Debunking myths about vaccine testing and safety

vaccine testing

The goal of this article is to respond to a number of recurring myths raised by anti-vaccine activists regarding vaccine testing and safety – a common trope used against vaccines.

The bottom line is that vaccines are extensively and carefully tested for safety, and that vaccine safety is shown by many, many studies from a variety of sources, reinforcing each other and all pointing to the same result – serious problems from vaccines are possible, but extremely rare. And those small, rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits vaccines provide by protecting us against much larger risks.

Continue reading “Debunking myths about vaccine testing and safety”

Another study supports the Gardasil long-term safety

Gardasil long-term safety

I’ve written more than almost 200 articles about the safety and effectiveness of various versions of the HPV vaccine. As a result, I have focused a lot of those 200 articles on Gardasil long-term safety.

There have been huge studies, one that includes over 200,000 patients and another that includes over 1 million patients, that have provided solid and nearly incontrovertible evidence that support the Gardasil long-term safety – nevertheless, the anti-vaccine tropes and memes about the HPV cancer-preventing vaccine persist.

Though it is frustrating that some researchers publish “evidence” from small studies that are poorly designed in an attempt to invent issues with HPV vaccines if you look at the best designed unbiased studies, the facts are clear–Gardasil is safe and effective. It could be one of the safest and most effective vaccines since it was developed and studied in the era of harsh, and mostly unfounded, criticisms of vaccines by certain antivaccine activists.

Continue reading “Another study supports the Gardasil long-term safety”

Flu vaccine myths – zombie anti-vaccine lies blanket Facebook

Flu vaccine myths

Here we go again. Just like the popular zombie TV shows, the flu vaccine myths continue to rise from the dead, scaring people away from protecting themselves from a dangerous disease. And just like Rick Grimes, it’s my job to help my fellow skeptics stop this zombie outbreak and safeguard the innocent from the brain eating tropes of the antivaccine crowd.

Since we’re entering the 2017-2018 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere, your best weapon to avoid the effects of the flu is the seasonal flu vaccine. Despite the known overall safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, the antivaccination cult is pushing their ignorant nonsense all over social media, especially Facebook.

Despite all the good reasons to get the vaccine, the CDC estimated the flu vaccine uptake in the USA is around 40%. This is well below the 80-90% uptake required for herd immunity against the flu.

Let’s take a look at these zombie flu vaccine myths, and debunk them once again. Zombies are so hard to put down. Continue reading “Flu vaccine myths – zombie anti-vaccine lies blanket Facebook”

The Informed Parent – a science based book review

The Informed Parent

There are innumerable myths and tropes about raising children. My mother used to tell me to not go into the pool until 30 minutes (or some random number) after I ate; and she always told me I’d catch the flu or a cold if I didn’t put on a jacket during winter. Of course, neither are science based, and neither are “facts.”

But those were innocuous little myths. I don’t like being all that cold, so putting on a coat isn’t the worst thing ever. It had nothing to do with whether I’d catch a cold or not.

Unfortunately, some myths about parenting and raising children are dangerous. The whole “vaccines cause XYZ” mythology have infected the internet have caused some drops in vaccination, especially amongst those who should know better.

We need better resources for “science based parenting,” and a new book, The Informed Parent – A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four Yearsmay become one of the more valuable tools to separate the wheat of good science from the chaff of pseudoscience and woo.

Because our children deserve the best that science can provide.

 

Continue reading “The Informed Parent – a science based book review”

Robert De Niro and Wakefield’s propaganda film – Vaxxed

wakefield's propaganda film

Several sources report that Robert De Niro was the power behind the throne that got Mr. Andy Wakefield’s propaganda film, about a so-called CDC whistleblower, on the Tribeca Film Festival’s lineup. Many of us had an inkling that De Niro was involved, because he has an autistic child. But I was skeptical until just a while ago.

Earlier today, the ethereal Orac received an email from Tribeca Film Festival that confirmed De Niro’s participation:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I wanted to provide you with following statement from Robert De Niro, co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, regarding Vaxxed at the Festival:

“Grace and I have a child with autism and we believe it is critical that all of the issues surrounding the causes of autism be openly discussed and examined. In the 15 years since the Tribeca Film Festival was founded, I have never asked for a film to be screened or gotten involved in the programming. However this is very personal to me and my family and I want there to be a discussion, which is why we will be screening VAXXED. I am not personally endorsing the film, nor am I anti-vaccination; I am only providing the opportunity for a conversation around the issue.”

