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virus evolution

Virus evolution — debunking anti-vaccine myth that they become less virulent

Apparently, a 125-year-old debunked idea about virus evolution has circulated around the anti-vaccine world. They believe that if viruses are left on their own, they always evolve to become less virulent to humans. That’s why they falsely claim that the Omicron variant is almost nothing and very soon SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will evolve into something that we can ignore.

The old Skeptical Raptor is going to take a deep breath and hope he doesn’t lose any brain cells repeating that to all of you. Anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 deniers are wrong, completely and utterly wrong. It’s as if they never took a class on virology, evolution, or anything else germane to the discussion.

I know that any of you spending time reading this article are already listing out a dozen things that debunk this myth. Because we all know that first, that’s not how evolution works, and second, there are dozens of viruses that are known from the dawn of human history that have remained virulent over thousands of years.

Let’s take a look at this nonsense. Maybe I’ll give you some information to debunk some anti-vaxxer or COVID-19 denier nonsense.

Read More »Virus evolution — debunking anti-vaccine myth that they become less virulent
february 2020 acip meeting

February 2020 ACIP Meeting review – Ebola, influenza, and coronavirus

This article about the February 2020 ACIP meeting was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

I attended a large part of the February 2020 ACIP meeting (Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices) in Atlanta, GA. I had planned to stay throughout, but my airline changed my return flight and I had to leave before the end on the second day. I did, however, watch the first day and the first two parts of the second.

The coronavirus crisis changed some things. For example, there were multiple international groups visiting the CDC (there was also at least one group that was there for other reasons and sat on part of the meeting). And we had a presentation on the topic from Dr. Nancy Messonnier.

I will describe the meeting in the order it happened, though this is the very abbreviated version. As I said before, an ACIP meeting is a geek’s dream – there’s a lot of data provided and in-depth discussions of details. The committee has a heavy and important responsibility, and since it was targeted by anti-vaccine activists is carrying it out under tricky circumstances.Read More »February 2020 ACIP Meeting review – Ebola, influenza, and coronavirus

vaccine stories

Tragic vaccine stories – being empathetic while reporting the facts

Over the past couple of the months, this website has published three tragic vaccine stories – each involved the death of a child whose life was taken too early. Each of these grabbed everyone’s heart and made all of us empathetic to the pain of the parents. However, these stories were much more nuanced and complicated than what has been presented in some parts of the internet. And they put some of us in the crosshairs of the anti-vaccine world.

Whenever our side (you know, the pro-science, pro-vaccine side) writes about these stories, people invent strawmen claiming that we are not empathetic or sympathetic to the families whose child had died. Of course, every one of us who writes about these stories is incredibly affected by them. They make us cry. They make us hug our children.

Nevertheless, we still feel compelled to sort fact from fiction. We look at these stories with skeptical eyes, not because we want to attack the parents of these children. Instead, we want to make sure that the scientific facts are not ignored, which could lead to a false narrative about vaccines.

Of course, many of us wish we didn’t have to write these stories. I personally try to ignore them, because the stories are so incredibly complex, and I feel so incredibly sympathetic towards the parents, even if they are pushing an unfortunate narrative about vaccines. Eventually, these vaccine stories become tropes on social media, and, at some point, I feel like an analytical approach to the story is necessary. Which leads to this article – I want to make make it clear what I feel and how I react to these vaccine stories. Read More »Tragic vaccine stories – being empathetic while reporting the facts

rabies vaccine

Rabies vaccine could have saved Ryker Roque – he dies needlessly

As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time reviewing stories about vaccines, I read way too many tragic ones about children dying from vaccine-preventable diseases. But a recent story, about a six-year-old boy named Ryker Roque who died from a rabies infection, was particularly sad and devastating. He could have avoided rabies, and its horrific consequences, with just a couple of better choices from his parents. If only they had used the rabies vaccine immediately, this would not be a story.

Let’s be clear – I don’t know if the parents of Ryker are anti-vaccine or not, but they made a choice about the rabies vaccine that led to their son’s death. That makes the story tragic and sad. I know his parents are incredibly distraught, and probably wish they had made better choices – but maybe their story will prevent future tragedies. I hope.Read More »Rabies vaccine could have saved Ryker Roque – he dies needlessly

vaccines prevented

Vaccines prevented 200 million cases of disease in the USA from 1963 to 2015

Lest we forget, vaccines are one of the greatest medical inventions of all time. Without them, we would see cemeteries filled with children who would have died before they were even five years old.  In fact, the best evidence we have tells us that vaccines prevented 200 million cases of diseases in the USA alone in the five decades since 1963.

A recent study, published in AIMS Public Health, estimates that around 200 million cases of polio, mumps, rubella, measles, adenovirus, hepatitis A and rabies have been prevented in the U.S. from 1963 through 2015 as a result of widespread vaccination. The study, authored by Leonard Hayflick and S. Jay Olshansky, two leading experts on public health and infectious diseases, also discloses that about 450,000 deaths have been avoided in the U.S during this period, although other studies put that estimate of lives saved at a much higher number.

Dr. Hayflick discovered the human cell strain, WI-38, in 1962 which was critical to the safe manufacturing of vaccines, which became widespread in 1963. According to the article, the vaccines produced from the WI-38 cell line prevented almost 4.5 billion occurrences of the diseases, and stopped them from returning to infect us. Dr. Hayflick developed the foundation that allowed the world to have relative safe and very effective tools to prevent infectious diseases.

Prior to the development of WI-38, anti-virus vaccines were grown in monkey cells, which had some issues that made many question their safety, although most of the concern appeared to be overblown. However, once the WI-38 was available, it became easier to develop and produce vaccines for many viruses.

Drs. Hayflick and Olshansky wanted to see what effect that seminal event had on public health. And the numbers were incredible.Read More »Vaccines prevented 200 million cases of disease in the USA from 1963 to 2015