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”

Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League, vaccines and mumps

I get to do a click-bait article talking about Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the most talented and exciting young ice hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL), the top level of ice hockey in North America (if not the world). It’s a sport dominated by Canadians, Russians, Czechs, Finns, Swedes, and Americans, though there are a smattering of players from other countries especially in Central/Northern Europe. In Canada, hockey is a religion.

Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

And I love hockey. Yes, I know it’s a sport whose fans are located in freezing cold parts of the world, and has absolutely 0 interest outside of maybe 10 countries. But it’s a truly world sport, with players from all kinds of countries. I sat a game last year where a whole row of fans travelled from Finland to the USA to watch one player. They chatted with other fans, used iPhones (poor Nokia) to text photos to their friends back in Helsinki, and complained about US beers. You don’t get that at a American football or baseball game.

So, why are we talking about Sidney Crosby and ice hockey in a scientific skeptics blog? Well, it’s not really about click baiting (though I need to try that once), it’s because Crosby has come down with the mumps. Worse yet, the NHL appears to have a mini-outbreak of mumps with 13 players, two referees, and numerous coaches, staff, and other NHL team employees contracting the disease.  Continue reading “Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League, vaccines and mumps”

2013-14 vaccine uptake in the USA is still high

voices-for-vaccinesDespite the continued social network misinformation about vaccine safety and/or effectiveness, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the median vaccination coverage, amongst children between the age of 19-35 months was 94.7% for 2 doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine; 95.0% for varying local requirements for diphtheria, tetanus toxoid, and acellular pertussis (DTaP) vaccine; and 93.3% for 2 doses of varicella vaccine among those states with a 2-dose requirement.

The median total exemption rate was 1.8%, a difficult number to truly analyze. The CDC reported many issues like some parents get an exemption even after their children are fully or partially vaccinated, some exemptions are used as a matter of convenience because the parents forgot to vaccinated, and some states don’t report exemptions. Moreover, the CDC data indicates up to 15% of exemptions are “medical,” meaning that a child cannot receive a vaccine as a result of an establish medical contraindication.

Although these numbers fall near the 95% vaccination rate goal establish by the CDC’s Health People 2020there is still a concern that clusters of unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children exist in many states and areas. Those locations become susceptible to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. Moreover, 26 states and DC failed to meet the 95% goal, so the disparity between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups remain large.

The research also shows that there have been no statistically significant changes in either vaccination or exemption rate from 2012-13. This is more statistical support that the antivaccination agenda is not gaining much traction across most of the USA.

Continue reading “2013-14 vaccine uptake in the USA is still high”

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”

Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math. Part deux.

This article has been updated, and you can read it here. The comments section to this article have been closed, but you can comment at the newer version.


A few days ago, I wrote an article discussing how antivaccination trope inventors could not understand the most basic elements of mathematics in reading a vaccine label. They misinterpreted some simple math like that the toxic level of a substance is several million times higher than what is injected. I suppose in the minds of vaccine deniers, 1=1 billion. Or 1 trillion. Or 4783.2226. It just depends.

And if they can’t understand the simplest of math principles, assuming that they would understand population level statistics might be a really bad assumption.

Recently, I was pointed to an antivaccination article, on the Political Blindspot website, which is dedicated to finding news articles swept under the rug by mainstream media. My skeptical radar always goes into full energy mode whenever I see the word “mainstream.” Continue reading “Hey vaccine deniers–it’s just simple math. Part deux.”

Measles, mumps, rubella outbreaks–the culpability of Andrew Wakefield

Wakefield-fraudThis week, writer Aaron Carroll provided a graphic depiction of the toll of the antivaccination movement, which itself comes from a Council on Foreign Relations interactive map of “vaccine-preventable outbreaks” worldwide 2008-2014. I narrowed down the map to just include measles, mumps, and rubella, three diseases that can and are prevented by the MMR (or more commonly in the USA, MMRV, which includes chickenpox) vaccine.

Even though the vaccine deniers champion the trope that these diseases are “not serious,” real evidence from real infectious disease medical specialists say otherwise. Measles, mumps and rubella can be dangerous diseases with debilitating complications, including death, for both children and adults. And as you can see in the map (click on it for greater detail), outbreaks of measles (in red), mumps (in olive) and rubella (in blue) are larger than it should be in both the developed and the developing world than it should be, given the easy access to the MMR (or MMRV) vaccines. Continue reading “Measles, mumps, rubella outbreaks–the culpability of Andrew Wakefield”

Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924


For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.

