Why we vaccinate – pertussis and epilepsy are linked

There is really only one reason to vaccinate – protecting everyone, especially children, from dangerous vaccine preventable diseases. We have eliminated smallpox. We have almost eliminated polio.

And we had almost made measles extinct, until the myth that the MMR vaccine (to prevent mumps, measles and rubella) caused autism, started by one of sciences greatest fraudsters, the defrocked MrAndy Wakefield. It’s a myth that’s been thoroughly and definitively debunked.

One vaccine preventable infectious disease that we’ve been unable to conquer is  whooping cough (caused by the bacteria, Bordetella pertussis), also known as pertussis. Pertussis is a relatively dangerous infection, the disease itself has serious consequences for children and adults:

  • 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die

Whooping cough can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria). The vaccines can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.

As with all medical procedures, there are some adverse effects with the pertussis vaccines. Moderate adverse effects from the vaccine occur in about 1 in 10,000 (or even fewer) injections. The most severe effects, which may or may not be causally related to the vaccine since the rate is  so low, are in the range of 1 out of a million doses.

One out of one million doses of the vaccine cause a serious adverse event (maybe). Compare that to the 1-2 out of 100 will die of the disease. Unless you flunk math, there is no rational reason to avoid the vaccine. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate – pertussis and epilepsy are linked”

Homeopathy, Honesty, and Consumer Protection

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2015. It has been revised to include information from a recent Australian Federal Court ruling that imposed fines upon the homeopaths.

On December 22, 2014 an Australian Federal Court ruled that Homeopathy Plus! Pty Ltd, LTD, and its creator and director, Ms. Frances Sheffield, engaged in misleading conduct in trade or commerce in making claims against the whooping cough vaccine and in support of homeopathic remedies as an alternative – or a second line of defense – for preventing whooping cough.

This was done after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) asked the court to declare that it’s misleading and impose other penalties (detailed description of the court proceedings, and more information). In other words, they were asked to look into homeopathy honesty.

This article has two objectives:

  1. Provide a brief overview and summary of the decision.
  2. Determine whether similar action can be taken against those making similar claims in the United States.

Continue reading “Homeopathy, Honesty, and Consumer Protection”

Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence

There are many canards propagated by the vaccine deniers to support their personal beliefs (really, denialism) about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. One of their more popular beliefs is that vaccines didn’t end many of the deadly diseases, but improved sanitation, healthcare, nutrition or magical fairies (also known as homeopathy) ended these diseases.

There is even a subgroup of these believers who think that the CDC, historians, and everyone else is lying about the epidemics that existed prior to vaccinations–let’s call this group history deniers. They reject the scientific and historical evidence that vaccines saved lives – amazing.

So, is there scientific evidence that vaccines actually ended these epidemics? Yes there is, and it’s unequivocal. Unless you want to embrace historical revisionism, and somehow all of the health care records and epidemiological information was faked, vaccines saved lives – lots of lives. Continue reading “Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence”

Vaccine preventable diseases – much scarier than vaccines

Debunking anti-vaccine myths are one of the goals of this blog, which has evolved from my original intent of mocking anti-evolution lies. Mostly, the tactics of both science deniers are the same, so most of what I write is interchangeable–it was a natural evolution to vaccines.

Yes, I went there.

There are several tactics to criticizing the anti vaccination cult. For me, it’s being pejorative (hey, I call them a cult), being rude, and mocking them with all the fervor I can find in my brain. Since ALL of the evidence supports the fact that vaccines are relatively safe and very effective, short of someone actually bring the same volume of science that disputes that fact, making fun of the cult is my reason to exist.

I know my tactics aren’t very popular in the pro-vaccine world–I really have fun doing it.

Just so all of you understand this clearly, I do not discriminate in my mockery of pseudoscience. I’ve done much worse to the anti-evolution gang. And don’t get me started on the purveyors of junk medicine, like chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy–I seriously enjoy making fun of them all.

However, most pro vaccine writers are much more civil. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who writes here frequently, is quite courteous towards the anti-vaccination movement, despite the bigoted hatred that they send her way. Some of us think that she’s treated so badly probably because she’s so polite and civil.

To be fair, most pro-vaccine writers range from snarky and pointed to civil and supportive. Some writers try to hit a balance between the two extremes by being both tough and supportive (especially to that group that we all call “fence-sitters” who are the parents who aren’t sure about vaccines).

