Polio vaccine causes cancer – just a myth

polio vaccine causes cancer

Apparently, the “polio vaccine causes cancer” zombie meme has been reanimated by the antivaccination cult. Lacking evidence for their beliefs, retreading old debunked memes is their standard operating procedure.

The interesting thing about social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Google, reddit) is that it’s fairly easy to push pseudoscientific beliefs. The first problem is that many people read the headlines, and never the underlying discussion. If it can be said in 140 characters, or a misleading infographic, many individuals will share that across the internet as a “fact”. So, if you see an claim that “Polio vaccines infected 98 million Americans with a cancer virus,” many people will immediately see that an accept it without much criticism.

Of course, this leads to a second problem. To refute this claim takes a lot more than 140 characters. The refutation is often complex, nuanced and highly scientific, and may take 2000 words or more to blast the claim into orbit. It’s highly emotional to claim a vaccine can cause cancer. On the other hand, to say it is not isn’t emotional–it’s coldly logical. And takes a lot of words.

And the third problem is that is that social media fallacies have multiple lives, so when someone reads one of these memes a year from now, they think “yeah, this is great information”, and pass it along as if it’s the Truth. Killing zombie memes are just as difficult as killing zombies in real life, or at least, on a TV show. Debunking these zombie memes is a full-time job. And, once it’s been debunked, we move back to the first problem again, again, and again.

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Gardasil safety and efficacy – debunking the HPV vaccine myths

Gardasil safety and efficacy

There was an article published in Pediatrics that described how educating either teenagers or their parents about HPV vaccinations had little effect on the overall vaccination rate for the vaccine. Essentially, the researchers found that it was a 50:50 probability that any teen would get the vaccine, regardless of their knowledge of HPV and the vaccine itself. Some of the reasons why the HPV vaccine uptake is so low is a result of several myths about Gardasil safety and efficacy.

So I thought about why that Pediatrics study found that education about HPV and Gardasil didn’t move the needle on vaccination uptake. It’s possible that the benefits of the vaccine is overwhelmed by two factors–first, that there’s a disconnect between personal activities today vs. a disease that may or may not show up 20-30 years from now; and second, that the invented concerns about the HPV quadrivalent vaccine, promulgated by the usual suspects in the antivaccination world, makes people think that there is a clear risk from the vaccine which is not balanced by preventing cancer decades from now. It’s frustrating. Continue reading “Gardasil safety and efficacy – debunking the HPV vaccine myths”

Properly evaluating vaccine mortality – let’s not abuse VAERS

vaccine mortality

The public’s concern about adverse events, especially death, immediately or soon after vaccinations is very disruptive to vaccine uptake, leading to increased morbidity and mortality of vaccine-preventable diseases. For example, a 2009 Japanese study that showed 107 deaths following H1N1 influenza A vaccination, assumed a causality between the vaccine and the deaths without any evaluation of background rates of of deaths, which would help indicate whether there was any significance to the death rate or even if its related to the vaccination. Vaccine mortality is one of the most abused terms in discussions about vaccines.

It has been demonstrated that passively reported data, that is, data that isn’t actively investigated by trained researchers, cannot be used to assess causality. In an active investigation, it was found that only 2 of the 107 deaths had an autopsy performed, and most of the others had other underlying diseases and conditions that were causally related to the mortality events. Furthermore, 15 million people were vaccinated with the H1N1 seasonal vaccine, and it would be expected that there would be >8000 deaths during the 20 days after vaccination using a crude mortality rate in Japan. Though it would still be a misuse of statistics,  there really is more evidence that the H1N1 vaccination lowered the background death rate from 8000 to 107 post vaccination. Continue reading “Properly evaluating vaccine mortality – let’s not abuse VAERS”

How to prevent cancer in 12 easy steps–OK, not that easy

how to prevent cancer

I have railed against charlatans who claim that they have the easy way to prevent or cure cancer. Generally, these snake oil salesmen try to convince you that they have some miraculous food, supplement, spiritual energy, and on and on, that can either kill cancer in its tracks. Or keep them from even growing in your body. But their claims are nearly always absent real compelling scientific evidence.

Like the trope supplements preventing cancer. They don’t. And that’s been shown in study after study after study after study (yeah, I could go on for awhile).

Or like avoiding GMO containing foods prevents cancer. Again, studies show that GMO foods have no effect on cancers. Oh, one more thing–bananas don’t have tumor necrosis factor, and the yellow fruit can’t prevent or cure cancer (but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t delicious).

Despite the absolute lack of evidence that supplements, kale, bananas, or drinking the pure waters of a glacial fed stream (which may not be an option with climate change), there are some things that can be done to reduce your risk (see what I did there–no absolutes, just management of risks) of cancer.

How to prevent cancer has been codified byThe World Health Organization (WHO) into 12 steps (no, not that debunked one) that is called the European Code Against Cancer.

Let’s take a look at cancer and the evidence-based ideas about cancer prevention.

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Immune system myths – can we really boost it?

immune system

Immune system myths are one of the common claims of the junk medicine medicine crowd, especially the anti-vaccine activists. The pseudoscience of the immune system is pernicious and possibly dangerous.

It’s frustrating that the pseudoscience from the junk medicine crowd claims that this supplement or that food is critical to boosting the immune system – hang out for a day on Facebook, and you’ll probably see way too many memes saying that all you have to do to boost your immune system is eat a blueberry kale smoothie. I still see that dumb banana claim that it cures cancer.

The problem with these immune system myths is that they overlook or ignore a basic physiological fact – the immune system is a complex interconnected network of organs, cells, and molecules that prevents invasion of the body by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pathogens and other antigens every single day.

