–nearly 15,000 measles cases
  • Italy–over 4,500 cases
  • Spain–almost 1,900 cases
  • Europe–over 28,000 cases

Measles is a totally preventable disease with an extremely safe vaccination.  And even though there is a belief that measles is not that dangerous, acute measles has a 15% mortality rate.

I see these stories, and I wonder if the anti-vaccination zealots sleep at night knowing the harm they cause.

Who are you going to believe about vaccines

In one corner, we have Jenny McCarthy, former Playboy Playmate of the Year, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and pseudoscience with an extra dose of quackery. In the other corner, we have the Centers for Disease Control, the Institute of Medicine for the National Academy of Sciences, UK’s National Health Service, and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (what is commonly called the Vaccine Court). The battle is over MMR vaccine, a mixture of three live attenuated viruses administered by injection for immunization against measles, mumps and rubella (formerly known as German measles).

Let’s take a close look at the participants. First, Jenny McCarthy, whose extensive medical and science education includes….not much. In 2005, she announced that her child was diagnosed with autism, a diagnosis about which there is some doubt. McCarthy believes that vaccines caused her son’s autism, although that view is unsupported by any scientific or medical evidence. Her public appearances and statements have increased the public perception of this link, and may have led to decreased immunization rates and increased incidence of measles. McCarthy has stated that chelation therapy helped her son recover from autism. Essentially, McCarthy claims that mercury in vaccines causes autism, which has been rejected by scientific and clinical studies, and that the use of chelation somehow reversed the effects of the “mercury exposure.” In fact, the National Institute of Mental Health has concluded that autistic children will not receive any benefit to balance the risks of cognitive and emotional problems induced by the chelating agents used in this treatment. Really, she should stick to modeling and bad movies.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield is a whole different story. He, and 12 other researchers, published a paper in the British medical journal in 1998, The Lancet, which reported on 12 (yes 12) children with developmental disorders. They linked eight of these children to MMR vaccinations. The paper described several bowel symptoms and the possible link to the vaccine. He even gave a name to the syndrome, autistic enterocolitis. After publication of the paper, confidence in the MMR vaccine fell; pediatricians in the United Kingdom thought the British government was either hiding evidence of the link, or was failing to prove it.

Brian Deer, a reporter for the Sunday Times of London, wrote an article in the British Medical Journal that showed that Dr. Wakefield not only was in error, but probably altered key facts to show a link to autism, and outright fraudulent act.  In the meantime, 10 of the 12 original co-authors of the Lancet article retracted their authorship.  Then, in early 2010, the Lancet retracted the paper with this statement:

…it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.

Of course, a recent review of studies of the links between vaccines and autism find that there is no scientific support for the link.  They concluded:

 No credible evidence of an involvement of MMR with either autism or Crohn’s disease was found.

This might be an intellectual or philosophical discussion of science, except for one major problem. Vaccination rates have dropped in the UK, to as low as 85%. In 2006, there were 449 cases of measles in the UK. Before Wakefield’s report, there were only 56 cases in the UK in 1998. In the US, there have been measles and pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks attributed to the falling vaccination rate (falling from 98% to 92% in a few years).

What worries me is what do we do when a scientist and professional like Andrew Wakefield publishes an article that sets the medical world on its figurative head? The great thing about science is that it is not dogmatic.  Researchers moved quickly to understand the link, then to debunk it.  And it was a trained journalist, who uncovered the fraud.  But the consequences of that one article carries on today.  People still think that vaccines cause everything.  It doesn’t.  Nevertheless, when it comes to medicine and science, we shouldn’t listen to Playboy Playmates.

Go get your children vaccinated. The risk from measles far outweighs the non-risk of autism.

Welcome to my world

A Skeptical Raptor’s native environment is the jungles of the internet, where junk science, pseudoscience, myths, logical fallacies, and outright lies survive unchecked. The Raptor has evolved over several million years to hunt down these anti-science prey, scaring them away from the average reader. Remember, a Raptor is missing some table manners, so the prey may not be treated very nicely.

OK, let me set aside the metaphors.  As you can see in my about me page, my background has been in the sciences, medicine and business. But the great thing about a strong science background is it teaches you critical thinking skills and the scientific method.  The scientific method isn’t mixing oxygen and hydrogen to make water, but it is the logical progression from observation to hypothesis to data to analysis to publication to review.  But science is not static, it is self critical, constantly reviewing itself, improving, discarding, or just supporting its theories.  What you’ll find is that the anti-science thinking is not self critical, because it considers improvement some sort of weakness.

I’m going to get this out of the way upfront.  I am a supporter of Big Pharma and the medical products industry in general.  Do I think they do no wrong?  No I don’t, I think that too often decisions are made based on business realities rather than medical ones.  However, despite some of the appeals to conspiracy about which I constantly read, most individuals in the industry are devoted to making human life better.  It is their only goal.  And despite some of the claims of the anti-science crowd, Big Pharma has saved many many many more lives than it has harmed.  Vaccines would be the #1 piece of evidence of that.  Polio, pertussis, measles, rubella, and many other diseases are no longer (well, not until recently, thanks to another anti-science group) a part of our cultural memory because of Big Pharma.

But I’ll talk about these issues over time.  I like writing for humor and critique, not for tremendous scientific analysis worthy of a Nobel Prize.  There are lots of bloggers, all of whom I respect beyond anything, who write about these topics in depth.  I will link to them, in case my skin-deep analysis annoys you.

So here goes.  Let’s see if I can do this.