Dan Kahan, a Yale University law professor, has authored research that delves into cultural cognition which is the study of how individuals form beliefs about the amount of risk in certain situations based on their preconceived cultural notions of good behavior. He has called me out personally for using the “anti-science” trope with respect to evolution, climate change and vaccines.

Kahan presents some very convincing evidence that more civil discussions with vaccine deniers can be more helpful–obviously, I disagree, but Professor Kahan makes extremely valid points. I’m glad that there are dozens of other pro-vaccine websites who meet or exceed his recommendations on civility. I’m too exhausted from decades of fighting against pseudoscience and straight out science denialism to change my methods now. Like I said, I’m having too much fun doing it my way.

However, there seems to be a third way to deal with the anti-vaccination crowd. It probably will not convince the true believers who think that evidence is only what supports their point of view, like the crackpots at Age of Lying about Autism who still think that MrAndy Wakefield is some sort of hero.

No, it’s the fence sitters who should know the facts about vaccine preventable diseases – it should scare the crap out of them. Continue reading “Vaccine preventable diseases – much scarier than vaccines”

California’s vaccine exemption laws – clustering effects

All 50 US states (along with several territories and DC) require mandatory vaccination for children entering public (and frequently, private) schools. This system has essentially ended most vaccine preventable diseases in the USA, including measles, polio, chickenpox, and many others.

Broad vaccination is considered one of the 10 greatest achievements in public health. Vaccines should probably be number 1 on the list. Overall, the immunization mandate has established a strong herd effect, which has generally ended transmission of these diseases.

Even though vaccinating children before they enter school is mandatory, there are ways around it, if you choose. Every state allows medical exemptions, which is based on a proven risk for a child to not be vaccinated with one or more vaccines. For example, some vaccines are produced in chicken eggs, and a tiny percentage of children are allergic. Medical exemptions are absolutely critical to the well being of the child, and no pro-science (pro-vaccine) writer or researcher would be opposed to those types of exemptions.

Furthermore, most states have vaccine exemption laws which allows personal belief exemptions (PBE). These PBEs fall into one of two groups–religious exemptions, that is, the parent “claims” that their religion is opposed to vaccines; or personal exemptions, which are simply based on the fact that the parents are opposed to vaccination for whatever reason that hits their brain after 20 minutes of Googling “facts.”

Most states allow both types of exemptions, some only allow religious exemptions, and one state, Mississippi, allows only medical exemptions. As a progressive, there is little positive I can say about Mississippi, but this is a major positive. So congrats Mississippi for caring about children, at least in this one important way. Continue reading “California’s vaccine exemption laws – clustering effects”

Why we vaccinate–to protect our children from pertussis

 

tdap-mother-pertussis

During this past week, a 25 day old baby in Santa Barbara, CA died from pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough (caused by the Bordetella pertussis bacteria). The disease can be easily prevented by the DTaP or Tdap vaccines (also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), which can be given to infants as early as 6 weeks to 2 months old.

According to the California Department of Public Health, infants who are too young to be fully immunized or those who are not vaccinated are most vulnerable to severe and fatal cases of pertussis. In 2014, 66 of the pertussis hospitalizations cases were children four months of age or younger. Two infants have died of pertussis in California during 2014. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–to protect our children from pertussis”

Why we vaccinate–so mom will protect her newborn baby

tdap-mother-pertussisOne of the important hypotheses of vaccination is to make sure that all family members or others who may encounter a newborn child be vaccinated, especially since many vaccinations are not indicated for infants for a couple of months after birth–those newborns are very susceptible to vaccine preventable diseases until they themselves are vaccinated with the DTaP vaccine (which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria).

This protective “cocoon,” especially important with whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), theoretically blocks the transmission of the disease to a newborn by creating a protective circle of vaccinated individuals around the newborn. A teenage sibling could catch the disease and accidentally infect the infant. Pertussis is bad enough for a teenager, but it can be deadly to a baby.