Thank you,

Tammie[/infobox]

I am sympathetic to De Niro’s personal association with the autism issue. But there are no “discussions” about vaccines and autism. Vaccines are absolutely not related to autism – science speaks in black and white, and in this case, there is no debate.

What this propaganda film does is cause people to not vaccinate their children, putting them at risk of many vaccine preventable diseases. Wakefield is a fraud – that has been established by boatloads of evidence, including his inability to get a judgement against his accusers who have stated that fact.

If De Niro thinks that vaccines cause autism, then he should take is millions of dollars that he’s earned from his movies, and fund a great autism research center that relies upon science and evidence to speak to what causes autism.

Instead, he’s going to allow the cunning fraud, Andy Wakefield, lie to an audience with the passive, or more probably, the active support of one of our generation’s greatest actors.

As the elegantly subtle Orac says:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]I almost feel sorry for Mr. De Niro. Almost. He’s about to be besieged by antivaccine cranks, who will now look at him as a hero and try to get him to support all sorts of wacky quack and pseudoscience causes. I hope he likes his new admirers.

Actually, I do feel a bit sorry for Mr. De Niro. He’s now finding out the hard way why those of us who’ve studie him say that Andrew Wakefield discredits anything he touches. That now includes the Tribeca Film Festival.[/infobox]

I actually don’t care what celebrities say. In general, they are uneducated fools whose purpose in life is to create an illusion for the audience. But I have a policy – I do not pay a penny to any actor who tries to intentionally harm people through their ignorance and foolishness. Vaxxed will hurt children.

Even if only one child isn’t vaccinated because of the pseudoscience and lies in this fake documentary, that’s one child too many. Is Robert De Niro willing to risk one child based on a fraud and conman’s lies?

Thus, I will never watch another movie by De Niro. He’ll still get millions for each movie he does, no one will care about me.

But I’m on the side of science and truth. He’s not. Children will lose in the long run.

Tara Haelle just wrote an article saying that Robert De Niro “just broke my heart.” Yeah. That.

Update

Unless you aren’t closely following this story, Robert De Niro and the Tribeca Film Festival removed the documentary from the schedule. They listened.



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Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015

This article – Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle's Red Wine and Applesauce blog.

Editor’s Note: This article – separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – separating fact from fiction – has been reblogged with permission from Tara Haelle’s Red Wine and Applesauce blog. Many thanks to Tara and a host of other people for creating this list.

Note from Tara Haell: This post is co-published with NPR’s health blog Shots. Check out the story for updated information about this year’s flu shot from a CDC medical officer.

Once again, flu season is upon us — and so are all the misconceptions, excuses and worries that have kept so many people away from getting their flu vaccines. Plenty of people are fully informed about the flu vaccine’s safety and effectiveness and simply choose not to get the vaccine, as is their right (as long as they don’t work in healthcare settings where it’s required). But many others may have skipped the shot because they’ve bought into one of the many myths about the vaccine that always circulating with the influenza virus itself. Or perhaps they’ve read something unsettling about the vaccine that has a kernel of truth in it, but which has been blown out of proportion or misrepresented.

Of all the vaccines out there, the flu vaccine is unique in several ways: it’s the only one the CDC recommends for the entire (eligible) population every year, it has the most variability (and nearly always the lowest percentages) in effectiveness, and it has more tall tales told about it than Paul Bunyan. Much of the debunking and explaining you’ll find here is essentially the same as in past years’ posts, but a couple misconceptions have been rearranged, and I spent a bit more time discussing the evidence about potentially lower effectiveness of the flu vaccine in people who had gotten it the previous year.

Finally, I called these items “concerns” instead of “myths” because several of the issues discussed here are not outright “myths.” That is, some of these concerns originated from factual situations, but the details got gnarled and twisted along the way, or else the fact itself doesn’t have the implications people may expect it does. “Concerns” therefore better captures that each of these items is a legitimate concern for many people but is something that simply requires explanation, whether that’s an outright debunking or simply context and clarification.

