Vaccines save lives – a response to some ridiculous claims about drugs

The internet is filled with crackpot ideas. I know, that’s a shocker. In today’s crazy, we have this article, “Six pharmaceutical drugs that immediately destroy your health.” Setting aside the odd “pharmaceutical drugs,” let me counter that with “pharmaceuticals save lives.” Even more, vaccines save lives (since they attack two of my favorite vaccines).

I don’t genuflect at the altar of Big Pharma. I realize they are a big business that need to generate more and more profits, and they frequently make decisions that favor profits over ethics. But for good or bad, more often than not, pharmaceuticals and vaccines save lives. And there’s plenty of evidence of that.

But when some random rant on the internet tries to claim that important drugs (and the list of six are worthwhile drugs) are dangerous and destroy your health, it needs to be addressed.

So let me examine their claims. This should be interesting.

Vaccines save lives – the flu vaccine

Their first hate is all about the flu vaccine, which they claim contains “mercury,” aluminum, and formaldehyde.

First of all, as I’ve written before, there is no mercury in the flu vaccine. Like many vaccine deniers, they conflate mercury with thimerosal, an ethyl mercury compound that is used as a preservative. To say that thimerosal is equivalent to mercury would be like saying that table salt is equivalent to the poisonous gas, chlorine. Elements are not compounds, something that is taught in basic high school chemistry.

Furthermore, thimerosal has been eliminated from most vaccines, except for the multi-dose flu vaccine.

And the flu vaccine contains no aluminum (even if that were an issue, and it isn’t). Natural levels of formaldehyde in humans or an organic apple are far above the level found in vaccines.

Finally, the flu vaccine prevents a serious disease that can cause significant harm to at-risk groups, like children. The flu vaccine actually does save lives.

Vaccines save lives – the rotavirus vaccine

Of all the vaccines out there, I’m pretty certain that the rotavirus vaccine is mostly ignored by the vaccine denier world. But, in this case, the anti-pharmaceutical article says:

The RotaTeq vaccine, created by Dr. Paul Offit, contains two strains of deadly pig virus called circovirus, and there is no reason to treat infant diarrhea with the same deadly virus that kills thousands of pigs in China.

First of all, the article has to mention Paul Offit, because, you know, ad hominem attacks are ad hominem attacks. Irrational hatred of Dr. Offit is the raison d’être of many anti-vaccine radicals.

Second, the vaccine does not contain circovirus, which can be deadly to pigs. It contains DNA from that virus, but that means almost nothing. Random DNA cannot reform itself into an organism (even a virus) just because the DNA is present. Otherwise, every time you eat an ear of corn, you should be transformed into a corn stalk.

Third, this vaccine does not “treat” infant diarrhea, as if that’s not important. It prevents a rotavirus infection that kills 250,000 children a year across the world. It is a deadly disease that causes substantial suffering by children. To dismiss the importance of this vaccine by making it seem it’s only used for mild cases of diarrhea implies a significant misunderstanding of medicine. Which is expected for these deniers.

Pharmaceuticals save lives – blood thinners

Now, we move on from their rants about vaccines, and move on to other drugs, like blood thinners that reduce the clotting of the blood.

The science denier author says,

Blood thinners are not, in many cases, life savers. The new “anticoagulant” drugs bring a deadly side effect with them. Simple cuts such as a minor internal injury can be fatal because it’s next to impossible to stop the bleeding.

In fact, blood thinners are life savers. For those who have atrial fibrillation (afib), an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid beating of the atria, blood clots are a serious consequence of the disease. These blood clots can cause strokes in individuals who have afib.

Although some afib cases can be treated with various techniques, it’s mostly a lifelong issue for those who contract it. And the only treatment for the clots are blood thinners. Otherwise, the patient has a high risk of death.

There are many other medical conditions where blood thinners are necessary. And yes, there is a risk of bleeding from it, but it is managed by closely monitoring blood clotting times in patients so that the dose can be adjusted as necessary. It’s not simply taking a pill and then risking bleeding out – anyone prescribed a blood thinner is monitored closely.

This article then mentions the drug, “resveratrol,” a natural supplement, derived from the skin of grapes, that has some blood clot inhibiting activity. However, like most supplements, it has never been tested clinically to determine dosage, side effects, and blood clot monitoring. Real science based medicine has determined the safest and most effective way of reducing the risk of blood clots – currently available blood thinners. And it does not included an unstudied supplement.

Pharmaceuticals save lives – chemotherapy

One of the tropes of the science denier world is that chemotherapy is dangerous and doesn’t actually do anything. According to this article,

Chemotherapy should already be illegal, but it’s not. Many Americans don’t even know that the success rate of chemo is only 2.3% and failing to overcome cancer sits at 97.7%. 75% of oncologists and also general doctors wouldn’t recommend chemotherapy to a family member, and they wouldn’t do it themselves either.

Setting aside the terrible writing (what is it with science deniers and their lack of grammar and spelling skills), that is a pile of stinking horse manure with maggots. The fact is that the mortality rate from cancer has dropped precipitously as better tools in chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy have allowed us to attack cancers more aggressively.