And no matter how much individuals try to trivialize the complexity of the immune system, it does not make it so. One can claim all day long that downing a few tablets of echinacea will boost the immune system to prevent colds (it doesn’t), it doesn’t make it scientifically accurate. Nor does it create an accurate description of the immune system.

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Religion and vaccinations – a quick review

religion and vaccinations

This is the 13th out of 13 most popular articles on Skeptical Raptor for the 2016 Year in Review. A while ago, I wrote an article about a father who is suing the New York Department of Education to force a school to allow his unvaccinated son into school. The basis of his lawsuit is that vaccination is against his religious beliefs.

The father is a Roman Catholic, and as far as I could find, the Catholic Church strongly supports vaccination, even making it a moral and ethical issue by clearly stating that “there would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious diseases…” In other words, not only is the Catholic Church not opposed to vaccination, it seems to indicate that it would immoral to not vaccinate.

This all lead me to wonder if there was research into the relationship between religion and vaccinations. And I found some.

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The Trump Wakefield anti-vaccine bromance – yes, it’s a thing

trump wakefield vaccines autism

Two of the most disreputable public personas today are Andrew Wakefield, fraudulent anti-vaccine “scientist” and liar, and Donald J Trump, fraudulent anti-vaccine presidential candidate and liar. The Trump Wakefield bromance developed over their mutual belief that vaccines cause autism. In case you’re wandering to this blog from another planet, there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines are related to autism.

If you follow this, or honestly any skeptic’s, website, you’d know that Andrew Wakefield is one of the greatest conmen in medicine and science. And to be honest, that’s a tough list. His delusion that vaccines are related to autism has lead to actual harm to children throughout the world, as parents listen to his junk medicine and refuse to protect their children from vaccine preventable diseases.

Of course, most rational people understand Donald Trump’s misogyny, racism, and alt-right beliefs. I’ll let political writers elsewhere continue to point that out leading up to the election. For me, there are so many reasons to dislike Trump, with his anti-vaccine ignorance being near the top.

Lovely, aren’t they? Many skeptics have pointed out Trump’s dishonesty for years. The mysterious Orac has been pointing out Trump’s ignorance on vaccines for years.

Let’s take a look at the budding Trump Wakefield bromance. I promise, it will make you ill.

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Polio-like illness emerging in California – not vaccine related

polio-like illness

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly infectious disease caused by the poliovirus, a human enterovirus, that spreads from person to person invading the brain and spinal cord and causing paralysis. Because polio has no cure, the polio vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and the only way to stop the disease from spreading. In a case study that will be presented at the 2014 American Academy of Neurology meeting, researchers report the discovery of a polio-like illness that has been found in a cluster of children from California over a one-year period.

This outbreak isn’t a result of anyone’s refusal to be vaccinated against polio, since all of the children in this study had been previously vaccinated against the poliovirus.

The United States last experienced a polio epidemic in the 1950s, prior to the introduction of the polio vaccine 60 years ago. Today, polio has been eradicated from most of the planet, as the number of worldwide polio cases has fallen from an estimated 350,000 in 1988 to fewer than 223 in 2012—a decline of more than 99% in reported cases.
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Influenza vaccination – epic rant about anti-vaccine Dumb Asses

influenza vaccination

We’re nearing the commencement of the 2016-2017 flu season in the Northern Hemisphere. And every flu season, for the past 5 years, I reprint Dr. Mark Crislip‘s epic rant about Dumb Ass healthcare workers who refuse to get the influenza vaccination.

Dr. Crislip’s impassioned characterizations, which was originally published in A Budget of Dumb Asses, are a list of the different types of flu vaccine refusing Dumb Asses. It is important that I resurrect this list in advance of the flu season – there is nothing more frustrating than healthcare workers who refuse to get the influenza vaccination.

Even though this broadside is about flu vaccine refusing Dumb Asses, it’s all right to search and replace flu with say meningitis, pertussis, measles, HPV or any other vaccine. And just because this rant is really about healthcare workers, it’s all right to replace that with your neighbor, co-worker, or some other antivaccination Dumb Ass. There are just so many.

The upcoming 2016-2017 flu season is just starting, and many physicians and clinics (along with many pharmacies, government flu clinics, and other places) already have this season’s flu vaccine. One of the best ways, if not the only real way, to boost your immune system against the flu is with this vaccine. No, drinking copious quantities of bone broth (yes, it’s a thing) is not going to boost your immune system, kill flu virus, or create a force field against the flu.

And it’s time for intelligent, reasonable, and rational people to get their flu shots. We’ve dispensed with many of the myths that are cherished by vaccine refusers, and many reseachers have shown that getting the flu vaccine can improve health outcomes.

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Vaccines cause diabetes – another myth refuted

vaccines cause diabetes

If you cruise around the internet, engaging with the antivaccination cult (not recommended), you will pick up on their standard tropes, lies, and other anti-science commentary. One that has always bothered me, not because that it was a lie, but because I had enough evidence floating in my brain that I was wondering if it were true–that vaccines cause diabetes, especially the Type 1 version.

A lot of the vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause a lot of everything, and several claim that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes (or here), based on little evidence. As far as I can tell, this myth is based on the “research” from  J. Barthelow Classen, M.D., who has pushed the idea that vaccines causes type 1 diabetes, through some magical process that has never been supported by other independent evidence.

In another example of the antivaccination world’s cherry picking evidence to support their a priori conclusions, they ignore the utter lack of plausibility supporting any link between vaccines and Type 1 diabetes.

Moreover, Classen seems to come to his beliefs based on population-wide correlations that rely on post hoc fallacies, rather than actually showing causality between vaccines and diabetes. It’s like finding that a 5% increase in consumption of Big Macs is correlated with Republican wins in elections. They may happen at the same time, but it would take a laughable series events to show any relationship.

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