One thing that needs a bit of clarification is last year’s vaccine’s effectiveness, as I discuss in the NPR Shots blog post that accompanies this one. The overall flu vaccine effectiveness last year was an uninspiring 23%, low enough to legitimately make you wonder why you bothered if you got the vaccine. But as I explain at NPR based on an interview with CDC influenza medical officer Lisa Grohskopf, the overall effectiveness doesn’t capture the effectiveness of each strain within the vaccine.

A poor match with the H3N2 strain — which caused the most illness and the most serious cases — was responsible for the lion’s share of that low number. Meanwhile, the match between the vaccine strains and the virus strains for B viruses, which circulated the most toward the end of the season, was good enough that the vaccine was closer to 60% effectiveness for those strains. This year, changes to the H3N2 strain for the vaccine should boost the effectiveness and offer a better showing than last year’s lousy run, according to Grohskopf.

With that info out of the way, let’s get to the flu vaccine concerns, with two important notes. First, for those who prefer to do their own research, I’ve provided all my sources in the hyperlinks. More than half of these go directly to peer-reviewed research articles, and a fair number go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization.

Second, but very important: I am a science journalist but not a medical doctor or other health care professional. I’ve compiled research here to debunk common misconceptions and clarify common concerns about the flu vaccine. This post does not constitute a recommendation from me personally to each reader to get a flu vaccine. You should always consult a reliable, trusted medical professional with questions that pertain specifically to you. For the CDC recommendations on the 2015-2016 flu vaccines (including information on which vaccines pregnant women, the elderly and children under 2 should *not* get), please consult the CDC flu vaccine recommendations directly. There are indeed people who should *not* get the flu vaccine.

To make it easier to navigate, I’ve listed all 31 concerns at the top followed by the factual information below it. They hyperlinked facts will jump to that explanation. I use “flu shot” and “flu vaccine” interchangeably to refer to any type of flu vaccine, including the nasal vaccine.

Continue reading “Separating fact from fiction about the flu vaccine – 2015”

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”

Rand Paul vaccine denial – hidden costs

 

There are actually people out there in the world who think there’s a “debate” about vaccines. On one side, the ignorant, the uneducated, and the logical fallacy lovers, without any evidence whatsoever, invent some dubious and truly head shaking nonsense about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

On the other side (as if there really are two sides), are the educated, the logic lovers, and the skeptics who value published scientific evidence as the most important and fundamental guide to determining a scientific consensus. This scientific consensus has determined that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, that all organisms on this earth have evolved from a single organism 3 billion years or so ago, and that vaccines are safe and effective. A scientific consensus exists not because I say it, it exists because a vast majority (not 51-49, more like 99-1) of experts in the field agree to this consensus.

There’s one “writer” on Medium who conflates political consensus with scientific consensus, idiotically assuming that a scientific consensus is based on some vote, political maneuvering, without understanding that a consensus in the US Congress (as if that’ll ever happen) is almost the opposite of how science works, and eventually arrive at a scientific consensus.

If there were a debate about vaccines, the pro-science/pro-vaccine side would score about 1547 points to 1 pity point for the deniers. In other words, it would be a world record victory for the real science side. The journalistic hacks at the Toronto Star, who essentially lied about Gardasil (then mocked and lied about anyone who said they lied) and may have destroyed a lot of positive momentum regarding the cancer preventing vaccine are an example of how the science denier side works–in lieu of real published evidence, lie. Then shower invectives of all sorts on those who point out the lie. I hope the writer and editors from the Toronto Star all end up in prison, but that’s just my opinion.

But let’s move on from this asinine imaginary debate that truly only exists in the heads of F list actors and actresses and lunatic science deniers. We forget that not only is there no debate about vaccines, but they save lives, and by extension, save money. Lots of it. Continue reading “Rand Paul vaccine denial – hidden costs”

Did you get your flu vaccination?–2014 version

flu-shot-calendarThere is substantial scientific evidence that the flu immunization is both very safe and very effective. Unless you follow the ramblings of a non-immunologist, non-virologist, non-epidemiologist, non-scientist, Peter Doshi who has published outright fabrications about the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine, you probably fall on the side of getting vaccinated. Maybe.

But some people refuse the flu vaccine because of adherence to easily debunked myths and misinformation. If you are on the fence about the flu vaccine, read Tara Haelle’s It’s Baaaaack! 33 Flu Vaccine Myths You Don’t Need to Fear. She worked hard to put that list together, so if you’re on the fence about the flu vaccine, read it before the flu season takes off. You won’t be sorry.