According to Dr. David Gorski, a real-life oncologist and surgeon, that “2.3%” does not stand up to real analysis:

Usually, they boil down to two claims: (1) that chemotherapy doesn’t work against cancer (or, as I’ve called it before, the “2% gambit“) and (2) that the only reason it’s given is because doctors are brainwashed in medical school or because of the profit motive or, of course, because of a combination of the two. Of course, the 2% gambit is based on a fallacious cherry picking of data and confusing primary versus adjuvant chemotherapy, and chemotherapy does actually work rather well for many malignancies, but none of this stops the flow of misinformation.

In other words, stinking horse manure. With maggots.

In addition, cancer is a few hundred different diseases, each with a different cause, pathophysiology and treatment. It is very very hard to treat cancer, there are no miracles, despite the insane belief of science deniers.

Dr. Gorski concludes that,

And, yes, promoters of alternative cancer cures can deny it all they like, but chemotherapy is indeed a major part of the reason for better outcomes and more hope in cancer. “Cut, poison, burn”? Well, yes. Unfortunately, that’s what works, including the “poison” part. Until we find something that works without as much morbidity, “cut, poison, burn” will have to do.

As for 75% of oncologists would forsake chemotherapy? I’d love to see the robust evidence (as if the author of this travesty knows anything about evidence, robust or otherwise) that supports this number. I’m pretty certain that if Dr. Gorski or family had cancer (and I hope it never happens), he’d take the science-based medicine route to treating it. As would every oncologist I’ve ever met in my life.

Pharmaceuticals save lives – benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used for the treatment of panic disorder, anxiety disorders, and insomnia. This class of drug was first invented in the 1950s and has been a standard part of psychiatric treatments of many individuals.

The anti-science writer, however, has this to say:

Taking medications that contain “benzos” is dangerous as it immediately slows down the central nervous system, tricking the brain to think you are relaxed both mentally and physically. Fooling the central nervous system to relax leads to many side effects.

All benzodiazepine are addictive.

Let’s get to real science rather than hysterical ranting. Benzodiazepines work by increasing the efficiency of a natural brain chemical, GABA, to decrease the excitability of neurons. So yes, it does “slow down” the central nervous system. But that’s the point – people with anxiety and panic disorders, along with insomnia, who require the sedative properties of benzodiazepines to function.

Clearly, benzodiazepines have adverse effects, such as dependence, if not carefully controlled. Let’s be clear for the millionth time – all medical procedures, including pharmaceuticals, have risks that balance the benefits. That’s why benzodiazepines are not found over-the-counter – real physicians, mostly psychiatrists, carefully manage their patient’s use of these type of medications.

Moreover, science moves on – newer and better anti-anxiety and insomnia medications have been released over the past few decades to replace benzodiazepines for treatment of these conditions. For example, non-benzodiazepines have replaced benzodiazepines for insomnia. And there are new anti-depressants with anti-anxiety activity that better treat anxiety with less effects.

I think that benzodiazepines’ time in medical care is limited, because there are simply better medications to treat the underlying conditions. That doesn’t mean that benzodiazepines were terrible, as the author of the pseudoscience article seems to claim, but the reality is medicine has moved on.

Pharmaceuticals save lives – seizure medications

First of all, “seizure medications” are a rather broad class of pharmaceuticals. For example, benzodiazepines are one of the most used anti-seizure medications.

The pseudoscience pushing writer said,

The pharmaceutical medications used to treat seizures can cause damage to the liver almost instantly. <snip> Take the time to ask a naturopathic physician (not a physician) about CBD oil (cannabis oil) and its benefits to reduce epileptic seizures.

First, yes, some treatments for seizures have some side effects. Once again, all medications have side effects, it’s how they are managed that is important. However, I looked at many of the first line medications for treatment of first or second seizures, and I found none with significant liver activity.

Lorazepam. Nope. Propofol. Nope. Pyridoxine. Well, that’s vitamin B6, and it may cause damage to liver if large amounts are taken, so nope.

Then the anti-medication author says to go see a naturopath to get cannabinoids.

Number 1. Naturopaths are not doctors. They are quacks.

Number 2. There is simply no evidence that cannabinoids in any form can be used for the treatment of epilepsy. This non-evidence based belief that cannabis can treat a wide variety of neurodegenerative disorders is ridiculous.

And even if there was robust evidence that cannabinoids could treat epilepsy, a real physician, probably a neurologist, would manage seizures by careful monitoring of the drug and the outcomes, something outside of the skills of a naturopath.

Summary

The hurdles for a drug to get to the market in the USA, Europe, Japan and many other countries are unimaginably high. Very few pharmaceuticals get through preclinical studies then through clinical trials to be finally approved by the FDA (and other drug regulating bodies across the world).

To become a real marketed drug, the FDA has to be convinced that it is both effective and safe, or at least, more effective and more safe than similar drugs. Sometimes the difference between effectiveness and risk of using the drug could be small, mostly it is not.

Especially vaccines. They are extremely safe. And they are extremely effective in preventing deadly diseases. The author of that crazy article ought to know better – vaccines save lives.

And pharmaceuticals save lives.

Citations

  • Gloss D, Vickrey B. Cannabinoids for epilepsy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Mar 5;(3):CD009270. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009270.pub3. Review. PubMed PMID: 24595491.
The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!