Even though the evidence for cocooning is growing, there are some flaws to the idea that are still being investigated in various parts of the world. One of the concerns is that asymptomatic carriers of pertussis (who have been vaccinated) might transmit the disease through a cocoon. However, scientists have known that the current version of pertussis vaccine, called acellular pertussis, isn’t as effective as it should be, but it is still better than not vaccinating. Much better. But that is a potential hole in the protective cocoon that needs to be understood better through research. Continue reading “Why we vaccinate–so mom will protect her newborn baby”

Refuting another antivaccination lie about the pertussis vaccine

Here we go again. There have been some articles published in peer-reviewed journals which have caused the antivaccination cult to not only misinterpret the data (shocking), but then broadcasting another lie (more shocking) which could lead to lower vaccinations rates.

Smart baboons searching for the pertussis vaccine.
Smart baboons searching for the pertussis vaccine.

According to research, some individuals who have been vaccinated against whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), with either the DTaP or Tdap vaccine (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), remain infected with the pertussis bacteria, although they are asymptomatic. This is been morphed into the internet meme that only those who have been vaccinated carry the disease. Or worse yet, that the vaccine causes the asymptomatic infection. Typical of pseudoscience, the vaccine deniers take a little bit of scientific fact, and mutate it into something that meets their own biases.

First, let me give you a bit of background about the disease and vaccine, so that you can have a bit more context on what we’re discussing. The original DTP vaccine, sometimes called DTwP, became available in the USA in 1948 and was critical to dropping the number of cases of whooping cough from 260,000  in 1934 to less than a few thousand per year in the 1990′s. The original vaccine contained what was called “whole-cell” pertussis (thus wP), which includes all of the antigens of the pertussis bacterium, partially because it wasn’t understood (and to some extent still not fully understood) which antigens on the bacteria actually induce the proper adaptive immune response to destroy a pertussis infection. Continue reading “Refuting another antivaccination lie about the pertussis vaccine”

Pertussis vaccine reduced length and severity of whooping cough

Except for the evidence that says it's not a failure.
Except for the evidence that says it’s not a failure.

I know, there are just so many tropes and outright lies pushed by the vaccine deniers, it’s really hard for this writer to keep up with it all. But there’s one that has always bothered me, but I didn’t have quite enough evidence to lustfully debunk in my usual manner.

As has been shown in few studies, the vaccine against whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), either  DTaP or Tdap (which also protect against tetanus and diphtheria), isn’t as effective in providing long-term protection as our expectations, based on other vaccines. Although the antivaccination cult has misinterpreted and misstated the actual numbers, an analysis of the data from the Washington State pertussis epidemic in 2011-2012 provided us with the following information:

  • Ages 5-9 unvaccinated or under vaccinated children are 6 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated. 
  • Ages 10-13 unvaccinated or under vaccinated are 25 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated. 
  • Ages 14-18 unvaccinated or under vaccinated  are 6 times more likely to become infected with pertussis than fully vaccinated.

In other words, not getting the vaccine made it easier to get infected with whooping cough. Continue reading “Pertussis vaccine reduced length and severity of whooping cough”

Why we vaccinate–Austin, TX child dies of whooping cough

WhoopingCough__signAccording to the City of Austin, Texas Department of Health and Human Services, an infant hospitalized with whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis) died recently in hospital. The infant, who was too young to receive the first  pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap), was one of 41 confirmed or probably cases of whooping cough in the city of Austin.

An infant cannot be vaccinated with DTaP (the vaccine for diphtheriatetanus and pertussis) until they are about 2 months old. However, because infants are susceptible to whooping cough, all adults, children, friends, relatives, everyone, who is in contact with that child should be vaccinated against pertussis, a process called cocooning

“This is a sad and tragic event,” said Dr. Philip Huang, Medical Director for Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services. “Because the disease can make babies so sick, and they can catch it from anyone around them, they need protection.”  

The Austin Department of Health and Human Services provided the following advice, based on CDC recommendations, to help protect babies from whooping cough:  

  • If you are pregnant, get vaccinated in your third trimester.
  • Surround your baby with vaccinated family members and caregivers.
  • Make sure your baby gets all doses of whooping cough vaccine according to CDC’s recommended schedule.
  • If you or your child experience cold-like symptoms that develop into a severe cough after 1 to 2 weeks contact your healthcare provider immediately.

No child, no infant, should die of a vaccine preventable disease like whooping cough. And to those of you in the antivaccination “movement” who think that these diseases aren’t that dangerous–think again. These diseases kill.

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