Or you can be a real dumbass and accept the lamest excuses for not getting the flu vaccine.

OK, what is your flu vaccination status? And if you have any comments, just drop them into the Disqus comments below. We’d especially like to hear from people on the fence, maybe we can give you some gentle persuasion to get the vaccine!

Pro-vaccination websites that I love

immunize-for-goodBased on what I write, you’d think I was all about vaccines and thoroughly mocking the ignorance of the antivaccination world. And, apparently, I’m paid to do that. Sadly, I do not have a new BMW M5 in my driveway. I’d rather write about evolution, but there’s a direct correlation between not vaccinating and harm to children from vaccine preventable diseases, so it seems more important to me than arguing about the stupidity of creationism.

I tend to be the cranky one on the interwebs with respect to vaccines. I’m the mean, angry uncle who turns on the sprinklers when the antivaccine parents walk their dogs in front of my house. Extra benefit–their dogs don’t poop on my lawn. See, I’m the curmudgeonly neighbor of the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.

I realize my tone, filled with sarcasm and mockery, may blur my message, which is always based on real science, anti-cherry picking, and appropriately weighing evidence from experts vs. invented data from non-experts. But there are websites, which are important to my own personal mission of understanding vaccines and infectious diseases, that provide the same high value information but without the snark. I know, some of you like snark, as do I.

Here are some of the best websites on the internet that engage in the debate (there’s no debate, vaccination is safe and effective, as shown by a couple of mountains worth of evidence) about vaccines. But are on a different planet of niceness compared to me.

Voices for Vaccines. This blog (with lots of supporting information) tells personal stories through the voices of those who vaccinate. You cannot helped but be touched by the stories. VacLiars (see, I cannot resist) hates Voices for Vaccines, so there’s that. But it’s a good place if you’re looking for a calm voice in the screaming about vaccines. One of the managers of this website, Karen Ernst, has written a very popular post here. And she was nice. One of the scientific advisory board members (all of whom have impressive credentials in pediatrics and/or infectious diseases) is Paul Offit, who invented a vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year. I don’t have to say anything more.

Shot of Prevention. One of the older websites that is pro-vaccine (by old, I mean 4 or 5 years), Shot of Prevention focuses on practical parenting issues with regards to vaccinating and diseases. What I love about Shot of Prevention is that its writers come from all walks of life, and really gives the reader a broad perspective on immunization.

Red Wine and Apple Sauce. This website has a different appeal, but it’s an outstanding resource for a thoughtful analysis of immunizations. Tara Haelle, who is a science journalist and writes nearly all of the articles, discusses more than just vaccines, but numerous current topics  that are important to parents. She writes long detailed articles, filled with links that support her points, and she should be on anyone’s list for getting information about vaccines.

The Value of Vaccination–A Conversation. A relatively new entrant into the conversation about vaccines, Value of Vaccination focuses in a different way–the stories are more personal, with the perspective almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a parent or individual. It features conversations that show us what the value of vaccination is and how it makes our lives better.

vaccines-save-livesPKIDs Online. PKIDs, officially Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases, probably would not describe themselves as a “pro-vaccine” website, but they really are pro-vaccine. They tell the personal stories of parents of children who have chronic infectious diseases, most of which are vaccine preventable.

Vaccine Education Center. Run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (known by almost everyone as CHOP), it is one of the top websites for information about vaccines. Yes, Paul Offit is involved again. Well, when you’re one of the leading experts in immunization of children, and you’re on the faculty of CHOP, that’s what happens.

Vaccine News Daily. This website, more or less, aggregates news articles about vaccines, while giving a brief, but useful, summary of the information. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the vaccine world.

I Speak of Dreams. Although not necessarily about vaccines, I Speak of Dreams is an important resource in myths (and debunking of said myths) about autism. And because vaccines and autism has been a manufactured issue since the late 1990’s, anyone who discusses myths about autism has to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking the myths of vaccines and autism. If I might remind everyone, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

All of these websites have non-cranky writers. Well mostly. And most of them are much more patient with comments than I am, because I have no patience when it’s clear that a commenter doesn’t get what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t.

I’m sure I missed an important website or two. This article isn’t static, I can make changes whenever I want, so drop me a comment. Besides, I’d want to know about your website!

Use the Science-Based Vaccine Search Engine.