#10. This article was published on 3 December 2013, and has had over 5000 views. It’s one of my favorite because it shows, with scientific evidence, that the trope pushed by the vaccine deniers that better sanitation, food, and medicine reduced the mortality from these diseases. But we know it’s the vaccines, and we have brilliant science to support that fact.

One of the tropes of the antivaccination world is that vaccines didn’t stop diseases. They give credit to everything from modern medicine to better food to better sanitation. Some of the credit they give is ironic since many vaccine deniers hate most aspects of modern medicine and believe that food was better 100 years ago. You can never get enough of the contradictions and hypocrisy of the antivaccine crowd.

I think it becomes easy to dismiss the value of vaccines in ending widespread disease because almost anyone writing today about vaccines has no memory of ubiquitous and deadly epidemics of diseases. We’re almost at a point in our culture that if Twitter doesn’t report it, it didn’t happen, so infectious diseases are something that happened back when humans lived in caves, prior to the advent of social media. I happen to have been born right near the end of widespread epidemics of infectious diseases, so I don’t remember any epidemics personally, though I recall a few classmates in high school who had a few effects from polio and other diseases. Culturally, we have forgotten our past with respect to diseases. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–103 million cases of diseases averted since 1924”

Delaying measles vaccination may increase risk of seizures

keep-calm-get-shots-bigThere is an unscientific myth, pushed by some parts of the vaccine deniers (more accurate, vaccine delayers), that parents should delay vaccinations based on the unsupported belief that “too many vaccines” could overwhelm the child’s immune system. This belief is utterly unscientific and thoroughly debunked

That belief is unfounded, as Paul Offit summarized in Addressing Parents’ Concerns: Do Multiple Vaccines Overwhelm or Weaken the Infant’s Immune System?:

Current studies do not support the hypothesis that multiple vaccines overwhelm, weaken, or “use up” the immune system. On the contrary, young infants have an enormous capacity to respond to multiple vaccines, as well as to the many other challenges present in the environment. By providing protection against a number of bacterial and viral pathogens, vaccines prevent the “weakening” of the immune system and consequent secondary bacterial infections occasionally caused by natural infection.

Continue reading “Delaying measles vaccination may increase risk of seizures”

Vaccination coverage in US children,19-35 months–uptake still high

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported in the 2012 National Immunization Survey (NIS) that the majority of children, age 19-35 months, remained extremely high from 2008 through 2012, although there was a small, but statistically significant drop in uptake of some vaccines from 2011 to 2012. In addition, the CDC specified a substantial concern about clusters of unvaccinated children in widespread communities that are at risk from vaccine preventable diseases, and may pose a health risk to the community at large.

The study results were based upon a survey (cell and land-line phone calls with follow-up details from the health care provider) of about 16,000 children (an extremely large sampling for a survey). The data was then adjusted for racial/ethnic, income, and other population factors. Even though the CDC provided data from 2008-2012, the current method of polling was started in 2011, and only results from 2011 and 2012 are mathematically comparable.




Continue reading “Vaccination coverage in US children,19-35 months–uptake still high”

How vaccines have reduced diseases in one easy graphic

Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.
Information graphic on the results of vaccine use in the United States from Leon Farrant, 2013.

If there was any doubt about the success of vaccines this graphic shows it clearly. We can eliminate confounding variables such as improved sanitation, since many of these diseases (if not most) are not dependent upon the quality of sanitation, and are merely transmitted from individual to individual. We can eliminate the improvement in health care (other than the obvious one of the accessibility of vaccines) because improved health care wouldn’t prevent most of these diseases.

As a result of vaccines, we have eliminated polio, smallpox and diphtheria in the United States. Many other diseases, measles, mumpsrubella, tetanus, and  Haemophilus influenzae type b, are nearly eliminated. Though some people in the antivaccination world would make you believe that these diseases are not serious (the pox party is a perfect example of this belief), most of these diseases have known serious consequences for a statistically significant portion of those who get the disease. These adverse consequences may be as minor as hospitalization to as serious as life long chronic health issues or death.

In approximately one generation, modern medical science has radically changed the risks that children face to these diseases. For that, we parents should be grateful

Vaccines Save Lives.

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